A Chat with Dick Boak, A Martin Guitar Legend


Our very own Paul Decker (owner of Music Villa) had the pleasure of sitting down with Dick Boak from Martin Guitars as he was in town for a Music Villa event. Dick recently announced his retirement from Martin Guitars and he shares some of his career highlights and most memorable artists he's collaborated with over an expansive career.

Here's their conversation, (edited for clarity).

Paul: There's big news here: Dick is retiring from Martin Guitars after 40+ years!

Dick: I'm actually terrified about retiring because my life is so intertwined with the entire guitar industry -- and Martin Guitars -- for so long. So, I can't envision how I won't be involved; I'm trying to finagle little avenues for being involved. I'm not going to disappear, but I have a lot of plans. I want to do artwork and record my third album, and I want to travel around the country and visit all my friends.

Paul: It's going to be great, and there's no way you can just stop doing what you're doing. I love going back to the Martin factory, a company that started in 1833. I heard a rumor that you got your job there because you were discovered pulling wood out of the back of the plant?

Dick: Yes, I was teaching art at the time and had to go through Nazareth to get to the school. I was always a woodworker, dabbling in that rather badly, but the famous story is true: I did get my job from digging through the dumpster. They all got to know me pretty good at the back door and eventually Chris Martin's grandfather saw two instruments that I made and he said 'you should apply for a job.' So I did. They asked if I could start tomorrow and I said "No, I gotta go to the Bob Dylan concert." Honestly, I would have done that job for free. It really is unbelievable that anybody can have a job in the industry they love so much ... well, you do.

Paul: I love what I do as well! Did you do every job in Martin's factory?

Dick: Well, not everything. I started as a draftsman, then I worked in production for a little while. I did prototype making and some designing. I started the 1833 Shop, and a store called Woodworker's Dream, which became Guitarmakers Connection. I also ran the Martin Wood Products division, ordering wood for Martin Guitars and I sold wood to the furniture and exotic wood market. Then, I started the advertising department at Martin, which produced many magazines.

Paul: Also, the museum -- that has your stamp all over it.

Dick: Well, I have to acknowledge Chris Martin for the museum. He had the vision and the financial commitment and support; all of these things defined my career. Without him, nothing would have happened. The significant thing is that Eric Clapton played Unplugged and the phone calls started coming in with people asking where they could get his guitar. The result of our collaboration with Eric launched 20 years of incredible signature model collaborations that really have been fantastic.
Paul: The museum is just amazing; you preserved all the history of the company.

Dick: I think there's more than 400,000 correspondences and 30,000 photographs. Most companies threw it all away. So, Martin is unique and I think we're one of the longest surviving family businesses in the United States. Certainly, we're the longest surviving maker of guitars and string instruments in the world.

Paul: What do you want to be known for? What's your most memorable moment?

Dick: Well, there was Lloyd Loar from Gibson Guitars; everyone feels that an instrument with his name affiliated with it is more special than a regular instrument. I really would like to be thought of in that way.

Paul: I'm sure that's going to happen, you're leaving a huge mark on an amazing company. There's going to be a lot of legacy Dick Boak stuff floating around.

Dick: It's not so much about feeding my ego. I was honored to be friends with C.F. Martin III. I've always felt a strong commitment to the family and am honored to help preserve what is really one of the best American legacies going.

Paul: You're going to have an interesting couple of years!

Dick: I have to say, maybe I'll move to Montana because this is the best place in the world. I've been to a lot of music stores around the country and you have an incredible array of products -- each one is really special. I don't know how you get the best of what everybody has! We decided this is the best store in a 9,000 mile radius and it's all because of you and your crew.
Paul: We love what we do here; there's never a dull moment. Who's the most memorable artist you've worked with?

Dick: There's so many. Steve Miller is a really dear friend. From a strictly playing point of view, it's Mark Knopfler who has such a touch. He's turned out to be a real kind, warm gentleman. When I went to see him in England, the first thing he asked me was if I wanted a cup of tea. That's what he's like, he always wants to make you comfortable. Paul Simon is just incredible, he wants everything to be exactly right, and he'll throw the whole thing away and start over if it's not. The result is an incredible, constantly evolving array of music.

Paul: You've had an amazing career, we love what you've done. Thank you for everything and congratulations on your incredible career at Martin Guitars.

Dick: Thank you and thanks to all of my friends out there in the music world. 

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