Sunday, May 30, 2010

C.F. Martin Pre-WWII 000-45

Correct me if I am wrong, but my opinion is the pre-WWII series Martin 000-45 is one of the nicest, most collectible and most expensive guitars the C.F. Martin Company has ever produced.

This series got its start in 1904 as a 12 fret model. The 45 designation means all the bells and whistles, with pearl binding on the neck and body. Abalone trim surrounded the neck where it meets the body and around the body, sides and soundhole.

The headstock was slotted with a flower pot – torch inlaid design. The back and sides were top of the line Brazilian rosewood. The 1 7/8” guitar neck was made of mahogany with snowflake inlay and the fingerboard and bridge were made of ebony wood.

From 1904 to 1931 only 142 of these guitars were built. This made them very rare finds. Starting in the mid 1920’s, Martin started bracing their instruments for steel strings, which included the 000-45. In 1929, Martin replaced the pyramid bridge with the belly bridge. This design allowed for accommodation of the heavier tension of steel strings. It is still in use today.

In 1934, Martin switched the body to a shorter version in which the neck joined at the 14th fret. Most of us envision this version when we think of a Martin triple "0.” These instruments had the same accoutrements as the earlier "45's.” These instruments were braced for steel strings.

Martin also had special order 000-45’s with fancy inlaid pickguards and gold-plated engraved tuners with mother of pearl buttons. This became known as the “Deluxe” trim.

A pre-WWII Martin 000-45 could set you back $125,000 to $130,000. The earlier models are selling in high five-figure range. These guitars are great for any sort of music, but stand out when finger picked.

By reviewing the pictures from the top to the bottom, you can see the evolution of the Martin headstock.  Originally it was always a slot head, similar to classical guitars. 

When Martin transitioned to a solid headstock, the thought was that tuning keys sticking out at angles would be unusual, since everyone was used to the side mounted tuners.  Martin used banjo keys to solve this problem. 

Some of the early 000-45 14 fret guitars used this method and others used still maintained the slotted headstock. 

Later on Martin started using the traditional angled rear mounted tuning keys that we are all used to seeing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Smash Guitar

When I was 14 years old I went to see Hendrix play at the Xavier University Field House.  The audience had to sit through one of those awful 1970's light shows where some pseudo artiste spills oil on a pane of glass, manuevers the puddle and projects the whole mess on the stage wall using an airport runway light using colored gels..  Finally Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding came on and did a 90 minute set.  Hendrix bashed his upside-down Jazzmaster (which he bought that day in Cincinnati at Hughes Music Store) into one of his Marshall amps.  But he didn't do much damage.

Later that year I went to see Herman's Hermits play at Cincinnati's Music Hall. 

The warm-up band was The Who. Go figure!  At the end of the show Townsend butted his guitar into a rented Fender Dual Showman a couple of times ripping the grill cloth.. 

Agile Ric Copy
The guitar appeared to be a Rickenbacker 360, however the plastic logo was missing from the headstock leading me to believe it was probably a copy guitar.

I guess these guys were saving their axes to ruin in a larger city.

These were the days when I was  playing in a garage band.  There was another band in my town that were our rivals. Their bass player came from a well-off family. This band had more toys than we did. They owned nice lighting system, a Shure Vocalmaster P.A. and strobe lights.

My band had some colored floodlights mounted on a 8 foot 2" X 8' board with a rheostat, a pieced together P.A. with Electo Voice speakers and no strobe light.  The guy that followed us around would flip the light switch off and on for a pseudo strobe effect

The rich bass player with our rivals band purchased a brand new Hofner bass and a new a Fender Bassman with the large cabinet.  At the end of the night this guy would put the Hofner down and pick up an inexpensive Teisco bass guitar.  When the band was near the end of  their psychedelic song this guy smashed the Teisco to bits, threw the pieces on the ground and walked away.  What a drama queen!

