12/18/2010

c.1923 Martin-made "SS Stewart" 2-17 Special Guitar


UPDATE! Apparently Martin listed this model as "2-17S" or "Special" in their production logs. Makes sense to me, as it's a 2-17 in everything else but the "special" part -- the spruce top!

HAH! Fingerpicker's dream guitar. This is truly a lovely little thing.

While the Martin Technical Reference book doesn't make much mention of their instruments built for B&J (and then resold under the SS Stewart brand), it does say that they made "ukuleles and related instruments" for them. Here's a bit of confirmation of something I've suspected from watching a number of eBay listings, though... this is 100% a Martin-made instrument, branded SS Stewart, and it's a guitar.

Serial places it at 1923 and while the production totals from that year list no 2-18s, they do list 2-17s and 1-18s. These are all sizes that are smaller, if only a little bit, than the O size guitars we're all more familiar with. This particular guitar is almost identical to the 2-17 models Martin made for a number of distributors (who then sold them under their own labels) except for the fact that the guitar has a spruce top, not at all in keeping with the all-mahogany build of the 2-17s (which also happened to be the first Martin guitars intended for steel string construction).

The one catch with this guitar is that, while all the specs fit a 2-size guitar, its lower bout width is between a 2 size and a 1 size at 12 1/4" -- 1s are 12 3/4" and 2s are 12" straight.


The guitar has numerous repaired old cracks (mostly on the bass side where there are a number of repaired hairlines, two done by me) -- but only one repaired crack on the top, bass side lower bout (an amateur job but stable). It's also had its bridge reglued and shaved at one point, but the bridge pins, bridge, and ivory saddle are original. I shaved the bridge slightly more and "finished it" -- sanded it down and polished it up and reinstalled the ivory saddle (what's left of it) in a deeper slot to give the appearance of what the bridge would have looked like originally.


Headstock is pure 1920s Martin, with good-quality Waverly tuners and ivoroid buttons. Ebony nut, rosewood fretboard and bridge, white/cream tiny dots on the board, and also side-dots on the neck. Rosewood headstock veneer.

Oh! And right -- tonewoods -- solid mahogany back, sides, and neck, solid spruce top. Rosewood binding with multi-line purfling and rosette.



Patina is glorious and finish is thankfully all-original. I love the loads of pick/playwear all over the treble side.


Gotta love this dot pattern. So simple!

I've got it strung with nylgut (nylon) basses and plain steel trebles (17, 14, 10). This sounds almost exactly like a silk and steel set but has even less tension, and is one solution Martin came up with at the time for their lightly braced flattops. When this was built in 1923 the company was still figuring out how they wanted to go about the steel string business and at the time some strange combinations of strings were popular -- substituting steel for the B&E in a gut set, or even the G&B&E, or using a whole gut set save for the high E (like on a violin) which would be steel.

This guitar has some belly due to too-heavy strings being used, but is fortunately stable and not very much. It has typical period extremely light x-bracing which allows the top to be thinner than competitor's products -- but the bracing is still very light so I think I could only suggest at max a silk & steel set or extra-light acoustic set. This is essentially still built just the same as their gut-strung models from a year or two before.

Tone is rich, pure, and singing with tight and warm bass and superb treble. It sounds like a guitar two or three times its size and today I sat with it in a group setting and it easily punched melody lines right through two guitars and a banjo guitar.


It's so cool that it has the original ivory saddle and orig. bridge pins.


Action looks high but the tall frets belie that... it's actually at exactly 1/8" from the board at the 12th, and 1/32" or so under that from fret top to string bottom.



Nice all-wood binding and rosette. Low-key and elegant.



Here's the SS Stewart label from inside.


And barely legible in the pic is the back-seam stamp.


Serials right on the neck block point to 1923.


Gorgeous hog back and sides.



SS Stewart stamp is applied to the back of the headstock, too, just like on a regular Martin.






The side mahogany has a bunch of curl and flame in it.


Here's the biggest crack repair on the instrument: a long hairline that was glued back together long ago and stretches most of the bass side from a little after the neck join until the curve of the lower bout.


Gorgeous and functionally-sound patina-d Waverly tuners.

c.1940 Kay-made "Calvert" Archtop Guitar


While I have no idea who owned the "Calvert" brand, this guitar is undoubtedly made by Kay around 1940. It's a good quality guitar, with solid spruce top, solid maple sides and neck, and a flamed three-ply maple back. Work on this one included a neck set, fret dress, and setup.


It's entirely crack free, sports tortoise binding on the top, back, and fretboard, and has all of its original components -- super-cool lyre tailpiece, rosewood adjustable bridge, rosewood fretboard with dot and diamond inlay, finish in great glossy thin shape, bone nut, and original Kluson tuners with slightly deteriorating buttons.


Rosewood headstock veneer. Those tuners work great.


This is such a fantastic-looking period charmer. Has a heck of a lot of class to it.


It's also a tone monster with instantaneous response, loads of smooth snappy treble, and round but precise bass. Great sustain, too.




The white backing for the tortoise binding really pops the stuff out from the sides.



This is definitely the guitar to play if you'd like to get noticed on stage.



Neck profile is a bigger D shape but is quite fast. This has that old-Kay narrow-ish nut which makes it great for lead lines.




Curiously, though the neck is maple, they decided to paint faux-flame on its back under the finish.



Glorious deep amber/red/crimson-brown sunburst.




Original end pin, too.

c.1975 Global Strat Copy Electric Guitar


This is one of the nicest-sounding and playing Stratocaster knock-offs I've had my hands on in a while... tone is super, clean, sparkling, etc. -- just what you're looking for. -- and 100x better than a modern-day Squier knock-off It's got a 50s-style 3-way pickup selector, a funky top-load, 3-barrel brass-saddle tailpiece that's nicely grungy, replacement sealed tuners, and a one-piece maple neck with black dots. Add in the fun three-tone sunburst that's curiously close to the edges, and a lightweight solid (rather than lam) body... and you've got a pretty good sleeper.

A little searching brought up references to these being sold through the Sears catalog in the mid/late 1970s, and that's about the "tech level" that I'd place this fella at. It looks about that era. These were either built in Japan or Korea.


Typical Strat-ish setup -- three single coils, two tone, one volume, top-load jack.


With big CBS style headstock.





Gotta love the grungy bridge with the home-remedy style adjuster screws.


Hardware has aged nicely.





Replacement Schaller tuners.




Basically plays and sounds like an old 70s Fender... but lighter in weight and a little "older" feel in terms of no whammy bar and no 5-way switch.