The founder of C.F. Martin & Co. was born January 31, 1796 in Mark Neukirchen, Saxony, Germany. He was the son of Johann Georg Martin, a cabinetmaker also known in the region for building guitars.
After learning as much about guitarmaking as he could from his father, at age 15 Christian Friedrich left for Vienna, where he became an employee of Johann Stauffer, one of the most celebrated guitarmakers of the period. The young Martin must have done well, for he rose to the position of foreman in the Stauffer workshops. This was an important move for an ambitious youth, for Vienna, like Paris or London, was an acknowledged center of art and culture. Such an apprenticeship give Christian Friedrich not only the opportunity to learn the finer points of guitarmaking, but also afforded him exposure to the well-known performing guitarists of the period. Although no correspondence from his years in Vienna survive, he must have soaked up a considerable amount of “guitar culture” of the period while working in a shop like Stauffer’s. It would have been hard not to notice the growing popularity of the guitar, to the point where music critics were declaring it a fad.
After 14 years with Stauffer, C. F. Martin went to work for another Viennese, Karl Kühle, a harp maker. Christian Friedrich probably had his eye on something besides Kuhle’s harps, however, as on April 25th, 1825 he married Kühle's daughter, Ottilie Lucia Kühle, who was a harpist and singer in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Christian Friedrich Martin, Jr. was born on October 2, 1825.
Shortly after the birth of their son, the young Martin family returned to Mark Neukirchen. This was a period of great strife for the Martins and other guitarmakers in the area, most of who belonged to the Cabinetmakers Guild, because the Violin Makers Guild was trying to prohibit cabinetmakers from making musical instruments. The return of C. F. Martin to the neighborhood, after having completed a lengthy apprenticeship with one of the most highly regarded guitarmakers in Europe, probably made the violinmakers even more nervous. The mood of the times is best expressed by quoting from the Historical Review of the Violin Makers Guild of Mark Neukirchen, published in 1927, 250 years after the founding of the Guild.
Out of the stipulation in the Guild Articles that only Masters of the Guild might produce violins and similar wares, there arose a long dispute between the Violin Makers Guild and the cabinetmakers' trade. Beginning around 1800 certain cabinetmakers were building guitars, in particular Johann Georg Martin, Christian Friedrich Martin, Carl Gottlob Wild and Carl Friederick Jakob; later on August Paulus, Johann Friedrich Durrschmidt, Heinrich Schatz, Christian Gottfried Seifert, and Christian Friedrich August Meinel.
In memoranda of May 25th and July 9th, 1826, the violin makers, who had already complained of this state of affairs in 1807, demanded an injunction against the 'bunglers' and asserted that they themselves belonged to the 'class of musical instrument makers and therefore to the class of artists, whose work not only showed finish but gave evidence of a certain understanding, a cultured taste,' while the cabinetmakers by contrast were 'nothing more than mechanics' and 'their product consisted of all kinds of articles known as furniture.' With asperity the violin makers asked: 'Who is so stupid that he cannot see at a glance that a grandfather's armchair or a stool is no guitar, and such an article appearing among our instruments must look like Saul among the Prophets. And just as little would a violin or guitar finished by a master hand, when it had become old, figure in a lot of new carpenter style goods but it would, like a nightingale among colored parrots, remain unnoticed.' Besides that, the violinmakers pointed out, among the 120 masters of their Guild 'about 40 members made guitars exclusively.'
The cabinetmakers said in reply that the violin makers had no vested right in the making of guitars and that the 'discovery of the guitar' had been brought about by travelers some 30 to 35 years before and had been completed by the cabinetmaker Georg Martin, and submitted a testimonial from the wholesaler Christian Wilhelm Schuster that Christian Friedrich Martin, who 'for a number of years had been foreman in the factory of the noted violin and guitarmaker, Johann George Stauffer of Vienna, had produced guitars, which in point of quality and appearance left nothing to be desired and which marked him as a distinguished craftsman.' Under the date of July 9th, 1832 the authorities again permitted the cabinetmakers to continue making guitars because these instruments were not mentioned in the Articles of the Violin Makers' Guild.
