Ukuleles Saved Martin

Jerryc41

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When you say "Martin," most people think Guitar. We think Ukulele. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, ukulele production kept Martin afloat. How many ukuleles do you think Martin produced in 1925? Answer below.













Over 14,000.
 
And the Japanese saved the Martin Ukulele.
 
CF Martin claims Eric Clapton saved Martin when acoustic "wasn't cool" and Clapton did an MTV unplugged performance.

"The Martin 000-28 Eric Clapton Signature Model is based on Clapton's guitar of choice that he used for his MTV Unplugged performance. It's made from East Indian rosewood, a solid spruce top, and boasts well-balanced tone."
Martinguitar.jpg
Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard. About $4k. It's like a clone of my $90 KMISE baritone :).
Kmise uke.jpg
 
When you say "Martin," most people think Guitar. We think Ukulele. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, ukulele production kept Martin afloat. How many ukuleles do you think Martin produced in 1925? Answer below.
Over 14,000.

1925 was 10,870, the third highest year. 1926 was 14,101, their highest year. 1927 dropped back to 5,860. Most years were between 3 and 5 thousand.

The second highest year was 1950, 11,722, thanks to Arthur Godfrey even though Godfrey didn't play or endorse Martins. He is credited with the invention of the baritone uke and mostly played a Vega baritone.

Jim Beloff's ukulele history has the Martin factory figures from their first ukes in 1915 up to 1971. He got them from Mike Longworth's Martin Guitars, A History, and Longworth got them from Martin.
 
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Before Clapton, The Kingston Trio kicked off a huge demand for Martin Guitars.
From the Martin Guitar Company's Newsletter The Sounding Board:

"This Year [2002] Marks the 45th Aniversary of The Kingston Trio, one of the most
beloved music groups.

"In 1957 they were just three college kids who loved to sing together and have
fun. Yet in less than a year, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard would
revolutionize popular music--and the acoustic guitar industry along with it....

"Using only acoustic guitars and banjos, they
literally revolutionized popular music, reawakening America to its own
rich heritage, paving the way for a broader acceptance of bluegrass,
blues, country and other indigenous American musics.

"...As the popularity of the Trio grew, so did the demand for Martin guitars.The
Kingston Trio played martin guitars exclusively, and every best-seller Trio album
prominently displayed the group with their Martin instruments. The company
finally had to build a new factory in Nazareth to meet the demand for Martin
guitars fueled by The Kingston Trio frenzy."

1997, 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Instrument Set
"To commemorate The Kingston Trio's lasting contribution to folk and
acoustic music, and in gratitude for their unswerving loyalty to Martin
instruments throughout the years, C. F. Martin & Co. is proud to offer a
special Kingston Trio Limited Edition consisting of 40 sets of three
instruments each. Each set includes a special Kingston Trio D-28 guitar,
a custom 0-18T Tenor guitar, and a Vega [Owned by Martin 70s - 80s]
long neck banjo-the instrumentation used by the Trio."

2002, 45th Anniversary, Bob Shane Signature Guitar
"Martin Celebrates Kingston Trio 45th Anniversary
With D-28KTBS Bob Shane Signature Edition Guitar."
 
In this video from 2011, Chris Martin talks about the ups and downs of the ukulele business. Chris is the great-grandson of the company founder. I believe he is the last family member to be CEO of Martin.
 
Chris misleads on one thing. By Martin's own figures, they never completely got out of the ukulele business. There were six years from 1932 to 1940 where production was just below a thousand. Through WW2 years they managed to produce 1400 to 8000 (1943). In the late Sixties average production dropped to a couple hundred a year. In 1968 they only made 75, but numbers slowly increased from then.
 
CF Martin claims Eric Clapton saved Martin when acoustic "wasn't cool" and Clapton did an MTV unplugged performance.

"The Martin 000-28 Eric Clapton Signature Model is based on Clapton's guitar of choice that he used for his MTV Unplugged performance. It's made from East Indian rosewood, a solid spruce top, and boasts well-balanced tone."
View attachment 159814
Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard. About $4k. It's like a clone of my $90 KMISE baritone :).
View attachment 159815
When I toured the Martin factory a few years ago, I was almost tempted to buy a Martin guitar. Boy, am I glad I didn't! As good as they are, they too big and too expensive. Besides, I'd have to learn how to play it.
 
I've always thought many respected name brands add too much sticker price to musical instruments. However, I think Martin products tend to be worth the money for people chasing a certain tone.

Quick story: As a child, I had a couple of cousins living nearby who had two identical Martin guitars they always played at "prayer meetings" (nobody prayed at "prayer meetings". It was drinking homemade fluids, singing, and playing live bluegrass and gospel music). Anyway, one cousin kept his guitar in his bedroom in it's case whenever he wasn't playing it. The other cousin kept his guitar in the mainroom of the house near a coal burning stove. After some time had passed, there was a noticeable difference in the shades of color between the two guitars. The guitar kept by the coal burning stove had a darker appearance. The heat/coal dust dried/colorized the guitar over time. However, both cousins swore the "coal smoked" Martin sounded better by far. I listened with my underdeveloped ears and could not tell any difference as I recall. I wish I could recreate those "prayer meetings" though. Fond memories of great music played live by a warm stove. I digress.
 
Hard to say how much the Martin label adds to the sticker price, but I will say that the made-in-the-USA Martin ukuleles that I have tried at my local Martin dealer sound really good. Prices start at $1600 if I recall correctly, which is too much for me right now.
 
Yesterday, I was able to try three Martin concerts at an area shop. One was a C1K (about $500) made in Mexico. The second was a 2K concert ($2K price, too). Third was the FSC ($2400). The latter two were made in the USA.

