In the annals of C F Martin ukulele history the Model 3K is just one model below the lauded and applauded fancy inlaid 5K. This ukulele has the “C F Martin & Co., Nazareth, PA” pressure stamp on the back of the neck, but it also has machine tuners -- having some metal parts with gained ivoroid buttons, and not the earlier violin style pegs -- and, based on what we know about the time period in which the script Martin headstock logo was transitioned (in late 1931), we deduce that this was made circa 1930. A handsome and fine sounding thing it is, too. This model was first made in 1916 and the manufacturer considers it their “first deluxe ukulele.”
Koa wood is grown nearly exclusively in Hawaii. It is endemic, which means unique to a defined geographic location. Sometimes called Acacia Koa, it is generally felt to be the finest wood from which a uke can be built. Martin realized that their most select ukes would have to be made from Koa, and in this period they splendidly outfitted the 3K with 6-ply black and crème top purfling, 9-ply black and crème soundhole rosette, with a 1 ¾” long, 5/8” high ivoroid carat inlaid into the face at the bottom side, with a matching reverse carat at the bottom end of the unbound ebony fingerboard. Said fingerboard has 16 frets, and is likewise inlaid down its center with a 5-ply art deco center stripe of black and crème purfling, and also inlaid with six mother of pearl diamonds. The pinless bridge is Koa and the bridge saddle and nut are polished bone. This was a fancy and tastefully appointed model whose sides are bound in single ply ivoroid, whose back, sides and top are solid and genuine Koa and whose neck is one piece of the finest Honduras mahogany. When this model Martin 3K ukulele is in “excellent original condition" it can, today, sell in the range of $3,500 and up to $5,000 in excellent plus. Wow, that’s exciting.
Or at least it would have been exciting if a prior owner who fancied himself a handyman hadn’t played it with a plectrum until he eroded the wood (the cad!) and the finish on both upper bouts of the face, adjacent the fingerboard extension, wore away the finish on the back of the neck behind the first three frets, allowed it to dry out and acquire an hairline top cracks (on the treble side of the bridge) and a small fracture on the waist at the back of the treble side which was properly glued. A couple of these cracks, when we received this, were open but our workshop has, in its typical dignified fashion, humidified and reglued any that were. The prior owner also took it upon himself to inlay two small pieces of colored wood marquetry at the back binding in two places – one on the lower back center, and one just below the heel of the neck.
As mentioned, there are two closed and glued treble cracks, measuring respectively 1” and 1 ½”, plus an approximately 3” hairline back crack, and a few other incipient cracks to be observed overall. As if this wasn’t enough damage for one day, he, um, removed the back, sanded off the "C F Martin & Co., Nazareth, PA" inside logo, installed newer interior back bracing, positioning the "horizontal" brace below the soundhole is at a slight angle, retained the original inside kerfing (whilst utilizing a generous amount of glue), oversprayed the body and the back of the neck – sparing the headstock and fingerboard from his evil doings -- and he closed and glued some seam separations that had occurred between the back and the sides. He was no qualified luthier, but it seems (no pun intended) to have held together for lo these many decades without complaining. We’re the only ones complaining. By the way, there are those who feel that he may have put on a new back. It would not be like us to hold a grudge, but we hope that the former owner is, for the duration, spinning like a pinwheel in his sarcophagus.
We need you to keep in mind just how good a player this uke is – and that’s exactly what it is – a “player’s” version of a highly collectible and prized Koa wood possession, a “made at precisely the right time” Martin 3K Koa wood ukulele that plays effortlessly and sounds as full, rich, dynamic and room-filling as you would ever hope a prewar Martin Koa uke will sound. For this reason it is not $3,500, no, and it is certainly not $5,000. Nope. It is instead, available with original hard shell case (that still has its handle) at a lesser fiscal requirement.