Dolly Parton’s Teeny Martin

Dolly Parton posting with Martin guitar

With Accidentally Wes Anderson

In the tiny town of Markneukirchen, Germany, a family of cabinet makers would make an unlikely pivot to manufacture an instrument that would establish themselves in the music industry—and leave an indelible mark on a young girl from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Thanks to a doting uncle, a young Dolly Parton became a passionate fan of an itsy-bitsy Martin Guitar.

C.F. Martin & Co. inc. building exterior
Martin Guitar closeup
Martin & Co. est. 1833 sign painted on the wall.

More than 100 years before Dolly began to strum her dreams to life, 15-year-old Christian Frederick Martin (C.F. Martin Sr.) was dreaming up some big ideas himself. Though his family was in cabinetry, Martin knew he wanted to build musical instruments. With enough playing on the heart strings, his father allowed C.F. to become a student of Viennese violin and guitar maker Johann Stauffer. But when C.F. branched off to start his own company in Europe, he was ridiculed by the instrument-building community for being a mere cabinet-maker. So he packed up his tools and played to the beat of his own twang in the United States. Long story short, he achieved it in a lasting legacy of the most famous acoustic guitar company which has endured more than 180 years and six generations of Martins.

In the factory making a guitar
Inside of a guitar being built

So how did a legendary Martin meet a star worthy Parton? From the earliest days of Dolly’s childhood, her Uncle Owens knew there was a major talent brewing in this pint-sized Tennessean. Though there was always a banged-up instrument ready to be plucked around the Parton household, Uncle Owens gifted Dolly her first real guitar, a petite Martin Model 5-18, or as Dolly lovingly called it, her “Baby Martin.”

Though they grew up in different countries—and over 4,400 miles apart—C.F. and Dolly shared a similar walk of life, each taking a path of hard work, and going against the grain to bring their tunes to the world. You might say they marched to the beat of their own drum … or in this case, their own teeny guitar.

Old photo of original guitar maker in an ornate frame
Person holding frame of wooden guitar

Contrary to what you might see today, guitars were originally constructed as petite and quiet instruments reserved for women playing parlor music. Thanks to C.F.’s innovative X-bracing design, he helped them grow in size and sound to ultimately take center stage.

There may be just six strings on your standard acoustic guitar, but there are more than 300 intricate steps and a three-month process that goes into each and every Martin before it leaves the facilities.

Wooden guitar frames hanging
Man inspecting guitar form in factory.

One quote you will commonly hear while touring Martin Guitars:

My coworkers make these jobs look effortless, but I can assure you, they are not!

After a short stint in New York City, Martin’s operations had outgrown its small workshop and were in need of a new space. Eighty miles east in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, C.F. found his business a new home—not only did the township have the space he needed to expand, but it also reminded C.F. of his hometown of Markneukirchen. The company has stayed put for more than 180 years.

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Assembly of a guitar sign.