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C.F. Martin & Co. shows newest lineup at Nazareth headquarters

Brian Myszkowski
C.F. Martin & Co. Director of Instrument Design Tim Teel tests out one of the guitar manufacturer's new models at their Nazareth headquarters. The company is premiering these guitars at the North American Music Merchant show in California this week, but locals can try the guitars at the Nazareth plant as well.

UPPER NAZARETH TWP., Pa. — For a company so steeped in tradition, the new line of guitars that C.F. Martin & Co. expects to show this weekend at the National Association of Music Merchants in Anaheim, California, have some significant advances.

At least for a 190-year-old company that prides itself on precision craftsmanship.

There's a new high-pressure wood laminate that can even be used on airplanes and yachts. There's a new offering of maple wood — typically used for violins.

And there are even tweaks in body and neck designs.

Martin Director of Instrument Design Tim Teel said it's a challenge to innovate on such a history of precision as Martin has.

Tim Teel of C.F. Martin & Co.

But when you do, Teel said, it’s a hallmark of the industry, and a point of pride for the company.

“When you do hit on something that is truly innovative and works for everybody, and people love it, it's a very rewarding feeling," Teel said.

"Martin is a big a big company in terms of musical instruments, but we are very specific in terms of our what we go after: We don't make electric guitars, we don't make accordions.

“We focus on and produce the best acoustic flattops in the world.”
C.F. Martin & Co.'s Director of Instrument Design Tim Teel

“We focus on and produce the best acoustic flattops in the world,” Teel said.

Plenty of Martin representatives have traveled to Anaheim NAMM, which runs from Jan. 25-28.

And while the new GPCE Inception Maple, the remastered X Series and the innovative changes to the Standard Series will be displayed at the convention, anyone interested can just stroll into the Martin headquarters on Sycamore Road in Upper Nazareth Township, and test those guitars — and the rest of the new wares — today.

Highly prized woods

Teel said a hallmark of the new X Series — which debuted in 1998 — is the use of new high-pressure laminate that is book-matched to create a single, mirror-imaged front and back top layer for the guitars.

“We've called out from our supply some very beautiful pieces of highly prized woods, Brazilian rosewood cocobolo ziricote," Teel said.

"And for this launch, those are those are brand new patterns for the X series."

The process for the book-matched laminates is so innovative that Martin has partnered with its supplier to offer up some of its woods to “applications like really high-end yachts, customized airplanes and things like that,” Teel said.

Teel also noted the thinned fingerboards, along with beveled edges “that felt more natural as you wrap your hand around it.”

Brian Myszkowski
A selection of C.F. Martin & Co.'s latest guitars.

“And then we adjusted our string spacing to accommodate that, so these guitars not only sound great, but they also play amazing, and they’re also on the most affordable scale in our series,” Teel said.

In addition, the rosettes have been modified to a more traditional look, the tuning gears “have more of a satin feel to them,” as Teel put it, and a bridge contour which is similar to the Standard Series.

Quick customization

Teel said he also is excited about the introduction of the SC-28 and SC-18, two fresh entries for Nazareth’s Standard Series that feature a new element allowing for quick customization.

“It's really interesting because not only is the body shape different, but it also uses a modular neck design that incorporates a dovetail and the dovetail is bolted into the body and the neck is slid into the dovetail,” Teel said.

“So when these clamping bolts engage, it pulls the neck tight into the body.

"But if ever you need to change your neck angle, instead of doing a neck reset typically, you loosen the strings, loosen these two clamping bolts, and there's a little plate on the inside of the sound hole you can remove, put it in a different plate, tighten everything up, and you're back in business.”

The newer models feature a set screw that can lengthen the distance from the nut to the saddle, creating a flatter intonation, and combating the natural tendency of older guitars to get a sharper intonation as they implode.

“So this is the first one that is truly adjustable for intonation right out of the box,” Teel said.

Brian Myszkowski
Artist and musician Kevin Smolark tries the revamped SC-28, which he described as sounding "like honey."

The Nazareth Stand Series also has an internal recurve, which Teel calls “a nice little gem” that adds more bass back into the instrument.

Because of the lower bout, or curvature, size of the body, that guitar would normally lose out on some of the low-end sounds, but with the recurve, it maintains “that rich Martin bass.”

Showier entries

One of the showier entries for this year is the GPCE Inception, which features a domestic maple tonewood with black walnut accents.

According to Teel, maple, a compressed wood, produces a brighter sound — making it ideal for violins.

To produce what he refers to as a “bigger voice,” Teel said the braces — which are found on the interior of the guitar’s front panel and prevent string tension from bending the wood, while also affecting the tone of the guitar — were skeletonized.

Martin’s research and development team kept trimming the braces until they lost structural stability, then worked backward to attain a stable, but lighter, base, he said.

“What does that do to the tone?" Teel said. "Well, instead of having this tight, compressed tone, it allows the voice of the maple to just project a little bit more. It has a more open sound. It's a very pleasing guitar."

The GPCE Inception also features a three-panel back, which allows the company to get more of a yield out of its wood supply. The central walnut wedge also adds a bit more bass.

“And the cool part is it still has its own voice," Teel said. "So even if you have your rosewood guitar, and your mahogany guitar, now you may want to get a maple guitar in the Inception line because it truly has its own unique thing going on."

An artist's opinion

An example of how visitors to the Marin headquarters can see, and test, the new guitars happened Thursday.

Visiting the Martin plant for the first time, Germansville artist and guitarist Kevin Smolark commented on the new lines. He said he isn’t a Martin man, preferring Takamine guitars.

But when it comes to the Inception?

Brian Myszkowski
A few of the newer models C.F. Martin & Co. will feature at the NAMM show in California this week.

“It sounds amazing… This is a nice touch,” Smolark said.

And once he got his hands on the SC-28?

“This is like honey,” he said, strumming and picking his way through a few tunes.

And if you happen to find a guitar at the factory that speaks to you — maybe a new Inception or a Stand Series? — Teel said it can be bought as part of their Buy From Factory program, eliminating the need for a trip to another shop.