Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Posted by Andrew Siskind on May 7, 2014 1:25:56 PM

Guitar, serial number 1114
Christian Frederick Martin (1796–1873)
New York, ca. 1837
Body Length: 17 ¼ in.
Spruce, rosewood, ivory, mother-of-pearl, abalone
On loan from the C. F. Martin Museum
Photograph by John Sterling Ruth
Courtesy of C. F. Martin Archives

We at Chronos try to present our readers with stories that excite the senses. We do this by highlighting magnificent travel destinations, exquisite works of art, and examples of the highest quality craftsmanship possible. Occasionally we’re in the lucky position of finding a story that combines all three of these subjects, and the Met’s new exhibition of C.F. Martin guitars provides such an opportunity. The Museum has drawn on their own collection, as well as those of other individuals and institutions, to assemble the largest collection of Martin guitars ever exhibited at one time. The remarkable group of instruments includes many historic firsts in the history of American guitar making, including the first instrument made in the US signed by Christian Frederick Martin, the company’s founder and namesake.

Aside from the obvious visual appeal of the instruments you see on these pages, you might wonder what makes these particular guitars so noteworthy. For that, we look back in time to the early nineteenth century when C.F. Martin, a young guitar builder from Saxony left Vienna for the United States looking for opportunity and to make a name for himself as a builder of fine instruments. He also wanted to escape the petty infighting of craftsman's’ guilds in Europe. Arriving in New York, Martin established a store and workshop at 196 Hudson Street on the west side of Manhattan, and began to produce guitars in the style he had learned in Vienna.

Soon Martin was exposed to the newly popular Spanish-style guitar. He quickly adapted his style to include the best of both traditions, developing a template for what would soon become the modern guitar as we know it today. His development of an original design that borrowed from both Viennese and Spanish traditions set a course for all future American guitar making. Many structural and aesthetic innovations came out of Martin’s workshop as he synthesized the popular techniques and styles of the day to create his masterpieces, most notably his x-braced construction.

The 35 guitars on display in this exhibition include both historically and artistically significant pieces that represent the legacy of quality craftsmanship and innovation that characterize the 180 year legacy of the company that C.F. Martin founded in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. We rate this exhibit as an absolute must both for music lovers and anyone who admires fine woodworking and craftsmanship. The exhibition will run through December 7th, 2014.


[gallery type="slideshow" link="file" ids="2177,2178,2183,2182,2181,2179"]

Topics: Editorial, Christian Frederick Martin, featured, C. F. Martin & Company, Eric Clapton, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Author:Andrew Siskind

Connect with Chronos Magazine

Leave a Reply