3/11/2015

1920s Martin-made SS Stewart "Quart" Guitar




Well, this is an odd one! Like this Stewart 2-17 Special and this Stewart bowlback mandolin, I'm absolutely certain this was a Martin product. It's probably from the same era, too -- early 20s or late teens -- and shares the similar "style 17" or Ditson-esque detailing but with a spruce top. At 8 1/2" at the lower bout and with a 17" scale, this is like a dreadnought-shaped tenor uke in terms of size. It'll actually fit nicely in a tenor uke case (provided the headstock area is big enough).

I believe the story on this one is that it's somewhat related to the 3/4 (21" scale) Ditson-sold Hawaiian models that Martin made for them. It has the wider-waist "Ditson" shape and though it has regular frets installed now (albeit very vintage ones), I believe that this probably originally had bar frets that were flush with the top of the board, like on this 1930 0-17H I converted. At any rate, somewhere back in time these were removed and it was converted to a "Spanish" model and strung with gut/nylon for the rest of its life until it met me.

The size and scale length dictates that this is more of a "quart" guitar (intended for stringing A-A above E-E standard), but I've strung it as a "nylon-strung Nashville" guitar. It had a regular classical set and despite the dilapidated state I could immediately tell that the low A from the A-A pitch was lacking a little. Fortunately the next string up sounded just fine (the same D as a baritone uke's D) and full so I centered my tuning around that pitch as lowest note. This facilitated a re-entrant "Nashville" stringing that sounds super-cool on this, though standard up-tuned A-A would be a good option, too, depending on the player's needs.


Typical period Martin features abound... the original ebony pyramid bridge has the "rounded" pyramids, the binding is rosewood with wood purfling, and the rosette is a dead-ringer for that aforementioned 2-17S and various Ditsons.

My work on this included re-seating a few frets, a fret level/dress, new saddle (oversize... will explain in a bit), adjustment of the nut, cleaning, and setup. I also cleated the center seam in two places where dryness had opened it up.

It's crack-free and in good health, though when those different frets were installed (presumably), an aftermarket tailpiece was also removed and parts of the instrument if not the whole thing got a very thin coat of overspray finish.

The top is braced like a fan-braced Ditson but without the lower-bout fans. Why? There's no need on such a small body! And do you know why else they would do this...? Because it's exactly the same as Martin uke bracing... and comes complete with that nice rounded-edges bridge plate.


I think the current nut that's on this is the original (presumably raised-string Hawaiian) nut that's been cut down a bunch over time. Rosewood headstock veneer.

The nut width is juuuuust 1 11/16" and the back-profile is that mild-v typical of 20s Martins. It's quick and fast and easy on the fingers.


The fretboard is ebony, flat in profile, and has those diminishing-size pearl dots also typical of Martins. The frets are vintage stock (late 20s or early 30s?) and T in shape. They were low to begin with and leveling has removed slightly more material near the nut and at the join. Still... there's plenty to use, and with this needing to be strung with nylon/gut anyhow (there's Aquila Nylgut on there for that vintage sound) they'll last a very long time without work needed.

A thing about the volume? This is loud for its size. I think it'd have no problem being heard in a jam. It'd also make an excellent "different guitar sound" for group use or recording.


Aren't those trim appointments so nice and understated?


So, a few things about the bridge: it's glued slightly askew... but... considering its tiny-ness, hairline crack across the pin-holes, and fragility... I decided not to remove it for fear of simply destroying it in the process. Instead, I removed the original saddle, recut the slot wider, and made a compensated bone saddle to remove the askew-ness of the bridge from the calculations.

When this was made, the slightly askew bridge was probably a non-issue (I know it was originally like that because the pinholes line up perfectly with the bridge plate holes) because it was (probably) meant to be played in the lap with raised strings like a Hawaiian guitar.




Mahogany back and sides... all solid...


...and a nice mhogany neck, too.




 The body depth is 2 3/4" at its deepest.


Here's another Martin feature for "jobbed out" guitars: an imprinted "maker's mark" that's bogus. You can just barely see the funky old B&J-sold SS Stewart imprint mark that would've looked like the 1888 mark in this picture originally.



The original reverse-shaft Waverly tuners are still working just fine. All they needed was a tiny amount of lube.


Action is a hair above 1/16" at the 12th fret (perfect for a uke-style instrument) and it plays well.



The original pins are long gone (this has older black plastic ones at the bridge), but I've added this ebony endpin.



Here it is next to that '52 000-18 for reference. Please excuse the bad lighting: I forgot to take the camera off of "outdoors" color settings.

No comments: