Guitar maker to put genetic tag in its instruments

Want to make sure your Martin is really a Nazareth-made Martin? Now plant DNA can help.

Posted: July 25, 2011

NAZARETH, Pa. - With six generations of the Martin family working in Nazareth since 1833, it might be said DNA played a big role in establishing C.F. Martin & Co. as a maker of some of the world's finest guitars.

Now DNA will help protect that reputation.

In the coming months, family-owned C.F. Martin plans to implant each new instrument with a DNA tag designed to thwart counterfeiters and send a message that the company will not sit idly and watch its brand's reputation diluted by cheap knockoffs.

The tag was developed by a Stony Brook, N.Y., company that has pioneered technology allowing manufacturers to mark their products with a unique trace of plant DNA.

"The DNA tag itself can be put into anything in the production process," said Gordon Platt, spokesman for Applied DNA Sciences. "It can be put into ink, for labels on wine bottles. It can be put into glue or varnish or just about anything."

Applied DNA is working with the Department of Defense to put its tags on microchip components that go into weapons systems to help combat counterfeit chips that have made it into the military supply chain, he said.

And the company shared a British crime-fighting award with Lancashire police when its DNA-infused ink, geared to spray from improperly opened cash strongboxes, helped crack the case of a vicious robbery that ended with the shooting of a security guard. The gang leader, Colin McCash, was apprehended when he tried to pass one of the DNA-marked bills at a service station weeks later.

Martin wants to make sure it has an authentication system that lasts and stands up to forensic scrutiny, especially if the company takes suspected counterfeiters to court, said Gregory Paul, the company's vice president of operations.

"It certainly sends a very strong message to the industry that we have an elegant, sophisticated authentication technology," Paul said. "We don't know right now anyone else in the music-product industry that is using an authentication technology of this strength and sophistication."

The company has been particularly vocal about fighting overseas counterfeiters, especially in China, where it has struggled to persuade the government to crack down on imitators who have been selling inferior products under the C.F. Martin name. "The Internet makes it too easy for a counterfeiter or their distributor to offer even a handful of units to a very broad audience," Paul said. "Ads for these sites crop up every day."

Eventually, the company hopes to provide authentication services to its customers, he said, allowing them to verify the authenticity of guitars they are planning to buy or have already bought.

Guitar owners may be able to check that their Martin guitar bears one of the DNA tags, and if they feel further verification is needed, they can take the instrument to Martin's Upper Nazareth Township headquarters for further testing, Paul said.

"We are able to mark our product in a way that is covert," he said. "You can't really see it. And it allows us to do sort of three levels of checking, of verification."

First one can verify that the product has a DNA tag, then that it has plant DNA, and finally that the plant DNA matches the sequence of DNA used in the authentic tag, Paul said.

He said the tag would not affect the guitars' prices.

Paul stressed that the technology was completely safe. People "rub up against" plant DNA every time they lean against a tree or bite into an apple, he said. So will string-bean DNA be used to mark the guitars? Applied Science won't say.

"The plants used for the extraction of DNA are confidential to each user," Platt said. "The plant used in this case was custom-selected with a specific DNA sequence that Applied DNA developed and made just for Martin."

For now, the best way to make sure the Martin guitar you buy is the real thing is to go to an authorized dealer, Paul said. A list is available on the company's website at www.martinguitar.com

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