Premier Guitar

Guitar of the Month: 1.5 Millionth Martin

February 15, 2011

Photo by Joe Coffey
In 1833, Christian Frederick Martin moved from his hometown of Markneukirchen, Germany, to New York City and started C.F. Martin Guitar & Company. Five years later, Martin moved to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where it has been headquartered for 173 years—and where it has produced most of its 1.5 million guitars.

In 1990, Martin celebrated the completion of its 500,000th guitar, an HD-28 signed by all of their employees. In 2004, luthier Larry Robinson spent nearly two years designing, cutting, and applying inlay pieces by hand to complete their millionth guitar. And for the recent 1.5 millionth Martin, the company went with a Leonardo da Vinci theme—complete with a Last Supper pickguard inlay, da Vinci artwork-inspired inlays, a Mona Lisa headstock, and a Vitruvian Man design on the back. To complete the one-and-a-half-year process, they turned to renowned inlay artist and luthier Harvey Leach (of Voyage-Air Guitars) and scrimshaw engraver extraordinaire Bob Hergert to apply their intricate art forms to this guitar.

This historic Martin features an Adirondack spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back, sides, and neck. The pickguard scenery and background are crafted from jade, gray Corian, turquoise, sugulite, gaspeite, green recon, and dark ivory. The Twelve Apostles, Jesus, and their robes were made from Corian, spiny oyster, and pipestone recon, while skin tones were crafted from walnut-tree particles. All of the faces were engraved by hand by Bob Hergert.


Detail photos courtesy of C.F. Martin & Co.


Photo by Harvey Leach
The bridge and the neck inlays depict images found in da Vinci’s notebooks. The headstock uses Corian, malachite, jade, chrysocolla recon, green acrylic, and spiny oyster. “One of the great challenges of doing the Mona Lisa was recreating the mysterious swirling background done by sfumato, which da Vinci described as “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane,’” says Leach. “I cut each tiny section from alternating patterns. I do this—rather than cut all from the same spot—so that the lines in the material will be different from piece to piece.” Mona Lisa’s skin is cut from fossilized ivory, and her dress and shawl are derived from walnut.

Each gold tuner was handtooled by Tara Mitchell to mimic da Vinci’s notebook sketches. The process took more than 100 hours in all.

The figured Brazilian rosewood on the guitar’s back matches the Vitruvian Man’s wavy locks. “He was cut from a piece of Corian called chamois, which had just the right look of the old parchment of the original drawing,” says Leach. “The actual inlay is made of only 10 pieces, which just happens to be the same amount used to create Jesus’ feet on the pickguard.”

A special thanks to Harvey Leach of Voyage-Air Guitar and Dick Boak of Martin Guitar for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.