Monday, October 27, 2014

Martin Guitar Factory Tour

After living in and around Philadelphia for 12 years we finally made the 90 minute drive up to Nazareth, PA to visit the C.F. Martin Guitar company's headquarters and factory. Oh baby, was it ever worth the drive!

Linked from the Visit Us Page at

There's plenty of guest parking right in front of the famous factory. Straight through those door and you're in the reception area where you'll be greeted and asked to sign in for your tour. The tours seem to run about every hour starting at 11:00 AM weekdays.

The reception area has a couple famous guitars on display, like the D-18 (#98611) Hank Williams bought in 1947.

There are also a couple amazing art pieces like this dragon themed instrument. Paul, I love my Santana III, but Martin has your Dragons beat.

There's also a lounge area where you can kick back and play some of the less fancy instruments in front of the "Martin Players Wall".

The real fun starts with the museum. As you walk in you're confronted with the D-100. Martin employees can buy 2 instruments a year at 50% off retail. Our tour guide offered to buy us one of these for $700,000. I think I could have negotiated him down to $650K.

Did you know Martin made zithers?
How 'bout Mandolins?
Everybody knows Tiny Tim was a Martin Artist Right?
Eventually they called our tour and about a dozen Martin fans assembled to meet our guide and get our radio headsets. After the usual warnings to stay inside the yellow lines and "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING". We entered the factory. Ahead lay wonders!

Ready to ship
Construction Overview
We navigated around a few work stations and racks loaded with instruments to a hallway where our guide explained how Martin guitars are built, providing some background for what we'd see in the factory itself.

The largest part of the shop floor is dedicated to taking raw slabs of wood and turning them into shapes suitable for guitar building. If I'm remembering this scene correctly these are the machines that make the "book match" slices for tops and backs.

Book matched top blanks

Applying bracing
 Hand shaving the braces

The machine than makes the sides for most guitars is a cool laser system that makes 4 pieces at a time. The "Authentic" line of instruments are still cut by hand.

The sides are formed on large machines using steam and hot rollers. They're then cooled in frames like these.

After the sides are glued craftsmen (and women) apply a gluing strip, holding it in places with advanced hi-tech clamps.

Top and back are pressed onto the guitar body with a little heat to cure the glue quickly and evenly.

Neck Fitting
One of the most highly skilled jobs in the factory is neck fitting. Although at this point the neck is not glued in, the neck and body will stay together for the rest of the assembly process.

Binding cutters

Binding (and the rosette) are applied by hand and taped in place.

Sanding Booth
The first stage of finishing is done by hand. Each body is mounted on a special jig and and a worker lightly sands it. There are several stages of sanding before the instrument makes it to the spray booth and curing room.

Well, the factory was interesting, but the real fun begins in The Pickin' Parlor at the back of the 1833 shop. It's a smallish room with a bunch of higher end instruments almost none of which I can even imagine being able to buy.

The universal standard by which all "dreadnaught" style guitars are judged. Bright, articulate, loud. I was using an Adamas graphite pick which probably accentuated the highs a bit.

D-28 Authentic. 1931
"Warmer" tone than the D-18 but still plenty bright. I thought it was more responsive when playing finger style than the D-18. If I could only have one guitar this would be it. Played with the Adamas pick it was stunning, even with my lousy technique.

Even warmer than the D-28 Authentic. I seemed to have to dig in a little more when playing finger style but with the Adamas pick it was wonderful. I still admire the decorative aspect of the higher numbered Martins but that D-28 Authentic has converted me.

If you're ever withing 200 miles of Nazareth, PA you owe it to yourself and your descendants to come here and see where the best guitars on the planet are made.

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