C. F. Martin 000-18 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1938)

C. F. Martin  000-18 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar  (1938)
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Item # 8872
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C. F. Martin 000-18 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1938), made in Nazareth, PA, serial # 70619, natural lacquer finish, mahogany back, sides and neck, spruce top; rosewood fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

To many players and Martin fans, vintage examples of the 000-18 constitute one of the company's most propitious and beloved combinations of wood, wire, and inspiration. The light mahogany body coupled with a scallop-braced Adirondack spruce top makes for a very responsive guitar; the 15" wide narrow-waisted 000 size body contributes both depth and clarity to the sound.

The 14-fret 000 sized body was introduced with the OM-18 in 1930; after 1933 nearly all Martin guitars were being built in this new "Orchestra Model" format so the OM designation was dropped, and the model simply called the 000-18. The original OM-18 used a long 25.5" scale length, but Martin changed this to a slightly shorter scale in 1934. The 000-18 has remained one of the company's mainstays ever since.

While not a particularly expensive guitar by 1938 standards, listing at $55.00 (plus case) the 000-18 still represented a substantial investment to most Depression-era players. This is not a flashy guitar; the trim is discreet with tortoise celluloid on the body edges and a simple multiply sound hole ring. In classic Martin style, the elegant understatement speaks for itself. Despite its lack of flash this was always a fully professional instrument popular with radio entertainers, most obviously the country acts common in the Southeast.

This example was built in the first half of 1938, one of a total of 277 000-18s shipped in that last year of world peace just before WWII. It incorporates typical pre-war features including lovely mahogany on the back and sides, a superb straight-grained Adirondack spruce top, ebony fingerboard and bridge, and tortoise celluloid pickguard and body binding. The neck is mahogany with a fairly slim "C" profile with hints of a "V" along the spine as it gets closer to the body. The fingerboard inlay is small mixed size dots and the tuners are the pre-war individual Grover G-98s.

The most notable feature of this 1938 000 is the very light scalloped bracing under the top. This is built in what is now termed the "Advanced" or "Forward shifted" position, although at the time it was the traditional way Martin had been building tops. Towards the end of 1938, the X brace was moved slightly farther back towards the bridge to stiffen that area, as with the heavy strings common at the time Martin was already seeing a lot of warranty repair. While all scallop-braced 000s are very fine-sounding guitars, many players feel this earlier pattern gives the guitar a deeper response, especially attractive when combined with the characteristic bite of an Adirondack top.

This 000 has seen a decent amount of use and wear but is in excellent-playing condition and sounds truly sublime. It is an excellent fingerpicker's instrument but also has a lot of punch and clarity as a straight rhythm machine as well. That's how many were played in the Cowboy and "Hillbilly" radio bands of the 1930s, anyway. Whatever the style of music one might prefer, mahogany flat-top guitars simply don't get much better than this.
 
Overall length is 39 3/4 in. (101 cm.), 15 3/16 in. (38.6 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This guitar shows some typical wear and repair but remains a wonderful-playing and spectacular-sounding instrument, a real testament to the enduring quality of these true "Golden Age" Martins. Much of the original finish has been polished out and overfinished in a very light French polish long ago, and there is wear through this as well. This is most notable on the top, which appears to have had this applied evenly everywhere but over the pickguard. The back, sides, and back of the neck show a mix of older lacquer underneath a French polish overcoat; the headstock remains untouched.

Amazingly there are no top cracks at all, not even the almost inevitable one by the pickguard edge. The only crack repairs are to the sides on the lower bout, where a number of small short grain cracks are neatly but visibly sealed up. The ebony bridge is a very well-done replica, the small maple bridgeplate remains original. The neck has been neatly reset some time ago, and the bracing is completely original and unaltered.

The tuners are still the original Grovers G-98 single openback units; one was replaced at some point with an older Kluson (a small ghost of which can be seen on the back of the headstock) but is now seamlessly restored with a matching original. The headstock finish is worn but unaltered. There are dings, scrapes, and dents overall, but the only place there is significant play wear is to the lower sound hole edge. There are some small divots in the lower position frets but the guitar still plays extremely well. While not perfect, this mahogany 000 remains an exceptional player's instrument; the sound is splendid and it looks like a proud old veteran survivor of a lot of musical history. Overall Very Good + Condition.