c.1936 Martin 0-17H "Conversion" Guitar

Update! New pics will be coming soon as well as a soundclip, but pertinent new information includes: new, wider bone saddle which allows compensation of the strings as well as new, StewMac "Golden Age" repro tuners have been installed which give it the right look at the headstock and better tuning (15:1 and smooth). Original chip case is included with the guitar.

The 0-17, like the 2-17 before it, was a popular model of period Martin because its price point was rather attractive compared to fancier (but still fairly plain) style 18 models. All-mahogany construction also gives it a good, balanced tonality that favors no particular range but does noticeably sweeten the treble side and focus the bass.

This guitar is actually an 0-17H (for "Hawaiian") model that I converted over to regular or "Spanish" configuration. To do that I had to raise the frets, level and dress them, shave the bridge and nut, and of course set it all up to play that way. I was originally going to leave the guitar "as found" (Hawaiian style) but of course I was tempted to hear what it could do played "regularly."

The result...? A solid, awesome performer. Compared to the spruce-top style 18 version of the same model this guitar is a bit more direct and has fewer extra harmonics and a tighter focus to its bass. For me, this is a supremely good flatpicking guitar in the Norman Blake tradition: big old round tone with good focus. For most folks, this will be a great fingerpicked blues or ragtime guitar, since the 12-fret body join gives more punch and volume for that style.

Despite being relatively small compared to today's standards, the 12-fret 0 shape with its 13 1/2" width and 4" depth is actually one size larger than many of the 12-fret basic flattop guitars being made at the time.

Compared to modern guitars, though, this needs fairly light strings to keep itself afloat: you're looking at a set of 46w-10s to keep this happy over time. The good news is that it doesn't need anything heavier to sing out!

Style 17, while being Martin's plainest style at the time (no binding, all mahogany construction, rosewood board and bridge), still got the gloss treatment for its finish.

Unfortunately, this guitar has been scratched-up all over with various random bits tossed on by a 1970s teenager ("so-and-so loves John Denver, smile God loves you," etc.), but you know -- I've seen much worse done to a '30s Martin than that!

Replacement tuners (I've got to get some StewMac "golden age" repros on order for it) and ebony nut. The nut is actually the original piece of wood but I've cut it down quite a bit (it was 1/4" higher before).

In comparison to the "Spanish" model of 12-fret 0 guitar from the same period, this conversion from the Hawaiian has a flat fretboard with 1 7/8" nut and a slightly deeper cut to the soft v-shaped neck itself. This makes it feel very classical, indeed. Playing open E7 chords feels great!

The straight fret saddle means that intonation on the lower notes is not spot on at the 12th fret, but it's "good enough for government work." Original bridge pins. I had to shave down the bridge a bunch to get it to a proper height... and like all older Martins, this one has a bit of belly behind that beauty...

One thin stripe of soundhole rosette is the only inlaid bit on this guitar. I love the original pickguard as well!

Good neck set, surprisingly.

Original endpin, too.


spelman said...

Hello, great instrument. What do you think about these Golden Age tuners compared to more expensive stuff lie Waverly ?

Antebellum Instruments said...

Well, Waverlies are incredibly nice tuners but they also cost $200+ and don't look authentic to period tuners. The StewMac Golden Age tuners look very close to the originals, function like modern tuners in the same price range ($40-60), and they fit old headstocks very well. I have a set on my Martin mandolin and the tuning stability is great. I barely ever have to retune during performances unless I'm really playing the heck out of it.

Antebellum Instruments said...

p.s. The tuners on the instrument right now are inexpensive 1970s-ish tuners.

Anonymous said...


Did you reuse the frets to keep it original or was that really less labor intensive than new ones? Seems like a lot of effort to me.


Antebellum Instruments said...

Ben: In the long run, it's less labor intensive because with bar stock, supposedly the frets were gauged when installed in the neck to provide proper back-pressure to keep the neck straight under tension. So, if you replace them entirely with new bar stock, you may have tolerances off quite a bit... theoretically. I didn't notice any difference in bar size when I was working on the instrument, though, so maybe some of that is a lot of hoo-wah and the reason these necks stay straight is that they were built to last and with good wood to begin with (but I digress, here...).

The plain truth, is that when dealing with bar frets, nothing is simple or easy, but they sure add a lot of confidence in the build.