Great American factory tours: Martin Guitars in Nazareth, Pa.

NAZARETH, Pa. – German immigrant Christian Friedrich Martin began shaping wood into guitars in Nazareth in 1838. He had come from Saxony to New York City a few years earlier but migrated with his young family to this central Pennsylvania community of Moravians in the Lehigh Valley. He said the rolling green hills reminded him of home. 

The original Martin workshop still stands in the small town whose population of 5,000 is about what it was a century ago. The company’s large current facility went up in the 1950s and is situated in the northern edge of town. Martin employs 500 workers, most of them woodworkers and craftsmen.

Remarkably, the company is still in the hands of the Martin family.  C.F. (Chris) Martin IV, now 64, is the sixth-generation grandson of Christian Friedrich.

Song writer/musician David Crosby is a huge fan of Martin acoustic guitars, calling them “the best factory-made guitars in the world and the global standard.”  “Martin,” said Crosby in a 2017 video, “is a national treasure that Americans should be very proud of.”

There are other American guitar makers – Gibson, Guild, Taylor – but among artists Martins stand out for full, sustained sound and piano-like definition. Martins are at the high end of the market, with the mid-range D-15 selling for $1,700 and the famous D-28 “dreadnought” for $3,300. A custom John Lennon D-28 sells for $4,400. Lower-priced Martins are produced at the company’s Navojoa, Mexico, plant.

Martins cut across genres. Jimmy Buffett plays a Martin, as did bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and Gene Autry. Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Roger Waters have played Martins. Joan Baez in the late ‘60s performed with a classic 1880 Martin.

Visitors are welcome at Martin. A very complete 65-minute factory tour is free of charge and offered weekdays every 30 minutes during working hours.

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