‘The Martin Archives’

A Martin & Co. guitar. - Courtesy photo

A Martin & Co. guitar. – Courtesy photo


A scrapbook of treasures from the world’s foremost acoustic guitar maker

By Terry Miller

While some guitar makers predate the advent of the business computer, C.F. Martin & Co. predates the typewriter, electric lights, and even the steam locomotive. It would take an extraordinary book to unlock nearly 200 years of guitar making history, and The Martin Archives: A Scrapbook of Treasures from the World’s Foremost Acoustic Guitar by Jim Washburn with Dick Boak (November 2016, Hal Leonard Books, $45) is all that and more.

When my review copy arrived, I was stunned not only by the beauty and creativeness of the contents but speechless (which is rare) about the presentation … really a fantastic coffee table ‘scrapbook’ devoted to the rare history of unquestionably the finest acoustic guitars ever made.

This book is definitely ‘major drool worthy’ in my opinion. The photos, historic and otherwise rivet the reader and make one want to rush to the nearest  Sam Ash and buy Eric Clapton’s 1939 Martin for a mere $791,500 … if it were available (which is not. My bank account will be happy about that).

“It’s fair to say that guitars are not yet as robust an asset class as traditional stocks and bonds. When the availability of liquidity dried up in the mid-1980s, the price of guitars took the best part of a decade to recover, then it stalled again with the dotcom bust, and it is only recently on a roll after the 2008 financial crisis. Though it must also be said that when the market is rolling, wisely investing in guitars offers far greater returns than anything you’ll get in the stock market. Our musical heritage is again a driving factor, and the new wave of money brought by the rise of the Internet has created a new class of investor with a different set of tastes and values,” News Atlas.com said recently.

The Martin Archives is a unique inside look into Martin’s reign as America’s oldest and most revered guitar maker, viewed through a selection of images, documents, and reproduced artifacts chosen from some 700,000 items the company has amassed over nearly two centuries. Many of these have lain unseen in the Martin’s attic or vault for generations. From the concert halls of the pre-Civil War United States to the Grand Ole Opry stage to Woodstock, Coachella, and beyond, Martin’s instruments have been on hand to give voice to the human spirit.

The Martin Archives offers insights into those instruments and the persons who made them, as well as the times the Martins lived through. And, beyond what can be found on its pages, The Martin Archives also contains pockets with reproductions of illuminating bits of its history, including old company records, letters from stars such as Gene Autry and Jimmie Rodgers, the purchase order for the first D-45 guitar, a handwritten history of the company on its 100th birthday by Frank Henry Martin, and other palpable delights.

In his preface, Martin Museum Director Dick Boak writes, “As you flip through the pages of this book, realize that you are taking a rare peak into the highlights, of Martin’s evolutionary position within and influence upon American musical culture.”

The history of C.F. Martin & Co. spans nearly two centuries and more that 2 million guitars. Few companies have been around this along and fewer still had the foresight to carefully preserve their history as Martin has. The Martin Archives is a glimpse into that history and a book no acoustic guitar enthusiast will want to be without.

January 5, 2017

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Terry Miller

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