This dispute wasn’t settled for another twenty years, but by that time C. F. Martin and Heinrich Schatz had long since left Mark Neukirchen, taking the region’s best guitarmaking talent with them. Fifty years later, German craftsmen from Mark Neukirchen would still be leaving for Pennsylvania to work in the Martin factory.
On September 9, 1833, Christian Friedrich Martin gathered his family, now including a daughter barely a year old, and followed Heinrich Schatz to New York, where a second daughter was born in 1835.
Upon, departing, their friend F.A. Craslett presented them with a drawing of their home in Markneukirchen that bore the inscription:
"Oh, friendly symbol of my fatherland! This dear house, where I was wrapped in my parents love. The house, where I spent the luckiest of life's golden days with my beloved wife and children, which God gave me as a gift, where the quiet luck's sun was shining upon us. It is you! In a faithful picture you are standing in my eyes. To look at you often, should always make me happy."
(Written) on the 27th of August 1833 – the day of your departure – drafted for Mr. Martin and family. Dedicated to your memory by F.A. Craslett.
On November, 6, 1833, C. F. Martin arrives in America and sets up his own guitar shop at 196 Hudson Street in New York City. He brings the Stauffer headstock to America, not to mention forms, drawings and specifications. In addition to a few custom guitar orders, he sells a variety of musical instruments and accessories and begins to establish a reputation for unexcelled quality.
Despite changing their given names—Friedrich was Americanized to Frederick—and beginning to use English in their ledgers, the young immigrants apparently never felt at home in New York. According to Martin family oral history, the family’s unrest almost led them to return to Germany, but once again Heinrich (now Henry) Schatz led the way to a solution.
Schatz had settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in 1835. By 1838 Mrs. Martin had apparently toured Nazareth while visiting the Schatz family, as there is a record of correspondence between her at Nazareth and her husband in New York. Since the area looked much like Mark Neukirchen and had a long-established German population, Mrs. Martin probably lost little time in convincing her husband to leave the inhospitable chaos of New York. After selling his musical merchandise, but not his guitarmaking tools, C. F. Martin moved with his family to Bushkill Township in Pennsylvania.
C.F. Sr. made a detailed inventory of the goods he sold to Ludecus & Wolter, and that record still survives. It includes a remarkable variety of musical instruments and parts, totaling over $2500. Although Martin may have had a few debts against that amount, later correspondence tells us that he had also bought property in New York City, and had several tenants. Considering his relatively short tenure in New York, Christian Frederick Martin had apparently done quite well. Although the image of the struggling immigrant from the Old Country is tempting, it doesn’t apply in Martin’s case. He had proved his abilities as a guitarmaker while employed by Stauffer in Vienna, but in New York, he proved his abilities as a businessman as well.
The original Martin residence, known as the “Cherry Hill Property,” overlooked Nazareth and included the land now occupied by the Martin factory. Although all Martin guitars were built in Nazareth beginning in 1839, they continued to be stamped “C.F. Martin, New York” until 1867 and then “C.F. Martin & Co., New York” until 1898 because of a sales arrangement with a New York distributor.
Between 1842 and 1843, C. F. Martin created the very first Size 1 model and the earliest X-braced guitar ever documented, supporting Martin’s longstanding claim as the inventor of X-bracing, a primary innovation in the evolution of the modern American guitar. After entertaining her in his home, C. F. Martin made the special X-braced guitar for Madame Delores N. De Goñi, who was probably the finest professional guitar soloist of her time. Her performances were widely popular throughout the Americas between 1841 and 1892. She pronounced Martin guitars to be "superior to any instruments of the kind (she had) ever seen in this country or Europe for tone, workmanship and facility of execution!"
In addition to Sizes 5, 3 1/2, 3, 2 1/2, 2, and 1, C. F. Martin introduces the larger "0" model featuring rosewood body and slotted square peghead. From the 1850s on, Martin would gradually increase the size and variety of its models, though most were primarily "parlor sized" guitars, plain yet elegant, all gut-stringed. 12-fret 00s would come in 1877; 14-fret 00s in 1902.
Tired of hitching up the horse and buggy every time he needed to deliver guitars to the postal depot, the Martins bought a large parcel of land at 201 N. Main Street and the adjoining area of West North Street. After his new home was completed, he began work on a small factory next door on North Street.
