Factory Tour: Martin
Join John Bohlinger as he heads to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, to take an inside look at one of the oldest manufacturers in the acoustic guitar business.
With roots that date back to the early 19th century, the multi-generational Martin Guitars—which also employs a host of multi-generational builders—draws on their long history to combine the traditional handmade methods of their early days with modern 21st century computerized optimization, all of which are on display throughout this thorough, detailed factory tour that makes every stop along the assembly process.
Instrument design manager Rameen Shayegan leads Bohlinger through the factory, where they see workers, each specialized in various parts of the creation process, building the company’s instruments. Their first stop starts at the very beginning of the manufacturing process, at the raw wood acclimation department and the sawmill, and we get to see firsthand where guitars begin to take shape and necks are rough cut. Next, we see how backs are made and are introduced to the clamp carrier machine, where they’re glued up and set to dry. Braces are then carved and installed onto the guitars’ tops—which we see being laser cut to precision—and backs. Once the sides are bent, a rim is applied, glued, and a guitar body is made. Then, binding is installed, necks meet the bodies, frets meet fretboards, guitars are finished, and we meet the imposing and futuristic polishing robot, which makes that finish shine.
By the time the tour winds down in the setup department, we witness the final steps of the Martin creation process, where guitar get the Plek-machine treatment, get strung up for the very first time, and electronics are installed. Quality control doesn’t stop until after every instrument spends time in four-day hold and gets a thorough reinspection before shipping off to its next destination.
Reader Guitar of the Month: Keith Richards Swamp Monster
Inspired by the The Great Guitar Build Off, an experienced builder challenged himself to turn a live-edge piece of cherry wood into a masterfully unique, grizzled beauty.
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Guitar: Live-edge Cherry Swamp Monster, nicknamed “Keith Richards”
For the past five or six years, I’ve been slowly building my guitar-building chops starting with a couple kits and then moving into my own scratch-built designs under the name Tunguska Guitars. Lately I’ve been intrigued by some of the builds I’ve seen featured on The Great Guitar Build Off run by Britain’s Crimson Guitars, and I’ve tried to start thinking outside of the norm.
My brother-in-law has a bunch of 2" slabs of cherry wood that have been drying in a shed behind his house for a couple years. When we were down for a visit, he took me up to collect a few. This particular live-edge piece wormed its way into my heart, and I grabbed it, knowing it was probably useless for a guitar.
But once I got home, I kept thinking about how to solve the problems. The entire bridge/tailpiece area was completely unsuitable, and one thing I knew I did not want to do is fill it with resin. This thing needed to stay as raw, beat-up, and un-shiny as possible. There was barely enough wood to get a body and neck out of it, but I managed to get both.
I decided the only way to solve the bridge issue was to fabricate something myself (if you can call it that), so I picked up a 3/8" steel rod and used a blowtorch to heat it up and make the necessary bends in the bridge, far enough apart that it literally “bridged” the canyon of disintegrating wood. I put threads on the mounting ends so I could install nuts on the top and bottom as a basic height adjustment. The 2-piece tailpiece was less drastic, but also did the trick by boring deep into the good wood for support.
I decided the pickup mount would emulate an acoustic, boring all the way through the body and countersinking a steel ring for decoration with pickup mounting holes on the backside instead of the top, and I wanted a single volume control to hover in the upper horn’s decorative hole. This took a while and involved a short, threaded rod, three nuts, and a little bit of J-B Weld to get one of the nuts on the mini-pot.
Once I got far enough into the process, I was calling it “The Nameless One,” but my friends started calling it “Keith Richards”–a grizzled, beat-up, true rock ’n’ roll survivor. I came to be completely okay with that assessment: It just feels perfect!
The pickup is a hand-distressed StewMac Golden Age Parsons Street humbucker. The fretboard is ziricote and the relic’d tuning machines and control knob came from GFS.
The thing sounds amazing—it’s very open and organic. Cranking up the distortion just a bit gives it a lovely swamp-’70s vibe. It completely surpassed my expectations, and I’m sure it’s Keith’s fault.
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Novo Guitars Factory Tour
How—and why—luthier Dennis Fano’s Nashville operation increasingly favors pine bodies for his unique, carefully crafted designs.