The C-series Martin guitars were a middle-of-the-line archtop guitar, made in the big band era, in the hopes that professional players would consider a Martin archtop preferential to a Gibson or an Epiphone archtop. Alas, this well-deserved but elusive quest for recognition never materialized. Consequently, Martin archtops in the C-series were made only from 1931 to 1942. The first three years they were made with round soundholes – then in 1933 Martin introduced the f-hole version which remained the standard until the final year. A total of 786 f-hole C-1 guitars were produced, and of these, 1936 saw the production of 127 examples. We should point out that Martin’s less expensive archtop line was called the R-series and the most expensive archtop line was called the F-series. If these C-1 guitars had been made with Brazilian rosewood there would probably be virtually none of them left alive in archtop form since their 15” body width and 24.5” short scale combined with a 1 ¾” nut width and 4 1/8th” depth at bottom side makes them perfect candidates for conversion to a flattop, prewar 000-18 – but, luckily for this model – fewer individuals have seen fit to vivisect these beautiful (gorgeous, really) spectral spirits of a more graceful, elegant time in a manner not unlike that of Dr Vic Frankenstein, originally of Geneva, Switzerland, subtitled, A Modern Prometheus. Luckily, this guitar has thus far escaped the clutches of the doctor who did not think through his experiment far enough. Who would have thought the Conversion 000-18 would want a mate so as to fulfill itself?
The instrument has an unbound, squared corner, Brazilian rosewood headplate that closely resembles that of a D-18 or D-28 of its time – providing a handsome platform for the burnished gold, script “C F Martin & Co., Est. 1833” legend near the top. Tuners are Grover G-98 open-gear with butterbean-button metal knobs. The back of the neck, made from a solid piece of mahogany, is V-shaped – we like that, and not at all uncomfortable for the modern paw. The triangular heel cap is grained ivoroid, and so is the side bindings – on both top and back sides. The ivoroid bindings have become yellowed by time and exposure to air and possibly to smokers in the distant past (because the guitar does not smell like smoker). Its unbound ebony fingerboard is inlaid with 8 mother of pearl dotmarkers of decreasing size. The top has a black-white-black purfling around its perimeter. The replacement bridge is two-piece, adjustable and ebony. There is room on the bridge to lower or raise the action if anybody cares to. The silvered right angle trapeze tailpiece has the “MARTIN” logo on the front piece and “Grover, Pat. Appl’d For” pressed or etched on the bottom side. The grained ivoroid end pin could be original and the wedge-shaped end graft is tortoise shell celluloid.
The frets show minor signs of playing time, mainly in the first three or four fret positions, and there is some small pitting of the ebony board in those fret positions. Its original owner apparently played it in the first position all of the time, for years, maybe decades. The tuners are original, as is the headstock decal; the ebony unbound fingerboard bears 8 pearl dots - one large one at the fifth, two small dots at frets 7 and 12, a medium sized dot at 9 and two small dots at 15 and 17. There is some normal sign of wear on the face near the treble waist; some more on the back at the upper bass bout. We have no way of proving this, but its last owner told us that this guitar had originally been played by a band called The Serbe Sisters, a country and western group from central Pennsylvania who ultimately ended up owning a nursing home. Surely somebody who lives in the Harrisburg area can attest to the existence of such a group, and such a nursing home. Not that we, ourselves, know who that person is, but it makes a good story.
This guitar shows typical and normal minor signs of use and wear including scratches, dings, scuffs, scrapes, nicks and a small area of chemical reaction (disrupted finish) on the back since it once may have had a vinyl strap left underneath the guitar. There are finish disruptions under and adjacent to the pickguard in the upper treble bout and near the treble waist where the original cellulose nitrate pickguard melted like the Wicked Witch of the West. When it came to us the Martin logo Grover tailpiece had broken at the right angle and we sent it to a jeweler who specializes in metal repair for guitar tailpieces. He braised it and now it is back to being able to perform all its normal functions. Our shop has provided the guitar a replacement bridge, and our shop also provided and installed a multi-ply bordered tortoise shell elevated pickguard and side clamp (yay!) which brings the guitar back to its original aura of princess-like beauty. The f-holes are continuous (meaning “not bifurcated” the way less expensive archtop guitars from this and later periods sometimes are).
We offer you one of the most beautiful guitars to ever creep stealthily out of the back door at the Martin Guitar factory (the old building) in Nazareth, Pa. It is classy, it is well-maintained, it sounds sweet, pure and enveloping; it is made with all solid woods at a level of proficiency, professionalism, unrivaled dignity and nobility (compared to John D’Angelico who wore “wife beater” t-shirts) in the annals of 20th century production luthiery.