Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

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Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 03, 2019 12:56 pm

Next up on the workbench is a 1931 Martin 00-17.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 03, 2019 12:59 pm

There are cracks in the top and back and some punctures in the sides that were covered with tape. And there is a crushed area at the waist. It also has very excessive neck relief (no apparent truss rod or reinforcement) and a decaying pick guard that is cupping the top.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 03, 2019 1:10 pm

My client picked up this guitar at a good price on Craigslist and we thought it was a good investment, but upon closer inspection and a bunch of research we discovered that there were some serious issues affecting the collectibility and value.

An early 30's 00-17 should have a mahogany top, no binding, and no sunburst. It appears that someone did extensive modification at some point in the past, replacing the top with spruce, adding wood binding on the top and back, and applying a black sunburst that fully blacked out the sides. There was also a mention from a recognized expert that the neck may not even be the correct one and may have come from another Martin. I also observed a section of the sides near the neck that had been replaced. I think the guitar suffered major damage at some point and was rebuilt with no regards to originality.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 03, 2019 1:25 pm

I formulated two options: repair or restoration

1) Repair the cracks, holes and crushed area.
2) Restore the guitar to as close to original as possible with a new mahogany top.

What is left out of both of these plans is a way to deal with the neck relief. Lacking any neck reinforcement, I think the fretboard needs to come off and rout in some slots for carbon fiber bar(s). The neck is so bowed that an adjustable truss rod alone would be insufficient to straighten the neck, plus it would not be appropriate to the vintage.

The thing I like about option 2 is that top removal would make the repair of the back and sides much easier and more thorough. Option 2 would also include removal of the maple bindings and replacement with simple mahogany binding that will hopefully not stick out like a sore thumb. Also, a refinish would get rid of the inappropriate sunburst. If the sunburst was a simple over-spray, I may be able to sand it off the original finish and salvage what is left. Otherwise it will be a full refinish.

According to the experts we consulted, the guitar has zero collectible value due to the extensive modifications. I will pause here for a day or two for questions/comments/suggestions.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Bob Francis » Fri May 03, 2019 4:12 pm

I like plan 2
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Bob Gramann » Fri May 03, 2019 4:18 pm

I had a an old Paramount tenor banjo that was totally unlike any catalog listings or photos of what Paramount offered at the time is was apparently made. It had parts from several different models and wasn’t clearly any one of them. I forget who helped me figure it out, but the conclusion was that it was made by a factory employee who took the parts he could get and put them together into his own banjo.

Could that be the source of your weird guitar? Does that make it even more unique and special, or does that totally destroy its value? If it has no collection value, what’s the problem with making it into the best playing guitar that it can be regardless of period incorrect repairs? If I didn’t have to keep all parts original, I would be seriously tempted to make a new neck (with trussrod) rather than try to salvage an incompetent one. I would guess that the sunburst was an attempt to hide defects—you might find something you don’t like when you remove the finish.

I don’t have collectible sensitivity. I do repairs on the old ones when I can do them with the right glues and without detection by anyone (and if I have to replace something, I save the old parts and tell the customer to keep them). But, if I’m brought one that requires work that might diminish its value, I send the customer to someone with collectible sensitivity.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 03, 2019 7:42 pm

I found a handwritten note penciled on the inside of the top that the repairs were done by a guy in Indiana back in 1976. The wood binding also really indicates out-of-factory work.

I agree that taking off the sunburst will uncover some damage. I already reported a large side patch near the heel and on the inside of the guitar it looks like it was done with a light colored, non-mahogany wood. So that will definitely be an issue.

Even though the neck might not be original, it is an old Martin neck that fits the size requirements, so I think I will at least try to save that. I forgot to mention it is a 12 fret guitar. I believe that saving as many of the "original Martin" parts as possible is best. I believe the bridge and pins are original so those will definitely be saved. So my thought is that after performing Option 2, it will be original in regard to design and the only major part not from Martin will be the top. Certainly it will never regain full collectible value, but I am hoping it may regain part of it. Is that wishful thinking?

At first, I was hoping to save the existing top, but it is over-braced and may be holding the guitar back tonally.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Bob Gramann » Fri May 03, 2019 8:37 pm

Wishful thinking? The value of an instrument is what it's worth to the owner. A "My daddy played that" plywood instrument might not be pulled from its owner at any price. This one will at least be worth whatever he agrees to pay you for the restoration.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Brian Evans » Sun May 05, 2019 7:35 am

My instinct would be that it's not a Martin any longer, and if the value is there, I'd make a nice playable guitar out of it. There is this thing in me that says if you replace the top, and the neck, and major work on the sides and the back, it's kind of not the guitar it was. It's something new, and if that new thing has a value around what it costs to create, go for it. I completely agree with "The value of an instrument is what it's worth to the owner."
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun May 05, 2019 10:17 am

Thanks for the thoughts Brian, and I largely agree. However, we are not replacing the neck and the top is a replacement top that is going to be replaced by one that is more correct. It certainly won't be an original Martin, but it won't quite be so "unoriginal".
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Bob Francis » Sun May 05, 2019 10:48 am

just keep thread thread alive please. This is a most interesting restoration.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Joshua Levin-Epstein » Mon May 06, 2019 7:36 am

Barry,

Are you considering another spruce top or a mahogany top (to match the model # in the guitar)? I can see the guy in Indiana thinking "I will improve this guitar by making it a 00-18". Does it still have rectangular frets?

There's so much to think about but I can't see anything wrong with making it what it once was.

Those old all mahogany guitars sound pretty good. And I would be pretty happy with a solid instrument (new rectangular frets..)
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Mon May 06, 2019 10:42 am

The guitar currently has T shaped frets. My client was very excited to hear my recommendation to replace the top with a mahogany top and to take it back to as near original as possible. That means removing the black lacquer off of the back and sides. The other main modification to reverse is the maple binding which is a bit more difficult. On the top I plan to remove the maple binding first and replace it with mahogany and then install the new top running it out to the edge to expose its end grain, as original because there was no binding. On the back, the best I can do is to rout out the maple and replace it with mahogany.

My research has indicated that the Martin 00-17 was the very first model to receive steel strings. This apparently occurred around 1926. Supposedly, for the next few years the guitar was slowly beefed up to handle the additional stress. It wasn't until 1929 or so that this model was strong enough to handle the stress. So this '31 guitar is right at the beginning of what we think of as a modern guitar. I think this makes it very interesting. It is not a super valuable model but it has definitely got mojo.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Chuck Tweedy » Mon May 06, 2019 11:21 pm

Barry, those sides look pretty far gone to me.
After you get the black paint off, and fill the binding rout, and replace that crushed waist, AND replace the white-wood piece near the neck... there ain't gonna be nuthin' left.
I vote for new set of sides.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Tue May 07, 2019 12:54 am

Perhaps this time I will get to see some pics of removing the top!
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue May 07, 2019 10:19 am

Yeah Chuck but I have to draw a line somewhere or I will end up replacing the whole guitar.

Gordon, I won't be saving the top so removal won't be pretty. But I will try to do a better job documenting it.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Paul Breen » Tue May 07, 2019 10:31 am

Barry Daniels wrote:Yeah Chuck but I have to draw a line somewhere or I will end up replacing the whole guitar.


The handle broke on my fathers hammer, so I replaced it. Later, I broke the claw end off of my fathers hammer, so I replaced it. Is it still my fathers hammer?

Yep, if you go too far you will end up with a new build.

Good luck with this project...
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue May 07, 2019 11:09 am

I found some discouraging things last night when starting disassembly. The fretboard had been cut off at the 12th fret, probably when the new top was put on. Also took off the pickguard and saw how poor of a top that was used. Also, sanded a bit of finish off that large repair on the side and the wood looks really light colored. Sort of already knew that but it really makes me question if I can save that repair. May be able to stain it but may not turn out too well. Chuck may be right about the sides.

Also, I found that the neck has an ebony reinforcement but it is super flexible. I can make the neck bow over a 1/16" by just pulling up on the headstock. Will definitely need to put in carbon to stiffen it up.

I am questioning if I should proceed or button it up and give it back. May be a lost cause.
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue May 07, 2019 11:18 am

Also, discovered some additional non-original issues. The fretboard should have small dot abalone inlays, not the notched squares and diamonds. Another indication that the fretboard and neck are not original. Also the bridge should have a through saddle, not a drop in. The bridge pins were extremely loose in their respective holes. If I was to save the bridge and pins I would have to bush each hole. The issues are starting to pile up.

Argh!
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Re: Restoration of a 1931 Martin 00-17

Postby Barry Daniels » Mon May 13, 2019 12:17 pm

OK, took a deep breath, and full steam ahead.

Took the remainder of the fretboard off. It was very thin (about 0.19") and had originally had bar frets. These factors combined with the brittle brazilian rosewood made removal challenging and ultimately unsuccessful. It broke into many pieces so will have to be replaced.
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