If you’re a guitarist or collector looking to add a new or vintage Martin guitar to your collection, you’ve no doubt noticed how expensive many of them are. You can purchase a Martin guitar for under one thousand dollars, but these instruments are the company’s “budget” guitars; there are Martin brand guitars worth thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars.
If you’re wondering why many Martin guitars are priced so high, you’ve come to the right place. In the following article, we’ll look at why Martin guitars are priced as they are, and whether or not they’ll likely represent a good buy for you.
Brief History Of Martin Guitars
When German luthier Christian Fredrick Martin ran into trade union difficulties trying to open a shop in Europe, he moved to The United States.
In 1833, he established a guitar shop on Manhattan’s lower west side. Five years later, at the urging of his wife, Martin pulled up stakes and moved his growing business to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where it remains to this day.
Although the company initially focused on guitars, Martin later expanded his craft beyond just guitars, venturing into the production of mandolins in the late 1890s and eventually, the ukulele in the 1920s.
For six generations, Martin Guitars has been a family owned business, and until very recently, it was family operated too. In 2021, Chris Martin IV stepped down as CEO, naming as his replacement Thomas Ripsam, Martin’s first non-family chief operating officer. Mr. Martin remains chairman of the board.
What Do We Mean By Expensive?
Before going any further, it might be helpful to define what we mean when we say expensive, as it relates to a guitar. Though Martin makes acoustic guitars almost exclusively, some companies, like Gibson and Fender, make electric guitar models that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
So, when discussing how expensive Martin guitars are, it’s important to keep two things in mind: one, the idea of a quality instrument costing ten thousand dollars or more is hardly unheard of and, two, Martin is only expensive when compared to other high-quality acoustic guitar models.
Taylor guitars, for example, are often comparable in price to Martin offerings. Until 2020, Taylor manufactured the 810, which was Taylor’s answer to Martin’s D-28. The two guitars were within a few hundred dollars of one another; it may or may not be telling that Taylor has since discontinued the 810.
Why Are Martin Guitars So Expensive?
When you purchase a Martin guitar, you can be certain you’re getting your money’s worth; you aren’t paying simply for a well-established and respected brand, but for the quality and consistency the brand promises.
For close to two hundred years now, Martin has produced guitars many believe represent the high-water mark in acoustic guitar production.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons Martin guitars are so expensive:
Unique Quality Materials
One reason Martin guitars are expensive is the quality of materials they use. Martin uses only the highest quality tone woods like Adirondack spruce, East Indian rosewood and mahogany, etc. which adds to manufacturing costs.
Many quality guitars use these top-end woods, though, and while they certainly add to a guitar’s cost, they don’t tell the whole story of why Martins cost more.
Since the company’s inception, Martin guitars has been an innovator, continuously improving the design, tones, and playability of their guitars.
One of Martin’s more notable innovations is the dreadnaught guitar body, which has become far and away the most popular version of the modern acoustic guitar. Other innovations, though less commonly known, have also vastly improved the guitar as we know it today.
The development of innovations such as new synthetic tone “woods” like High Pressure Laminate (patented in 1998 for use in Martin’s X series guitars) and LUXE BY MARTIN energy-reflecting bridge pins are another reason Martin guitars cost so much. Innovations like these improve the sound, looks, and playability of Martin guitars, but they can add to manufacturing costs.
Martin’s use of only the best quality components extends to their choice of tuners, bindings, and fingerboard inlays. Throughout their history, Martin has fitted their fourteen-fret guitars with either Grover, Kluson, or Waverly tuners, depending on the year and model.
Initially, Martin used white pearls for their fingerboard inlays; now, the company employs a variety of different pearls for the purpose.
Craftsmanship/Attention To Detail
Another reason Martin guitars command such a high price is, simply put, their quality. Most Martin guitars are manufactured using a process that includes both ultra-high-precision machining and handcrafting.
Martin guitars feature solid wood construction and the vast majority of them use wood that has been quarter-sawn. The quarter-sawn technique of cutting tone woods is beneficial in a number of ways.
For one thing, quarter sawn wood retains more of its natural tones than does traditionally cut wood. Another benefit of quarter sawing is that it improves the overall stability of the instrument; for example, quarter-sawn guitars are better at handling the stresses of thicker gauge strings.
To facilitate the most accurate measurements possible, Martin utilizes Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software to run their CNC machines. Another machining process involves what is known as fret-dressing. Using a Plek machine, Martin is able to level and shape fretboards with incredible precision.
Machines, however good, can only do so much, though, and many of Martin guitar’s more notable aesthetic touches are skillfully and painstakingly applied by hand.
Exacting standards of quality control is another reason Martin consistently produces guitars of the highest caliber. Martin guitars are inspected many times during the manufacturing process, and only those guitars worthy of the Martin name ever make it past quality control.
There’s no getting around the fact that part of what makes Martin guitars so expensive is brand reputation and recognition. Having been around so long, and having a reputation for producing consistently excellent instruments, the Martin name alone carries value.