This property would be home to five generations of Martins and is still owned by the company. C. F. Martin's cousin, C. F. Hartmann built a house next door, and Reinhold Schuster, another long-time employee, had a home on the other side of the Hartmanns. Other German immigrants with long family connections to the Martins, beyond their role in the factory, also lived in the same neighborhood.
Frank Henry Martin was born October 14, 1866. C. F. Martin Jr. and his wife Lucinda also had four daughters, Agnes, Laura, Anna, and Harriet.
Due to his father’s stroke in the 1850s, C. F. Martin Jr. was probably more involved as a creative force in the development of the Martin guitar during the early Pennsylvania years than has been previously recognized. The family history, written by one of his young nieces, paints “Uncle Fritz,” as he was called, as a loving and affectionate family man. He was also quite active in community affairs, serving as Chief Burgess of Nazareth, as a member of the Town Council, and as a trustee of the Moravian Church.
In 1867, C. F. Martin, Jr. and his cousin Christian Frederick Hartman became partners in the Martin Guitar Co. The exact date of the dissolution of this partnership is unknown, but when C. F. Jr. died on November 15, 1888, Hartmann was again only an employee and the company was passed to Frank Henry Martin and his mother.
It is unfortunate that not more is known about C. F. Martin, Jr. Although little changed at the Martin Guitar Company under his leadership but further standardization of guitar models, his son – Frank Henry Martin – would see the family company through its greatest period of change and growth.
The founder of the Martin Guitar Company passed away February 16, 1873, at the age of 77. The following eulogy was transcribed from the Old German text on record at the Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Eulogy of C. F. Martin Sr.
Our widowed brother Christian Frederick Martin, deceased February 16, 1873, in Nazareth, was born January 31, 1796 and baptized February 1 in the District Neukirchen in the kingdom of Saxony.
He observed his confirmation at the age of 14 and took his first Holy Communion.
On April 25, 1825, he entered into marriage with Lucia Ottilie Kühle in Vienna, a marriage blessed with seven children, four of whom are still living. In September of 1833 he journeyed with his family to New York and settled there, practicing his profession as guitarmaker for five years.
From New York he then moved to Cherry Hill and joined the congregation in Schoeneck. After living in Cherry Hill for 23 years he moved here to Nazareth about 11 years ago.
Our blessed brother appears to have had very good health until suffering a stroke about 20 years ago, from which he gradually made a full recovery. Two years ago he suffered a relapse, and this time the effects were more permanent, with weakened memory and fully damaged mental powers.
On December 24, 1872, his loyal life companion predeceased him following several months of painful illness. From that time on he spent his final days in the home of his son, where he received all the care which filial love can extend to a beloved father.
In spite of his diminished mental powers our brother retained his sound physical health and was able to continue with certain tasks, by now second nature for him, coming voluntarily to his workshop as often as he could, even if only for short periods of work.
Two weeks ago Sunday he went to church as unusual, but needed to be led home before the service, feeling ill. From then on his physical powers began steadily to weaken, and it was apparent that his time was near. During this period, however, he was not confined to bed. Last Sunday afternoon he appeared very close to death, yet remained alert until 8:30 that evening when he died very peacefully.
“Blessed are the dead who die within the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’” Rev. 14.13.
Our brother, his life complete, was in the true sense of accomplishment one of the peaceful souls within the land. In his time of greatest powers he cast his light before others without putting on special airs to call attention to himself. Though he rarely spoke of religious matters, his very conduct showed that his life was a life of faith in the Son of God, who showed His love and received love in return through quiet testimony to His children on earth of the prophecy, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Matthew 25: 40.
The House of God was his joy. There was none who was more constant or more punctual in his attendance at church. Now he rests with renewed strength of spirit among the heavenly brotherhood and shall remain with the Lord forever.
“Prosper in your homeland well.
We who toil with earthly measures
Do in humbled spirit dwell
Till we also earn His treasures.”
Translated from Old German to Current German by Elizabeth Lutz of München (Munich), Germany. Translated from German to English by Ellis Finger, Lafayette College, Easton, PA.