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Though Martin has produced electric guitars and electric basses, they are far and away best known for their very high quality flattop, steel-string acoustic guitars. C. F. Martin & Company was founded in 1833 and has always been run by the Martin family.
Christian Frederick Martin was a young German who came from a long line of cabinet makers. As a young man he turned his woodcraft to guitars and was immediately challenged by the Violin Maker’s Guild, at that time the only organization permitted to manufacture musical instruments in Europe.
Christian, finding the European guild system overly restrictive, moved to New York in 1833 and to Nazareth, Pennsylvania in 1838. Martin’s head office and main factory are still in Nazareth, although they have a secondary factory in Mexico.
Steel Strings Made Possible
Martin is credited with developing x-bracing, which made the use of steel strings possible, though he never applied for a patent. The company also developed scallop bracing and the dreadnought body style that enhanced volume and the tone of the steel strings Martin was using.
Family-owned and utilizing the skills of craftsmen to hand-build guitars, Martin’s were so revered by the 1960s that they were routinely on back-order for two or three years! The legendary D-45, discontinued at the start of WWII, was reintroduced in 1968 and today a fine used one is worth six figures. In 2004, Martin built their millionth guitar, a custom one-off beauty laced with inlaid diamonds and rubies and valued at $1,000,000!
Like many companies, Martin experienced their share of problems with the instruments they built, particularly in the 1970s. However, they always identified and corrected manufacturing and design flaws, resulting in their stellar reputation for building the finest acoustic guitars on the planet. You can still spend a fortune for a new Martin, but even the $300 Little Martin is a standout.