What’s the Deal with Mexican Martins?

Martin is one of the oldest and best established guitar brands in the world, famed for their high quality instruments, hand crafted 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 of the USA. Keep reading as we find out what’s the deal with Mexican Martins?

Martin History

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 through 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 never 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, Martin guitars have, since their humble beginnings in 1833, been manufactured in Nazareth, PA. However, in 1989 Martin opened a plant in Navajoa, 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 Navajoa 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.

This move was also partly in response to the increasing demand for more affordable guitars that didn’t compromise on the Martin brand standards. While the Mexican facility doesn’t have quite the same history as the Nazareth plant, it still puts out guitars that live up to the Martin name. This expansion has allowed Martin to diversify its product lineup, making Martin guitars accessible to a much broader range of guitarists. 

The Mexican Martin plant has grown from a 12 person operation when it opened in 1992, to a fully fledged factory with 450 employees. It’s been a huge success for Martin, and unlike many other manufacturers who have sourced production overseas, has not 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

Not only have we included a list of which Martin models are made in Mexico, but we’ve also included a list of which Martin models are made in the USA for comparison.

Mexico Plant (Navojoa)US Plant (Nazareth, PA)
BackpackerD-15M
LX Black Little Martin000-15M
LXK2 Little Martin00-15M
LX1R Little MartinDSS-15M StreetMaster
LX1 Little Martin000-15M StreetMaster
D-X1ED-15M StreetMaster
DJr-10000-17
0-X1EOMC-15ME
OMC-X1E000-15SM
000Jr-10DSS-17
00L-X2E000-16E
D-X2EGPC-16E
000-X2ED-16E
DX Woodstock 50thOMC-16E Burst
00-X2E000C12-16E Nylon
D-X2E 12 StringBC-16E
DX Johnny CashGrand J-16E 12 String
000CJr-10EOME Cherry
DC-X2E00L Earth
DJr-10E StreetMasterD-18
GPC-X2E000-18
000-10-E00-18
D-10E0-18
GPC-11ECEO-7
000-13EOM-21
000-12ED-28
D-12EHD-28
SC-10ED-35
DC-13E00-28
D-13E0M-28
GPC-13E000-28
SC-13EM-36
SC-13E SpecialHD12-28
SC-13E Special BurstHD-35
 CEO-9
 D-18 Modern Deluxe
 000-18 Modern Deluxe
 000-28EC
 D-28 Modern Deluxe
 OMJM John Mayer
 000-28 Modern Deluxe
 000-28EC Sunburst
 OM-29 Modern Deluxe
 J-40
 00-28 Modern Deluxe
 0012-28 Modern Deluxe
 012-28 Modern Deluxe
 00-17 Authentic 1931
 D-41
 D-35 Johnny Cash
 Custom Shop 000-28 1937
 Custom Shop D-28 1937
 D-18 Authentic 1939
 000-42
 D-42
 0M-42
 D-28 Authentic 1937
 D-18 Authentic 1939 Aged
 000-42 Modern Deluxe
 D-42 Modern Deluxe
 D-28 Authentic 1937 Aged
 D-45
 D-45 Modern Deluxe
 D-42 Purple Martin Flamed Myrtle
 Bentley Snowflake First Edition
 D-45S Authentic 1936
 D-45S Authentic 1936 Aged
 D-200 Deluxe

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. 

Mexican models range in price from around $300 to over $1500, so despite being made overseas, are in some cases more expensive than US made counterparts. Typically, a high end Navajoa 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.

Construction and Materials

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. HPL and Richlite, while not traditional like the woods used in flagship models like the US made D-45, offer a unique set of advantages. They are extremely durable, resistant to temperature and humidity variations, and provide consistent quality between guitars. 

Additionally, this material choice reflects Martin’s commitment to producing guitars that are more affordable, and are also able to withstand the rigors of regular gigging and travel. Not only that, but HPL and Richlite are generally more sustainable options, too.

Sound Quality and Playability 

The sound quality and playability of Mexican Martins, particularly when compared to their American counterparts, has been a contentious subject for years – particularly when Martin purists get involved!

Starting with sound quality, you’ll find that it depends largely on the specific model you’re looking at. Entry level Mexican models are generally made with HPL bodies, although some do benefit from solid tops. Some argue that HPL can’t replicate the resonant qualities of traditional woods, many players find the sound of these guitars pleasantly surprising, and the vast majority of players, particularly amateurs, probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in a blind test, anyway. 

As for playability, Mexican made models tend to be marketed more towards beginner to intermediate players (although the top tier Mexican models are great options for even professional players on a tighter budget!). As such, these guitars are generally set up with comfort and forgiveness in mind. 

Price Comparison

Guitarists are drawn to Martin largely because of their reputation for great quality guitars and fantastic tone. Unfortunately, even used US made Martin guitars still command a significant premium. Mexican Martin guitars. On the other hand, offer the Martin experience at a much more accessible price point, making them a super attractive option for many guitarists. 

Mexican made models start at around $300 for the Backpacker, and go as high as $1800 for the SC13E. If you’re looking at a US made model, you’ll find that the most affordable guitars in the lineup are around $1700 (D-15M), and can reach as high as $60,000 for custom shop models. 

Electronics 

Choosing a Mexican made Martin model doesn’t mean you’ll need to cut back on features, either. Just as with the US built guitars, many of the Mexican models come with the very same Fishman MXT pickups and preamps, adding huge versatility. Having built in electronics makes it easier for less experienced players to plug in and record, or even to play through an amplifier to a larger crowd. More experienced players will also appreciate the added convenience of not needing to set up a mic in order to play to an audience. 

Repairability and Longevity

The repairability and longevity of any guitar should be high on your priority list when you’re shopping for something new, but when you’re buying something from a big name like Martin, you sort of feel as though you’re getting something made to last, right?

We’ll start in this case with longevity. Long story short, if you look after your Martin guitar, no matter whether it’s made in the USA or Mexico, it will last you for a long time. As we mentioned earlier, the laminated woods and wood alternatives so heavily featured in the Mexican models can help to make these guitars even more durable thanks to their increased resistance to changes in temperature and humidity.

The downside comes in the event of some kind of accident. If you bump the guitar with something, an all solid wood model will generally be easier to repair than something made with HPL in particular. HPL repairs require specialist techniques, and with any kind of niche service like this, prices are at a premium, and you might find there isn’t anybody in your town with the skill set to take on an HPL repair properly. 


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 Navajoa plant have proven that they can make some fantastic guitars.

Ultimately, choosing between a Mexican and an American Martin is a matter of personal preference, shaped by individual needs, budget, and taste. If you’re looking for something that will hold its value as an heirloom piece, you’ll need to look towards an American model. If you’re looking for a workhorse that doesn’t break the bank, but still delivers in terms of Martin looks, tone, and feel, a Mexican made guitar might be just the thing for you. 

Before dismissing them as being “not real Martins”, it’s a good idea to go to 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.

  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.

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