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Martin Guitar Places Emphasis on Quality Control, Environmental Sustainability

By Colin McEvoy on June 15, 2015

C.F. Martin & Company makes about 150,000 of its world-class instruments each year. For the internationally renowned Nazareth-based guitar manufacturer, that requires skilled craftspeople, time-tested manufacturing techniques, and, of course, a whole lot of wood.

These woods range from the rare spruces from New England they used for guitar tops, to the East Indian rosewoods used to make the 000-28EC, the famous model Eric Clapton used for his iconic MTV Unplugged performance. There’s also mahoganies from Central and South America, ebony from Africa, Sitka spruces from Alaska, and many, many more.

Martin Guitar brings in hundreds of thousands of board feet (one board foot is 12-by-12-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick) of wood each year, but through it all the company has maintained a strong commitment to the protection and sustainability of the environment, as well as strong measures to ensure the quality control of its products.

“This is not a new topic for us. Having been in business for 182 years, we’re all about sustainability,” said Nick Colesanti, Martin Guitar’s vice president of supply chain management. “That applies not only to the environment and our materials, but also to creating employment and having a sustainable company over the long-term. The fact we’ve been in business since 1833 is a testament to that.”

“A Nazareth company”

Martin Guitar employs about 600 people at its Nazareth location, where it has operated almost since the company’s founding. Colesanti said Nazareth and the Lehigh Valley are important elements of the history, character and authenticity of the company and its products.

“We’re known for being a Nazareth company just as much as we’re known for making quality U.S. products,” he said. “And fortunately, we have a great workforce from here in the Lehigh Valley who are willing to learn detail-oriented skills and have a really good work ethic. They’re great folks to work with.”

Only a small percentage of wood harvested around the world works for this specialized type of manufacturing. Martin Guitar often requires straight-grained, highly-figured wood with very precise specifications in terms of looks, thickness and density. Once it arrives in Nazareth, it goes through a rigorous inspection process to ensure the pieces there are no cracks or splits, and that the cut, dimensions, tolerances and moisture of the wood are all correct.

“Our representatives out in the field are trained on what it needs to look like and how it needs to perform, and they’re our first line of defense in terms of quality control,” Colesanti said.

Preserving the environment

Due to the size and quality required for Martin products, some of this wood comes from old-growth trees, from forests that have developed over a long period of time without experiencing severe disturbance, and therefore exhibit unique ecological features. Martin Guitar uses trees nearing the end of their life cycles, harvests according to accepted environmental practices, and embraces the judicious management and responsible use of natural materials.

“What we learned a long time ago is the world’s forests are being harvested at alarming rates, so we really wanted to be involved in making people understand they need to harvest the wood in a more responsible manner,” Colesanti said. “It’s for the good of the planet, and also so we have wood long-term for the guitars we make, which are high-quality products that are often passed down from generation to generation and can last over 100 years.”

Martin Guitar has three key approaches when it comes to environmental sustainability. First, they follow sustainable wood harvesting practices, and encourage others to do the same. Secondly, they develop alternative materials for guitar construction wherever possible. For example, its X-Series of guitars are made of a high-pressured laminate instead than wood, and some guitar fingerboards are made from Richlite, an ecofriendly manmade material, rather than ebony.

In recent years, Martin Guitar has also begun helping communities in other countries become more economically sustainable, reducing their need to clear-cut trees to support themselves financially. For example, the company recently helped build a low-energy kiln in a Guatemalan community, increasing the value of the wood they used and reusing wood that was previously discarded, which reduced the amount of old-growth trees the community had to harvest in the long run.

Exploring new technology

Martin Guitar is also exploring new technologies and methods for the tracking and regulation of its wood products. For example, one such idea would call for installing a barcode onto a log when it is harvested, so the wood from a specific guitar can be tracked all the way back to the stump from which it was cut. Another proposal involves DNA testing, so the wood from a guitar can be tested and traced all the way back to its original point of origin.

Martin Guitar also engages with environmental watchdog groups to ensure they are not obtaining wood that is harvested or processed illegally at any point in the process. Martin Guitar is subject to several regulations, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Forest Stewardship Council Chain of Custody, and the Lacey Act.

“I’ve been with the company for 12 years and, I have to say, the amount of regulation around the purchasing of wood has gone up 10-fold in that time,” Colesanti said. “We want to make sure every purchase is wood harvested in a sustainable manner and processed completely legally.”

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