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The Martin Story

Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales

The growth of C. F. Martin & Co. was slowed somewhat by Frank Martin’s decision to invest in a college education for his two sons, rather than in an expanded sales force for the company. A self-taught scholar who placed a high value on learning, Martin felt that a fine education for his sons would be in the best interests of the company on a long-term basis. Thus, Christian Frederick Martin III enrolled at Princeton University in 1912 and was joined there the following year by his brother, Herbert Keller Martin.

Recalling his father, Christian Frederick III says, "He was a remarkable man. He worked long hours all of his life in the guitar business. Yet, with little formal education, he was extraordinarily well read, with a thorough knowledge of Greek and Latin."

Upon graduation from Princeton in 1916, Christian Frederick III entertained the idea of attending the graduate school of business administration at Harvard University. "I had ambitions at the time of getting away from the family business," he recalls. "But my brother was still in college and my father needed help managing things, so I came home and went to work making guitars on what I thought would be a part-time basis." What started out as a temporary situation for Christian Frederick evolved into a life-long vocation.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The C. F. Martin Story
Chapter 2: Fleeing Restrictive Guilds
Chapter 3: Guitars for Wine
Chapter 4: From Workshop to Factory
Chapter 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales
Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom
Chapter 8: Martin Innovations
Chapter 9: An Era of Prosperity
Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation
Chapter 11: Ecological Concerns
Chapter 12: Continuing Adherence to Principles

Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom

The 1920s were booming years for the Martin Company, as the ukulele captured the fancy of the American public. The first Martin ukuleles were not well received. They were made much like a guitar, with too much bracing in the body, particularly in the top, which was of spruce. The excessive bracing and the spruce top gave the instruments a dead and lackluster tone that failed to appeal to the buying public.

Recognizing the shortcomings of its initial ukulele design, Martin went to work at producing an acceptable uke. By reducing the amount of bracing and substituting mahogany for spruce, Martin quickly garnered a large share of the ukulele market. The demand for the products was such that Martin was forced to double the capacity of the North Street plant with an additional wing and increase in the work force. Guitar production in 1920 totaled 1,361 units; records of ukulele production were not kept, but Christian Frederick Martin III estimates that the company turned out nearly twice as many ukuleles as guitars during the ’20s.

In structuring the organization of the company, Frank Henry Martin initially envisioned Christian Frederick Martin overseeing manufacturing with Herbert Keller Martin attending to the sales. This division of responsibility worked well until Herbert Keller Martin died unexpectedly after a few days of illness in 1927. With the passing of his brother, Christian Frederick became increasingly involved in company sales efforts, traveling extensively throughout the country.

During the decade of the ’20s, sales of C. F. Martin instruments increased every year, and by 1928 annual guitar production stood at 5,215 units, over four times the output of 1920. With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, national economic hardship forced the Martin family to discard aspirations for increased sales and concentrate on plain survival. With millions out of work and thousands of businesses on the brink of bankruptcy, selling guitars proved increasingly challenging.

Between 1929 and 1931, guitar sales were virtually halved. Responding to the harsh climate, Martin reduced its wage rate and for a time operated on a three-day week. The company also diversified, producing violin parts and even some wooden jewelry, in an effort to keep workmen busy. However, the company never vigorously pursued any of these areas. "We were always afraid that getting into some other business would hurt our guitar business," related C. F. Martin III. He added, "We entered a few other fields during the Depression, not with any enthusiasm, but out of necessity."

Striving to stimulate seriously depressed sales, Martin launched an active product development campaign during the Depression. During this period, the company added new designs to the product line, altered existing products, and explored numerous features in hopes of finding a product that would bolster lagging sales. While many of the products conceived during this period had a short life span, two major developments emerged that had a lasting effect on the company: the creation of the now famous "Dreadnought" guitar and the invention of the 14-fret neck.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The C. F. Martin Story
Chapter 2: Fleeing Restrictive Guilds
Chapter 3: Guitars for Wine
Chapter 4: From Workshop to Factory
Chapter 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales
Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom
Chapter 8: Martin Innovations
Chapter 9: An Era of Prosperity
Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation
Chapter 11: Ecological Concerns
Chapter 12: Continuing Adherence to Principles

Chapter 9: An Era on Prosperity

Frank Henry Martin died at the age of 81 in 1948, and C. F. Martin III assumed the presidency of the company, which continued to enjoy worldwide recognition for its guitars of uncompromising quality. Post-war prosperity, coupled with a growing interest in guitars and folk music, made the years 1948-1970 an unprecedented era of growth for C. F. Martin. Demand for Martin guitars increased at a far greater pace than did production capacity, and thus by the early ’60s the company was back-ordered as much as three years. While some might have felt that Martin’s back-order situation was enviable, C. F. Martin III recounted that it was a frustrating time. "When someone walks into a music store with several hundred dollars and asks for a Martin guitar, he wants it then, not three years later. Our lack of production capacity at the time cost us sales and strained our relationships with our dealer family."

Thus, C. F. Martin III, with the aid of his son, Frank Herbert Martin, who joined the company in 1955, made the major decision to build a new larger plant. In 1964 the North Street plant, with its multi-story construction and numerous additions, was no longer adequate to service the demand for the company’s product. "The North Street plant was not the best production facility, but running up and down four flights of stairs constantly every day probably contributed to the longevity of Martin family members," quipped C. F. Martin III.

Production methods at the new Sycamore Street Martin plant have evolved slightly from methods used at North Street. Hand craftsmanship was and remains the trademark of the Martin guitar. However, with the building’s efficient one-story layout, Martin has been able to improve the flow of materials and work in progress and thus gradually increase output without sacrificing quality.

