Mario Martin has been singing and playing guitar for most of his life. Like many musicians, he started humbly; playing at family gatherings, parties and school functions. His first “real gig” came in the form of his ninth grade Black History Month program at school. “I got up on stage and sang Charley Pride…” Mario says, “…and it went over well, so I got bit by the guitar bug.”
At age 15, Mario was playing at local honky-tonks and clubs in the Macon, Ga. area four nights a week. Often Mario would stay up until 2 A.M. to play a show, only to get up for school early the next morning. At age 16, he met his future wife and business partner, Shannon. The two became inseparable after Shannon attended one of Mario’s concerts. “That style of music was new to me,” Shannon laughs, “At the time, I was clueless to what he was singing about and I couldn’t have told you which country artists he was covering.”
In 1990, Mario entered the “Country Showdown,” a national talent competition sponsored by Tru Value hardware and GMC trucks. He finished as first runner-up out of more than 1,000 contestants. At this point, he was causing enough of a stir on stage that Nashville music executives took note and traveled to Georgia to see the young, budding country star.
The “Country Showdown” led Mario to a record deal in 1991. His first record would come out on the now defunct Nashville-based DPI Records; a label that also included country music stars Hoyt Axton and Mel McDaniel.
Two albums, a couple of years and several music videos later, Mario found himself on the road opening for notable acts such as Tracy Lawrence, Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson and Lee Greenwood. “We did pretty well,” Mario says. “But we never did well enough to get a lot of airplay on the radio.”
By the end of 1993, DPI had gone out of business. Not giving up, Mario kept playing clubs, fairs and festivals as an independent artist. In 1995, he moved to Nashville to seek another record deal and play the local country music clubs. “Playing in Nashville, for the most part, doesn’t pay the bills,” Mario says, “There are too many gigging musicians. That is why I finally decided to chase my other, more lucrative, passion of working on guitars.”
in 1996, Mario went to work at the Gibson Guitar factory in Nashville. Getting some much needed experience in a fast paced production environment. After three years of helping to produce literally hundreds of Gibson Guitars, he landed a building position with Fender Guitars. There at the newly formed Nashville based “Fender / Guild Custom Shop”, he honed his building and finishing chops. Working alongside esteemed master luthier, Evan Ellis, Mario absorbed every bit of knowledge possible on crafting guitars- start to finish.
“My “Fender years” are where I got the bulk of my education,” says Mario, “I was able to be in a true custom shop, to see and do the many steps of guitar building….. So, that was my schooling, really.”
Following his career with Fender Musical Instruments, in 2004 he found himself in a management position with MIRC (Music Instrument Restoration Corporation) based out of Franklin, TN. Overseeing factory authorized repair work for Yamaha Guitars.
One day in 2005, Mario called Shannon from work to tell her that he wanted to go out on a limb and start making his own brand of custom guitars.
“I wasn’t surprised at all.” says Shannon nonchalantly, “I knew he always wanted to start his own venture to support the family. That is just the kind of man he is — He’s as “smart as a whip” with a thirst for more knowledge; he has always wanted to do bigger and better.”
At first, both Mario and Shannon will admit it was anything but bigger and better. Operating from the garage of their Murfreesboro home, the Martins knew there was an abundance of risk with no guarantee for reward. “The financial risk was scary,” Shannon noted, “We were a one-income family who had just moved to Murfreesboro. We had just bought a new home, we had two small girls – it was a lot of responsibility, a lot of things to consider. We spent that time praying even more than usual; it was a real leap of faith.”
The Martins began their venture by selling two basic guitar body shapes on eBay, the classic “T” (Tele®) and “S” (Strat®) styles. “It was not an easy decision to start the Mill,” recalls Mario, “In fact, it was a scary decision. Shannon is a wonderful woman that was willing to back me up no matter what I decided to do, but I was nervous about being the one who made the bad decision that put my family in financial jeopardy. At first, we could sell half a dozen a week and sustain our business because we had zero overhead – the downside, however, was trying to run a full-service guitar factory in a two-car garage. However, that all seems to be a distant memory to me now.”
In the Spring of 2006, the Guitar Mill moved into its current location at 407 West Lytle St in Murfreesboro, Tenn.; a facility that has grown to encompass 4,000 square feet. The Guitar Mill has gone from offering two guitar shapes to now having more than a dozen body styles while also offering services such as repair, handmade necks, set-up, restoration, aging/relicing, customization, rerouting and custom Nitrocellulose finishing services .
These days, The Guitar Mill is a complete guitar manufacturer that does every step of production in-house. In 2009, The Guitar Mill Custom Shop was officially opened. The Guitar Mill Custom Shop evolved from a high demand from Mill customers for our product in it’s final form – a finished guitar. The “GMCS” guitars were high-end boutique guitars; custom built in the Murfreesboro, Tenn. shop they were named after. Mario Martin’s signature and “Hand Crafted In The USA” was proudly adorned on the back of each headstock. “GMCS” guitars were the clear precursor to Mario Guitars®
In 2011, a turning point appeared for the small custom guitar maker . The Guitar Mill Custom Shop became known under the new brand Mario Guitars® – replacing the former headstock logo with current “MM” inscription. The re-branding occurred when Mario felt the need to more closely associated with his product, thus naming it after himself.
“We actually build and finish everything in-house,” boasts Mario, “We’re doing our own bodies, necks, finishing, assembly, you name it.”
Mario Guitars® has been hailed for their superior playability, unmatched resonance and prolonged sustain. Many Mario guitars are the lightest guitars of their style, one of the major woods used is Paulownia, which is known for being incredibly lightweight while also maintaining sustain. Mario’s custom finishes and relic/aging work have been cited by many to be some of the best in this field. Mario is also proud of the fact that he also builds Non-aged / Factory New , guitars. “Not everyone is in to the whole “relic” thing- no problem, I’ll be happy to build you a guitar that is “showroom” new”, informs Mario. Mario Guitars® have been reviewed by Premier Guitar, Guitar Player, Guitar World, and have made appearance’s on stage with some of today’s top musical acts. In 2011, Country-Star Hunter Hayes started playing Mario Guitars almost exclusively; Hayes now owns four Mario Guitars®, one of which he played in his musical appearance in the 2014 Grammy Awards. Just recently, Grammy nominated country duo- ‘Brothers Osborne’ began endorsing Mario Martin’s talents, playing their ‘T’ Styles with pride!