to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Pat Bodnar.
Bob Doughty. This week we visit one of the oldest, successful family-owned
companies in the United States. The C.
F. Martin and Company guitar maker in Nazareth, Pennsylvania is one hundred
seventy-five years old this year.
is musician David Bromberg playing on his signature Martin guitar. A signature
guitar is made to order. The Martin
company works directly with a musician to create a special guitar based on what
he or she needs. When the instrument is
finished it is named after the artist.
All Martin guitars are acoustic, or
non-electric. They are the instruments
of choice for many of today's leading guitarists and songwriters. Former Beatles member Paul McCartney is one
such fan. He composed this song,
"Blackbird," on a Martin guitar.
story of C. F. Martin and Company began in Markneukirchen, Germany on New
Year's Eve, in seventeen ninety-six.
That is when company founder, Christian Frederick Martin, Senior, was
born. He came from a family of
furniture makers. But Christian left
home as a teenager to study under a man who made guitars.
he completed his studies he returned to his hometown. He tried to open a guitar-making shop but met resistance from a
local union. Mister Martin moved to the
United States with his wife and child in eighteen thirty-three. He opened his guitar shop on the lower West Side of Manhattan in New York City.
official Dick Boak says the Martin family was not happy in New York. So they moved the business to Nazareth,
Pennsylvania. Mister Boak says the
Martin family found Nazareth to be like their hometown in Germany. And he says
the move was good for C. F. Martin, Senior in another way.
DICK BOAK: "In Nazareth, he really
found his style of guitar making, and the guitars that C.F. Martin, Senior,
built really came to define the instrument."
early element of his style was to put all the tuning keys on one side of the
guitar neck. C. F. Martin, Senior also
made guitars with necks that could be moved up and down. Both of these elements came and went. But his most famous improvement to his
guitars continues to be used to this day.
Martin guitars are built with an "X bracing" system across the top of
the instrument. This is what guitar lovers say give Martin guitars an
exceptional sound. You can hear it in
this Steve Earle song, "Sparkle and Shine."
the years, the Martin family company made hundreds of thousands of the
instruments. In two thousand five, C.
F. Martin announced the completion of its one-millionth guitar. It is made from four beautiful woods with
inlays of seashells, white and yellow gold, and jewels including diamonds,
rubies and sapphires. There are images
of babies with wings, a golden eagle and company founder, C. F. Martin, Senior.
as pretty as a Martin guitar may be, it is how it sounds that really
matters. The guitar is basically a tool
for a musician, Dick Boak says.
DICK BOAK: "And in
their purest sense that is all they are…we start with the Martin sound and
build a box around it."
Making that "box" is a complex
process. There are about three hundred steps in the production process from
start to finish. The final step? Inspection. Dick Boak explains.
DICK BOAK: "What
they are doing is checking every note.
They have to be able to do that quickly and they have to be able to
identify whether a particular note is not playing correctly. It has to be perfect when it goes
The work takes place in the Martin
factory. It is a big change from the
little workshop of eighteen thirty-three.
The modern factory was built in nineteen sixty-four. It covers more than eighteen thousand square
meters. About five hundred people work
there. They manufacture about two
hundred guitars every day. Prices start at about three hundred dollars. But custom-made guitars can cost tens of
thousands of dollars.
British rocker Sting asked C.F. Martin and
Company to design a custom guitar for him to play on his album "Sacred
Love." Dick Boak says Sting wanted a
little guitar strung in a special way to provide a "shimmering" sound
effect. Here is "Dead Man's Rope"
from that album."
The C. F. Martin and Company factory is
open to the public Monday through Friday, except for some holidays. Company employees guide visitors through the
building. Many tours are free. There is also a guitar museum inside the
factory building and a gift shop.
old factory is also open to the public. But, now it is a store called The
Guitarmakers Connection. It sells tools
and new and used parts for making or repairing guitars. Across the street is
the old home of C.F. Martin, Senior and family. It holds a visitors center.
Christian F. Martin, the fourth, is the
current leader of C. F. Martin and Company.
He was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer after the
death of his grandfather in nineteen eighty-six. Chris Martin was thirty years old at the time. There has been a lot of growth in the
company during his time as its leader. But Mister Martin also has had a lot to
worry about. The use of costly, and
perhaps, endangered woods is chief among his concerns.
the past, the company has used beautiful Brazilian rosewood and ebony, or old
growth woods. But, as Mister Martin
told the New York Times last year, "If I use up all the good wood, I'm out of
business." He said he wanted his
daughter to have the materials she would need to carry on the business when she
company says it respects the directives of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It says it uses traditional materials responsibly. And it seeks
other wood materials, like those from trees that can be replaced more quickly.
program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Pat Bodnar.
And I'm Bob Doughty. Transcripts and MP3s of our programs are at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us next
week for This is America in VOA Special English. We leave you now with David Bromberg and his Martin guitar
performing "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Lot to Cry."