Friday, June 27, 2008

9-29-64: Martin begins to phase out hide glue

A notation from Grant Remaley's personal notebook.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

11-23-1932: Roy Smeck’s rejection letter

Although C.F. Martin had produced a handful of artist-branded guitars prior to 1932, unlike other companies during the period, they didn’t market the instruments themselves. Guitarists such as Vahdah Olcott-Bickford who had been ordering numerous artist-branded guitars from Martin since the teens, were solely responsible for the marketing/sales of her exclusively branded line.

The idea of an artist-endorsed instrument was popularized by 1926, when Gibson first branded its Nick Lucas Model in their freshman year of building flattop guitars. That same year, Harmony created their custom line of Roy Smeck "Vita" instruments. However, Smeck obviously preferred his Martin instruments and continued to perform with them throughout the 20s and 30s.

Roy Smeck, a native of Pennsylvania, had been dealing with Martin since his early days in vaudeville. By 1932 he had already had his hands on two of the most important Martin guitars produced during the company’s greatest period of innovation. Smeck is responsible for ordering the first Dreadnought guitar made after the initial run of Ditson branded “Dreadnaught” shaped instruments, revitalizing the Dreadnought model from extinction. While visiting the North Street Factory in 1929, he also strummed the custom 14-fret 000-28 made for Perry Bechtel of Atlanta. In a 1929 letter from C.F. Martin III to Bechtel, Martin noted that Smeck thought Perry had “great foresight in having the guitar made-up.”

Speaking on Smeck’s behalf in 1932, Alex Kolbe, late-night Smeck pal and editor of the Musical Merchandise Magazine, again asked Martin if they would consider branding a Martin/Smeck guitar. Kolbe writes: “Now here is the reason for my writing you the forementioned. Gibson in Kalamazoo and the Schireson Bros. in Los Angeles and two Eastern houses have been after Mr. Smeck for the purpose of putting out a line of guitars bearing his name. Two other companies in question were agreeable in organizing a Roy Smeck firm and for some unknown reason, Roy Smeck prefers his Martin guitar.”

In 1932 C.F. Martin & Co. was working at 60% capacity, having laid-off many of their workforce due to the struggling economy. The idea of having one of the most popular guitarists in the nation endorsing Martin guitars must have first been appealing for C.F. III, however, his response was most eloquent.

“Thank you for your interesting letter with the suggestion that we put out a Roy Smeck line of Guitars. Considering the matter impersonally, because the fact that we like Roy and wish him all possible success would not be a sufficient motive, we must be guided by out policy in such matters and that is to put the greatest possible intrinsic value in Martin Instruments but not to use the name of any individual in addition to or in place of our own. While there is undoubted advertising value in the names like Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck, we still think that our policy of sticking to our own name is right. In years past we have made for certain customers special lines bearing their name; for example, a Ditson line, and we are willing to do that now if Mr. Smeck himself or any suitable dealer or jobber wishes to market a Roy Smeck line. In such cases we advise the use of our name as well as the special name because the experience has been that the name Martin helps to put the goods across. In sort, we are willing to make a Roy Smeck line of instruments but we do not care to market them. That gives you something to think about.”In 1934 Gibson produced the “Jumbo” line of Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe Hawaiian guitars. As the Wizard progressed throughout his career in the 1930s, he abandoned his favored Martin 00-40H for his newly endorsed model. However, according to Smeck, only a Martin was good enough.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

5-11-1934: Tex Fletcher and the first C.F. Martin D-42 Model Guitar

In the spring of 1934, Geremino Bisceglia, better known as “Tex Fletcher,” contacted C.F. Martin and requested a pearl-trimmed Dreadnought guitar with his name inlayed into the fingerboard, similar to the first D-45 made for Gene Autry the previous year.

While Autry’s D-45 featured standard 45-Series pearl trim appointments on the back and sides, Fletcher opted to have all his "flash" up front, where it would be seen by the audience. Tex requested that Martin produce the special order Dreadnought in their Style 42 design, which offered pearl inlay only on the face of the instrument, plus "Tex Fletcher" in large block letters that barely fit on the fretboard.

