In late January I flew out of a torrential rainstorm in Los Angeles (a year’s worth of rain fell in one weekend) to the bitter chill of New York City. This was not a trip for taking in the weather! I was picked up at the airport and driven through the flat farmland of Amish country to the town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. I’d come to shoot a special edition publication called The Martin Bible – a comprehensive guide to Martin Guitars and their history – and was especially excited as I love a factory tour.
The Martin Factory
We started the day with a private tour of the Martin Factory at Sycamore Street, a huge facility with a red brick facade that recreates the original historic factory. We met the craftsmen and women who took us through some of the 300 stages it takes to build a Martin guitar. The factory is bright and airy with the expected, homely smell of freshly worked wood. I always enjoy seeing the personal areas of the workshop; the photos and nick-nacks, the worn-in tool handles, the wood shavings and glossy splodges of dried glue and varnish on the workbenches.
After lunch we met with Dick Boak, artist, luthier and Martin’s in-house historian and archivist. Until his recent retirement, Dick kept the archive meticulously catalogued in huge rolling library stacks and it’s astounding how much history they have preserved; from sales ledgers dating back to the early 1800s to photographs and daguerreotypes of Martin musicians. The most fascinating part for me was getting to handle the letters and employee log books that document the social history of the people of Nazareth who have worked at the factory over the last two centuries.
The original factory and Martin family homestead
A mile or so down the road sits the original factory of 1859, next to the Martin Family homestead, built by CF Martin after he moved to the area from New York City in 1838. This place was wonderful and my favourite part of the whole experience. Downstairs houses the Guitar Maker’s Connection, a retail store that sells an extensive collection of parts and luthier tools should you choose to build or maintain your own Martin guitar. But head up the creaky, well trodden staircase and you will find a photographer’s and storyteller’s dream! A huge space with white, wood clad walls, sash windows, flooded with winter light and the warm glow of old wood. Above one of the original workbenches, penciled onto the wall, someone has kept a record of dates the factory had to close due to snow. A halo of splattered varnish sits around the ghost of an old workbench, since removed. A heavily taped, plastic-wrapped guitar case is pointed out as the survivor of a tornado – the guitar inside still in perfect shape after touching down a few fields away from home. Casually resting on a shelf in the middle of the room sits a guitar case previously belonging to John Lennon. I am now, as I was then, overwhelmed with ideas and possibilities for the space.
I was lucky to end the day back at the main factory with exclusive access to the museum. Highlights for me include; the oldest instrument in the collection – a flamed maple Stauffer-style guitar made by CF Martin himself. A Martin & Schatz labelled X-braced guitar, the earliest ever documented, produced for Madame Delores Nevares de Goni – the lady in the archive photo above, killing it in the serious Victorian ensemble. Finally, Grandpa – a beaten up D018 played by Kurt Cobain in 1991, complete with cigarette burns. Of course I had a little strum on it myself.
Many thanks to Dick, Mandee, Kristi and everyone at Martin in Nazareth who helped put this shoot together.