Unlike many other high-end brands that produce luxury goods, though, Martin is a tough act to counterfeit.
Throw a FILA tag on a budget t-shirt or a PRADA label on a low-quality bag, and nine out of ten buyers likely won’t know the difference; should someone be dishonest (and foolish) enough to try and pass an inferior guitar off as a Martin, most guitarists and collectors will know better just by looking at it.
We touched briefly on the role innovation has played in Martin’s legacy, but it would be hard to overstate the degree to which Martin has changed the guitar for the better.
Aside from creating the dreadnaught body guitar, Martin also engineered the X bracing, a giant leap forward in guitar stability now incorporated in many guitars made by competitors and other lesser known guitar manufacturers.
It’s one thing to have a long history; it’s something different altogether to have heritage. Every guitar company has a history, and some of them are indeed interesting; few, though, have helped shape history as significantly as has Martin.
Martin guitars saw the American Civil War, where they offered soldiers and support staff well-needed recreation and the joy that only music can afford. Martin was there as the first American music “superstars” emerged, being played by innovators like Jimmy Rodgers and Audy Murphy.
As rhythm and blues became rock and roll, Martin guitars again had better-than-first-row seats, getting a view from the stage as they were strummed by legends like Elvis Presley. Later, they’d enthrall crowds at Woodstock and feature regularly on the hugely popular MTV UNPLUGGED.
To this day, guitarists at the top of the game turn to Martin for reliably consistent tone and playability.
Every year Martin produces a small number (usually fewer than ten) of limited-edition guitar models. Scarcity being a main driver of price, these guitars are often sought after by eager collectors who are willing to pay well for exclusivity.
Martin also produces signature guitars, such as the Eric Clapton Signature Model.
These guitars are known to have high resale value due to their quality and reputation. Many musicians and collectors are willing to pay a premium price for a Martin guitar, even years after it was originally purchased.
This means that even if the owner of a Martin guitar decides to sell it years later, they can often sell it for a price that is close to what they originally paid for it.
Examples of Martin guitars with high resale value include vintage models, such as the Martin D-28, and limited edition models, such as the Martin 000-28 Eric Clapton Signature Edition. These models have a proven track record of holding their value over time and are often highly sought after by musicians and collectors.
Another reason Martin guitars are expensive is that they’re made largely in the USA. Though the company does operate a factory in Mexico where cheaper guitars or budget Martin guitars are manufactured, their premier series are all crafted at Martin’s Nazareth, Pennsylvania shop.
Though the quality of foreign-made guitars has risen consistently over the past few decades, American-made guitars are still recognized by most guitarists as vastly superior. For this reason alone, American-made guitars will cost more than foreign-made guitars.
American-made instruments are also more expensive because labor costs are higher in the United States. Martin hires only skilled luthiers and craftspeople, a segment of the labor force that commands high salaries.
The company has embraced the responsible use of traditional tonewoods and promotes the use of alternative wood in guitar construction. In an effort to reduce waste, Martin has decreased their use of single-use plastic stretch wrap for the shipment guitar pallets.
They also encourage their customers to access the digital version of their journal, resulting in a 70% reduction in paper journals and savings of 1.4 million sheets of paper. In addition, Martin partnered with D’Addario to recycle guitar and orchestral strings that cannot be disposed of by municipal recycling programs.
All of these programs are examples of Martin’s commitment to environmental sustainability and its efforts to use eco-friendly materials and processes that minimize environmental impacts. This contributes to production costs and is reflected in the price of their guitars.
If you want to dive deeper into the world of Martin Guitars, check out this YouTube video “Guitar 101: What Makes A Guitar Expensive”.
Are Martin Guitars Worth The Money?
The answer to this question is resounding, if conditional, yes. Martin guitars are among the highest quality guitars you can buy, and therefore worth every cent.
High-end Martin acoustic guitars aren’t the best fit for every player or budget, though, and a beginner guitar player needs a ten-thousand-dollar instrument like a new driver needs a Lamborghini.
That said, for the intermediate to advanced guitarist, Martin guitars are well worth the investment. If well-cared for, Martin guitars will eventually increase in value as they age. In fact, vintage Martin guitars are commonly evaluated in the six-figure range, making them a fantastic long-term investment for players and collectors alike.
As an aside, the Martin acoustic Kurt Cobain played during Nirvana’s legendary Unplugged performance sold at auction for $6,000,010, shattering the world record price for a single guitar.
Owning a Martin acoustic guitar may not be for everyone, but the same could be said for any high-end musical instrument.
For serious guitar players or enthusiastic collectors who can afford the luxury, though, few acoustics on the market today come close to the quality, looks, and playability of a Martin.
About the Author
Thomas M., the founder of Guitar Top Review, boasts 15+ years of guitar experience and was a church band member in L.A. Transitioning from piano to acoustic guitar, his first love remains his Taylor GS Mini. Alongside like-minded hobbyist friends, he launched the site, driven by a deep love for music that transcends professional boundaries.