Darlene and Herb's Adventure travel blog

Martin Guitars - factory and museum

Inside tour with Ben, retired plant manager

Lots of parts, lots of hand work

This guy specializes in hand fitting the neck mortise

Guitar bodies in process

This fellow is in the custom shop with a $3500 special

These guys do the final assembly and test playing - most are...

Museum included 170+ guitars from historic to rock stars

Early on the 26th we pulled out of Jersey City and headed toward Philadelphia. The route led within about 10 miles of the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth Pennsylvania, and I convinced a reluctant Darlene that it was worth a short side-trip. This was fun! The factory is in a fairly small town, settled by Moravian missionaries in about 1740. The Martin factory has been located here since the first C.F.Martin set up shop in 1833. He was an immigrant from Germany who had been an apprentice in Europe and continued as an apprentice in NYC where he built guitars and other string instruments. He moved to Nazareth to be closer to other German, Moravian folks. The current CEO is the 6th C.F Martin and his 2 year-old daughter also has the initials of C.F., in anticipation that she will be the 7th generation to run the company.

Nazareth, at least the part we saw, is a nicely kept, pretty, old town with sturdy brick buildings and churches. The factory is a couple of blocks of fairly new brick that is built to appear as an older structure. It includes a sawmill that processes the exotic woods used in guitar construction. The factory employs about 600 people and turns out only about 250 instruments each day. Although the manufacturing process is somewhat automated and works a little like an assembly line, each guitar goes through approximately 300 hand operations before being strung, tuned and played. After being set up, the instrument sits in a case for a week and is played again before it is approved for shipping. The guys who do the tune-ups and tests are all performers, and they told us that there are some great jam sessions late in the day when the testing gets going. The tour guide told us that most of the workers are players and they all want to work on the final fitting and tuning. We took a tour led by a fellow who had worked in the plant for more than 30 years and retired as the plant manager. The shop is very clean, hardly any dust or chips, barely even smelled the lacquer, well ventilated and well lit. People are obviously happy and very proud of their work. Especially the guys in the Custom Shop who build the special order instruments and the 1833 shop where they make an expensive series of traditional instruments using all hand tools and original methods and materials (hide glue, local woods etc). The old original 1833 factory is now a supply store called the Guitar Makers Connection that stocks wood, tools, parts and finishes and sundries for people who are building guitars. I left inspired to try building one for myself!

The museum includes guitars played by Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and many others - a total of about 170 clasic and modern guitars plus examples of very nice custom and elaborate inlaid and exotic wood instruments. I was really impressed with some of the signature models thay are now making like for Eric Clapton and Mark Knophler. they also have a wall of fame with autographed photos and CD covers from about a jillion performers who have recorded using Martin instruments.

It was a good stop, lots of interesting new stuff.

We traveled on to Quakertown, PA which is an hour or so outside Philadelphia where we hope to see some of the historical sites - if this pouring rain lets up a little. This trailer park includes some huge old oak trees and the rain and the falling acorns make a lot of noise. Hopefully it will let up for a couple of days.

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