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The Legacy of Ernst Heinrich Roth: Unveiling His Hidden World of Guitars

by Madonna

Among the revered luthiers of the city, Christian Frederick Martin and Ernst Heinrich Roth stand out, with Martin’s instruments enjoying widespread recognition. However, Roth, the master violin maker, harbored a little-known talent for crafting guitars, a fact often concealed in the annals of history.

In the footsteps of his father, Johann Georg, Martin, a member of the Cabinetmakers Guild in Neukirchen, nurtured ambitions beyond the realm of violin-making. Sent by his father to Vienna to study under the renowned luthier Georg Stauffer, Martin’s early career was shrouded in sociopolitical events. A note dating back to circa 1832, discovered by instrument wholesaler Christian Schuster and detailed in Greig Hutton’s 2022 book “Hutton’s Guide to Martin Guitars: 1833-1969,” unveils Martin’s craftsmanship. Schuster’s note attests that Martin, as a foreman in the factory of Johann Georg Stauffer, produced guitars of unparalleled quality, marking him as a distinguished craftsman.

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While the Martin company maintains the legitimacy of Martin’s guitar-making prowess through early labels citing him as a “pupil of the Celebrated Stauffer,” the absence of concrete documentation raises questions. Regardless, Martin returned to Neukirchen in 1825, engaged in a legal battle with the Violin Guild for attempting to make guitars in the city. The legal strife persisted until 1833, following the death of his father, prompting Martin to set sail for America. There, he mastered the art of constructing Stauffer-styled guitars.

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Simultaneously, guitar makers in the Vogtland region of southern Germany drew inspiration from diverse sources such as Italy, Thuringia, France, and the United States. Christof Hanusch, author of “Weissgerber: Guitars by Richard Jacob,” notes that an independent style emerged around 1840, evolving further after 1900 under the influence of growing demand.

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Roth, who learned violin-making from his father, Gustav Robert Roth, ventured into business in 1902, partnering with his cousin Gustav August Ficker. Roth, at 25, carefully studied old masterpieces, using them as models when he expanded his repertoire to include guitars and mandolins. His guitars reflected influences from Markneukirchen builders, particularly Karl August, the father of Richard Jacob. Capricious details like distinctive fretboard-end shapes and intricate marquetry became Roth’s trademark.

The export of guitars from Markneukirchen, coupled with catalog availability of components and decorative inlays after 1890, led to the global imitation of design elements. Roth’s shop, opened in 1902, primarily catered to the upper-class American market with violins. His ERoma line of guitars and mandolins, less known but made for the European market, continued until the end of World War II.

In the post-war era, as big-band music gained popularity, Roth, unlike many builders, increased production of fancy archtop guitars. However, the Soviet occupation of East Germany in 1952 abruptly halted Roth’s guitar production. The company was expropriated, leading to its relocation to Bubenreuth. While the family continued crafting violins, guitar production ceased upon their move to West Germany.

Though ERoma guitars are scarce in the United States today, they remain prevalent in original markets like Italy and Czechoslovakia. Renowned for their solid construction and mid-focused tone, these guitars endure the test of time, perfect for a stroll through the woods or a lakeside strum.

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