Although strung as a "righty," Tex played the guitar left-handed. The D-42 was the second 40-Series Dreadnought guitar ever made, stamped May 11th, 1934, a week before another cowboy singer, Jackie “Kid” Moore, ordered a D-45 similar to Autry's. The fad of performing with a fancy guitar with your name on the neck had of course begun with Jimmie Rodgers, who's custom Martin had inspired Autry and countless later stars to turn their guitar into a full-time press agent.

In 1970, legendary Martin guitar historian Mike Longworth, contacted Fletcher and the guitar was eventually donated to the C.F. Martin museum where it is currently on display.

The original 1934 records and correspondence between Tex Fletcher and C.F. Martin will be included in the upcoming book, “Birth of the Dreadnought.”

Photo courtesy of the Tex Fletcher family.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

9-5-1934: C.F. Martin orders T-fretwire from the Horton-Angell Co. ~ But there’s a catch

(The initial 1934 T-fret sample from Horton Angell)

In 1934, shortly after celebrating their Centennial Anniversary, C.F. Martin made several changes to their line-up. Of the changes, the short lived OM series was discontinued and the “OM” was renamed the “000.” In Martin’s 1934 catalogue, any flattop guitar that featured a 14-fret to body neck joint was named an “Orchestra Model,” while the traditional 12-fret Martin design was named a “Standard Model.” The 000 later that year received the shorter Martin 24.9” scale length (it had been 25.4” since 1902). The bar-style fretwire used the last 100 years was replaced with a modern T-style wire, and along with that, the ebony truss-rod neck reinforcement was replaced with a steel “T”-rod.

Many of us are familiar with these changes, but what might not be too obvious is the actual fretwire material Martin had been using and subsequently used when the T-wire was introduced to the line.

Virtually all fretwire then and now is made of 18% Nickel-Silver, an alloy usually containing approximately 18% nickel, 65% copper and 17% zinc. “Nickel-Silver” is a euphemism denoting a stainless silver substitute, an old term, never actually containing real silver alloy. You’ll find it in the zipper of your favorite old jacket, the silverware your grandmother handed down, your old model railway lines and the musical instruments hidden in your closet. Nickel-Silver became widely used in the 1920s, mainly due to its machinability and corrosion resistance. The higher percentage of nickel used, the harder the material.In Clinton F. Smith’s 1927 patent for a “Fret for Musical Instrument," the Attleboro, Massachusetts inventor notes his style ‘T’ wire “preferably disposed in an alternate arrangement, and are not oppositely positioned, although arranged on opposite sides of the fret wire… Each of these frets consists of a wire ‘4’ having lateral projections shaped like the barb of a fish hook as shown. This 'peculiar shape' permits of pushing the frets into place easily but project into the neck of the instrument to securely hold the fret in the place and reduces the possibility of their coming loose when the instrument is in use.”

Although other examples of T-wire were made decades previous, Smith’s “alternate fish-hook arrangement” would prove to be a standard in fretwire design to this day. After receiving sample requests from other fretwire vendors, C.F. Martin decided on the Attleboro based Horton-Angell Company, C. Smith’s employer.

Below is a transcribed portion of a letter from C.F. Martin III to Horton-Angell, dated 8-31-1934:

“Gentlemen: After long consideration we have about decided to change from solid nickel silver frets to T frets and we are interested in your No. 3091 pattern of which you sent us a small quantity last month. We have been using thirty per cent nickel silver wire in the solid frets, rolling it ourselves, and we are very anxious to continue to use this grade of material in the T frets."

Horton-Angell was at first reluctant to produce a T-wire with a higher nickel content for a single account, as it wasn’t a stock option. But upon receiving a request for 100 pounds of the 30% grade from C.F. Martin at a higher cost, they soon agreed.It’s unclear in Martin’s records just how long they used the 30% nickel T-wire, and it’s possible it was only produced for this single order. Martin also ordered 100 pounds of 18% nickel wire in this same order, and it’s uncertain in their records as to which guitars received the wire with higher nickel content. It was found however, in Frank Henry Martin’s sales notations during the period, that a young independent luthier from New York was buying bar fretwire from C.F. Martin as early as 1931, presumably because they were manufacturing the unique, resilient wire themselves. John D’Angelico soon became a formative archtop guitar-maker in New York City, along with the fretwire produced at C.F. Martin’s North Street factory.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

