Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 34

Thread: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    central VA
    Posts
    592

    Default Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    After catching and releasing a mid-'70's Martin A, i have a notion for another, but pre-black guard era. After studying them more, it appears there were two different body styles. What have you Martin A, B, C, D, and E owners found about sound between the earlier and later Mandolins?

    Most folks know the A models had mahogany b/s and the others had rosewood. The Koa topped mandolins aren't what i'm asking about, just the spruce topped.

  2. #2
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Rochester NY 14610
    Posts
    15,095

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I have a 1919 Style A, faux tortoise pickguard. As far as I can tell, body shape's identical to the later Style A's. Haven't played many of the later ones, but don't notice any distinct difference in sound.

    Longworth's book says nothing about changes in body shapes, just materials (mainly bindings). Mine has rosewood binding front and back, ebony bridge. The very first Style A's, 1914-17, were rosewood, and until 1919 they were front-bound only, at least according to Longworth.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    central VA
    Posts
    592

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Thanks for your input, Allen. Actually, the Longworth book is where i first noticed the changes, as he gave different spec's for the older and newer instruments. i haven't been able to figure out the exact year the body depth and width changed, but the era of your mandolin body is more triangular than, say the post WW2 models. It's discrete at first but becomes pretty obvious once you know what to look for. And i haven't measured them to verify ML's numbers.

    Having not played the old and new together, i don't know if the body size changes result in sound changes.

    It would be great to connect with folks who know these Martin mandolins well.
    Last edited by dan in va; Nov-04-2017 at 1:17pm.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    S.W. Wisconsin
    Posts
    3,892

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Dan, I have in the last few months had a 20's and a 50's in my hands and thought they both sounded quite good. It wasn't at the same time, but I may be able to get them together at some point. I didn't notice anything much different in the sound, but then I wasn't looking and didn't know they differed other than regular T frets and bar frets.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  5. #5
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    The very earliest Martin flat back mandolins were slightly smaller in width than the later ones. The change occurred sometime between 1920 and 1922. It is possible that the transition occurred gradually over a period of a year or two. It is not very well documented in the history books.

    At one time I owned 2 otherwise identical rosewood mandolins that were built right before and right after the change. One was made in early 1920, the other in 1925. In this particular case, the earlier small mandolin was a better instrument. But that is just one example. I haven't compared any others. I eventually sold the larger mandolin.

  6. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    40.191N -74.2W
    Posts
    20,523

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    The only real difference I ever saw in the Style A Martin mandolins was that they stopped inlaying the pickguard sometime in the late 20's or 30's and they changed over to black binding around 35. Beyond that the tuners changed over the years to use what was available. The Waverly cloud tailpiece was there to the end. I've had a few over the years from a 21 to a 70's model.

    The rosewood model was a Style B if I recall.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  7. #7
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    The Martin flatback mandolins were introduced in 1914. Five models were originally available, in models A through E.

    Model C was in rosewood and had fancy fingerboard inlays. It was introduced with multicolored wood purfling around the top. The multicolored purfling was briefly replaced with a pearl border in 1917 when the pearl trimmed style D was discontinued. By 1922 or so [nobody is sure of exactly when], Style C was again made with the multicolored purfling. The last style C was made in 1934. A pearl trimmed style C is currently for sale at a Boston area vintage store.

    Style D was only made from 1914 to 1917. It was in rosewood with a pearl trimmed top and fancy fingerboard inlays. Only 7 were made. As of a few years ago, at least two of them were still in existence.

    Style E was Martin's equivalent of style 45 in the mandolin line, with pearl trim on all body borders, and ornate inlays in the fingerboard and peghead. A total of 62 were made between 1914 and 1929. Quite a few are still in existence.

    The original small body was 9" wide, and 2 7/8" deep at the cant. The larger body is 9 1/2" wide, and 2 5/8" deep at the cant. The transition to the larger body occurred between 1920 and 1922.

  8. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Rochester NY 14610
    Posts
    15,095

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Longworth states 1914-16 Style A's were rosewood back & sides, mahogany thereafter.

    I've never seen a rosewood Style A; Longworth's book says only 15 were made, so I'm not likely too. And, since Longworth was working from C F Martin Co. records rather than direct observation, he probably didn't see one, either.

    All the "lettered" styles above Style A apparently had, at least when first issued, the pierced headstock with a sort of kidney-shaped cut-out, such as found on Martin bowl-backs (other than the low-priced 0,00, and 000 models). The Style A had the flat-ended headstock, like a Martin guitar.