Well we can't afford to do that anymore.  If you've checked your local Vintage guitar store, those old Harmonys, Kays, Teiscos, Truetones, Cameos, Casinos and others are selling for $200 to $500.

So once again those crafty wizards from the East have come up with an answer for you Townsend and Hendrix wanna-be's.

A Japanese company called K’s Japan has come up with an electric guitar that’s just made to get destroyed. You can play it through all your sets and at the end of the night in a fevered frenzy, smash the thing to bits.

Impress audiences with your powerful destructiveness and emphasize your musical passion. Chicks will dig you.

The guitar is aptly named The SMASH. You can order this Telecaster style instrument it in black or white.

The Smash has a "Special Empty Body" so it's light and easy to hurl and creates a beautiful smashing sound on impact.  Styled like a Telecaster, the Smash has a maple neck, a rosewood fretboard, dual pickups, and electronics concentrated in the center of the body to minimize dangerous trajectories.

"The guitar will smash with less power than using a normal guitar," the manufacturer declares, ironically adding, "It is not created for the purpose of smashing."  Yeah right! I suppose the lawyers wrote that, since it's advertised intended purpose is to smash the thing.

However make sure your roadie picks up all the pieces because this baby is recyclable. Yep!  You send the smashed instrument back to K's and they reassemble it for you. The the guitar sells for a mere 60 bucks.

The manufacturer claims every part of the instrument is recyclable.

The guitar weighs a mere 2.5 kilograms. Once K's reassembles the guitar they claim it will be given to charity in the Philipines or for a fee they will assemble it and send it back to you to destroy during another set.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

S.D, Curlee Basses and Guitars

S.D. Curlee guitars was founded by Randy Curlee around 1975 in Matteson. The name S.D Curlee came from the three original designers, Sonny Storbeck, Randy Dritz and Randy Curlee.

The company produced an estimated 15,000 handcrafted instruments including 12,000 bass guitars, between 1975 and 1982.  The guiding principle of the company as envisioned by Curlee was that the guitar company should build a quality instrument at an affordable price for the user.

In addition to making U.S. based instruments, the Curlee brand was also licensed to IMC, a Texas based company that was importing Samick guitars manufactured in Korea and Japan.

         Hondo version

The Korean manufactured S.D. Curlee guitars were sold under the Hondo brand name. Thus making S.D. Curlee one of the first US based manufacturers to approach using foreign companies to produce copies of it's brand. This set the trend for Fender, Gibson, Guild, Gretsch and other US based musical instrument manufacturers to outsource production of their lower cost lines overseas.

At a time when companies such as Alembic made natural wood finishes popular, S.D. Curlee was all about the wood. Bodies tended to be walnut and necks were maple. The finish was usually clear and not overly polished allowing the wood to show through.
Although they were not neck-thru instruments, there was a large brass neck plate that extended well into the body. The necks were bolt-on style.

All of the models shared the same basic, almost symmetrical shape (inspired by the Gibson Les Paul double cutaway Junior).

Curlees featured state of the art hardware; Gold Grover tuning heads, Badass II bridges, a brass nut and high output DiMarzio's.

All of the basses, which the company was mainly known for, used a 32½" medium scale neck. Later models introduced a German Carve body and silver hardware.

Some of the companies high end models featured a branded logo instead of the typical decal.

The models were:

  • Standard 1 (1 P-bass DiMarzio, mahogany body, maple neck, originally equipped with a Gibson like humbucker located near the bridge

      • Standard 2 (identical to the above but 2 pick ups)

      • Butcher (body made of butcher block maple)

      • Liberty

      • Curbeck (body made of walnut, maple stripes)

      • Summit (body and neck made of laminated walnut)

      • C-30 (violin shape, walnut/maple body, maple neck) probably the rarest Curlee bass produced

      • Yankee (active electronics ,walnut body, maple neck, small upper horn/lower bout inclination, ...sort of an 'updated'version of the Curbeck ) - released in the early 1980s. The Yankee was advertised with three different pick up configurations; 1 P-bass (Yankee I), 2-Pbass (Yankee II) and the rare Yankee II-J including 1 p-bas (bridge)/J-bass (neck). Most Yankees have a 2 p-bass pick-up set up (Yankee II).