1-31-1927: MMR Magazine visits C.F. Martin's North Street factory

1-31-1927 Musical Merchandise Review Magazine: "The present Martin factory, located in a small Pennsylvania village a short distance from New York, is a model of modern efficient manufacturing facilities. Up-to-date machinery and equipment are used throughout, although practically every operation in the manufacture of Martin instruments is done by hand. It is a large and roomy fireproof daylight factory of four stories. The walls give the impression of being 95 per cent windows and this with the whitewashed interiors and high-lofted "barreled sunlight" ceilings brighten up the plant to a degree that makes contented and productive workmen.

The character of such a community as Nazareth insures a supply of workmen of the true craftsman class and the personnel of the Martin organization includes many men who have spent a lifetime on the Martin payroll. Conditions are such that the employment turnover is not only slight but the workmanship is diligent and painstaking."

Inside images of the North Street factory during the period will be included in "Birth of the Dreadnought."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Harry Lawrence Hunt and the Dreadnought Guitar

In 1916, while serving as manager of the Charles H. Ditson Store in New York, Harry L. Hunt conceived and named the Dreadnought guitar. Hunt began dealing with C.F. Martin in 1893 while employed at the William A. Pond Company in New York. He soon left Pond for the more lucrative position as manager of Ditson's musical instrument department. Shortly before Ditson's demise he opened the Lyon & Healy Harp Salon in New York's Steinway Hall, leaving the fretted instrument trade for good.

A complete biography of Hunt, as well as the lead-up to the development of Martin's Dreadnought guitar, will be discussed in great detail in the upcoming book, "Birth of the Dreadnought."

7-22-1932: C.F. Martin/Harptone guitar case price list

In the 1920s and 30s, the C.F. Martin Guitar Co. offered several case options for their many different instrument models. Unlike today, the cases were not included in the price of the instrument, and it’s surprising how many guitars during the period were ordered and shipped without cases. Dealers would often source cases from their own vendors after receiving instruments, leaving us now to wonder whether or not the vintage Martin we just bought indeed has the original case.

Although Martin purchased cases from a variety of different vendors for their many different instrument models, by 1932, the Harptone Manufacturing Corp. of Newark N.J. was the leading supplier of cases for the Nazareth guitar manufacture. Martin offered four different case options for their instruments, Style A, B, C and D.

The following is a description of each, taken from a March 16th, 1931 Martin Price List:

Style A - Canvas, covering on stiff strawboard, flannel lining, end-opening.

Style B – Keratol, brown alligator grain, on heavy chipboard, flannel lining, nickel trimmings, side-opening.

Style C – Keratol, black seal grain, on three-ply wood, padded duvetyn flannel lining, nickeled brass trimmings, side opening.

Style D – Keratol, same as Style C except silk plush lining.

Today, the "hardshell" Style C case is the most common case we find, as many of the A and B cases have failed over time. Martin also rarely received requests for the Style A case from dealers during the period. Harptone's Deluxe case offered, Martin's "Style D," were mainly ordered by dealers to go along with 40-Series Martin guitars, although there were exceptions.

Below is a July 23rd, 1932 hand-typed Harptone case price list by C.F. Martin III, at cost. Note the 1932 listing of; “Ditson Dreadnaught.”


Seems that some are still confused on the originality of these period cases, so I've included this 1935 letter from Lifton Mfg. to C.F. Martin. Notice they write "We are having requests for cases for these instruments." Lifton was receiving requests from the dealers Martin was shipping guitars to without cases, which were many. Martin sent Lifton the needed paper drawing of their new F model archtop after receiving this letter, so Lifton could then begin filling dealer requests. This was common when a new model was released.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

4-17-29: A.D. Grover reports ~ Guy Hart, GM of Gibson, suffers a "Nervous Breakdown"

Six months before the 1929 stock market crash, Gibson's General Manager, Guy Hart, suffered a "nervous breakdown" and "left for Arizona for a rest." All this, according to A.D. Grover of New York who kept close ties with both Hart and C.F. Martin.