    I can't find in the Longworth book any documentation of a body size change -- not to say it didn't happen, just that I don't see it mentioned. The changes cited are mostly binding materials, "tortoise" pickguard to black, and ebony bridge to rosewood. The earliest Style A's had a different "comma-shaped" pickguard, at least in the reproduced catalog picture.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  9. #9
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Mike Longworth documents the two sets of mandolin dimensions on page 165 of my second edition of "Martin Guitars- a History."

    I have verified the dimensions of the smaller mandolins by measuring examples from 1919 and early 1920, though my rule actually yields a depth of 2 13/16" rather than 2 7/8" at the cant, and 2 1/2" at the outer edge of the tailpiece. The 9" width is measured across the back. The tops on my examples are 8 15/16" wide.

    Perhaps someone could contribute actual measurements taken from mandolins made in the mid '20's or later.

    The note about the change in size occurring in 1917 on page 299 in the more modern "Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference" book is not accurate.

    I have never seen a rosewood style A either, but the change from rosewood to mahogany on the A in 1917 would coincide with a similar change made on style 18 guitars in the same year.

    It is interesting to note that although the last recorded style E was made in 1929, the model remained in the catalog until 1937. Apparently, style E was a victim of both the end of the mandolin boom and the Depression.

  10. #10
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    40.191N -74.2W
    Posts
    20,523

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    The only rosewood flat backed backed Martin mandolins I ever saw were like this one at Gruhn's. I've never seen a rosewood A, I didn't even know they existed until now.

    http://guitars.com/inventory/mf8214-...yle-b-mandolin
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  11. #11
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    1919 Style C, pearl bordered top, probably with the early 9" body:

    http://themusicemporium.com/mandolin...-mandolin-1919

    1926 Style E, pearl border on all body edges:

    http://guitars.com/inventory/mf7805-1926-martin-style-e

  12. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    central VA
    Posts
    592

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    A number of years ago i recall a Martin bent top with Brazillian rosewood b/s and standard 4 on a plate open back tuners. It was dated 1914 by the knowledgeable dealer. i was more impressed with the warped top and its open crack and am not certain about the peghead shape or model letter. Martin was using a lot of rosewood back in the day for sure.

    The online brokers list a lot of Martin A's with later dates that look like the earlier more triangular body shape to my eye, but the dates arean't verified and odd picture angles make for uncertainty. i don't know, but it's doubtful to me that Martin stockpiled many instruments to be sold later.

    i've been watching the pearl top C for a long time and am glad to be over it, now the cat's out of the bag(!). And the pearl wasn't wasted on the E either.

  13. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    40.191N -74.2W
    Posts
    20,523

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    The tops on the early A models cracked because the pickguard was inlaid into the top and glued in place. The pickguard material and the wood top didn't shrink at the same rate. I guess the same thing happened with the glued on surface guards in the years following but all of the early ones I've seen had a crack. I had one come through where they had filled the hole where the pickguard was with bondo.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  14. #14
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    central VA
    Posts
    592

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    That could be, Mike. This crack seemed very wide open (close to 1/16") and was a little left of the center of the bridge, and the top seemed a bit flat or sunken. i wonder if Martin changed the induced arching a little on the later models. It could very well have been one of the few early rw A models. The bondo job sounds a bit too sophisticated to be done in VA; methinks duck tape would be the ticket in these parts - 2 pieces, one inside and one outside would've been strong work.

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Fairfield County, Connecticut
    Posts
    89

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I've owned several of the Martin flat-backs over the years--a couple of As, an AK, a B, a C and an E, from the teens to the mid--1930s. None of the ones I've owned had a pickguard crack.

    The only two that had the 9-inch body were a Briggs Special, I believe from 1917, and a Bitting Special, from 1916, which I still have.

    The Bitting is an unusual model, featuring maple back and sides, a stained spruce top, and a little more ornamentation that the standard A. The Longworth book says "some 40 were made from 1916-1918," and that they were "made for a well known teacher in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."

    It's a terrific-sounding instrument. I don't think I've posted any photos, so here are a couple.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	bitting special front.jpg 
Views:	41 
Size:	468.5 KB 
ID:	162103 Click image for larger version. 

Name:	bitting special back.jpg 
Views:	34 
Size:	307.9 KB 
ID:	162104

  16. The following members say thank you to Rob Norton for this post:


  17. #16
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Rochester NY 14610
    Posts
    15,095

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    The tops on the early A models cracked because the pickguard was inlaid into the top and glued in place. The pickguard material and the wood top didn't shrink at the same rate....but all of the early ones I've seen had a crack...
    Guess I lucked out because my 1919, inlaid pickguard, hasn't cracked. It does have the older faux tortoise plastic guard, however, and that may be of different material than the later black guards.

