This is a feature from the March/April 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Ricky Gervais and the return of his guitar-playing alter ego David Brent, plus GA’s annual motoring section, including features on the Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons and his antique Harley-Davidsons, John Oates and his life-long fascination with cars and racing, and the untold story behind Led Zeppelin’s McLaren M8E/D racecar, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
TIME MACHINE: To commemorate the company’s two-millionth guitar, C.F. Martin & Co. collaborated with the RGM Watch Company to craft an exquisite, one-of-a-kind showpiece instrument.
By Chris Gill | Photography by John Sterling Ruth
It took C.F. Martin & Co. about 171 years between the company’s beginnings in 1833 and 2004 to build its first million guitars. Remarkably, it took the company only 12 years to complete its next million guitars, hitting the two-million mark sometime in late 2016. To celebrate this impressive milestone, Martin built a commemorative, one-of-a-kind showpiece instrument like it did to celebrate the company’s first millionth and 1.5-millionth guitars.
“My ancestors would be amazed,” says C.F. “Chris” Martin IV, the CEO of Martin Guitars. “Martin has been around for 184 years, and our guitars are as popular and successful as they’ve ever been. Some people are predicting gloom and doom for the guitar’s future, but they forget just how long the guitar has lasted. The dreadnought just had its 100th anniversary, for example. There aren’t many products from 100 years ago that are still popular, but the guitar has defied the odds.”
The pace of Martin’s production has increased so rapidly that the milestone approached almost before the company completed its commemorative two-millionth guitar. Work on the instrument started in 2013, but the finishing touches on the guitar were not completed until October 2016. The guitar made its public debut at the 2017 Winter NAMM convention in Anaheim in January.
Whereas Martin’s previous one- and 1.5-millionth guitars featured the work of independent craftsmen like inlay artists Larry Robinson and Harvey Leach and engravers Bob Hergert and Tara Mitchell, the two-millionth guitar was crafted with input from an entirely different sort of artisan: watchmaker Roland Murphy of the RGM Watch Company of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. RGM is truly America’s premier watch company, handcrafting and hand finishing beautiful heirloom-quality watches in a small workshop that employs only 11 craftsmen.
“About five years ago I went on a tour of the Martin factory,” Murphy recalls. “I saw that they do a lot of custom work, and I thought it would be cool to embellish a guitar with guilloché, which is an engine-turning process where geometric patterns are cut into rotating metal surfaces with a stationary cutting tool. We use that process for many of our watches, and it’s really a lost art. I contacted Martin, got Tim Teel’s name and email address, and sent him some photos of our work. He was interested, but he didn’t have anything particular in mind at the time.”
Two years passed and Murphy still hadn’t heard anything back from Martin. Then one day, Martin Custom Shop director Scott Sasser decided that he wanted to build a special showpiece guitar and he discussed ideas with Teel, who is Martin’s director of instrument design.
“Scott mentioned that he always wanted to do a watch-themed guitar,” Teel recalls. “We talked about how we could do that. Around the same time, we realized that we were going to need to come up with an idea for Martin’s two-millionth guitar, which was quickly approaching. We put two and two together and realized that the watch idea was perfect for that guitar. Once Chris Martin approved of the idea, we hired Robert Goetzl to do some concept drawings. Scott mentioned that he knew of a watchmaking company in Lancaster called RGM watches. I told Scott that they had reached out to me, so I reached out to Roland, who invited us to his workshop. When Scott and I visited them we were blown away by his operation.”