Martin is one of the oldest and best established guitar brands in the world, famed for their high-quality instruments, handcrafted by some of the world’s finest luthiers. They’ve been synonymous with their factory’s ancestral home town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania for almost 200 years, so it might come as a surprise to some that for several years now, they have been building guitars overseas.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ve taken a look at C.F. Martin and done some research into their origins, and when and why they started to build guitars outside the USA. Keep reading as we find out what’s the deal with Mexican Martins?
The C.F. Martin Guitar company was founded by Christian Frederick Martin in 1833. They have been deeply involved in the entire American story, surviving through the Civil War to modern times as a family owned and operated company. There have been 6 generations of Martins leading the brand through an ever-changing landscape, but their reputation for quality throughout these times has been steadfast.
Ever the innovators, the Martin Guitar company has been responsible for some huge developments in guitar manufacturing techniques. One of the major breakthroughs for the brand was X Bracing, a strengthening technique that makes guitars sturdier while simultaneously improving their depth of tone. Their biggest invention of all, however, was the Dreadnought or “style D” guitar back in 1913. The Dreadnought was named after the British battleship of the same name, taking inspiration from not only the shape, but the sheer size of the namesake ship.
Throughout the years, Martin guitars have been heard on recordings by many who might not even know the significance of the guitar they’re listening to. And no doubt, they’ll be involved in many more hits to come.
When Did Martin Begin Manufacturing in Mexico?
As briefly mentioned earlier, since their humble beginnings in 1833, Martin guitars have been manufactured in Nazareth, PA. However, in 1989 Martin opened a plant in Navojoa, Mexico, tasked with the job of creating electrical components and also manufacturing a portion of their guitar string quota.
The quality of work at the Navojoa plant was quickly noted by the Martin Brass and in 1992, the production line in Mexico was assigned to manufacture their new “Backpacker” model, a revolutionary travel guitar.
Much like with the strings and electronics, the quality of work on the Backpackers impressed leadership at the US plant, which led them to further entrust the Mexican production line with more models as they further developed their lutherie skills building the travel guitars.
The Mexican Martin plant has grown from a 12-person operation when it opened in 1992, to a full-fledged factory with 450 employees. It’s been a huge success for Martin and unlike many other manufacturers who have sourced production overseas, hasn’t resulted in a single job loss at the US plant.
Which Martin Models Are Made in Mexico?
As can be seen from the below list Martin manufactures a huge number of different models, the vast majority of which are still built in Nazareth, PA.
In this list of which Martin models are made in Mexico, we’ve also included which Martin models are made in the USA for comparison.
|Mexico Plant (Navojoa)||US Plant (Nazareth, PA)|
|LX Black Little Martin||000-15M|
|LXK2 Little Martin||00-15M|
|LX1R Little Martin||DSS-15M StreetMaster|
|LX1 Little Martin||000-15M StreetMaster|
|DX Woodstock 50th||OMC-16E Burst|
|D-X2E 12 String||BC-16E|
|DX Johnny Cash||Grand J-16E 12 String|
|SC-13E Special Burst||HD-35|
|D-18 Modern Deluxe|
|000-18 Modern Deluxe|
|D-28 Modern Deluxe|
|OMJM John Mayer|
|000-28 Modern Deluxe|
|OM-29 Modern Deluxe|
|00-28 Modern Deluxe|
|0012-28 Modern Deluxe|
|012-28 Modern Deluxe|
|00-17 Authentic 1931|
|D-35 Johnny Cash|
|Custom Shop 000-28 1937|
|Custom Shop D-28 1937|
|D-18 Authentic 1939|
|D-28 Authentic 1937|
|D-18 Authentic 1939 Aged|
|000-42 Modern Deluxe|
|D-42 Modern Deluxe|
|D-28 Authentic 1937 Aged|
|D-45 Modern Deluxe|
|D-42 Purple Martin Flamed Myrtle|
|Bentley Snowflake First Edition|
|D-45S Authentic 1936|
|D-45S Authentic 1936 Aged|
Are Mexican-Made Martins Any Good?
Now that we know Martin manufacturers many of their models in Mexico, you might be wondering, are Mexican-made Martin guitars any good? We can answer that question with an absolute yes.
There are of course some better guitars than Mexican-made Martins, but realistically speaking, most of their non-US-made models are very good.
At the Mexican plant there are some non-traditional materials in use, like HPL (high pressure laminate), which is effectively reconstituted and compressed sawdust with a wood effect veneer. Or Richlite, another composite wood-like material designed to replicate the look and feel of real wood, while keeping costs down and improving sustainability.
These wood alternatives often put off players who haven’t necessarily heard guitars made with them, but to the average ear, the tonal difference between HPL and real wood isn’t always abundantly obvious.
Mexican models range in price from around $250 to over $1,500, so despite being made across the border, they are in some cases more expensive than US-made counterparts. Typically, a high-end Navojoa-made guitar will have more embellishments than an entry-level US model. So if the country of manufacture isn’t a dealbreaker, you can definitely get a great deal.
Final Thoughts on Mexican-Made Martin Guitars
Despite outsourcing production of some models to Mexico, Martin has not compromised on quality. Costs have been reduced by using some more inexpensive materials on Mexican-made models, but the employees at the Navojoa plant have proven they can make some fantastic guitars.
Ultimately, before dismissing them as not being “real Martins,” it’s a good idea to go a store and pick some of these models up. There’s a good chance you’ll be surprised at how nice they are to play and how great they sound.