Guitar firm turns out a dazzler as its millionth

Martin milestone sparkles with diamonds, emeralds and lots of imagination

February 01, 2004|By THE MORNING CALL

C.F. Martin & Co.'s millionth guitar sparkles with diamonds, emeralds and intricate pearl and abalone inlays - and that's just the back of the instrument.

To mark its production milestone, the famed Upper Nazareth Township, Pa., company crafted the most elaborate guitar in its 171-year history. Martin, which has made guitars for the likes of Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash, unveiled the guitar last month at a trade show in California.

The millionth Martin, the front of which also features detailed inlays and gemstones, came home to the Lehigh Valley last week. It joins other historic Martins on public display at company headquarters.

Some Martin aficionados think the guitar is too ornate, even gaudy, given Martin's history of building practical, unadorned guitars.

Others say the million-guitar milestone called for something out of the ordinary.

"There are people who think it's terrible to do that to a guitar," said Larry Robinson, the craftsman who did much of the inlay work. "You obviously can tell which side I'm on."

Martin began planning the guitar in January 2002, said Chris Martin, the company's sixth-generation chief executive officer.

Martin decided to base its millionth guitar on the D-45, one of its best-known models. The company turned to Robinson, who has worked on other special Martins, to decorate the guitar.

"We started with a D-45 and went crazy from there," Chris Martin said.

The company is offering 50 less intricate guitars based on the milestone instrument for $100,000 each - the most expensive guitars on Martin's latest price sheet. A standard D-45 sells for $7,979.

The millionth instrument, which does not have a name, boasts 141 gemstones, including 65 diamonds. Other materials used include fossilized ivory, copper, silver, and yellow and white gold.

The Victorian-influenced vine-and-arbor design on the back includes nods to the company's past. Founder C.F. Martin gazes out from a small portrait near the instrument's bottom. Elsewhere on the back, angels and cherubs cavort with a series of Martin-styled instruments.

Underneath it all is Brazilian rosewood, an endangered species that Martin stopped using in standard D-45s in 1969.

The pickguard features pictures of saws, files and other guitar-making tools, as well as a depiction of the D-45's distinctive interior bracing.

Martin employees built the basic D-45 body in Upper Nazareth, then sent the parts to Robinson in California for the inlay work. He cut 3,500 to 4,000 parts by hand with a jeweler's saw, glued them into carefully cut niches in the guitar wood, and sanded them flat.

The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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