Can you name your favorite female guitarist from the 1950s? Can you name any? Just like the record industry, the number of women working in guitar building has grown over the years and, to celebrate Women's History Month, we have highlighted just a few of the many women who build guitars here at Martin.
Diane has worked as a neck fitter for Martin guitar for the past 10 years, where her husband Dave also used to work. As anyone who has built a guitar can tell you, the fit of the neck can be one of the most crucial and challenging parts of a guitar build—particularly if the guitar sports a dovetail neck joint. It involves a long process of carefully carving off excess wood, fitting, refitting, and sheer strength to ensure that the fit is absolutely flawless. Otherwise, a guitar can wind up with tuning issues and problems with the action. "It requires physical strength, but also mental agility" says Diane, "because each and every neck is different." This means no two sets of problems to solve are alike—just as no two Martins are alike. After ten years of muscling necks into place, you would think her wrists might be suffering, but "I'm fine," she says. "I'm Pennsylvania Dutch - we come from hearty stock!"
Phyllis has been an employee of Martin Guitar since 1985, when she started in what was then our string division. Now she cuts and installs endpieces and routes blocks. Her daughter works here, as did her granddaughter, her son in law, and her grandson in law. Earlier in her career here at Martin, she worked building bodies by hand, as the only woman in a department full of men. After years of perfecting her craft, she looks forward to retiring in just a few years. We'll miss her—and it could be that you're playing a guitar that Phyllis helped to build right now!
One of our most skilled brace-shapers, Diana has worked here for over 10 years. The art and science of shaping braces strong enough to support over 150 lbs. of string tension while remaining supple and elegant enough to provide beautiful, resonant tone is something that requires the utmost precision. So why not use something like a laser-guided to cutting machine for these parts? "I worked with a machine once," says Diane, "but I could cut them by hand faster than the machine could, so they got rid of it!"
Mary has been working in our stringing division for 10 years. When she started, she was the only female in a department that now, a decade later, has many women working alongside her. She puts the absolute most care into making sure each Martin that crosses her bench leaves with pitch perfect intonation and playability. "Someone could have been saving up their whole lives for this guitar," says Mary, "and I want to make sure the instrument they get lives up to that. This could become a family heirloom."
You are still more likely to see a man than a woman with a guitar on TV and in magazines, but for every girl seeking a role model we hope you'll remember that if there is a Martin in your hands, it was almost certainly built with the help of one of the amazing women here. While we can only mention a few of the many women who work day-in and day-out building our amazing instruments, below are brief profiles of a few more.
Special thanks to Emilie M. and Scott F.