Martin Guitar Factory Tour

After we visited Lucas at college for his award ceremony, I fulfilled a life-long dream to visit C.F. Martin, and Co., purveyors of fine guitars for since 1833 in Nazareth, PA. I’ve only been on the east coast since 1981, but I’ve owned a Martin D-35 since I bought one in 1977(?) in Flagstaff, AZ. I had been going to the local music store for months, playing it in the store, until I finally came up with the money – $750 at the time was a lot for a poor college student. I’m still not sure how I came up with the funds, but it was through legitimate means, I assure you.

For about 25 years, this was my only acoustic guitar – my thought was, “I have the best guitar, why would I need anything else?” Well, 5 more guitars later….my new favorite is a 2000 Martin D-18GE I found on craigslist for $1800. The intonation on this one is a bit wonky but I recently replaced the bridge saddle and that made it better, but not perfect. Other than that, it’s wicked loud! 🙂 I’ve been using it on the recent fiddle tune jag J and I have been on.
Back to the tour….(if you want to skip all these pesky words and go straight to the 100+ pictures I posted, then follow this link.)
Nazareth, PA is a small town about 20 miles south of I-80, so not too much out of our way to the big city – NYC. I had the Google navigation going on my droid, so made it to the Martin Guitar Factory without a problem. It’s located right in the middle of a residential section of the town; I was not expecting this guitar mecca to be so unassuming, although they did have a nice big visitor’s parking lot right across the street.
The building looks pretty new and clean. They even made a replica of the old guitar factory (located on North St.) on the outside of this one. Otherwise, you might actually miss it. There is a nice visitor center so at some point, they decided to embrace all the pilgrims rather than turn them away. Good strategy, as there are many loyal Martin people out there and the competition these days is stiff. There is an awesome museum with mostly old guitars, but also a history of the company.
The tour is one hour long and the first one starts at 11 am. We got there about 10:45 and got the last 3 slots out of 15 in the group. You get headsets that transmit the tour guide’s voice to you so you don’t miss anything. Good idea because some parts of the factory have machines going and people kind of spread out as you’re walking through (like me – I was always playing catch-up there was so much to look at and take pics of).
The factory is a modern facility and in some ways an odd mix of old tech and new tech. There was a lot of machines to help cut and drill and so forth, but there was also a lot of handwork I saw. Check out these photos:

This is what you see when you first start the tour – a giant guitar replica that you can even walk into. Includes lots of detail, like the bracing etc. Pretty cool.

The custom shop is the first thing you see on the right. This guy was polishing up this nice little number and proudly showed off his work.

This photo gives you an idea of the size of the place.
Lots of good wood everywhere. I’m not sure how they keep track of it all!

The famous x-bracing.

Clothes pins are an ancient luthier trick of the trade.

This looks to be binding-land.

Necks looking for a body.

This is in the finishing part of the factory. Bodies looking for a neck?

Everywhere you turned there were stacks of guitars, or at least parts of them!
Neck. Meet Body.
Machines do a lot of the polishing, but the final inspections are done by real people.

There’s a repair shop, too. This 1967 guitar was getting a new top.

Look at the fru fru on that guitar. This is the millionth guitar, now in the museum. I suppose someone must go in there late at night and give it a strum.
After the extensive tour, I made everyone go over to the old factory to have a look. Right now it’s a couple of rooms that store guitar parts and you can go in there to pick out parts to build your own. You can grab all the pieces right off the shelf. I thought that the woman there said these were ‘seconds’ from the factory, or rejects. I didn’t look closely enough but probably nothing a little sandpaper couldn’t take care of.
All in all, if you are even close to Nazareth, PA (about 1.5 hrs from NYC) go the Martin Guitar Factory for a couple of hours. Luckily there wasn’t a retail guitar store there, or it could be dangerous. There is a store and a “pickin’ parlor” but some kid was in there playing Justin Beiber or something, so I didn’t go in.
Then it was on to New York to drop Zach off at the train station back to Boston.


  1. Chris Reckling