See The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” Played on the Oldest Martin Guitar in Existence (1834)

You may have heard the recent hub­bub over an antique Mar­tin gui­tar from the 1870s that end­ed up smashed to bits on the set of Quentin Taran­ti­no’s ultra­vi­o­lent West­ern The Hate­ful Eight. Maybe you saw peo­ple gnash their teeth online and said, “so what? It’s just a gui­tar!” Fair enough, and a Stradi­var­ius is just a vio­lin. I exag­ger­ate a lit­tle, but many gui­tar lovers who watched the clip of Kurt Rus­sell destroy­ing the price­less arti­fact (unwit­ting­ly, it seems) felt the impact for days after­ward. As Col­in Mar­shall wrote in a post fea­tur­ing that footage, “You can still go out and buy a ser­vice­able gui­tar from the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry with­out com­plete­ly wip­ing out your sav­ings, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Mar­tin made a few decades earlier—such as the one smashed in The Hate­ful Eight—at any price at all; less than ten may exist any­where.”

You can see one of those relics above; the old­est known Mar­tin in exis­tence, in fact, made decades ear­li­er than the wrecked gui­tar from Taran­ti­no’s set—made, in fact, in 1834, just one year after cab­i­net mak­er C.F. Mar­tin moved to New York City from his native Ger­many, where he had run into trou­ble with the Vio­lin Mak­er’s Guild who claimed exclu­sive rights over instru­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing. Mar­tin imme­di­ate­ly began pro­duc­ing gui­tars, like the small-bod­ied Stauf­fer-style instru­ment above, before mov­ing his fac­to­ry to its cur­rent loca­tion of Nazareth, Penn­syl­va­nia, where the Mar­tin Muse­um is locat­ed. In the video, folk gui­tarist Ste­vie Coyle has the plea­sure of pick­ing out The Bea­t­les’ “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” and an orig­i­nal tune called “Salt­flat Rhap­sody” on the aged instru­ment, which sounds just a lit­tle bit like a Medieval lute.

Just above, see Chris Mar­tin IV, great-great-great-grand­son of the famed gui­tar mak­er and cur­rent CEO of the com­pa­ny give a tour of the muse­um, point­ing out what gui­tar his­to­ri­ans believe is the ear­li­est gui­tar with X‑bracing, the inno­v­a­tive inner archi­tec­ture C.F. Mar­tin sup­pos­ed­ly invent­ed when com­ing up with his own designs and mov­ing away from those of his men­tor, Johann Stauf­fer. After the pain of watch­ing a beau­ti­ful vin­tage Mar­tin smashed to bits in Taran­ti­no’s film, it’s a great consolation—for gui­tar nerds at least—to see how well the Mar­tin Muse­um has pre­served so much of the com­pa­ny’s his­to­ry and kept such ear­ly mod­els in playable con­di­tion.

Relat­ed Con­di­tion:

Price­less 145-Year-Old Mar­tin Gui­tar Acci­den­tal­ly Gets Smashed to Smithereens in Tarantino’s The Hate­ful Eight

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

How Fend­er Gui­tars Are Made, Then (1959) and Nowa­days (2012)

The Sto­ry of the Gui­tar: The Com­plete Three-Part Doc­u­men­tary

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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