The basses were available as fretless instruments.

S.D. Curlee instruments are well made and bargains in the vintage market, selling for $400 to $800 which is twice was they cost new.

As we progressed into the 1980's guitar designers were thinking of new ways to increase sales. Natural wood instruments were no longer in vogue.

The popular guitars and basses were now made with heavily coated polyesther finishes in flashy finishes. You could barely tell if they had any wood in the body.  Some were even made with resin bodies and necks.

Amplifiers of the era discarded tubes in favor of solid state versions.

The S.D. Curlee company was forced out of business in 1982. Randy Curlee then went to work for Yamaha. He died in 2005.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

1941 - 1942 000-42 Martin

I saw this guitar on Antiques Roadshow last week. 

The following is part of the transcript from the Antiques Roadshow web site:

GUEST: My great-uncle used to play live on the radio. "Cowboy Slim" is what he went by. And in 1952 a buddy of his wanted to sell him this guitar. Initially he didn't have the money, he didn't want to buy it. His friend told him to pay him when got the money, so he paid him the $50 when he got the money. And he passed away in December of 1989, and then I got it.

APPRAISER: Have you had the guitar appraised, have you had it evaluated?

GUEST: Yeah, years ago, in the early '90s. They appraised it from pictures that I sent off, and they said around $10,000. And they were interested in buying it if I wanted to sell it, which seemed unusual.

APPRAISER: You didn't sell it. Well, that's probably a good thing.

This is a C.F. Martin guitar. C.F. Martin guitars started in New York City in 1833. By the time this guitar was made, they had moved to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where they are today.

It's a 42 style. 42 means that it has the pearl around the body. It doesn't have the pearl around the back and sides. It's also called the 000. That's the body size. This guitar was made in 1941. 1942 was the World War. They quit making fancy things for a while. So 1942 was the last year that they made this model.  They did make a fancier model. They made a 000-45. But, for some reason, the 000-42 has become the rarest and hardest to find of the pearl guitars. It was kind of the poor man's pearl guitar. It was an inexpensive guitar from day one, but it only had the pearl on the front.

From the back we can see that it's Brazilian rosewood, has standard ivoroid trim, but no pearl.

The tuners that they used back in the '30s, which was kind of the golden era of Martin guitars, weren't available during the war, so they used a lower grade tuner. The fact that it has these lower grade tuners and somebody didn't go back later and put more expensive tuners on it is really a good thing, because that preserves the originality of the guitar. I'm going to go back to the front of the guitar. It has an ebony bridge and ebony fretboard that's bound in ivoroid. This is the nicest example of this guitar I have seen.

This guitar was made popular about ten years ago by Eric Clapton on the Unplugged album. He was playing a 000-42. This is an extraordinarily nice, clean example. I would put the value of this guitar in a retail environment between $65,000 and $75,000.

I did a little research on this guitar. One thing not mentioned is the headstock is overlaid with Brazilian rosewood.  The quality of the workmanship is superb.  The wood on these older models has aged well. Some of the models from these years may have used actual ivory for binding material.

In the 1990's Martin designed a guitar for Eric Clapton, which he used on his Unplugged CD.  This was the 000-42EC.  This guitar featured a solid Carpathian spruce top polished with vintage toner. The back and sides were made of solid Madagascar rosewood. The neck was mahogany and designed with a modified V shape.  The headstock was overlaid in rosewood.

The tuners were made by Waverly; Nickel with Ivoroid butterbean knobs.

The guitar had abalone inlay on the body and ivoroid trim. Unlike the 1940's models, this guitar had trim on the back of the body and an ivoroid stripe down the middle of the back.

The snowflake position marker were deluxe and the headstock featured an exquisite design.  I believe this was a limited edition of 250 guitars.  They were hand signed by Clapton.  The action was set high from the factory, but perhaps this is due to Clapton's preference.

Martin also made a similar 000-42M (Marquis) around this same time with a lower factory action, no signature and less fancy.  The 000-42 is still available from Martin if you cannot plunk down $70 grand for a war era model.  Be prepared to pay around $5,000.

This guitar is similar to the newer models; however the back is Indian rosewood and the top is sitka spruce.  The binding is a material called Bolatron and is black & white.  The neck is bound in white ivoroid.  The nut is real bone as is the compensated bridge saddle.  The fingerboard is black ebony with snowflake markers (all of these instruments feature snowflake markers unless otherwise specified). The tortoise shell pickguard is beveled.

Like all the aforementioned 000-42's this guitar had 20 frets, joining the body at the 14th fret.

However there are 000-42's that join at the 12th fret.

Like older Martins there is no paper label. The model number was burnt into the back center woodstrip and on the neck block.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Martin 0-16NY

1961, the year that can be turned upside down and still look the same, was the beginning of what has come to be known as "The Folk Scare".

Driven by a handful of people that gathered in some Greenwich Village Clubs or on Washington Square carrying old acoustic guitars, banjos and bass fiddles, they interrupted Rock music briefly with strains of Kumbaya and Tom Dooley.

Guitar manufacturers jumped at the chance to produce instruments that would appeal to these folksie folk song types.

C.F. Martin was no exception. This same year two Martins were introduced; The O-16NY and the 00-21.

These guitars hold the distinction of being the first vintage re-issues of a guitar.

By 1961 the popular Martins were series D guitars. Perhaps Joan Baez' and Joni Collins' preference for small bodied Martin 12 fret instruments that caught the eye of Martin designers that served as a basis for the 0-16NY.

This guitar was different from other Martins of the day.

It was designed for finger picking and it was designed to have the appearance of a pre-war 1898 Martin, which incidently were built in New York.

There was nothing fancy about this guitar. This is noted by the designation "16". The body had a satin finish with no pickguard. The top was solid sitka spruce.

The back and sides were solid mahogany. The bridge was a straight piece of rosewood. The mahogany neck bore a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and had very small side markers, but none on the front of the fingerboard.

There was one large ring enclosed in two small rings around the soundhold. The perimeter of the top was bound with tortoise shell binding material. There was no binding on the back or binding material separating the book matched back. The mahogany neck was wider than a size D Martin. The nut was 1 7/8th and nearly as wide as a classic guitar. The scale was 24.9". The headstock was slotted and the overlay was Brazilian rosewood. The tuners were open with plastic buttons. The neck had no volute.

The top of the body was braced very lightly with an X bracing and only one tone bar.

These guitars were advertised as being able to handle steel or nylon strings. Most owners string them with very light guage steel string. But after returning my 0-16NY to the factory twice I was told by a Martin representative, this guitar was actually designed to use silk and steel strings. Remember, these guitars did not have a truss rod.

The 0-16NY was manufactured up through the early 1990's. I have a Martin cataloge that shows the last 0-16NY and by that time the slot head was gone.

Below is a 1992 Martin 0-16NY.

Look closely at the wonderful straight grain in the wood. It is a beautiful instrument.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bowling Ball Fender Guitars

It was probably Eddie Van Halen’s fault that Fender Stratocasters started beating out the Les Paul in popularity during the early 1980’s. Van Halen was playing a chopped Kramer Strat-style guitar, that he had morphed together using parts from other instruments. Rockers and want to-be's went in search of similar instruments.

Guitars that looked like Strats, which more often than not were imported, started cutting into Fender’s market stronghold. An American made Fender Stratocaster sold for approximately $900 during those days. Asian made instruments were plentiful and had a lower price.

