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The company has been run by the Martin family throughout its history. The current chairman and CEO, C.F. 'Chris' Martin IV, is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder. The firm was the first to introduce many of the characteristic features of the modern flattop, steel-strung acoustic guitar. Influential innovations include the Dreadnought body style and scalloped bracing.

C. F. Martin was born in 1796 in Markneukirchen, Germany and came from a long line of cabinet makers and woodworkers. His father, Johann Georg Martin, also built guitars. By the age of 15, C. F. Martin was supposedly apprenticed to Johann Georg Stauffer, a well-known guitar maker in Vienna, Austria, although this claim has never been corroborated by Viennese primary sources. The identity of Stauffer's five apprentices in 1811 is documented, Martin was not among them. Martin returned to his hometown after completing training and opened his own guitar-making shop.