1930 Martin 5-17T Tenor Guitar

Update: Per request, I added a second soundclip of this instrument strung lower in GDAE tuning.

I have a soft spot for mahogany-topped Martins. This 5-17T is a fiery little thing and came in pretty close to spec as far as playability was concerned... but did need a fret level/dress, two 3" hairline cracks cleated/filled, a bit of compensation added to the saddle, new pins, and a good setup. After all the adjustments, too, its volume jumped right up and the tone rounded-up with a bit more lower-mids and overall punch. I love how that happens.

I think these earlier, banjo-peg-equipped size 5 tenors are probably the friendliest small-body tenors made. They're easy on the eye and easy on the lap, but were definitely intended for CGDA tuning (or DGBE, for that matter). I'm not a fan of these tuned to octave-mandolin GDAE range as the bass is a bit too tight -- but in the higher, more standard, tunings chords gel into a nice thick bite and lead work sounds smooth and saucy.

The body is 11 1/4" across the lower bout and it has a 22 7/8" scale length. I've currently strung it 30w, 22w, 16, 12 for DGBE tuning. It's all-original save for a new set of ebony bridge pins and endpin.

1 3/16" ebony nut, rosewood headstock veneer, and classy old two-tab geared banjo pegs...

The rosewood board has those cream "micro dots" and the original bar frets -- which were full height and have plenty of height left. My level/dress job was quite light.

The only nod to decoration is the one-ring rosette.

The bridge is good to go and before I set this up I filled/redrilled the pinholes to seat the ball-ends nice and pat. The saddle is now compensated for two-wound/two-plain stringing.

The saddle was its full original height when it got here and remains so. This is what these bridges look like as-original. In old-time and bluegrass circles there's a tendency to want really tall bridges and saddles -- things that most old guitars never had originally.

I consider it mostly a "feel" preference compared to a tonal superiority preference. As far as I'm concerned, the most important element in coaxing power from any pin-bridge guitar is to have decent back-angle behind the saddle so the strings drive the top in a "wave" motion more efficiently.

The satin finish is in really good shape but does have a few places where it's been polished-up from use-wear -- pretty typical.

The Grover two-tab geared pegs (with ivoroid buttons) make tuning much less of a chore vs. standard friction pegs. They hold just fine.

Here's one of the two 3" hairline cracks -- this one was actually quite tight but had some run-out on the top of the wood so it looks wider than it is (it's hard to see it in other pics, no?) -- it's cleated/filled and good to go.

The other one is a tight one on the back that's also cleated.

It comes with a size 5 (or mini-Martin?) Martin gigbag.


musical instruments said...


Unknown said...

Absolutely beautiful! Some day I'll own one.

Michael Aiello said...

What they said! She's for sale right? What's the distinction again between the 30's and the 50's and 60's? Thanks Jake.

Jake Wildwood said...

MA: Yup, will be listed a bit later today. There's not much difference "under the hood" v.s. 5-17s and 5-15s, but the tuners change to guitar-style ones by around '38 and over time, to my ears, the bracing seems to be slightly bulked-up to deal with heavier strings. Sonically they're all more-or-less the same. The main difference between 17/15 is that the 15's finish wasn't as glossy and the dot pattern was changed.

Scott Wallick said...

I usually like tenors tuned CGDA, but that sounds really nice in Irish tuning. Thanks for posting!