7/15/2012

c.1930 Martin Style 15 Archtop Mandolin


So, what's been growing in the mandkin patch these days?


A super-clean, all-original 1930 Martin Style 15 mandolin, that's what!

Aside from the sort of rare sunburst finish, this Style 15 is also the earlier (1930 was only the 2nd year of production) model with the round soundhole configuration. These carved-top instruments turned into f-hole models in 1935. When Martin built these, they were already old-hat. Gibson had been making more "modern" products than this one for about a decade before these fancy carved-top Martin models came along in their own right.

The advantage of the Martin, though?

The workmanship is flawless, fit and finish is fantastic, and the tone is wonderful: strong, loud, balanced, with decent chop on chords but a more "Lyon & Healy" carved-top sound for melody playing. It's definitely more suited to old-timey fiddle tunes and folk-jazz than it is bluegrass, though as I said the strong chop one gets from this gives it a good crossover sound.


When I picked this up the (only) brace was loose under the top, the frets needed seating and leveling, the tuners needed a lube, and the (original ebony) bridge was warped and fitted the top poorly. There was also a hairline crack at the tailpiece area that needed cleating. I did all the work yesterday and after stringing it up and a very light setup at the nut, this plays spot-on and was ready to go. The fretboard extension drops off towards the top slightly past the 12th fret, but since I play mostly under the 12th fret, this doesn't make a bit of difference to me and also lets me pick a little over the board more easily.


Simple headstock with rosewood veneer. Ebony nut, ebony fretboard, and bar frets.


Martin's design style was so elegant. I love the tiny dots.


Nice, simple soundhole. The appointments to this instrument are very similar to Martin guitar "18" series appointments: back and top black celluloid binding, and simple one-ring rosette and edge purfling on the top.


Here's that original ebony bridge. I may add a third "shim" foot in the middle to stabilize it over time, especially since it has the past history of having warped.


The pickguard is a thick bit of ebony and looks classy as all heck. It's mounted with one big screw that goes into an internal support block inside and then a small nail that sticks into the side of the fretboard. This makes it very sturdy so it won't bend down to mute the top while playing and also means no side bracket is needed.

The top itself is arched pretty steep. The whole instrument, with its curly/flamed maple and slick, smooth finish, combined with the steeply-carved top, reminds me very much of nice French violins from the turn of the century. The top carving is very well done. The instrument was actually holding tension just fine when it came in to me even with the main brace entirely loose on the treble side.


Martin stamp inside. The neckblock has serial 147xx which dates it to 1930. Martin serials for their guitars and mandolins were different, so if one looked on the guitar serial chart this would come up with a 1920 date.



Yup, she's awful pretty.



Side dots are nice for playing "blind." Elegant heel, too. The neck itself is mahogany finished in natural. The flamed maple on the back and sides is stained a medium red (violin-style coloring) to match.



So-o-o pretty.


Waverly tuners (original) work great and hold tune very well.





"Cloud" tailpiece is simple but of course, looks and works great. I've muted the tailpiece-to-bridge string length with some foam under the cover.

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