Guitar Factory Tour

Elvis with Martin Guitar

Have you ever wondered how a guitar is made?  That question never crossed my mind until I read an article in the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper a couple of months ago.  I don’t play the guitar, but I do sing and know music, so the article perked my interest.  The story was about a company founded in 1833 by Christian Fredrick Martin Sr., who emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania.  The present CEO is Christian Fredrick Martin IV. The factory is now located in Nazareth PA and is one of the world’s oldest and largest maker of guitars.

My wife and I were headed to my 60th high school reunion in the Adirondack Mountains of NY and it was sort of on the way, so why not stop and see if they had a tour.  Their website gave a glowing story of the company along with daily tours, so thanks to my trusty (sometimes) GPS we arrived about 15 minutes before the 11:00 a.m. tour.


I expected a smallish building with grizzled artisans cutting, shaping and stringing a guitar, maybe taking a week or more to finish.  My picture was not even close to what I saw.  The factory was large.  Upon entering the pleasant and colorful reception area, we were greeted by a very kind and knowledgeable receptionist, and asked, since we had about 15 minutes before the tour, to visit their museum.  Again, I believe about every guitar and ukulele known to man, was displayed along with its history.  I found out Martin Guitars are treasured worldwide for their impeccable craftsmanship and sound.  Life size pictures of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley with their Martins strung over their shoulders impressed me with who has played these fine instruments.

Soon we heard the announcement to gather at the receptionist area for the tour.  Our very able tour guide, who also used to help make the guitars, handed us remote ear phones, and we all adjusted the volume to suit our hearing.  He was very knowledgeable, informative and fun.  Our tour lasted one and a quarter hours.  We visited every station of the building process from rough lumber to a beautifully crafted guitar.



We learned there are over 300 steps to complete a guitar. There are 400 worker/artisans and talking to them I could see they take a great deal of pride making the world’s best guitars.  As the brochure said “Our exquisitely crafted guitars have helped define virtually all genres of music from classical and country to folk and acoustic rock.”

The city of Nazareth and the home of Martin Guitar should be on your bucket list of places to visit.

Larry Kingsley

OLLI member and Member of the OLLI writers group


Musings from an Amateur Cosmologist

December 21, 2017.  Depending upon where you live, this was the shortest of days or it was the longest of days.  The Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice and the Southern Hemisphere’s summer solstice occurred on this day, as they do every December.  In June of each year the situation is reversed with the start of summer in the North and winter in the South.   The halfway points between these two solstice events are the March and September “equinoxes” when, for a day or so, both hemispheres receive the same amount of sunlight (hence the word “equinox” or equal  night).

How can this be?  Well, the story begins a long time ago when there were no solstices and every day of the year was an equinox.  About 5 billion years ago, when our solar system first formed from a rotating cloud of gas and dust, the young Earth’s axis of rotation was perpendicular to its orbital plane.  This assured that the sun was always directly above Earth’s equator as the planet rotated on its axis.  Every spot on Earth experienced 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness every day of the year.

Then, about 4 to 4.5 billion years ago, there is scientific consensus that an event occurred that changed all that when a Mars-sized proto-planet collided with Earth.  This monumental event not only created our moon (another story), but the impact forced Earth’s axis to tilt away from the vertical by about 23.5 degrees.  Suddenly, the rotating Earth began to experience “seasons” as the amount of sunlight reaching each spot on the planet’s surface now varied from day to day and month to month.  Picture the North Pole now tilting away from the sun during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice and towards the sun 6 months later during the summer solstice.  Of course, the reverse is true for the Southern Hemisphere.

Since Earth’s axis tilt never changes its orientation as the planet orbits the sun, this also means that there are two days each year (the March and September equinoxes) when the poles are equidistant from the sun.  The axis is still tilted 23.5 degrees but neither pole tilts toward or away from the sun (see the diagram below).

chart for Howard's blog

Another result of Earth’s axis tilt is the need to recognize two new global latitude lines – the “tropics”.  The Tropic of Capricorn circles the globe at about 23.5 degrees South of the equator and marks the lowest point (as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere) of the sun’s apparent path across the winter sky.  This is where the sun stops its southward progression and starts to move northward again on the day we call the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice.

“Solstice” is a Middle English word derived from the Latin “sol” (sun) and “stit” (stopped).

At approximately 23.5 degrees North latitude, the Tropic of Cancer fulfills this role for the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice when the sun stops its northward movement and heads southward again.  Again, the opposite holds true in both cases for the Southern Hemisphere.

Complicated, yes, but what would our home planet be like without seasons?

Incidentally, and counter-intuitively, because of Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun, we are actually two or three million miles closer to the sun in January than we are in July.  However, being a bit closer to the sun during winter in the Northern Hemisphere is more than offset by the effect of the tilt in Earth’s axis as described above.

Note:  My use of the word “sunlight” throughout these musings implies the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the sun’s radiation that reaches Earth and not just the light we can see.

Howard Horton, OLLI at NC State member