Christian Friedrich Martin, from Mark Neukirchen learned his craft as a carpenter. But his true interest was focused on building guitars. However, the closest thing to a guitar to be built in Markneukirchen at the time were violins and the violin makers had absolutely no interest in making guitars. So, in order to learn how to make guitars, young Christian moved to Vienna and found employment with Johann Stauffer, the leading guitar manufacturer in Vienna at the time. Upon his return he faced a new problem: The violin makers guild by now had figured out that good money was to be made with guitars, so they tried to keep anybody who wasn’t a member of their guild from making guitars. C. F. Martin, however, was a member of the cabinet makers guild and his training in Vienna was not accepted in Markneukirchen. Instead of getting into an exhausting quarrel with the violin makers, Martin decided to try his luck in America, where there is no guild system, and moved to New York with his entire Family.
Upon his arrival in 1833 he started dealing with musical instruments and producing violins and guitars in the German-Austrian fashion, which, at the time, were somewhat smaller than the Spanish classical guitars we know today. At that time all guitars had gut strings.
By the end of 1839 the Martin family had enough of the hectic, American city life and C. F. Martin bought a piece of land in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. There he took up guitar production in 1840.
Martin's German-Austrian Guitars, however, lead to another problem. People in America expected a guitar to look like a Spanish guitar and his guitars did not meet that expectation. Therefore he went ahead and copied the design of the Spanish guitars while maintaining his proven dovetail neck-connection.
A further step in the development of the Martin Guitar was the move from the traditional Spanish bridge, to a bridge with pins. That in itself is nothing groundbreaking, but it lead to another development. In the process of drilling the holes for the bridge-pins, Martin sometimes damaged the bracings. In order to avoid that he started to redesign the pattern of the bracings, spreading them out further apart, away from the bridge. Eventually this lead to a completely new pattern that would leave the underside of the bridge completely free while being strong and sounding great: The X-Bracing was born – and remains the absolute standard of American acoustic guitar building until today. This development was, is and stays groundbreaking!
Steel strings were initially used on Hawaiian guitars exclusively. On special orders and for other brands Martin began constructing “Spanish” guitars that could be strung with steel strings. In this context, “Spanish” means, the guitar is played in what we now consider, the normal way, as opposed to the Hawaiian lap steel guitars.
In 1922 Martin introduced a steel string model in their catalogue for the first time, thus becoming one of the first, if not the first company to produce steel string guitars, pioneering the development of the American acoustic guitar. Until today the vast majority of all acoustic guitar shapes descend more or less directly from a Martin design.
In the early 20th century, the American music-scene began shifting to ever bigger bands, with the guitar taking up an increasingly important role. Hawaiian music became extremely fashionable and added to the guitar's growing popularity. This lead to a growing demand for louder guitars. And how do you increase the volume of a guitar (without amplifying it electronically or by building a tin pot into it)? By making the resonance chamber bigger. And that's exactly what the people at Martin did. They increased the 000-shape in size by half an inch in width and length in a first step and made the waist wider in a second step, increasing both, volume and bass. And voilà – the Dreadnaught, the most American of all guitars was born.
With the rising popularity of Country Music after WWII the Dreadnaught became a must have for any serious guitarist, thanks to movie and music superstar Gene Autry and due to the fact that it proved to be perfect for radio broadcasts.
Stars like Johnny Cash and Elvis, and later on the Folk Music revival out of New York, helped maintain the popularity of Martin guitars and acoustic guitars in general.
The eighties brought dark clouds to the land of Martin. The development, and fast growing popularity of the synthesizer pushed the acoustic guitar out of the focus of mainstream pop music and sales dwindled. Salvation came in the 1990s, thanks to MTV's legendary „Unplugged“ series, featuring artists like Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Nirvana, all reinterpreting their own hits on Martin guitars. These shows revived the acoustic guitar and started an actual acoustic boom, that even the BoomBoom of Techno couldn't hurt.
In 1992 – with the backpacker - C.F. Martin & Co. began producing instruments in Navahoa, Mexico. This production facility quickly grew to a full-fledged guitar factory that now produces high quality guitars and ukuleles that, inspite of their affordable prices, are perfectly worthy of bearing the name „Martin“.
C.F. Martin & Co. remains leading in their field. This is certainly due to the fact that this company, that has been under both, owner- and leadership by its founding family throughout its history, has never lost focus on its origins, values and traditions, two of which are innovation and the goal to always try to make the best possible product.