1953 Martin 5-18 Terz Guitar

Marty Robbins... Bobbie Gentry... Sting... to name a few who've used size 5 six-strings to much success. These little Martins sure can dish it out and sound good in both standard "E to E" tuning as well as the more traditional "terz" or "G to G" tuning. With a light enough set of strings you can also tune these up "A to A" or quart tuning which is a good option for uke players moving over to guitar as the 4 high strings are the same as uke C tuning.

I worked on this for a consignor and while it was in overall good condition (no cracks, light playwear and surface use, more or less original) when it came in, the original bridge had split along the peg holes and shoved the saddle forward, warping it in the process. I made a reproduction bridge (using the original saddle) but at the same time solved the problems that original bridge had when it was made (holes just a smidge too close to the back of the saddle and the saddle not compensated enough). After installing that the only other work was to lube the tuners, level and dress the frets, and set it up. The pins are all replacements, too, as the originals were missing.

As expected, it turned out wonderfully. It has a big (but focused and clear) voice for such a small instrument even though I've got it strung in standard pitch (E to E). I've used medium strings on it, however, to make up for the fact that the tension is lower with the shorter (21 3/8") scale length. This is standard policy over here when setting up newer "travel guitars" like baby Taylors (and Taylor GS minis) and mini Martins for standard pitch. For G to G tuning I'd suggest 11s and for A to A tuning I'd suggest 10s. Action is spot-on at 1/16" treble and 3/32" bass at the 12th fret.

The top is solid spruce and the back, sides, and neck are solid mahogany (per style 18 specs). It's got tortoise binding and a rosewood headstock veneer. The board and said veneer are Brazilian rosewood but my replacement bridge is Indian rosewood. Despite what the pics look like, in person it matches the color and grain of the board very closely. Unlike the original Martin bridge I didn't put finish on it, however, to let it breathe a bit like the board. It's still polished up, though.

The (original) nut width is pretty much 1 5/8" but a medium-size C/V hybrid back shape means that it feels comfortable rather than tight. I've played a few more modern size 5 Martins and my usual complaint is that the back of the neck isn't big enough to counter the narrower nut width.

The frets are nearly full-height and the pearl cleaned up nicely on the board. I wish I could've taken pics outside but it's going to be snowing here for a week so it was far too overcast. The board has a minimal amount of wear and is nice-quality rosewood.

Don't you love those old red tortoise guards?

Here's my repro bridge...

...and here's a better view so you can see how I matched the profile of the original. It's the same height with the same saddle height over the bridge as the original. My slight alterations to the design were to A) compensate the slot on enough of an angle for it to play in tune and B) to move the pins back just slightly so the bridge wouldn't split and break like the original did. I also cut string ramps in mine to make sure back-angle would be maintained despite possible sloppy stringing down the road. Oh, and the B-string position is properly-compensated, too.

The pins are ebony as I don't like to retrofit plastic unless it's the only thing that looks right. Rosewood just looked too weird on a Martin, though, where you expect black or white pins.

The mahogany is pretty stuff. There's light curl and flame here and there throughout if you catch it in the light "just so."

These original Kluson tuners were pretty fussy before a lube but now they work perfectly.

The neck set is perfect.

Here's that tortoise trim. Do you see what, in general, good condition the finish is in?

Unfortunately I didn't have extra ebony pins in my parts-bin so I fit a modern Martin plastic pin instead.

Martin branding... and some wood dust from working on it!

The serial is 129XXX and dates this to 1953.

This is the worst of the "wear and tear" to the finish and is on the bass lower bout side where you'll never see it.

Here's the elusive flame you an see especially on the sides.

This comes with its original (!) canvas case with a nametag for Dr. Pollack dwelling somewhere in New York (hard to read).

Here's a shot during repair. This shows how I've plugged the original pinholes (and trimmed) with rosewood...

...so that when I installed that new bridge (shown here in rough with the saddle just popped in) I would drill into essentially a "fresh" bridge plate rather than hanging the ball-ends into empty and/or chewed-up space. Note my 1/16" holes for pin location. I used exactly the same spacing as the original.


John Percy said...

with tha scale length and 10s strung A to A, it could function as a requinto, no?

Jake Wildwood said...

John: Yup, but steel string.

John Percy said...

with tha scale length and 10s strung A to A, it could function as a requinto, no?

John Percy said...

What about using D'Addario EJ33 Folk Nylon strings with a ball end. Would they have enough tension on the short scale?

Justin Faria said...

Is this for sale?!

Jake Wildwood said...

Nylon strings = out of tune, way too low tension to drive the top.

Justin: Already gone (I believe). This had a waiting list for it before I even started work on it.