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Thread: Condition of Martin A style

  1. #1

    Default Condition of Martin A style

    Hi,

    I was hoping to get some opinions on a mandolin I recently bought. Itís a 1971 Martin, and though it plays and sounds brilliantly, Iím slightly concerned of itís condition. As can be seen in the photos the fretboard is quite worn, as is the finish above the fretboard to the point it has caused physical worn divots in both. The blemishes to the back of the back and the gnarly scratch doesnít worry me too much, but if Iím not mistaken I think the binding may be lifting off at one point too?

    As Iím fairly new to mandolins (my forte has been electric guitars beforehand), Iíd appreciate if someone could let me know whether these imperfections should be cause for concern, or if theyíre just the sign of a well loved 50 year old instrument.

    Cheers

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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    I've owned a few of those including one the same year. The fretboard wear shows it's been played. The scar on the top is probably from someone leaving a vinyl strap across the top in the case. Vinyl eats lacquer. The poor attempt at fixing the binding is ugly but not a game changer. Martin mandolins have a sweet sound more in the Folk and Celtic world than in Bluegrass. They do not hold the same regard as the Martin guitars do. I wouldn't pay a whole lot for it personally but if you like it that's all that matters.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    There is not much you can do about the fretboard except having it changed.

    The wear above the soundhole can be filled with superglue or shellac

    On this pocketmandolin I cleaned it with alcohol(it's shellac'ed) and a stiff small paintbrush, filled the grooves by applying shellac 10-15 times with a brush, sand it even and then french polish 4-6 times. The area just gets a bit darker where the extra lacquer is.

    You can do the same to the bumps and dings, although they are just visual blemishes

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    I'm not collecting, not collecting, not........OUMM.....
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  4. #4
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    Quote Originally Posted by poul hansen View Post
    There is not much you can do about the fretboard except having it changed...
    Unless of course you know Frank Ford at www.frets.com
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  6. #5
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Unless of course you know Frank Ford at www.frets.com
    I didn't. Interesting method.
    I'm not collecting, not collecting, not........OUMM.....
    Kentucky KM-805
    Hora: M1086 Portuguese II; M1088 Mandola; M1087 Octave
    Richmond RMA-110-VS
    Noname (German?) mandolin; Taropatch all solid Acacia
    Mandoline Pochette Franz Janisch; Unknown Pocket Mandolin
    Mandolinetto Neapolitane
    Johs MÝller 1945;
    Marma Seashell back; Unknown old Mandolin Banjo
    Crafton(in the car)

  7. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    You should take a look through Frank's site at www.frets.com, particularly the Items for Luthiers. It is a treasure trove of information.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  8. #7
    Teacher, luthier
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    I've tried Frank Ford's method of filling fingerboard divots, and it is do-able, but tough. Your tools have to be very sharp, and you've got to be careful not to slice yourself.
    The now old-fashioned way of doing it is to fill the fingerboard divots with CA glue and rosewood dust, and then sand or file everything level.
    Repairs of this sort are visible on a rosewood fingerboard because the glue darkens the wood dust. On ebony boards, it can be all but invisible if well done.

    As far as the lacquer wear, any attempt to repair it will be at least somewhat visible. I do not recommend CA glue for finish repairs on nitrocellulose lacquer. Over-spraying and/or drop filling with new lacquer will probably produce the best cosmetic results, again, if done well. French polishing with shellac will work, and for some people it will be easier, but the repair will probably be more visible.

    Finish repair/touch up is one of the most difficult aspects of the craft, and most of us are not very good at it. To quote John Hamlett [sunburst], "it's easier to make it look worse than to make it look better."

    The only way that I know to guarantee a really pretty job would be to strip and re-finish the top, which is generally frowned upon these days, at least in most cases.

    The lacquer wear and tear is simply a result of it being an older instrument that was played a lot. You might want to accept it as-is, enjoy the instrument, and know in your heart that you won't have to wait for it to be well broken in.

    As far as the binding is concerned, the black Boltaron binding that Martin used is notorious for shrinking and coming loose, and it is also difficult to repair invisibly, because most of the glues that will bond plastic to wood are invasive to finishes.

  9. #8

    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    I agree with rcc56 -- normal wear and tear on a vintage instrument doesn't bother me. An obvious or bad touchup would bother me......FWIW

  10. #9
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    I'd be a bit unhappy with the fretboard divots, otherwise it's a 50-year-old instrument, showing it's been played quite a bit.

    Rosewood's not as hard as ebony, and a rosewood fingerboard's gonna wear a bit faster. My Martin Style A goes back to 1919, and shows it. If this one's playable and affordable, none of the defects seem to be the kind that affect the sound.
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  11. #10
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    +1 to the above: leave it as-is. If the fretboard divots affect playing then take it to a pro repair person. The rest is mostly cosmetic. They are sweet little mandolins—enjoy yours.
    Jim

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  13. #11

    Default Re: Condition of Martin A style

    Thanks folks for all your suggestion. As most of you say, I wouldnít plan on fixing the cosmetic stuff really, itís more that I wanted to check that I hadnít essentially been sold a lemon. The fret divots are the bit that did concern me, as I did pay a fair amount for it, but as you all say I suppose all that matters is that I like it and enjoy playing it, and I do! Plays like a dream. My previous mandolin was a £15 soviet job off eBay, so weíve come leaps and bounds believe me!

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