c.1923 Martin-made "SS Stewart" 2-17 Special Guitar

UPDATE! Apparently Martin listed this model as "2-17S" or "Special" in their production logs. Makes sense to me, as it's a 2-17 in everything else but the "special" part -- the spruce top!

HAH! Fingerpicker's dream guitar. This is truly a lovely little thing.

While the Martin Technical Reference book doesn't make much mention of their instruments built for B&J (and then resold under the SS Stewart brand), it does say that they made "ukuleles and related instruments" for them. Here's a bit of confirmation of something I've suspected from watching a number of eBay listings, though... this is 100% a Martin-made instrument, branded SS Stewart, and it's a guitar.

Serial places it at 1923 and while the production totals from that year list no 2-18s, they do list 2-17s and 1-18s. These are all sizes that are smaller, if only a little bit, than the O size guitars we're all more familiar with. This particular guitar is almost identical to the 2-17 models Martin made for a number of distributors (who then sold them under their own labels) except for the fact that the guitar has a spruce top, not at all in keeping with the all-mahogany build of the 2-17s (which also happened to be the first Martin guitars intended for steel string construction).

The one catch with this guitar is that, while all the specs fit a 2-size guitar, its lower bout width is between a 2 size and a 1 size at 12 1/4" -- 1s are 12 3/4" and 2s are 12" straight.

The guitar has numerous repaired old cracks (mostly on the bass side where there are a number of repaired hairlines, two done by me) -- but only one repaired crack on the top, bass side lower bout (an amateur job but stable). It's also had its bridge reglued and shaved at one point, but the bridge pins, bridge, and ivory saddle are original. I shaved the bridge slightly more and "finished it" -- sanded it down and polished it up and reinstalled the ivory saddle (what's left of it) in a deeper slot to give the appearance of what the bridge would have looked like originally.

Headstock is pure 1920s Martin, with good-quality Waverly tuners and ivoroid buttons. Ebony nut, rosewood fretboard and bridge, white/cream tiny dots on the board, and also side-dots on the neck. Rosewood headstock veneer.

Oh! And right -- tonewoods -- solid mahogany back, sides, and neck, solid spruce top. Rosewood binding with multi-line purfling and rosette.

Patina is glorious and finish is thankfully all-original. I love the loads of pick/playwear all over the treble side.

Gotta love this dot pattern. So simple!

I've got it strung with nylgut (nylon) basses and plain steel trebles (17, 14, 10). This sounds almost exactly like a silk and steel set but has even less tension, and is one solution Martin came up with at the time for their lightly braced flattops. When this was built in 1923 the company was still figuring out how they wanted to go about the steel string business and at the time some strange combinations of strings were popular -- substituting steel for the B&E in a gut set, or even the G&B&E, or using a whole gut set save for the high E (like on a violin) which would be steel.

This guitar has some belly due to too-heavy strings being used, but is fortunately stable and not very much. It has typical period extremely light x-bracing which allows the top to be thinner than competitor's products -- but the bracing is still very light so I think I could only suggest at max a silk & steel set or extra-light acoustic set. This is essentially still built just the same as their gut-strung models from a year or two before.

Tone is rich, pure, and singing with tight and warm bass and superb treble. It sounds like a guitar two or three times its size and today I sat with it in a group setting and it easily punched melody lines right through two guitars and a banjo guitar.

It's so cool that it has the original ivory saddle and orig. bridge pins.

Action looks high but the tall frets belie that... it's actually at exactly 1/8" from the board at the 12th, and 1/32" or so under that from fret top to string bottom.

Nice all-wood binding and rosette. Low-key and elegant.

Here's the SS Stewart label from inside.

And barely legible in the pic is the back-seam stamp.

Serials right on the neck block point to 1923.

Gorgeous hog back and sides.

SS Stewart stamp is applied to the back of the headstock, too, just like on a regular Martin.

The side mahogany has a bunch of curl and flame in it.

Here's the biggest crack repair on the instrument: a long hairline that was glued back together long ago and stretches most of the bass side from a little after the neck join until the curve of the lower bout.

Gorgeous and functionally-sound patina-d Waverly tuners.


Wornoutmorgan said…
Dear lord, are you selling this? I'd be interested, lemme know via wornoutmorgan@yahoo.com and I'll see if I'm dreaming or not. I think I can arrange a pick up or at lworst Vermont postage. Thanks.
Anonymous said…

I have what looks like the same SS Stewart Martin guitar and mine is in almost brand new condition. I had an online appraisal from Gruehn Guitars in Nashville and they reported that it was made by Martin. I'm down here in MA.

Chris: Very cool. I've since sold this guitar on (it's in very good hands now) but it looks like you and the new owner have some pretty rare guitars. Check it out at:


He's taken a photo of the actual Martin sales book entry for this model.
Iain said…
Hi Jake, Just found your site. Some great stuff there. I have a beautiful little guitar like this here in UK. It's labelled inside and on headtsock as SS Stewart. A few cracks have been rapired/stabilised and otherwise it's great: Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, rosewood headstock, spruce front. Neck and head seem to me to be typical/pure turn on century Martin - slotted, V etc. Neck/fretboard has snowflake inlays in part, again very Martin. IIt's believed to be 1900 built but no serials visible. I love it. Very loud player, punches through many others! Best, Iain.