2/10/2016

1920s Martin-made SS Stewart Style B Flatback Mandolin




I seem to be pretty good at finding Stewart-branded Martins and the like. Here's a 1923 guitar that was probably built around the same time as this mandolin and here's a bowlback Martin/Stewart mandolin that shares the same pickguard. This mandolin is almost bit-for-bit the same as a Martin style B (rosewood/spruce) mandolin of the same general time (late teens, early 20s) but there are a few features off -- including a stained-maple fretboard with dot markers (dots are featured on that bowlback, too), slightly thinner "volute" at the headstock rear, and a different pickguard shape.

I've worked on one other Martin-made mandolin that had a maple/stained board (and was, seemingly, from the same period) and so perhaps there was a run made that way for a short time. The board on this one looks like what that other one looked like before I refretted it. It's clearly a take on a style B and was clearly made by Martin -- I have a consignor's Ditson-branded style B from around the same time also in-shop that makes direct comparison pretty easy.

As for the sound -- it's got that high-class Vega-style bowlback clarity with the added depth of flatback warmth and good overall punch/volume. This, to my thinking, is the epitome of the classic flatback sound that you seem to only achieve with (Brazilian, in this case) rosewood back/sides. It works equally well for folk, old-time, and "ethnic" stylings as well as classically-infused music. The handling is quick and easy but the ever-so-slightly-bigger neck profile compared to slightly-later Martin mandolins means that it's a lot more comfortable for me, personally. My hands cramp up like crazy on thinner front-to-back necks.


This mandolin came to me nearly ready-to-go, though I did have to cleat up a tiny hairline crack on the top near the bass side of the fretboard extension, give it a fret level/dress, light cleaning, and a good setup. The original, full-height bridge was actually dialed-in already for a perfect 1/16" action height at the 12th fret and the neck itself is dead straight.

I lucked-out when I picked this one up!


Original bone nut and recessed tuners -- which are working quite well. This has a 13 1/8" scale length and I've strung it with period-tension 32w-9 GHS A240 strings. The nut is 1 1/8" width, the neck has has a comfortable string spread, and a medium v-shaped neck profile.



Pretty, isn't it? The only crack, as mentioned, is the fixed one near the bass side of the fretboard extension.

However -- the finish has been "signed" all over in various ways via scratching and there's a lot of pickwear near the soundhole (in a good way).

The instrument itself is entirely original, though.


The ebony bridge came with compensation already -- nice!



This rosewood multi-layer binding is very common on 1920s Martins and Ditson-branded Martins. Here's a quart guitar with the same stuff and same Stewart branding and this old 0-18 has very similar binding.






It looks like this was signed by someone's college pals. I love the duck!








Sorry, but I can't resist adding a very-useful strap button.

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