A Journey Shaped by a Guitar
EVEN though Nazareth, Pa., isn’t quite the holy city its namesake is, pilgrims with a musical bent still go there every weekday in search of a potentially spiritual experience. They head to a quaint brick building, lured by the promise of taking a tour at the C. F. Martin & Company guitar factory.
More than 200 guitars are made at Martin each day, many more than when the company first opened in New York City in 1833 (it moved to Nazareth in 1839). But for any guitar player or music lover, getting to see the basic stages in the creation of a Martin moves them powerfully, putting some in touch with emotions they might have thought too inaccessible to be reached.
Martins are arguably the most coveted acoustic guitar on earth — satisfied customers include Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Freedy Johnston — and wherever pickers and grinners gather to resurrect time-honored chestnuts, from “Helpless” to “Sugarfoot Rag,” there’s a good chance that there will be a Martin chiming in. A trip to the factory could almost be considered a journey to the Lourdes of twang.
Given Martin’s humble origins, today’s factory is surprisingly large and modern, built in 1964. The barn-red Martin building replicates the facade of the first Nazareth factory, but from the outside it looks to be playing host-victim to an industrial plant large enough to churn out cars and trucks.
Inside, the Plek fret-dressing machine hums, lathes turn and sanders buzz as instruments are made in large numbers (81,000 last year). Plus, there’s a spanking clean lobby, a gift shop, a guitar museum and a sparkling white bathroom that pipes in, fittingly enough, a bluegrass radio station.
The tour itself also makes use of modern headsets, so you can hear the guide’s narrative above the impressive whine of guitars being birthed. But once the pilgrims make their way and start seeing guitars in various stages of completion, that holy look creeps back into their eyes. Sometimes, mixed with tears.
That was the case last October with Beverly Goskowski, from nearby Hellertown, whose horn-rims showed a studious side, but whose leather jacket whispered, “rebel.” Ms. Goskowski really did think of her trip to Nazareth and Martin as something, well, related to the soul.
“I came here seven years ago with my granddad,” she said. “He passed over the summer, and I guess I’m trying to recapture the fun we had when we first came. Or to say goodbye to him. I don’t know which, really.”
Ms. Goskowski said all this in a strangely amplified voice mangled by the headset. She wept a bit, removed her glasses, wiped her eyes and chuckled at the tender moment being distorted by a modern contraption.
“Granddad, whose name was George H. Giltenboth, didn’t play an instrument or anything, but he loved music,” she said. “When we went on the tour, he kept grabbing the tour guide’s arm, asking her to repeat certain facts, always calling her ‘honey,’ or ‘dear.’ He loved being here.”@ TNYT
A little something to take our minds off the political scene and the other stuff clogging our veins of late.
I truly respect anyone that can play one of these instruments with any degree of skill, I am not one of those but my admiration continues. We all have our favorite guitarists and the Martin guitar is a favorite of many of them. Still being handmade after all these years, they are a true American tradition that has been unequaled.