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Marty Lanham & the Nashville Guitar Company

Review by Richard Johnston
Gryphon Gazette, Spring 1998

Lots of guitarmakers are also musicians, or ex-musicians, but not many have put in as many hours on stage as Marty Lanham. A native of San Jose, we first met Marty back in the early 1970′s when he was living in Sonoma County, working on instruments when he wasn’t playing bluegrass with Styx River Ferry. He was already a fine banjo player, and we were sorry to lose another talent to Nashville when his band relocated to Tennessee in 1972.

Both of Marty’s careers took off soon after the move. He was given a job with the prestigious Gruhn Guitars, where he worked as a repairman for the next eight years. This provided many opportunities to “get inside” the finest guitars from the Golden Era of American guitarmaking, including an old D-45 that formerly belonged to Johnny Cash, along with guitars that belonged to Lester Flatt and even Jimmie Rodgers.

When he didn’t have his hands inside an old Martin, Lanham was likely to have his feet on the stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry, playing banjo for traditional country pioneer Wilma Lee Cooper. Marty’s house and home workshop soon became a rallying spot for Nashville-based bluegrass musicians, and no small part of the draw was his wife Charmaine, a Sonoma County native who gained a reputation as a photographer and also wrote and insider’s-view newsletter about the greater Nashville scene. It’s that sort of fresh-pot-of-coffee, soup-on-the-back-burner kind of place where everyone is welcome.

In 1985 Marty turned his attention full-time to his Nashville Guitar Company, setting aside a part of his busy repair schedule for building guitars. The kind of “big names” that most low-production guitarmakers would drop at every opportunity are just part of business as usual for Marty. Since great pickers like Stuart Duncan are friends as well as customers, their input about Marty’s instruments is no small part of what makes his guitars so great.

Nashville Guitar Company instruments look a bit like classic Martins – no surprise there – but these are not slavish copies of vintage anythings. Yet there’s a notable lack of quirkiness, and a familiar feel and sound to Marty’s guitars. They sure don’t take much getting used to, you just pick ‘em up and play away. Our first one is the David Grier model, a rosewood dreadnaught with Adirondack spruce top.