1926 Martin 0-18K Flattop Guitar

I'm a big fan of 12-fret mahogany Martins from the '20s and '30s, so it was no surprise that after work I fell a bit in love with this guitar made from my favorite wood -- Hawaiian koa. It's like mahogany but with more top-end sparkle and, when thinned-up properly, a bit more airy warmth, too. 0-18K models are super-de-duper rare and despite some age-related wear and tear, this one from '26 is actually in remarkably good shape.

A consignor sent this in, but I was still very excited when I unpacked it the first time from its shipping box a while back. I've enjoyed 0-17, 0-16NY, 2-17, and 0-18 12-fretters in the past, but have never had the chance to play a koa-bodied 0-18 12-fret in person. It's, quite simply, a joy -- and does fingerpicking and flatpicking, both, but absolutely shines as a fingerpicker. It has excellent balance, lots of sustain, uncomplicated (but sweet) overtones, and that koa-ish shimmery, sparkly, treble.

Compared to a period 12-fret 0-18, it's also a lot more stable under tension -- the top is hardwood and the bracing is just a little more stout (still fragile compared to modern-day bracing) than the spruce-topped "standard" guitar. I've still got it strung with 48w, 36w, 26w, 18w, 14, 10 strings -- extra-lights -- but I did tune it up a half-step to simulate 11s and it didn't deflect at all. I still think caution is the best way to approach '20s Martins, though, as they were made in-between the company's gut-strung and steel-strung eras.

Specs are otherwise similar to an average 0-18 from the time -- a 1 7/8" nut width (which feels more like 1 3/4" due to the neck shape and light radius),  13 5/8" lower bout, 4 1/4" depth, small-to-medium-sized soft-V neck shape, and 24 3/4" scale length. After work it's playing spot-on with a dead-straight neck, non-bellied top, and action dialed-in to 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE at the 12th fret.

The guitar has all of its original finish, though its color looks a little milder/milkier than your average orange-red koa guitar. This looks like some of the pale coloration I see on Kamaka ukes now and then.

Old repairs on the guitar include two sealed/cleated cracks -- one on the top near the center seam on the lower bout and one on the back near the waist -- and a replacement bridge. My fresh repairs included reseating (and making-sturdy) the original bar frets, leveling/dressing them, and reshaping the replacement (ebony) bridge and cutting a compensated saddle-slot for it. I also added a new, compensated, bone saddle.

Wear and tear includes random scratches here and there all over (but not horrible) and some finish muck right in front of the bridge and some flaked/removed bits of finish near the soundhole (not bad, but see pictures way low on the page) from where pickguards must've been removed.

The guitar has solid, figured koa top, back, and sides, a mahogany neck, rosewood binding on the top and back, and an ebony fretboard and bridge.

The headstock veneer is rosewood and the original ebony nut is extant, though it's possible it was cut-down from a tall, Hawaiian-style nut at some point.

The board has some discoloration but is otherwise in good shape, save for an old (repaired) hairline crack in it at the extension. The bar frets are nice and tall and ready to go.

Because it's a '20s Martin, the build-quality is extra-high, the details are sharp and crisp, and it looks wonderful.

There's not much adjustment room left on the saddle, but the adjustment needed will be shims up in the winter, anyhow. I added string-ramps behind the saddle when I spruced-up the bridge, too, for good back-angle on it. The pins appear to possibly be original equipment (they're right for the period).

In the right side of this picture, you can see a 4-5" hairline crack on the back at the waist -- this has been cleated and it was previously sealed/repaired.

Sorry for the blurry photo of the label, but it states H.T. Tunica & Co out of Chicago.

In the glare, you can see the finish disturbance from removed pickguards. It's hard to see unless you're looking for it.

Here's the old repaired crack on the lower-bout top. It's cleated inside and good to go.


syrynx said…

I think there's a high probability that the ebony nut is original height, even though the guitar was intended for Hawaiian-style playing. See Robert Corwin's "Hawaiian Punch" page, Steel String Martin Hawaiian Guitars:

"These "Hawaiian" Martins, from the time they were first made in the teens, were catalogued with "steel strings and nut adjuster for Hawaiian playing. Suitable for regular playing with nut adjuster removed." Only beginning in 1925 were these guitars made specifically for Hawaiian playing, with high nuts and flush frets. While the early "K" models, such as the 0-18K and 0-28K, began life with regular frets and nut adjusters, the "H" models, including the 00-18H and 00-40-H, were introduced after the change to flush frets and high strings."

Thanks very much for the look and listen!
Bob said…
Fascinating! I have a 1924 O-18k in similar condition. The center top crack was repaired in the late 1970s by a luthier (Bacon, I think his name was, in Holyoke Mass, just before I bought it from him. He also fashioned a bone nut and saddle.

Ten years later, the original bridge was splitting, possibly because the replacement saddle didn't fit squarely enough in its slot.

Jeff Melien in Connecticut filled and clamped the slot, rerouted a new one and replaced the saddle. But by 2007 the bridge was splitting again, so I took it to Mike Kovick in Floyd, Va., who replaced it with a traditional profile pyramid bridge, but with an angled and intonation-corrected saddle.

I have man using John Pierce extra lights on it, but recently noticed that the string windings on the 1st two strings reach the top of the saddle, which maybe causing a metallic overtone that I initially mistook for a fret buzz. When I restring it next I plan to add an extra ball to the bottom of the string to bring it lower into the body of the guitar. If that doesn't solve the problem, the string height is low enough that I shim under the saddle might be acceptable. Any other suggestions?
Bob said…
Apologize for a few typos thanks to my using voice to text on a smartphone that doesn't let me see everything I have "typed" in its small text entry window.
Most annoying errors: I have been (not "man") using John Pearse (not Pierce) x-lights. (I met John around the time I acquired this guitar, and hate to see his name misspelled.)
Unknown said…
Hi Jake, I'm hoping you can help me out. I saw what was listed as a "parlor" guitar and was intrigued by its shape. Upon receiving it, I measured it, and all of the specs line up with an 0 from the era of this guitar, but the Waverly's (pretty sure they are) are the Mickey Mouse style with two points and the original pyramid bridge was routed away to make room for a (what looks to be) homemade riser to convert it into a trapeze-bridged guitar. There are no markings on the headstock or heel, but many inlays on the neck and headstock, which look to be abalone, appear to have been added much later. Inside, the back is stamped NY AMERICAN, but it's ink and has grown fuzzy over the years. Any clue what this could be? Were the Martin 0 specs of that era common enough to be on the money all across the board? Thanks for any feedback!

Unknown said…
I forgot to add that it's sports a two-ring rosette, BWB thin near the soundhole and then a multilayered, larger ring on the larger side of the rosette.
Unknown said…
I clearly omitted the major details of: spruce top, mahogany, possibly Koa, back and sides, 19 frets, rounded slots in headstock. My only musings were possibly that it's a So-Cal made by Martin because of those specs. Thanks again.