Learning about excellence from C. F. Martin

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The airport shuttle was packed with musicians and vendors in town for the International Music Products convention where I would be speaking. Across from me were two young men who, it seemed, hadn’t seen each other since the last convention.

“So, how’s it going?” one asked.

“Great! Lotsa work, and the money’s good. I can finally get my Martin.”

In case you need a translation, “Martin” is a guitar manufactured by C. F. Martin. They’ve been making guitars with “steadfast adherence to high standards of musical excellence” since the first C. F. Martin set up shop in the new world in 1833.

Here’s how they put their principles in the preface to the 1904 catalog.

“How to build a guitar to give this tone is not a secret. It takes care and patience. Care in selecting the materials, laying out the proportions, and attending to the details which add to the player’s comfort. Patience in giving the necessary time to finish every part. A good guitar cannot be built for the price of a poor one, but who regrets the extra cost for a good guitar?”

Excellence is a generous but demanding master. Sometimes even your efforts at improvement can threaten to compromise your principles.

The current CEO is Chris Martin, the sixth generation of his family to head the company. Soon after he took over in 1986, he brought in an outside expert to help the company formalize its quality program.

One day, the consultant, named Vince, walked into Chris’ office and said, “Chris, people work really hard here, and I keep telling them, ‘Hey, we’re not trying to make the perfect guitar!'”

Chris Martin’s reply tells you everything you need to know about C. F. Martin and the pursuit of excellence.

‘”Vince,” Martin said, “we are trying to make the perfect guitar.”

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