Under the direction of Frank Herbert Martin, who succeeded his father, C. F. Martin III, as president in 1970, Martin began a period of acquisition. In 1970, the company purchased the renowned Vega Banjo Works of Boston. Months later, it acquired the Fibes Drum Company, makers of a unique fiberglass drum. The year 1970 brought still another acquisition, that of the Darco String Company, owned by John D’Addario, Sr., John D’Addario, Jr., and James D’Addario. Another addition in the early ’70s was the A. B. Herman Carlson Levin Company of Sweden. Levin made a variety of classic guitars as well as the steel string type. In subsequent years, Vega, Levin and Fibes were spun off; however, the manufacture of Martin and Darco strings remains an integral part of the company.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The C. F. Martin Story
Chapter 2: Fleeing Restrictive Guilds
Chapter 3: Guitars for Wine
Chapter 4: From Workshop to Factory
Chapter 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales
Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom
Chapter 8: Martin Innovations
Chapter 9: An Era of Prosperity
Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation
Chapter 11: Ecological Concerns
Chapter 12: Continuing Adherence to Principles

Chapter 8: Martin Innovations

According to C. F. Martin III, the 14-fret neck was developed in late 1929. Prior to the period, guitars were generally equipped with a 12-fret neck. As the story goes, a renowned plectrum banjoist of the day, Perry Bechtel, suggested to Frank Henry Martin that he make a guitar with a 14-fret neck. Bechtel reasoned that the longer neck would increase the guitar’s range and make it a more versatile instrument. Following Bechtel’s advice, Martin introduced a guitar with the longer neck and dubbed it an "Orchestra Model."

The 14-fret neck was so well received that Martin eventually extended the feature to all models in its line. In short order, it became the standard design for the American guitar industry.

The Dreadnought guitar, named after a large class of World War I British battleships, has become something of a trademark of the Martin Company. The original Martin Dreadnought models were designed by Frank Martin and Harry Hunt, manager of Chas. H. Ditson Co., a leading music retailer with stores in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. A shrewd judge of the market, Hunt reasoned that a Dreadnought guitar, with its large body and booming bass, would be ideal for accompanying vocals. The first Dreadnoughts, introduced in 1916, were sold under the brand name of "Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, New York." At first the instruments were not very well received simply because there were not many singers using guitars, and solo players felt that the bass on the Dreadnought was overbearing. However, as folk singing became increasingly popular, sales of the Dreadnought picked up. The Ditson Company went out of business in the late 1920s, and in 1931 Martin incorporated the Dreadnought into its line of guitars. Today, the model is a dominant factor in the Martin line, and virtually every maker of acoustic guitars, both domestic and foreign, has introduced a version of this original Martin design.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The C. F. Martin Story
Chapter 2: Fleeing Restrictive Guilds
Chapter 3: Guitars for Wine
Chapter 4: From Workshop to Factory
Chapter 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales
Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom
Chapter 8: Martin Innovations
Chapter 9: An Era of Prosperity
Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation
Chapter 11: Ecological Concerns
Chapter 12: Continuing Adherence to Principles

Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation

Christian Frederick Martin IV was born on July 8, 1955. He then attended UCLA, majoring in Economics. In his free time, he helped in the guitar repair shop of Westwood Music in West Los Angeles, and this also gave him a valuable insight into the retail end of the music business.

When Chris was small, he helped box strings, 6 to a box. In 1972 and 1973 he became more active in the business, helping in the office and attending the NAMM Trade Show in Chicago. He also worked in the machine room cutting out guitar neck blanks on the bandsaw.

During the summer of 1973, Chris spent his time learning every operation and assisting with the construction of a D-28S guitar. This and his apprenticeship in the shop was an invaluable experience when he took his place in the family business.

Chris joined the Martin Guitar Company full time after his graduation from Boston University in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the School of Management. Chris worked in many departments, learning how the business functioned from the bottom up. In 1985 he was appointed Vice President of Marketing, and he took an active roll in the day-to-day challenge of running a traditional business in a modern world. After the death of his grandfather, C. F. Martin III, on June 15, 1986, C. F. Martin IV was appointed Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, indicating his responsibility for leading Martin into the next century.

Under Chris’ management, the Sycamore Street facility was expanded, the successful Backpacker travel guitar was introduced, and the limited edition guitar program was expanded to include signature models of significant artists like Gene Autry, Eric Clapton, and Marty Stuart as well as unique collaborations like the 1996 "MTV Unplugged" MTV-1 guitar. Perhaps the boldest new direction that Chris took was the development and introduction of the patented "X Series" guitars, which thoroughly re-examined the way guitars are designed and constructed. Through the use of innovative processes combined with computer aided manufacturing, the "X Series" models offer an affordable acoustic guitar without compromise of tone or craftsmanship.

The Martin Guitar Company is thriving under the direction of Chris, whose management style is friendly and personal, yet firm and direct. Chris travels extensively world-wide in order to stay abreast of market trends and to do instructional clinics at Martin dealerships around the world.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The C. F. Martin Story
Chapter 2: Fleeing Restrictive Guilds
Chapter 3: Guitars for Wine
Chapter 4: From Workshop to Factory
Chapter 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
Chapter 6: Education Instead of Sales
Chapter 7: Riding the Ukulele Boom
Chapter 8: Martin Innovations
Chapter 9: An Era of Prosperity
Chapter 10: The Sixth Generation
Chapter 11: Ecological Concerns
Chapter 12: Continuing Adherence to Principles

 
 
 
 
 
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