7/08/2017

1918 Martin-made Ditson 0-18 Flattop Guitar





Well, I don't see these every day! Earlier this week I finished-off a '26 0-18K and now this is done? It's 12-fret, sweet-spot, Martin love here at the shop this week! This one is a period 0-18 but bearing Ditson's retail marks at the headstock and backstrip inside. This is really typical for the time, and I've both repaired, sold, and come-across plenty of Ditson-branded Martins in my travels. There are a few very cool "custom Ditson models" with different body shapes, but most Ditson-branded Martins that I've seen around have been regular models that were rebranded (like this guy). One thing I have noticed is that the finish on Ditson-specific Martins seems to be a hair more satin than on Martin-branded ones, though it's not a requirement. This guitar definitely has a more satin-style original finish like on the Ditson-bodied guitars at the vintage Martin site.

A consignor of mine brought this by a while back and I was pretty shocked to see how clean it was. As far as I can tell, it wasn't abused too much with steel strings or spiteful neglect. Having a serial number that places it at 1918 means that it was made long before Martin suggested steel-string use on their instruments and, for all intents and purposes, these should be treated as if they're classical guitars (do not use steel despite whatever anyone else is doing or saying is ok). I've set it up with a hybrid, classical-tension rope-core set of steel that tensions-up and intonates like nylon -- hence the crossover half-steel sound you hear in the soundclip.

Work included a neck reset, fret seating and a level/dress job, repair of a broken endblock area, some hairline crack repairs (very small, on the back) associated with it, a bridge repair (it was split) and reglue, new saddle, new pins, and a good setup. The finish appears to be original and is darn clean, save some very minor discoloration (really hard to see) on the upper-bout, bass top, and the usual scritchy-scratch here and there all over. It also appears to have all-original bits except for the new saddle and bridge pins. It's playing perfectly with 3/32" EAD and 1/16" GBE action at the 12th fret. This height works well with the set of hybrid strings that are on it, though my usual setup for classicals is 3/32" across the board.

The sound is lush but even and defined, with none of the extreme boom you sometimes get with a traditional fan-braced Spanish-style classical guitar. It fingerpicks extremely well and, with a light flatpick, sounds great flatpicked, too. This is the kind of guitar you don't want to over-play, though, as it's responsive and very, very lightly-built. I can imagine it sounding pretty overdriven if someone were to string it with standard steel of any type or gauge.


Like an average 0-18 for the time, the top is solid spruce and lightly x-braced, the back and sides are solid mahogany, the neck is mahogany, and the fretboard and bridge are ebony. The soundhole rosette is a bunch of tiny lines (similar to some German and Spanish classicals of the period) and the binding (which is only on the top) is rosewood -- as is the headstock veneer. Overall the look is refined and tasteful.

The usual 0 sizing for the time applies -- 13 3/8" across the lower bout, 4 1/4" depth at the endblock, and a 24 3/4" scale length.


The nut is original and has wider slots suited to gut stringing. I kept them all gauged to 0.046 so that any gauge of classical set can easily replace these hybrid strings, if desired -- though these sound killer on it.

The nut width is 1 7/8" and the neck profile is a thinner, soft-V shape. The board itself is lightly radiused.


The original bar frets were popping out all over the place but I got them sorted. The neck itself is dead straight up to the 11th fret, but begins dropping-off in a very slight arc over the body from there.





This bridge was reglued sloppily in the past and had a split right down the pins. I repaired it, filled-in any damage, and now it's holding-up just fine after a reglue and you'd be hard-pressed to have any clue that there was damage in the first place.


When I reset the neck, I knocked its angle back to suit the height of the remains of the original saddle. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reuse the original saddle because a past owner had filed slots like crazy in it.


Old Martins (and their reissue models) have pretty extreme back-angle on their saddles due to the placement of the pins so close to the saddle. Because these strings have long end-wrappings, I had to add an extra ball-end to each string to keep the wrappings off the saddle. This would absolutely not be an issue with regular tied-ball classical strings of any other sort.

The saddle itself leans slightly forward but this should prove no issue as the intonation is good and the tension so light.










There are two, short, hairline cracks on the back, lower-bout right here. They're glued-up and right over the endblock and so pose no issue.








The original tuners are excellent. I lubed them and they're working well.




The endpin appears to be original.

Note the small, repaired cracks in the side under the endpin, though -- these are the remains of damage probably endured from a drop or bump to the endpin. The endblock was split and open, but after careful clamping I got it all back pat and solid. It was, thankfully, a clean and not-mucked-up break.


Martin used Ditson branding in lieu of their usual stamping on Ditson-sold models.



When I reset the neck I found this shim (one of two) inside the joint. Apparently, it was either finagled into submission at the factory or by a later craftsman. It bears the serial number of the guitar in it. The dovetail joint itself was clearly all hand-cut and it needed the neck reset because the bottom part of the heel was simply not gripping the walls of the dovetail very well and thus slipped over time. My reset job has solved this problem via some shims and wedging of my own.


Unfortunately, the guitar comes with a cheesy old chip case... but at least it's served to protect it so far.

3 comments:

MCCVI said...

Jake,

What is the ask on the Ditson, I would be interested.

Best,

Mark

Jake Wildwood said...

Mark -- I think it'll be the same as the 0-18K -- $3500 shipped -- but please email me at the jakewildwood@g address to talk shop.

Robert Gardner said...

Very beautiful little guitar Jake, and in very find shape. These simple designs are so classy. Hope its still there next time in in for a consult.