pre-war acoustics

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scalino65scalino65 Frets: 222
edited March 2 in Acoustics
Hi. Is anyone here clued up on pre-war vintage acoustics? I know nothing at all about them and would really like some pointers as to info, resources,etc. The reason why I ask is that I played a 1936 martin 017 today and have fallen in love. I've never heard anything like it before. A "concert" size all mahogany guitar that projects so wonderfully and simply sings! I'm sure that I played one about 10 yrs back and felt the same then.If its true that you should buy with your ears then this is it for me but these things arent cheap and I wouldnt want to make a costly mistake.... any and all advice gratefully received.
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  • ronnybronnyb Frets: 612
    I know what you mean about it 'sings'. I've never really been interested in anything that old though i've a couple of Gibson acoustics 40 and 50 years of age. The other week i was in an antiques centre near where i live and there was a 1940 Kalamazoo KG 12. I sat and played it for about 20 minutes and it was probably the sweetest guitar i've ever played. Like you i know nothing about guitars of that age and the price was £1900. I'm not sure i would invest that kind of money in an instrument that old but it was really nice.
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  • jhumberjhumber Frets: 45
    Pre-war Martin's are a bit of an area of fascination for me. There's a couple of good sites to check out that will help if you want to learn more online:
    - Vintage corner of the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum:
    - This site is also a goldmine of info:
    - I'd highly recommend Walter Carter's book too:
    - It's always useful to be clued up on serial numbers, in order to help verify the age: Note that Martin started stamping serial numbers on the neck block in 1898(!), but didn't add the model number stamp above it until 1930.

    As you'd expect from a company with such a long history there were many changes made over the years. A couple of specific years to be aware of when it comes to pre-war Martin's:
    - Prior to 1922-3, they weren't "built for steel", meaning they were braced very lightly - as they had been all along for gut strings. The mahogany x18 series was braced for steel string from '23 onwards, and by '28 I believe all the models were. The reason for pointing this out is that you can find an early one which may sound incredible and be holding together, but wouldn't stand up to heavier strings or playing style. I've played a couple of wonderful early 20th century Martin's that had steel strings on them but felt like there were about to implode. Some people say it's fine to put steel-strings on pre-'22 guitars, others say each guitar has to be judged individually (my experience, too), others say don't do it at all because of the risk of heavy damage.
    - Anything pre-'44 will be scalloped-braced, which tends to be the most desirable spec and is generally considered more resonant. You'll also hear about forward-shifted vs. rear-shifted bracing which refers to where the X-brace passes under the sound-hole, and therefore how stiff the top is at various points - which affects the EQ response.
    - Around 1927-29 you'll see the changes from pyramid bridges, to flat rectangle bridges, to the belly-shapes bridges. I'm not sure any of these sound better or worse than the others, but I always thought the pyramid bridges look great.
    - Up until 1934, you'll see bar frets (assuming they're original), as opposed to the T-shaped frets we're used to now.

    The Mahogany x15 / x17 / x18 models are, in my experience, fantastic guitars. The 15s will omit binding and a gloss finish, 17s are all mahogany with binding and gloss, and 18s will have a spruce top. As with all Martin's, expect to pay more as the model number increases. 

    As the above info probably gives away, I'm more of a fan of pre-war Martin acoustics than the Gibson's. I've played a few Gibson's that were terrific guitars, but also a few that felt very heavily built. By contrast, I don't recall ever playing or hearing an old Martin that didn't make me want to own it ;-)

    Finally, if you're looking for a good selection of pre-war Martin's, consider a trip to Tony at Replay Acoustics: A few years back I spent a great afternoon there playing all manner of guitars, and learnt a lot in the process. Tony was very generous with his time and knowledge, highly recommended for a trip.

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  • jakeollyjakeolly Frets: 29
    Hi scalino
    your reaction is perfectly understandable. The pre war/ 1940s martins (and gibsons imho) are completely different beasts to the modern ones. Better basically. Built lighter, with better timbers and smaller numbers by the best craftsmen. Amazing instruments . I had a simiar reaction to a similar instrument.
    No finer place or person to hear  and learn from than Tony at Replay.
    youre in trouble mate. Once youve heard and tried a few the new ones just dont seem the same anymore 

    I have a gibson lg2 from the same era ( and a J45 thats as light as a feather and sweet as...from the same era thats up for sale due to me needing some cash ) 

    welcome to the club 
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  • scalino65scalino65 Frets: 222
    Thanks for your thoughts chaps. Much appreciated. The situation I'm now in is that 24 hours ago I could tell a vintage martin from my elbow...I now know a decent bit more and it sounds like I'm not the only one to be seduced by these pre-war guitars.

     I cannot get the sound of the little martin out of my mind. I'm now starting to wonder if I imagined how lovely it sounded but then I am certain this happened once before about 10 years ago! My impression was that thing guitar is so sweet and resonant and loud and lovely! It sounded unlike any acoustic that I've ever played before. The response from finger picking and change of attack and muting,etc felt more like an electric guitar than an acoustic. 

    I'm now reminded of how I felt as a teenager, when I'd find an electric guitar in one of the very few music shops around (i lived in the middle of nowhere and electric guitars were a real rarity the best part of 40yrs ago) and I'd just keep going back into try it again! Can this little martin really have sounded that good or was I drunk or something and I didnt know!
    I also need to try an find out what the correct ball park price of one of these is and then have a bloomin good look down the back of the sofa!
    Thanks again and cheers
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  • jhumberjhumber Frets: 45
    edited March 2
    scalino65 said:
    I also need to try an find out what the correct ball park price of one of these is and then have a bloomin good look down the back of the sofa!
    For a pre-war 0-17 or 00-17, I'd expect the prices to be around £4k in a private sale, likely more from a dealer. A '00' will typically go for more than an '0'. For reference, this one has been on eBay for a while: (no affiliation).

    One thing I didn't mention in the post above: don't be put off by a neck reset. I'd actually see it as a positive. If the saddle is original, it's probably very low on a pre-war by now, and I'd guess the action relatively high. A neck reset will mean a new saddle being installed, but if done well imo it's a big +ve on an old acoustic. Essentially, if it hasn't had a neck reset yet it will likely need one soon, so it's an advantage for someone to have paid for it already.

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