Direct correspondence between Hart and C.F. Martin during the period will be further reviewed in the upcoming book; "Birth of the Dreadnought."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

1930 C.F. Martin OM-45 Deluxe hand tinted photo engraving

The original hand tinted photo engraving for the 1930 OM-45 Deluxe catalogue listing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

10-19-1956: Elvis rumored to visit C.F. Martin's North Street Factory

By 1956, C.F. Martin's North Street factory had seen its share of six-string celebrities. The "Wizard," the "Father" and the "Singing Cowboy" to name a few. But when Elvis Presley was rumored to visit Martin while traveling to New York for his second Ed Sullivan TV appearance in October of 1956, word quickly spread throughout the entire Lehigh Valley. "Telephones were clanging to spread the story and by early gather to get a look at the teen-age idol," so said the Bethlehem Globe-Times on October 19th, 1956. "C. Fredrick Martin, head of the long-established company, said there was "no foundation for the rumor." He added, "We have had no word from either Presley or his manager."

Turns out, Elvis was in Memphis, where it was reported he became "embroiled in a fist fight with a service station manager during an autograph session." Nine days after this article was published to the folks in Nazareth, Elvis, along with his 1955 Martin D-28, performed "Hound Dog" on The Ed Sullivan Show, without a scratch on him.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

1-31-1924: Mr. Shaffer's Custom "reed reef" inlaid 0-42 ~ Denied!

It was rare for Martin to reject a custom order, but in January of 1924, this one seemed a bit over-the-top for the booming little Nazareth guitar factory. Enclosed is a drawing by Mr. W.F. Shaffer, who wrote Rudolf Wurlitzer requesting their catalog #2092 (Martin's 0-42) be highly ornamented with custom top, side and headplate inlays. Herbert Keller Martin responded politely, "... we are very sorry that the crowded condition of our factory makes it impossible to oblige you. We suggest that the inlaying required would amount to the price of our Style 45. Possibly this instrument would interest your prospect. This being a regular style, shipment could be made in a few months." Although the North Street factory would undergo a large expansion the following year, no records show of a "reed reef" inlaid 0-42 being shipped.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

April, 1934: C.F. Martin & Co. magazine ad

The $210.00 model was the 1934 C-3 Deluxe, Martin's most expensive cataloged model at the time.

Friday, January 4, 2008

7-19-1916: John Deichman patterns the Dreadnought

In the summer of 1916, John Henry Deichman drafted what would become the most copied acoustic guitar design to this day. While later foreman, Deichman also patterned the first "OM's" for Martin, helping transform the nearly 100 year-old company into the leading manufacturer of steel-string flattop guitars. With the help of his family, "Birth of the Dreadnought" devotes an entire chapter to John and the genius that was, Deichman.

5-14-1934: Urgent telegram from Wurlitzer of Milwaukee ~ Reason: The second D-45

Soon after placing his order with Rudolf Wurlitzer of Milwaukee, Jackie "Kid" Moore learns his Custom D-45 is being constructed as a 'new' 14-fret Dreadnought "Orchestra Model." As of May 1934, Martin was near completion of the guitar body for the Kid. But after receiving this telegraph, C.F. Martin III stopped production of the 'new' shortened bodied Dreadnought and agreed to "...make up another special D-45 Dreadnaught Guitar in the old model with twelve frets clear of the body." "The work will be started promptly and we expect to finish it in about three weeks."

The complete story of this guitar will be published in "Birth of the Dreadnought." As well as the story of the D-45 that came before it.

7-10-1929: Letter from Perry Bechtel to James Markley at C.F. Martin

Page one of a letter from Perry Bechtel to Jim Markley, Martin's first official sales-rep who initially discovered Bechtel while on a sales call in Atlanta. Removed from this letter when initially received, were photos Perry took of the Martin family and factory during his previous trip to Nazareth. These images have yet to surface. Bechtel references the "Gib" he was using, an early 1920s Gibson Style O Artist Model and not an L-5, as many have presumed. By the time Bechtel wrote this, Martin was already near completion of the body for Bechtel's guitar (which would eventually become the prototype for the Orchestra Model), yet they were still awaiting Perry's neck "templet" as of mid-July, 1929.