A visit to Carl Martin

When in Denmark there are many places to visit. Hidden among many of the summer attractions in the charming little town of Grenaa there is the Carl Martin company, known mainly to fans of fine guitar tone. I found the corporate headquarters in a nice residantial area and was welcomed by company owner Søren Jongberg.

The Carl Martin line of pedals are indeed part of a boutique operation where everything except the black paint is done on the premesis. When the casings are drilled with the correct holes for the product in question they are shipped to a painter for its coat of black. When retured to Grenaa the pedals are printed and put together one by one with loving care from one of the guys in the work shop. There are three people working full time and then a few extra guys when the production tempo so requires.

The exception to the above is the new Vintage Series of pedals that are assembled in China. Søren is, understandably, very keen on pointing out that the Vintage Series are built using the same high quality parts that they use in the high end hand built pedals. Another exception is the production of the amps. They are actually built in Spain and Søren laughingly explains that they are using the most expensive parts you can find.

Søren and one of his designers, Niels Winther Klausen, treated me to a tour of the company and after that they sat me down to tell me their story and answer any questions I may have.

Corporate history

The story started in 1990 when Søren got bored with his job as a blacksmith. He was playing bass and guitar on the side and wanted to do something else. That something else became "back to school" to become a mechanical engineer.

Søren was also a part owner in a recording studio and a PA rental company. The rental company also did some pro audio retailing. One of his german contacts complained about how expensive Behringer's noise reduction products were. (I'm not kidding. That's the way it was back then.) He wanted to know if Søren's company Audio Analytics could build him a better product at a better price. Søren contacted an old friend from school by the name of Carl Martin and gave him the job to build the noise reduction units. That he did! And successfully to boot!! He then built PA amps and some Hi-Fi equipment too. In 1993 a bass player comissioned a bass amp with the condition that it was branded Carl Martin. This was done and the Carl Martin brand was a fact.

The first pedal Hot Drive 'n' Boost was built and first met with lukewarm interest from guitar players. In 1993 it was released to a larger market with a redesigned circuit and was a hit. After a while the american sound was popular and gave birth to the Hot Drive 'n' Boost Mk II which aims at the Boogie Mark 4 sound.

Then the Carl Martin brand was expanded with more pedals like, the preamp/EQ, compressor, chorus, Contour 'n' Boost, the Fuzz, TremoVibe, Delayla, Plexi-Tone and AC-Tone.

There is a story behind the TremoVibe. They were not sure about how they wanted the trem to sound so first they built an amp with a trem. Tweaked that and then designed the pedal sto sound like the amp.

While on the subject of amps Carl Martin also offers an amp. This can be had as a top or a 2x12 combo. The only difference is that the combo has a spring reverb and the top has a presence control. There are two cabinets to go with the amp top. Either a 2x12 closed box or a 4x12 closed box.

Apart for making their own designs, Sören is actively encouraging other people with good ideas but with no way of manufacturing their stuff to contact Carl Martin with the possibility of doing something together. Many of the pedals have seen their light of day this way. The most recent product being the Rock Bug.

Here we see quite a few pedal cases waiting for assembly.

 

Screens used to print the pedal cases.

 

Here are some Combinators on the assembly board.

 

A Delayla XL being built to sound like a dream. I like this one!

 

Sören Jongberg, the man with the corporate vision. "Everything we make should sound larger than a barn door". I have never heard a CEO use the word "tone" as often as Søren. Listen to the pedals and the amps and you'll know why.

 

Thomas Guldmann Christensen, the designer of the Delayla XL.

 

Niels Winther Klausen, one of the designers of the PlexiTone and the mysterious DC Drive.

 

Inside the studio control room there are of course some pedals within easy reach. The unlabeled one is a prototype PlexiTone.

The two pictures above shows the very first Hot Drive 'n' Boost ever made. Still works and sounds good!

 

Here is a Red Repeat delay pedal designed in Denmark and assembled in China. There are two other pedals in this series and chances are that the number will grow.

 

When designing the vintage series they Carl Martin tried a lot of different visual designs before settling on the shape they now are in. The pedal to the right is an example of this. The DC-Drive to the left is a joint design by Niels and Thomas that is yet to be decided on if it should go into production. I was allowed to have a go at it and offered to buy it on the spot. Sadly at no avail but I have hopes of getting serial # 001. :-)

 

Here are some other designs that didn't survive. They may find their way to a future Carl Martin museum.

 

This is the fabled SPAC-15. The amp that was built to make the TremO'vibe. I played it and it sounded really nice.

 

Here are two amps. I tried them both and my favourite is the top with the 2x12 closed box with Celestion V30s. This is a clean amp. Think of it as a high quality canvas for you to use and paint your very own sound with. It has a lot of bottom (even with the 2x12) and a superb top end that never gets spiky. The bright switch kicks in the sweetest bright I've heard to date. Needless to say it takes pedals very well but is ruthless to the pedals. Hook up a mediocre pedal and it sounds really mediocre. Connect a quality pedal and the amp gives it every chance to show off its every nuance. You can get it in almost any colour you can think of.

After six hours at Carl Martin (including a lunch when I was taught how to make a proper danish sandwich) it was time to leave. I traveled the miles back to Sweden being happy that I have happened to come into a business where there are so many talented people who can combine that talent with a passion for music. Thanks guys! I owe you a sandwich (at least)!

 

Mats Nermark
2006-06-04

 

 

 

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