Martin Guitar Kits – GKB’s First Look

| October 25, 2009 | 2 Comments

The Martin Guitar Company has, through the years, managed to survive with each succeeding generation from C. F. Martin, Sr.’s Stauffer influenced creations of the 1830s to recent developments introduced by C. F. Martin IV. Continuous operation under family management is a feat bordering on the remarkable, reflecting six generations of dedication to the guitarmaker’s craft. In or out of the music industry, C. F. Martin has few rivals for sheer staying power. Throughout its colorful history, the company has adapted successfully to continual changes in product design, distribution systems, and manufacturing methods. One of these adaptations has been to offer the a complete guitar kit for the enthusiast who wants to build a Martin-like instrument on their own, without needing a full set of luthier skills. But do these kits really offer the opportunity to build a Martin? GuitarKitBuilder took a look at the Martin guitar kits and found a worthwhile instrument with a few caveats.

Have you built one of these kits? Share your knowledge by posting a comment.

First, an overview. Martin offers kits for a variety of instrument styles and woods, covering their OM (Auditorium), D (Dreadnaught) and J (Jumbo) styles. Wood varieties include Rosewood, Indian Rosewood and Mahogany for the back and sides, Spruce for the top, and Morado, Ebony, Macassar Ebony and Indian Rosewood for the fingerboards. The acoustic guitar kits include all of the PARTS needed to build a complete instrument, which leads us to the first caveat. Assembling one of these guitars will require access to a complete woodworking shop (with humidity and temperature control preferred) and a variety of tools, jigs and finishing equipment, with an estimated cost of $500 to upwards of $1000. So bear in mind that while you do get all the parts needed, you’ll need to already own, or acquire, a variety of other tools and gear to finish the job.

The second caveat is that these kits require significant woodworking skills. We have found that experienced woodworkers find these kits to be quite challenging. The instructions included with the kits are not detailed and you will likely need the guidance of a good guitar construction manual to help as a guide, if you are not already an experienced guitar builder. Specific challenges most frequently cited for these kits are fitting the neck to the body and getting the action corrected. Overall, expect to spend 100 to 300 hours to complete the work.

The third caveat is that the parts provided by Martin are not consistently of the same grade as the parts used by Martin for the guitars it produces under its own name. You are likely to get wooden parts with a prominent knot or other aesthetic flaws that wouldn’t pass muster on a Martin guitar. You also won’t get any decals or other trademarks of C. F. Martin & Co. to go on your finished instrument.

So with the above in mind, what do you get at the end? Hopefully you’ll have the pride and satisfaction of building your own acoustic guitar with your own hands, and in the construction style of the historic Martin guitars. You’re likely to learn and appreciate a lot about the art of guitar building without having to acquire, cut and shape the wood needed. And those would be the primary reasons to buy and assemble one of these kits.

What you won’t have is a guitar that you can call or sell as a Martin guitar. The reports from the people who have built these kits is that they range in sound from “a cheap Martin” up through “sounds great” to “excellent.” Some of this will depend on the kit model you purchase and some on your woodworking skill. The finished look, depending on your skill, will probably be no better than looking like a Martin “second” and not first rate due to the aesthetics of the wood parts. If you are looking for one of these kits to save money, keep in mind the cost of tools and jigs needed. And if you’ve always wanted a Martin, this is probably not the way to go to achieve your dream.

You can order from Martin at…. Martin reports delivery times of 2 to 3 weeks.

Category: Acoustic Guitar Kits

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  1. avatar chuckmartin says:

    I bought one of these kits a few years ago when I was getting into woodworking, but it was too much for me. I really should have researched it more but just got excited and ordered. I ended up ebaying it so can’t say what the construction process is like, but the wood defintely had visual flaws.

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