Retirement for some people means an RV and the open road, but for former longtime C.F. Martin & Co. employee Dick Boak, it’s been a chance to focus on craft. Boak’s skills as an illustrator and woodworker (including building nearly 40 guitars before joining Martin) were helpful during the many roles he held during his four-decade tenure with the esteemed company. Since his retirement in 2018, he has continued drawing and hand-building instruments like this recently completed trio.
While each piece would be an attention-grabber on its own, the small-bodied guitar really stands out. Boak calls it the Aardvark, describing it as “somewhat similar to a Weissenborn or an 1850s Renaissance guitar,” referring to the very rare shape built by Martin in the mid-1800s. It features an Adirondack spruce top and ziricote back and sides, and is made to be tuned up a perfect fourth, like a standard guitar capoed at the fifth fret.
The dreadnought exemplifies what’s possible when technology catches up with a vision. Boak says it’s essentially a standard herringbone dreadnought with an Adirondack spruce top and Honduras rosewood back and sides, but with intricate pearl inlays. He originally designed the fancy inlaid pickguard 25 years ago when Martin got a new laser cutting machine—but the company shelved the idea after the nitrate pickguards caught fire.
Jump ahead a couple of decades, and laser-cutting technology has improved. The original drawing was painstakingly digitized by the late Jeremy Chism of Pearlworks. After revisiting the pictures with Martin’s Executive Chairman, Christian Frederick Martin IV, Boak expanded the idea by creating harmonizing inlay designs for the headstock, fretboard, and bridge. This opulent guitar became a prototype for Martin’s new D-42 Special.
The stunning ukulele was made using a set of quilted maple that was cut back when Boak managed Martin’s sawmill in the 1980s. He set it aside for a special project, and few things say special project like a handmade retirement ukulele and its guitar companions.
“A lot of people think I should sell them,” Boak says of the trio and the ten other instruments he’s built in this later stage of lutherie. “I might, but I didn’t build them for that reason. I’m really attached to them, and it would be hard to attach a price tag to them. Every one of them is special to me for a reason.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.