3/20/2015

1920s Martin-made Style A Flatback Mandolin




Update: I just upgraded the tuners to some StewMac repro types I had in my parts bin as the ones I initially put on weren't holding too well. The photos have all been updated, too.

While this is clearly a Martin-made style A mandolin probably from the late teens or early 20s, it's unmarked, has no serial number, and at some point in the distant past it lost its original ebony fretboard and the lower of its back braces. It came to me with various cracks open and uncleated, a couple seams sprung, a lightly-warped neck, headstock with a hairline crack along one side of the tuners (which were weird 60s units cobbled-together from single guitar tuners), and other general needs.

The biggest part of the work after cleating cracks and regluing various bits was pulling the frets, leveling the board, and refretting the instrument -- which I did with some smaller "medium" gauge wire for a modern feel. It has the same board that was on it when I got it: what looks to me like a "catalog style" dyed-maple replacement board one might've ordered from the Harmony or Regal catalog in the 30s. It had original-style t-frets of the type I'm used to seeing on Harmony products, installed, too.

After work it plays fast, well, in-tune, and has a full, open sound. The tone of this really suits old-timey stringband music or, heck, even classical pieces. Because of the refret it feels like playing a brand-new instrument and all the notes leap right out with a good amount of volume and zing.


Specs are: solid spruce top, solid mahogany back, sides and neck. The original bridge is ebony and compensated and the celluloid pickguard is set into the top.


You can see the repaired headstock hairline crack above the bass-side tuner shafts.

The ebony nut is probably the original Martin nut.

I string Martin flatbacks from this period as I would old bowlbacks: with the GHS A240 set in gauges 32w-9. It doesn't need much else to drive it as the build is extra-lightweight. I find that even a set of regular lights (34w-10) tend to wear out these old Martins over time and the bowlback gauges are more amenable to their slender v-shaped necks and light body-build.


There's some chipping-out on the dyed-maple board as you'd expect from the material. It dressed up nicely, though, and feels good in the hands. I also forgot to mention that I had to reglue a small section of the board itself, too.

This has the standard 13" scale length.



The bridge slots for the strings were a bit worn down for proper action height at the bridge so I actually "built up" the slots again and then reslotted them. It's always nice to re-use original parts, if possible.

I also repaired/cleated a couple tiny hairline cracks at/around the pickguard, too.


The center seam on the top was opened-up so I cleated it and filled in what needed to be. It looks -- and is -- just fine. I also used this parts-bin Waverly cloud tailpiece cover to replace a missing cover on this mandolin. I was saving it for just the right project!




Update: I put on a set of new-ish StewMac repro tuners (of similar type to what would've been on this when it was first made) as the parts-bin set I initially had on wasn't up to snuff.



The back below the main mid-brace is uneven on this longish crack. It's stable, and filled, but not perfect. Can't blame the old girl too much, though...


The sides, on the other hand, have no cracks. The finish is all-original throughout, too, though it's definitely got weather-checking and plenty of wear and tear.








Oh, and did I mention that nice old rosewood binding on the top and back edges? Always classy on these old Martins...

1 comment:

Warren said...

Great work! Love it!