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Jim Washburn, Dick Boak, and The Martin Archives

The Martin Archives, Jim Washburn with Dick Boak, is a unique inside look into C.F. Martin & Co.’s reign as America’s oldest and most revered guitarmaker – viewed through a selection of images, correspondence, documents, and reproduced artifacts chosen from some 700,000 items the company has amassed over nearly two centuries. The excerpt below takes a look further at the book and its compilation with


Forty years into his career at America’s oldest guitar company, the luthier and polymath talks about C.F. Martin & Co’s history and impact on popular culture.

The music industry’s most influential players are often its least visible: the record executives we never see, the lawyers whose names we don’t know, the recording engineers whose names we’ve heard but who we wouldn’t recognize on the street. These are the people that see how music is made and know how the artists act offstage. We may not know their names, but they are the industry’s gatekeepers, its preservationists and visionaries.

Take Dick Boak, director of the museum and archives at C.F. Martin and Company who entered the business 40 years ago while dumpster diving. During the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, Boak was a poet, artist, and woodworker who specialized in building instruments. When he requested permission to pick through the guitar factory’s leftover wood scraps while traveling through Nazareth, Pennsylvania in 1976, he was impressed by their selection. “I hit the jackpot with rosewood and mahogany and ebony and spruce: woods I had never seen before, let alone at the dimensions and sizes I needed to experiment with guitar making,” Boak recalls. After he sorted through the piles, Boak was asked for samples of his work and shortly thereafter was offered a job. In the decades since, Boak has built hundreds of specialized guitars and helped develop Martin’s artist relations and archive departments, becoming the company’s in-house expert. “I’m a little overly close to Martin,” Boak says now. “I would’ve done the job for free.”

In his early years at Martin, Boak introduced the idea of signature guitars to the company. In 1994, the company produced their first, the Gene Autry model and, since then, the specialized, artist-driven guitar has become an industry staple.. These days, Boak busies himself with cultivating Martin’s historical documents, a task most recently documented by The Martin Archives, a book co-authored by Boak and Jim Washburn that was released this month by Hal Leonard. “It’s Dick’s life’s work, in a way,” Washburn says of the book. “He has a huge appreciation for what the company was and has the vision to project that into the future.”

Though it took Washburn less than two years to write The Martin Archives’ content, Boak’s work on the project began in the early 2000s when he, Washburn and author Richard Johnston collaborated on an earlier project documenting Martin’s history titled Martin Guitars: An Illustrated Celebration of America’s Premiere Guitarmaker. When they stumbled upon dozens of boxes of company documents in an old factory attic, Boak became determined to preserve the materials and search for others that might exist around the country. He collaborated with museums, music historians, libraries, and eBay traders to track down old photos, newspaper clippings, sales receipts and flyers. When he approached Washburn about The Martin Archives, he handed over a hard drive containing about 4,000 documents.

In the following months, Washburn sifted through the documents Boak provided and research of his own to define the book’s narrative. What they discovered was not only proof of a company’s success but of a country’s march through time. Simple things like factory blueprints and the introduction of paperclips and carbon paper to the company’s filing system told a different side of Martin’s story. “We saw all these inventions come along. Martin moved with the times to take advantage of those things,” Washburn says. “[The book] marks American history as it changed, as seen through the eyes of this one company.”


Read the full interview here.