We got the nickel tour and a whole lot more on our visit to the Holy Grail of acoustic guitars.
This time I'd like to share a thrilling visit I made to the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania—ground zero for some of the greatest guitars ever built.
As many of you know, my job is to host guitar videos for Musician's Friend Private Reserve. Though we have a brand-new video studio where we shoot most of our demos, when possible, we like to film where the guitars are built. There’s nothing like getting the first-hand insights of the luthiers who conceive of and craft the instruments. I plan to cover several more factory visits in future Guitar Notes.
The 19th century origins of the Martin guitar factory can be see in the original structure which has been added to over the years.
Last summer, accompanied by our film crew and guitar buying team, I was given an in-depth look at Martin’s Pennsylvania headquarters. Our job was not only to shoot videos, but also select wood for future Private Reserve guitars as well as hand-pick some Martins for our inventory.
Just a bit of history before we get to the visit: After opening his shop in New York City in 1833, founder Christian Frederick Martin, a German immigrant and instrument maker, then relocated to Nazareth, PA in 1839. The original factory on North Street still stands today. The historic feel of the town set the stage, taking me back to another time.
A historical marker identifies the original Martin factory site in Nazareth and offers a brief account of the company’s legacy.
Impressions from the factory floor
The pungent smells of rosewood and mahogany are everywhere. This has got to be one of the best smelling places on earth!
We began shooting at the Custom Shop where we saw some new Martin prototypes and got the inside scoop on torrefied tops—a process in which the wood is placed in a special kiln at a high temperature.It is then placed in a conditioning chamber where a specific amount of humidity removed by the kiln is restored. Carefully controlled pressure, moisture and zero oxygen levels in combination with this “roasting” process result in a top that sounds better and is more stable.
One of our MF team members calls the torrefaction kiln a "way-back machine.” It's Martin's new way of aging tops right down to a specific decade! This is breakthrough stuff that we will be seeing a lot more of. It was on this trip that with the help of the Martin team and inspiration drawn from pieces in Martin’s museum, that Private Reserve came up with the Martin Custom Century Series.
Lots of hands-on guitar building still happens at Martin.
Using state-of-the-art tools...like clothespins.
Once we hit the factory floor we met with Dale Eckart, one of Martin's most accomplished guitar builders who has spent more than 40 years there. We purchased several of his guitars on this trip and committed to a guitar he had in process as well as another still in the planning stage.
Martin guitar builder Dale Eckart cradles an instrument in the making, right off his work bench.
Next we hit the wood library. It's in these libraries that I find I get my best understanding of different tonewoods and what makes certain pieces exceptional. Our experienced guitar buying team hand-selects woods for our guitars whenever possible on these trips. I believe this is just one of the reasons to buy from Musician's Friend Private Reserve. We stay in close touch with the guitar makers and having developed a substantial knowledge of woods, the builders and the options available, we make sure you’re getting the highest quality Martin guitar possible.
These bookmatched pieces of Goncalo Alves will make a beautiful back.
Future Adirondack spruce tops await the luthier’s touch.
As you might suspect, this museum is filled with a stunning collection of Martin guitars and it alone is worth the trip to Nazareth. Our focus on this shoot was the Martin Authentic series. This line is made exactly as the company manufactured the originals. The very rare D-45 1936 Authentic re-creation tops the list in terms of cost at $48K! Many of the originals on which the Authentic pieces are based reside in the Martin museum.
Martin GM Fred Greene and Custom Shop GM Jeff Allen gave our cameras an exclusive look at the passion, history and craftsmanship that goes into the Authentic line. After lunch it was time to play. But first, let me add that the meals on these visits offer unbelievable access into the guitar industry’s best minds and hands. And they are usually accompanied by big helpings of hospitality and good times! I always take big ears to mealtime.
An enticing glimpse of the Martin Museum.
Jeff Allen and Fred Greene in the Museum talking about Martin’s Authentic Series.
After lunch we headed back to the museum where I had the exquisite experience of playing Martin Authentic guitars right alongside the most coveted Martins in the world. Even with the pressure of the camera and the knowledge the video will soon be all over the internet, I always try and take a couple seconds to be thankful and be in the moment. I played several styles on these beauties, but for this occasion, relied heavily on material by Henry Worrall, a guitarist and composer from the late 1800s. He played a Martin and it is believed he was working with the company to build a larger guitar.
Check out this video we made in the museum with a lovely Martin D-28 1937 Authentic:
Much of the music I recorded that day in the museum is featured in Musician's Friend's Behind the Bricks - A Look Inside C.F. Martin video series. The series includes a tour of the museum and factory curated by C.F. “Chris” Martin IV—the current chairman and CEO. He talks about his family’s precious instruments and the way they were adapted to the changes in music over the decades. In the video he shows us how the original shape of the Martin ukulele would later influence modern guitar building.
Here I am with Chris Martin IV who signed a copy of Inventing the American Guitar for me. Also pictured is a Martin headstock and fretboard piece I brought back as a souvenir.
What a visit! The Martin Factory and Museum are open to the public and will no doubt give any guitar player goose bumps. Great history, great place. If that trip’s not on your immediate agenda, be sure to check out Musician's Friend’s Behind the Bricks video series.
Until next time, keep playing!
Check out Martin’s Authentic series at Musician’s friend Private Reserve
Read more Guitar Notes from Brian Baggett: Guitar Notes The HUB
Visit www.privatereserveguitars.com or contact Derek White directly at 866-926-1923. He can get you the absolute lowest price on your dream guitar. Connect with Private Reserve Guitars on Facebook and Instagram.
Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing every Wednesday and Saturday night at The Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach guitar lessons and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.