project - 1908 C.F. Martin O-17
We recently purchased
a 1908 C.F.Martin O-17 guitar which was in terrible shape. We have
decided to do a complete restoration of this instrument, and chronicle
the project here on the web site (keep in mind -- this project may take
a year or more to finish). First thing, I thought I would show a
few of the "Before" pictures.
peghead has, by my count, 19 rhinestones set into it, although it is otherwise
in good condition and it appears to have the original gears, which appear
to work well.
The top has a great deal of wear and there is wood missing
around the soundhole. The top also has a very bad cross grain crack,
although that appears to have been repaired in a fairly acceptable fashion.
Since we will take off the rib and the back, we will have good access
to the inside to verify the quality of the repair and to correct it if
The bridge is not
original, or even a good copy, and it is oversize, so it will be difficult
to restore the top to good condition if we decide to use an original size
bridge. Moreover, it too has a compliment of beautiful decorative
rhinestones. Not to mention the tailpiece. We have never
seen the guitar strung to tension so we don't know why the tailpiece was
treble rib is very badly cracked and was subject to a horrible repair.
It is also missing wood. This will be the most difficult part of
back has some bad (and poorly repaired) cracks and has been loose from
the ribs, and again, was very poorly repaired. I expect that we
will have to remove the entire back in order to clean the glue and properly
repair the back. .
of this vintage were designed for gut strings, and are not of much
practical use to modern players. In restoring this project, we have
a number of important decisions to make, some of them before even beginning.
A few of these decisions are:
How close to
original do we want to go in our work?
Do we replace
or repair the treble rib?
Do we restore
the wood around the soundhole?
Do we use an
original size bridge (and touch up the top as necessary) or do we
make an oversize bridge?
How will we restore
Do we reinforce
the top for steel strings?
Each of these questions
has several acceptable answers. Our decisions will depend on a lot
of things, including what the guitar looks like when we disassemble
it. Always looking for a second opinion, I posed these questions
to Frank Ford.
We have recently
taken on a restoration project that may provide grist for your Q&A
section. We recently bought a 1908 Martin 0-17 which is in terrible
shape (I will post some photos on my web site tonight). It is my
intention to restore it to the best possible playable shape. There
are several questions which are raised which, although I am never
lacking in opinions, are well worth a discussion and second opinion.
What comes to mind:
1. The rib on the treble side is very badly broken and even more
badly repaired. Pieces are missing. The question is: Do we replace
the whole rib or do we patch it so as to retain some of the original
wood (perhaps 40% can be saved)?
2. The peghead veneer has 8-10 rhinestones set into it, and will
be badly scarred when they are removed. Do we replace the veneer
with a new (albeit Brazilian rosewood) veneer or do we simply leave
it (or touch up)
3. Do we reinforce the top (bridge plate) so as to permit use of
steel strings, or do we leave as is.
4. The original bridge is gone, and the replacement is oversize.
In restoring the guitar do we make an "oversize" bridge
or do we make it the original size and attempt to restore the damaged
5. Large sections of the wood around the soundhole are missing.
Do we leave it as is or do we attempt to restore the original shape
(size) of the soundhole.
It seems to me that each of these questions raise questions of both
ethics of restoration, value of vintage guitars, players vs. collectors
and, of course, issues of how to actually do the work. My initial
thoughts on these questions is to lean towards the first option
I have presented ¯ i.e. make it a usable instrument and worry less
about total originality.
Charlie Hoffman, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Frank's answer is
shamelessly reprinted here:
that's quite a job you've got hold of!
I agree with all your items, and I'd choose the first option on
each of them, except the bridge replacement.
1. A new side is sure to be better looking than making a patchwork
of the old one with so much damage.
2. The new peghead veneer is no big deal in my judgement, because
the damage is not normal cosmetic wear; it's basically impossible
to touch up that kind of damage.
3. The bridgeplate is a matter for discussion with the owner of
the instrument (in this case, I guess that's you) and is an opportunity
for the luthier to help decide whether the guitar can handle steel
or if it is even a priority. Personally, I'd go for steel stringing
because this critter will undoubtedly sound best with steel. Maybe
you can do a really artful job with the bridge plate when the side
is off. . .
5. I think the soundhole should be fixed to keep this guitar from
being any uglier than necessary.
4. I'd try to work with the original bridge size and shape.
In years past I replaced oversize bridges with oversize bridges.
After all, the damage to the top finish had already been done, and
it's lots more difficult to touch up finish than it is to make a
bridge to cover it. These days, with the emphasis on originality
of style, I'm replacing oversize bridges with standard ones wherever
possible and suffering the touchup difficulties. I think the results
look better that way. The only problem is that it's usually quite
a bit more expensive. Now that these old timers are worth more money,
we're able to stand the expense more often.
One more thing:
How about a French polish refinish job on the face to correct the
soundhole and bridge area? What with all the work this guitar is
getting, I think originality of style should take precedence over
originality of condition. That is to say I don't think there's much
point in worrying about whether the top is refinished when there's
new finish in so many other places and the touched up finish on
the face is likely to look like just that, when a sensitive French
polishing will make things actually look more original, much as
the new side and peghead veneer will look more original than a bunch
of patches would.
Frank Ford, 8/7/98
So, that's the "BEFORE"
on this instrument. As we begin (and hopefully complete) the repair,
we will post photos and commentary here. I certainly hope for and
invite comments and suggestions from visitors to this site.
website and all of its content, text and images are copyright ©1997-2011
by Charles A. Hoffman, Inc. All rights reserved.