    I have a 1957 D-18 guitar with a "tortoise" pickguard, and a pickguard crack. Glad the mandolin dodged the bullet, at least so far.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  18. #17

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post

    I have verified the dimensions of the smaller mandolins by measuring examples from 1919 and early 1920, though my rule actually yields a depth of 2 13/16" rather than 2 7/8" at the cant, and 2 1/2" at the outer edge of the tailpiece. The 9" width is measured across the back. The tops on my examples are 8 15/16" wide.

    Perhaps someone could contribute actual measurements taken from mandolins made in the mid '20's or later.

    1929 Style B measurements: Depth at cant: 2 13/16", Depth at edge of tailpiece: 2 5/8", Width across back 9 9/16"
    Inlaid "tortoise" pickguard. Crack free. Rosewood B&S, you can see the headstock style in my avatar

  19. #18
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    RI
    Posts
    234

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I recall that Norman Blake had opinions regarding the different Martin models. I’m not sure if it was in his video or something I read somewhere. If anyone recalls his thoughts, I’d appreciate you sharing.

  20. #19
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    Norman has owned mandolins by several manufacturers over the years. He prefers instruments with oval soundholes. There is youtube video of him playing TAG Railroad Rag on a Lyon & Healy style B. He used a Vega with the G and D strings tuned in octaves on the studio recording of the same tune.

  21. #20
    Capt. E Capt. E's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Austin, Texas
    Posts
    2,821

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I owned a style C for a while (never should have sold it). A's are the most common by far and they get less common as the models go higher. The rosewood backs of B and above seem better than the mahogany A's. I have always been amazed at how light weight they are...kind of like how Martin guitars are lighter than Gibson.
    Jammin' south of the river
    '08 Weber Bighorn
    '20 Gibson A-2
    Stromberg-Voisinet Tenor Guitar
    Cajun Accordion
    Penny Whistle
    My albums: http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/album.php?u=7616

  22. #21
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    3,151

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I have a 1974 Style A...not home to measure it at the moment. It's a very well made, light instrument, and the neck is comfortable despite the shorter scale. Tone and volume are OK, but not as good as my Flatiron 1N, IMO. There's a guy who used to play a lot locally (doesn't anymore due to business travel) who has an older Style A that seems to have better tone/volume than mine, though that could just be his hands I'm going to try some J62s or GHS 250s at some point in the future to see if that helps, as I'm not terribly fond of the Martin light gauge strings that are on it at the moment.
    Chuck

  23. #22
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    S.W. Wisconsin
    Posts
    3,892

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    I use the GHS 250's, they are a little heavier than the Martin, but light enough to not hurt the Mandolin. Mine is a '57 and sound quite nice with a fair bit of volume.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  24. The following members say thank you to pops1 for this post:

    CES 

  25. #23
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    central VA
    Posts
    592

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    There's a lot of good info here that's really been helpful to me. i had been watching the pearl top model C on TME site long before it was posted in the classifieds, so i figured it would be gone, but i called today and it was still there and the seller took my offer. Tony said it's a cannon despite its size, so we'll see about that and how big that top separation between the soundhole and bridge is. Really nice folks who seemed to be very customer focused. Thanks again, everybody. i may try out a set of the GHS 250's, too.

  26. #24
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    352

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    ". . . . i had been watching the pearl top model C . . . we'll see how big that top separation between the soundhole and bridge is."


    I wouldn't worry much. If necessary, a little hot hide glue will fix it right up.

    Hope you enjoy the mandolin. Glad it's going to a good home- they didn't make a lot of these pearl top mandolins and this one's in good shape.

    These early Martins also might respond well to the D'addario EJ 73 set: 10-14-24-38. I make my own sets up with nickel wound basses.

  27. #25
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    S.W. Wisconsin
    Posts
    3,892

    Default Re: Martin bent top, flat back mandolins

    My Martin has had a center seam crack from the sound hole to the bridge, with the brace there I wasn't worried about it. Someone glued it before I got it. If the brace is glued you won't be able to close the crack, I usually take a thin plane shaving that fits nice and wick HHG into it and trim level when dry. Works great and seems strong. I have also done this with mahogany and rosewood guitars that seem prone to crack as they get old. It seems a solid repair and some have been there many years now.

    Nice choice, I have always liked the looks of these mandolins.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •