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Gear Guru: 1902 Martin 1-30

1902 Martin 1-30 #9475


Every so often, a guitar hits the bench that I fall in love with. It was in pretty rough shape and I could tell it was going to be a lengthy venture but something about it was just too unique to do anything but give it what it needed. Everything on it, including the pins, saddle, and tuners was original and it has avoided repair work save one 2 inch back crack and a crude attempt to save a section on back binding.

The first thing I noted with this guitar is how feather light it is. The lack of metal tuners, the small body(size1) and the thickness of its sides and back being .050″ and .070″

respectively, all contribute to its minimal weight. It weights in at 2.6lbs vs. an average of 3.75lbs on newer 12 fret size 0 models.

Being unusually thin Brazilian, the wood over the last 110 years has developed a series of hairline fractures that need to be addressed.

Another apparent issue was the back being at least 50% detached from the sides and  missing 75% of its original ivory(or whale bone?) trim. Upon separating the remaining glue joint holding the kerfing the back to the sides, it became obvious why they had parted in the first place. There had never actually been a solid glue joint holding the pieces together. During the building process, the Spanish Cedar kerfing was notched too shallow to allow the bracing to sit  deep enough to allow the back to make contact with  the triangular blocks. For those of you who work with hide glue, you’ll know that a .020″ gap in your joints isn’t ideal.  It’s a good lesson.

Having the back off made it easy to glue and cleat the cracks cleanly. Just about every crack lined up so I didn’t have to force anything. This helps me sleep at night.

After putting the back onto the sides, I started to deal with the binding situation. Anyone who has ever tried to find 30″ pieces of ivory can tell you that there are easier things to procure. I’ve been told that whale bone is whiter than ivory and  much easier to get in long sections. I ended up buying an ivory brush for $40 at the local antique mall that I sliced up into 7 inch sections and used them to bind the back. The color was just a hair off from the original binding on the top.

The neck went back on, the high frets were pressed down and I replaced one tuner because it didn’t feel stable. While you work on a guitar for this many hours, you can’t help but daydream about how it’s going to sound in the end. I have to admit that this one sounded different than I anticipated. It’s by far the most brittle and dry guitar I’ve ever felt. When your fingers go over the top you can hear every little sound your fingerprints make as the go over the grain lines. Being braced for gut strings, the bracing and top thickness are very minimal so it got a set of classical strings. It’s not a loud guitar but it has a softness, smoothness and warmth that make up for any lack of overt volume.


-Carl Meine


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