Brad Kozak, on novelidea.com, recently wrote about going to a music store and seeing a Martin guitar, complete with laminated back and sides, which is a departure from Martin’s historically very high quality guitars. The NovelIdea blog is geared towards marketing and branding, so the post is targeted towards that audience. However, it’s an interesting argument. For example, Brad says:
What does this mean for your brand? It means that cutting corners and trading your brand’s value for a “quick-fix” mentality is sucide. Martin will never again be able to claim that they only make great instruments. They don’t.
I used to own a low-end Martin several years ago, but “low-end” Martin at the time meant the same as most other manufacturers high quality guitars. Will putting out laminate guitars ruin Martin’s brand? I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s sure to dilute the brand, at least somewhat. Read Brad’s full post here.
Brad’s comments do raise an interesting question but more about “brand perception” than the reality of quality, since laminated backs and side have long (like 150 plus years) been traditionally used by master luthiers on top quality guitars. Martin’s teacher Johannes Staufer, Panormo, Torres, and other early classical makers used and created their own “plywood laminates” for backs and sides to increase strength, rigidity and sonic reflection. Even Gibson on many of their great sounding flattops used laminates (surprising found it on a 60s J50 recently). The point being, use of lamination on backs and sides is a long tradition on top grade musical instruments and should not necessarily automatically relegate such instruments into the crap category.
That said Branding is a reality in perception only and if the common perception is that lamination = crap he’s absolutely right, Martin has a problem today with their choice to offer a laminated b&s instrument. The brand’s value or perceptual position in player’s consciousnesses is diminished.
I haven’t tried one of the new laminated Martins so cannot judge whether their long standing and well earned high brand perception deserves a marketplace flogging or if this is much to-do about nothing. Knowing Dick Boak at Martin and having seen first hand their factory, and having restored and repaired Martins made from the 1840s through the present, if any company can create a great sounding laminate instrument, this one can.
One other related reality, is that Martin is today a large factory and producing guitars across a wide price range. Many of them are less than stellar instruments. I’m starting to see cheap Chinese imports that I’d consider better sounding, playing and looking than some of the basic Martins today being offered. At their best, though, Martins, both today’s and those of the past, do reach the pinnacle of guitar excellence.
Dan’l, great comments. You bring up a good point, if anybody can make a good laminate guitar, then it’d be Martin. I’m surprised that Martin isn’t instead trying to use another brand as a marketing tool to ensure that the Martin mystique remains in effect. Perhaps something like “Brand X by Martin” would have lessened the blow to their reputation by lowering the expectations a bit while still capitalizing on the Martin name. Of course, I’m sure the point is to capitalize on the Martin name, and it’s much cheaper and efficient to utilize their current marketing resources instead of going down the path of another brand to manage.
Brad Kozak says
The point I was trying to make in my blog was not “anti-lamination,” but “anti-Formica.” The Martin guitar in question is not made of wood (for the back and sides) but laminated PLASTIC. The neck is lamiated wood (essentially plywood, much like is found on many Ovations). I own a Sigma (Martin’s Japanese-made brand from the 80’s) with a solid spruce top and laminated back and sides. Great instrument. The new Martins use the same material you find on fine lunchroom tables and countertops for their back and sides. That is NOT how you make a quality guitar. They sound just like you’d expect – like they are made of plastic.