The C. F. Martin & Co. story begins in August of 1833 when Christian Friedrich Martin gathered his family and departed his hometown of Markneukirchen, Germany bound for New York. Martin had started his career in the luthier trade two decades earlier in Vienna, but may have been frustrated with the restrictive craft guild system in Germany and chose to leave his homeland in search of new opportunities.
Soon after his arrival, Martin opened a music shop on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, and in the following year, began crafting his first American-made guitars. The 1834 guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection is one of the earliest known examples of his work.
Martin’s business was initially a full-line music store, which may explain the relatively small output of guitars during his New York period. Although C. F. Martin & Co. kept the “New York” stamp on their guitars until 1898 due to distribution agreements, the move from New York to Pennsylvania took place much earlier in 1838.
Martin began by handcrafting guitars similar in design to that of his mentor or influencer, Johann Stauffer of Vienna. The label on the 1834 in this collection reads, “C. FREDERICK MARTIN, from Vienna, Pupil of the celebrated STAUFFER, GUITAR & VIOLIN MANUFACTURER” (note that Martin had now anglicized his middle name). While there is strong evidence to suggest that Martin may have indeed apprenticed under Stauffer in Vienna, this has yet to be definitively confirmed.
Marked similarities between the instruments of the older and younger maker include the scroll-shaped headstock with inline tuners encased with an engraved metal plate, the adjustable neck with floating fingerboard, and the bridge with downward pointing mustachios – all typical design elements of many Viennese guitars. There are some important differences, however, worth noting.
The backs of Stauffer’s instruments exhibit a lesser longitudinal arch than Martin’s and are made of veneered maple onto spruce or pine, whereas Martin used two layers of maple. The head and neck of his guitars are French polished black, while Martin – like Fabricatore – chose to veneer his necks with ebony. Stauffer’s guitars also lack the neck block extension that runs parallel to the fingerboard.
By the 1850s, Martin had dropped the adjustable neck and scroll-shaped headstock design, now replaced by a fixed neck and slotted head squared at the top. Ladder bracing had been replaced by his innovative x-bracing, still found in Martin guitars today.