Monday, May 6, 2013

Martin Guitar tour in Nazareth, Pennsylvania

C. F. Martin & Co., Nazareth, PA
At the Airstream factory we met Vaughn and Carol. They are full-timers and, like so many Airstream owners, are very interesting people. Vaughn is an accomplished guitar and violin maker. He entertained us for hours talking about the craft of the luthier. At his suggestion we stopped at the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA to take the tour. 

 We arrived at 11:00 AM, just in time for the first tour. We parked the TV and Mary Joan in the employees parking lot where there was plenty of room, although it meant backing up and turning around when it came time to leave. 
Our tour guide and a giant Martin Guitar
The C. F. Martin Company has been making guitars for 180 years. It is a family owned business now being run by sixth generation CEO, Christian Frederick Martin IV. Martin guitars have been the acoustic guitar of choice of many celebrated musicians including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, John Lennon , Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Eric Clapton to name just a very few. 
Rough cut out necks before shaping

Custom Guitar Being Built

Customizing with different woods and inlays

 The trip to the C. F. Martin Company was important to me because I first started playing guitar with an inexpensive, foreign made guitar when I was in high school . In college I bought a better guitar, but I had played on a friend's Martin and the ease of playing the Martin was astounding. When I graduated and had my first job, even though my rusted out Plymouth Duster needed to be replaced, my first purchase was a 1979 Martin D-28 dreadnought guitar. The D-28 is the flagship guitar produced by Martin and is the guitar many great musicians have selected for their personal use. 
In the Museum, a highly decorated guitar
We were fortunate that only one other person was with us on the first tour of the morning. Bill, from California, was here to pick up his custom made tenor guitar and ukulele that are replacements for ones stolen over a year ago. The tenor guitar that was stolen was once played by Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio.
Bill is happy with his new tenor guitar
Beverley, our tour guide, took us first through the custom guitar building section. In this area, the instruments are made to order with many details available beyond those of the production instruments. Different woods used for the guitar are available as are custom inlays on the fretboard, front, back, headstock and pickguard.  The company will work with the new owner, artist and luthier to make the perfect guitar.
Laying out a top in the custom area
Putting finishing touches on the top bracing. The bracing of the Martin Guitar is probably the most important reason for the instrument's success and endurance.
What most impressed me, though, is that the production guitars are made to the same high standards as the custom built. The impressive computer controlled woodworking machines appeared to make the individual pieces of a guitar mate with one another that no human could possibly duplicate. To my mind, the only reason to buy a custom Martin guitar is to get a style they no longer produce, as was the case with Bill, or to have a guitar that looks like no other (even though it may not sound or play any better than a production instrument). 
Shaping a neck in the custom area
There is a small museum at the factory highlighting the long history of C. F. Martin and the instruments that have been made by them during the last 180 years. It was from this museum that Bill came to have his 1940's tenor guitar remade. The company took an identical guitar from the museum and had it x-rayed to see how it was constructed since there were no drawings of the internal bracing and neck structure to guide them in remaking the instrument. 
Final polishing to perfection by a robot

Some jobs cannot be mechanized.
After visiting Nazareth, we stopped at Stokes State Forest for the night because it was just a few miles from Milford, Pennsylvania where we wanted to visit Grey Towers, the home of the father of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, . Pinchot brought scientific method to manage the forests for the greatest good of the country. He balanced conservation and production so that a sustainable forest would endure. Private interests were not happy with his ideas of conservation and got an amendment attached to an agriculture bill that would strip the President from protecting more land as National Forests. President Theodore Roosevelt with Pinchot's guidance, created what is now known as the "Midnight Forests" by declaring, at the last minute, before the law took effect, millions of acres protected and designated National Forests. 
Approaching Grey Towers

Magnificent architecture
Grey Towers was not officially open yet, but a sign on the door said to knock if we had any questions. Melody graciously answered the door and offered to give us a brief tour. The home is beautiful and the grounds appeared to be at their glory on this clear spring morning. 
An elegant home and a gracious host, Melody.

After our visit, we pointed the TV toward home and are now enjoying the beauty of spring in New England. Stay tuned.