The Origin of Martin Guitars: Myth or Fantasy?

The story goes that back in 1833 C. F. Martin had a semi-thriving business in producing drink coasters for the Nazareth, Pennsylvania community by cutting perfect circles out of mahogany or spruce sheets which he had planed to a perfect thickness.

Some of his original coasters were rather plain (See photo). Others, for high end clientele, had various binding around the edge: there was the plain model as shown in the photo, a Model 28 that had plain ivory binding; there was a Model H28 that had a beautiful herringbone pattern; and an ornate Model 41 with inland abalone binding. While these products provided a modest income, his wife had higher aspirations and one day suggested that there were better uses for his fine mahogany and spruce planks than coasters. C. F.’s initial reaction was to tell his wife not to meddle in his business which was not “womens’ work, but, no; she persisted.

Finally, after exhaustive arguments she said, “C.F. (she always called him C.F.), if you don’t do something better with your life, I’m gonna coast right outta here!” C.F. relented and decided to enter the cutting board business, but his fine mahogany and spruce planks were far too thin for that purpose, as even cheese slicers would soon cut through the thin wood and that endeavor soon went bust.

About that time there was a growing interest in musical instruments and C.F. realized that if he left some space around the coaster cutouts on his fine mahogany and spruce spruce planks, he would have the makings of a guitar top. Thus C.F.Martin guitars was born.

Trusting in tradition, he continued to bind his guitar tops with ivory, herringbone, and abalone trim. His original model number designations continue to this day. Reproductions of the original coasters can still be found at the Martin tent at various bluegrass festivals.

One Response

  • Dear Steve, enjoyed your article very much…being a “writer” should be added to your resume.
    Also didn’t know you were a collector of vintage audio equipment. And, being a vintage person myself, come visit once again this time with a pickup truck and I would be most pleased to make your attic and basement even happier. 78, 45, and 33 rpm by the boatload complete with the associated operational machinery.

    Best,

    Al

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