The 1903 Martin 00-30

We were recently sent, by a customer from another state, one of the loveliest Martin guitars we’ve seen in quite some time. It is a 00-30, made in 1903, a brief time period of ten years or so when Martin guitars were built to the very lightest specs they ever had been, before or since. The top, back, and sides from that era are extraordinarily thin and lightweight, and the Cuban cedar Martin used for necks until 1915-20 or so was comparably light in weight. Overall, a true featherweight Martin, and all the more delightful for it. Body size 00 was and still is known as Grand Concert; Style 30 is another story. It is a bit above what became well-known as Style 28, with the herringbone top trim and back center-strip that Martin resurrected to great popularity in the 1970s. What sets the Style 30 above that are: intricate, multicolored top marquetry far more complex than herringbone; a multicolored back center-strip as later used on Style 45 Martins; a few abalone or Japan pearl fingerboard inlays, also as later used on Style 45 guitars though not quite as many; and an abalone shell soundhole rosette. Additionally, Martins of grade 28 and higher in those days had white top and back bindings, which they still do, but made then from real ivory as opposed to the synthetics they started using around 1920, and to this day.

This beautiful Martin, when acquired by its present owner not too many years ago, was in 100% original condition with no issues and no repairs ever having been done nor needed. Unfortunately, while in his possession it was dropped on a hard floor and one side split open but much worse, it had been dropped on its edge and the top split, a piece of top broken out, and worst of all, several inches of that gorgeous intricate top marquetry and its attendant ivory binding smashed off. Sad to say, none of the missing bits or pieces of marquetry, top, or ivory binding got saved. Our job was to repair, re-create, replace and restore all affected areas. It took several months and we got the job done, this while dealing with all the “regular” jobs of acoustic and electric guitar repair, action work, etc. coming in, and everything else we’ve encountered daily here for nearly sixty years.

The first steps were cleaning out the splinters, re-positioning all that had got knocked out of place, and getting everything structurally sound, especially the laterally-split portions of top. This was followed  by finding a matching piece of spruce from among our collection of old wrecks, some as old as this Martin, to replace the piece of top that had been lost. Then came the really intricate part, duplicating the multicolored top marquetry, that part containing literally hundreds of tiny different-colored parallelograms and black and white lines. Getting the colors to match the 100-year-old faded originals took a bit of doing. I need to give credit here to the people who helped with this, a company that had been created years ago by one of my very best friends to make marquetry for the guitar industry, and who has since become the foremost world-wide supplier of same for top-quality builders, domestic and foreign. While they do not normally take on small custom jobs for individuals, they assisted in this project as a personal favor to me. The last hurdle to overcome was the ivory binding; sourcing, shaping, bending, and fitting it. I won’t bore you with the details here but it was a slow process. Lastly came finish touch-up. Martins of that era were varnished and touching up areas without having them jump out as “re-done” is a skill, or more like an art, in itself.

When the job was finally completed we were quite pleased with the results, as was the customer. We were thrilled and honored to have been asked to take on this job.