I was particularly impressed by the consistency of feel and sound amongst the three. There was very little difference which means that their manufacturing processes and quality control are excellent. I expected a greater difference with the C1K... there likely was some but ever so slight. I liked the FSC the most, but only by a bit.
 
I read somewhere that Mexican and American factories are very similar set up, also the case with Fender. There's definitely a large brand name markup compared to other brands, but I can see why it is the way it is. The demand is probably not too high for the US made ukuleles, and they needed to price them higher to even bother keeping them in the line up. The ukulele batch takes time away from other models that are better sellers. It's the same with their guitar models though, some are good values and some are terrible models that need to be deeply discounted. Like they will almost purposely handicap a lower end model with weird choices, so that you can "get it all" with the $4000 one.

I considered the Mexican koa uke, which can be had for about 30% off list where I am, but the sipo wood fretboard and bridge turned me away. The color is butt ugly and would be so much better, almost perfect, with rosewood. Makes no sense because the FSR at same or lower price is rosewood. With the Martin name , I would certainly hope/believe it is real Hawaiian koa and not acacia.
 
I own two Mexican-made Martin concerts (C1K and 0XK). They’re excellent instruments and worth the small premium I may have paid for the Martin name. They play flawlessly and sound great. From my understanding, the company isn’t as sold on its own products.

From the dealer’s perspective, Mim recently dropped Martin because it wasn’t acting quickly to make right QC issues she had with some of the instruments they provided her, including those from the custom shop. She has said she’s waited months to get basic flaws fixed … if at all … with the company reps being unresponsive.

From my perspective, equipping their new $1k+ ukes with crappy plastic ratio tuners is a sign the company is penny wise and pound foolish. Especially when plenty of alternative uke makers want to compete for consumer loyalty. YMMV.
 
I don't know if you are paying a premium for a Martin C1K or 0XK. The C1K is $500 for a solid Hawaiian koa ukulele. It looks fine and sound fine to my ears. The cheapest solid koa ukulele that I could find on the Ohana website is $700 and I think Kala's solid koa ukuleles are even more expensive than that.

Martin's OXK is (to my ears) equivalent in sound quality to the Kala and Ohana solid wood ukuleles that sell for the same price.

The US-made Martins are expensive, but wonderful to play. Pricing doesn't seem outrageous compared to Kamaka or Kanilea ukuleles. I don't have enough experience to judge value in that price range, though.

Sorry to hear about Mim's problems with Martin QC. Martin is a big company, but they should treat their smaller retailers better.
 
I don't know if you are paying a premium for a Martin C1K or 0XK. The C1K is $500 for a solid Hawaiian koa ukulele. It looks fine and sound fine to my ears. The cheapest solid koa ukulele that I could find on the Ohana website is $700 and I think Kala's solid koa ukuleles are even more expensive than that.

Martin's OXK is (to my ears) equivalent in sound quality to the Kala and Ohana solid wood ukuleles that sell for the same price.

The US-made Martins are expensive, but wonderful to play. Pricing doesn't seem outrageous compared to Kamaka or Kanilea ukuleles. I don't have enough experience to judge value in that price range, though.

Sorry to hear about Mim's problems with Martin QC. Martin is a big company, but they should treat their smaller retailers better.
I guess I’m disappointed with the company‘s “premium” products and their treatment of at least one dealer who’s a rock star in the uke world. The instruments I have are excellent values, though others sometimes ding Martin for the price point; these critics probably haven’t played either model.
 
I bought a C1K early last month before returning to UU and finding out about Mim.

I never thought I'd buy a Martin, and the one I got didn't look like the one "in my dreams". In fact, for some reason I was not even interested a few months ago at all. However, the price and something about it made me purchase. I'm still puzzled by that, but it's my first concert and for the most part I really love it! The Koa isn't the best and it's all kinda light colored.
I'm aging, and my fingers are dry, even when using Joshua Tree, and I think it's the sipo wood is really dry, too. Not a good match, but I'm getting by. Is there anything I can use to put on the fingerboard?

Obviously I'm not completely used to it after just over 4 weeks, but it really sounds great and in the end, I love it! Seriously, it used to be the last one I wanted...
 
I'm aging, and my fingers are dry, even when using Joshua Tree, and I think it's the sipo wood is really dry, too. Not a good match, but I'm getting by. Is there anything I can use to put on the fingerboard?
I really like the Music Nomad products. The fretboard F-ONE oil that comes in a little bottle will last you a decade. I've used it on Rosewood, ebony, walnut, wegne boards before and it has darkened the color and absorbs right into the wood. I am not sure about sipo which is a mahogany, but I don't see why it would be any different. Manufacturers now let all their fretboards stay dry from the factory and it kind of looks ugly on a retail wall. Not sure why it's that way, maybe just 1 less step in the manufacturing process.
 
I like the F-ONE lemon oil too and prefer it to the Dunlop for a couple of reasons. you need only a tiny amount -- 2 or 3 drops will do -- and should apply it with a microfiber cloth rather than directly on the fretboard.
 
Thank you both for your help! I'll try the F-ONE.

It's hard to pinpoint what's happening. The neck on the Klos was clunky thick. The Mr Mai tenor is much more slim. The Martin really thin. The back of the neck just seems as slippery as the fretboard. I love the sound from the Martin. Waiting for Living Waters strings to arrive. Even when there are problems, though, the ukes are the best medicine in the market...
 
Martin made great baritones. I wonder why they stopped. Even more interesting to me, with the rise in baritone popularity, is why they don't make one now?
 
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