Martin Guitars in 1833? Who Knew?

LindaI’ve always wanted to write a story about a guitar-playing cowboy in the old West and I think I know what story I’m putting it in. The new series I just sold would be perfect. I wonder why this angle has been overlooked by authors.

Who knew Martin guitars went back to 1833 in America? This blew my mind.

But actually the story began in 1796 in Germany when Christian Frederick Martin Sr. was born. He grew up in the cabinet making business but apprenticed under guitar maker, Johann Stauffer.

C.F. Martin immigrated to America in 1833 and quickly set up shop in New York City. His business had a slow start. He made each guitar by hand himself. The problem was finding musicians to play them. His wife convinced him to move to Nazareth, Pennsylvania which he did in 1838. By 1873, business was thriving and he employed over a dozen craftsmen.

In the latter 1800s, Frank Henry Martin took over the business at age 22 after the unexpected death of his father, C.F. Martin Jr.

WillieNelson's Martin TriggerFrank is responsible for the family creed:
“How to build a guitar to give this tone is not a secret. It takes care and patience. Care in selecting the materials, laying out the proportions, and attending to the details which add to the player’s comfort. Patience in giving the necessary time to finish every part. A good guitar cannot be built for the price of a poor one, but who regrets the extra cost for a good guitar?”

This is surely the reason for the company’s amazing longevity.

Sixth generation, Chris Martin heads the company today. He employs hundreds of craftsmen, 600 in 2007. His guitars cost thousands of dollars. In 2004, they rolled out their millionth guitar. It had 40 inlaid rubies and diamonds on it and was worth one million dollars.

elvisElvis, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan are among just a few of the famous musicians who played/plays this brand of guitar.

**A side note: Willie Nelson bought his Martin in 1969 and named it Trigger. It’s the only guitar he’s owned since. It was the only thing the IRS left him keep when they took all his possessions. They said the beat up thing wasn’t worth anything. He trusts only one man to look after it, onstage and off. He gets it reconditioned twice a year by a Martin repairman so he can keep entertaining the huge crowds who come to hear him. In case, you’ve never seen it, the guitar above–yeah, the one with the big second hole– is Trigger.

My songwriter sister, Jan Sikes, is faithfully guarding her husband Rick Sikes’ Martin after he passed away. He was a country/western singer.
Do you have any association with a Martin, either play it yourself or know someone who does?

I wonder how many Martins will be under the tree around the world this Christmas??

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

27 thoughts on “Martin Guitars in 1833? Who Knew?”

    • Hi Karen…..Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog and big thanks for your comment about my cover. I love this cover. One thing about Sourcebooks, they really put a lot of time and effort into getting covers just right. I just received the cover for book two and I sat here and cried. The hero has such an expression of love on his face as he kisses the heroine’s temple. I can’t wait to share it later on. Much too early now.

      Have an awesome day!

  1. Linda, this info surprised me, too! What a great piece of character definition for a hero. And who doesn’t love Willie Nelson’s music? He’s written songs for some of the greats, including Patsy Cline. (I believe he wrote Leann Rimes’ “Blue” for Patsy Cline, as a matter of fact.)

    Trigger is iconic. I hope it goes to a museum when Willie’s gone.

    • Hi Kathleen……I’m so glad you enjoyed this bit of history. You’re right about Willie Nelson. He’s such a prolific songwriter and that old beat up thing the IRS thought wasn’t worth anything has helped him become on of the truly greats. Yes, I hope that Martin is preserved after he’s gone. I think it will be hard for the family to turn loose of it though.

      Hope your day is fun and exciting, new Filly sister!

  2. My husband is a drummer but would greatly appreciate the history behind a Martin. He has several friends who play guitar and I’ll see what they play?

    • Hi Jennifer…….Wow, you have a musical family! Great that your husband is a drummer. Music is a universal language. Everyone on the plant seems to enjoy music of some kind.

      Have a wonderful day!

  3. no one in my family plays a guitar,I did take lessons as a kid but my fingers were too short and it was just too hard

    • Hi Vickie…….Thanks for coming by and reading my blog. I hear you about not having any musical talent. I don’t think God saw me when I was standing in that line. LOL As a kid I yearned with my heart and soul to play the piano. Never could figure it out. I truly envy musicians, no matter what instrument they play.

      Have an awesome day! Maybe it’ll get warmer.

  4. Very interesting… I tried a neighbor’s guitar and a violin once… always wanted to play an instrument… was actually told in elementary school that I was not musically inclined, so they would not let me play anything… my mom always played the organ… she got me my own kid size one and I played on that for a few years… grew out of it though… my sisters made the band in school… one played the flute… the other the clarinet… no string players in my family.

    • Hi Colleen……..I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Like you, I always wanted to play SOMETHING. Anything. But I can barely play the radio, I’m that bad. I truly envy my youngest sister who plays the guitar, writes music and sings like an angel. Oh well, I’m glad God blessed me with the gift of telling stories.

      I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. What great info on the Martin, Linda. I had no idea! I admire anybody who plays guitar…being left-handed, it just seemed way to complex for me LOL..interesting about the German roots…I do seem to remember the guy who write Silent Night composed it for his guitar…because mice ate the pump organ mechanism or something? Or maybe that’s a Christmasy urban legend.

    Congratulations on your new series. And wow, gorgeous cover indeed! xox

    • Hi Tanya……..I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I was so excited to learn that guitars were produced in the U.S. so far back. The Spanish brought their guitars over here even earlier but to find out that it’s possible for my hero to play a Martin guitar…I was overjoyed.

      Thanks for the compliment about my cover. I thought Sourcebooks did an amazing job. Have a great Thanksgiving!

    • Hi Margaret……Glad you found my blog interesting. I’ve been around musicians and instruments all my life though I never learned how to play any. In addition to my sister, I had a fiddle-playing uncle and several cousins who took up guitar. My dad played a harmonica. So I guess that’s why I was so excited to learn that there was an American guitar maker so long ago. Previously, I thought the small Spanish guitars were all there were.

      Thanks for the compliment about my cover. I loved it. One thing about Sourcebooks, they do great work.

  6. Great post, Linda! I, too, wonder why authors have overlooked this angle…why I’ve overlooked this angle. Music was/is so important in the cowboy lifestyle. I enjoyed reading about the
    Martin guitar.

    • Hi Kirsten…..I’m so glad you enjoyed this blog. I’m constantly amazed at what I learn when I scour books and things looking for something new to blog about. Yes, music and cowboys just seems like a natural blend.

      Hope you have a great evening and stay warm!

  7. Not sure I know anyone who plays a Martin guitar. We did usher for a Willie Nelson concert a year or so ago. I was surprised when he came on stage with the beat up guitar with the big hole in it. Sounded just fine.
    Thanks for the interesting post. I’ll be looking for your guitar playing cowboy book.

  8. Great post Linda! Fascinating. I didn’t realize Martins went back that far. When I was in college (I won’t say when) I went to a Willie Nelson concert and I’m sure he was playing Trigger!

  9. Hi Linda! Sorry to be late to the party, but I just had to comment on this. My husband has always wanted a Martin, and last month, I “forced” him to buy one at Guitar Center. They were having a wonderful sale on a certain model–not top of the line, but not the “bottom” either. It’s got the most gorgeous sound and he absolutely loves it. Spends hours playing every day. Of course, he kept saying, “That’s a lot of money…” But I said, “YOU DESERVE IT.” I’m so glad I talked him into it. He’s wanted one ever since we first started playing music together “back in the day”.


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