‘I made this thing’: How Matt Martin started building guitars

Photo Courtesy of Matt Martin 

Story by Tim Jenkins / Contributing Writer

Guitarists have an addiction to obtaining more gear. The common answer to the question “how many guitars do you need” is something like “just one more.” MTSU student Matt Martin takes this addiction one step further and actually builds his own guitars.

Martin, 21, began building guitars at a young age, not out of want, but out of necessity.

“I grew up overseas. I’ve been playing guitar for most of my life now, started when I was really young, and where we were there was no place where I could go and take my guitar to get it set up. Or if anything broke on it, it was broke,” he said.

Martin grew up in China, where his parents worked as missionaries. His family was living in Haikou City on Hainan Island at the time when he started building guitars.

Around the age of eight, the nut (piece near the headstock that creates consistent spacing between the strings and the neck) broke on Matt’s guitar. Since there wasn’t a guitar shop nearby to repair the instrument, Matt’s father encouraged him to get online and research how to fix it himself. This event sparked his interest in the technical aspect of working on guitars.

Soon after, his father bought him a cheap build-your-own guitar kit. This was Martin’s first attempt at building a guitar.

“It was a piece of crap, but it was my piece of crap, and I was proud of it,” Martin said.

(Photo Courtesy of Matt Martin)

Including that original DIY kit, Martin has built four guitars to date. His most recent project was his first attempt at building a guitar styled after a Gibson Les Paul, as well as his first attempt at building a set-neck guitar.

The guitar features a mahogany body with a spalted maple top, a mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard with abalone inlays. All of the wood work was done by Martin, who purchased the wood from a friend that is an arborist.

“It took me about three to six months to put it together. Actually, more on the side of 6 months,” he said. “It is time consuming, but at the same time you just have to keep in mind for yourself this is a work of art. Some people do sculpture, some people do painting, I build guitars.”

Just like an artist might leave some kind of mark in a painting that only they know about, Martin signs his guitars in a spot that nobody will ever see. On his most recent project, he left his signature on the bottom of the maple cap glued to the mahogany body.

Matt is currently is working on a new project, and he is still in the designing stage.

“I want to try and design my own body style, not have it based off of something else,” he explained.

Currently an Aerospace Maintenance Management major, Martin states that he would be interested in going to luthier school to learn the industry standard for building guitars and pursue a career as a luthier.

Overseas and out of options, Martin’s dad encouraged him to do it himself. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Martin)

Guitar-building is not an easy thing to learn. It takes time and a willingness to learn all the details about the craft. However, Martin says if you’re willing to put forth the effort, it is very rewarding to hold the final product in your hands.
“There’s nothing like it because all of a sudden you’re like, ‘this isn’t just a guitar that I’m playing, this is my guitar that I’m playing,'” Martin said. “I didn’t buy this thing, I made this thing.”

To contact Lifestyles Editor Marissa Gaston email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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