Martin Guitar Factory: Free Fun With Kids

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It’s a bad idea to introduce your teenagers to Martin Guitars. The obvious difference in feel and playability opens their eyes in a very expensive way. The Martin Guitar Factory is an incredible blend of new technology and old craftsmanship. They’ve been making guitars here, in Nazareth, PA, since 1883 and the company is still owned by the original Martin family. The factory tour is free and well worth the drive out of your way if you’re in the general vicinity.

The kids were riveted and asked Barbara, our grandmotherly tour guide, a bunch of questions and took pictures of every single step. The process is amazing. If you’ve ever wondered why Martin guitars are so pricey, it’s because crafting one requires over three hundred steps, and many of them are done by hand, with hand tools sharpened by the craftsmen themselves and they accept no errors. They don’t sell seconds. If a guitar is flawed in a way they can’t repair, they destroy it... even at the very last step. As with most other things, you get what you pay for. 

The children asked a million questions. They peered into the machines, wondered about where the “eyes” were on the robotic polishing machine and how often it dropped a guitar.  The process is fascinating: from careful wood selection, milling and matching, to bending, sanding, gluing, more sanding, fret and finger board construction, embellishing, finishing, polishing and more.  

The full time luthiers were obviously master craftsmen and nothing short of perfection leaves the factory floor.  I, for one, had no appreciation for the layers of art and science that blend themselves into a myriad of tonal qualities and 

esthetic considerations.  Perhaps the most fabulous of all was the fellow painstakingly cutting paper thin sheets of abalone, mother of pearl and other lovely shiny embellishments into stars, leaves, and geometric shapes to create a one of a kind guitar for some lucky person.  “How much does THAT cost?” Asked Gabe.  “You can have one of those guitars, with your own signature on it in mother of pearl for about $10,000,” said our gracious guide, Beth.  Gabe’s eyes got big. For a boy who’s primary income comes from stacking firewood, at fifty cents a box, that’s a LOT of money! We wandered past beautiful instruments made for the likes of Johnny Cash, Dave Matthews and other folks we hear on the radio.

We wandered the museum, purchased authentic “Martin” guitar picks and postcards to mail to our musician friends. The highlight, by far, was in the last ten minutes, when the children discovered that the guitars lining the walls across from the album covers from artists who use Martins, were for playing.  Gabe’s eyes got big as he carefully chose an expensive Martin guitar and sat down on a stool to play.  Hannah quickly joined him.  They played everything they knew.  Hannah lamented leaving her fiddle at home, or they could have REALLY played.  I stood by and quietly enjoyed the moment: for me, it’s a perfect day when we can combine deep education on a new subject (guitar construction!) with good friends, and a double handful of fun. We’ve toured a lot of factories and museums as we’ve traveled, but this is one of our favourites. Music matters to our family, everyone plays something, and to get to pull back the curtain on the equally creative process of building the instrument is more than a little bit cool!

Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


I would like to go there ...

By Nick (not verified)

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