These were the CBS days. Fender management was under pressure to create a lower cost model and make changes in production to regain the company market share. The change to production strategy was to move manufacturing to Japan.

This resulted in a new Stratocaster design involved an updated tremolo system, which required no routing to the back of the body. Instead, the three springs were directly below the tremolo block where the string ends were held. A snap-in arm replaced the screw in arm. The microtilt mechanism was utilized; however, the company went back to using four bolts.

Fender eliminated the angled cord jack. This eliminated further body routing. The cord jack was now on the pickguard replacing the middle pickup tone control. The pickguard was supported by 12 screws around the perimeter, which aided for support of the top mounted jack.

The neck was available in maple or rosewood and had 21 frets. The headstock remained the same and bore Fender tuners and twin string trees.

To further their attempt to regain sales, Fender decided to take on a new approach. Van Halen's Kramer Strat was different. The company wanted something different.

A sample of a new guitar finish made its way to Fender headquarters. Its finish resembled tie-dyed clothing. However, something was different since this finish really stood out. It almost looked like sculptured marble. Fender was impressed and decided to do a limited run of 225 Stratocasters and 75 Telecasters.

The artist that was responsible for the swirling design on these guitars is Darren Johansen.

He originally developed this finish for a drum set and then did a mock-up of a guitar. He sent a picture of the guitar to the folks at Fender and was surprised to get a response and an invitation to that years NAMM show.

Fender’s management was so impressed that they took him aside and asked that he not show his guitar to any other people at the show. On the spot, they agreed to finish 300 instruments with Johansen’s finish.

Fender gave all of these Strat bodies were given a coat of primer and then sent to Johansen for finishing. Fender decided to have three-color groups of 75 guitars produced using differing color patterns.

One group used blue as the dominant color with black and yellow streaks. Another group utilized red as the dominant color with black and white streaks. Finally, the last group used yellow as the primary color with white and silver streaks. The painted bodies were sent back to Fender where they were sealed with polyurethane. Fender named this line Marble Strats, since the finished product were now reminiscent of the designs of little round glass marbles.

By now Fender had lowered the price of their Standard/Japanese-made Stratocaster with a traditional finish to around $600. A decision was made to tack on an additional $100 for what the company referred to as the Marble Stratocaster. The Marble strat was offered to dealers in 1984.

To promote the Marble Strat and Tele, Fender produced posters, baseball style caps, and T-shirts. Dealers commented they liked the guitar, but it looked more like a bowling ball than a marble. Hence, the term Bowling Ball Stratocaster is the name by which they came to be known. Unfortunately, this guitar was not a success. No additional Bowling Ball Strats manufactured after 1985.

In 1985, a group of its managers including Bill Schultz and Dan Smith purchased Fender.

In 1987 an attempt was made to resurrect the Bowling Ball Strat, however Fender dealers were under whelmed and the project did not go forward. There were approximately 20 bodies produced as prototypes. Fender sold these to their employees.

Like all collectibles, limited production items command a higher price. Fifteen or twenty years after production of the bowling ball Stratocaster that sold with a list price of $999 and a street price of around $700 is now commanding a price of $2,000.

The unique factor of Bowling Ball Strats is that no two finishes are the same. Some Bowling Ball Strats have rather plain mixed color patterns and some are stunning. However, most vintage guitar dealers agree that the Bowling Ball Strat is not a classic vintage guitar but a modern era collectible.

Nevertheless, the story does not end with the final Fender Bowling Ball Stratocaster.

Since Fender discontinued the line of Marble/Bowling Ball guitars in 1985, Darren Johansen was out of the custom guitar business. His contract with Fender had ended. A year later Johansen approached Steve Vai and Ibanez guitars. Vai sent him a few Jem bodies to finish and he was pleased with the results.

In 1990, Ibanez contracted with Johansen to finish prototype guitars. What was not a hit for Fender was a success with Ibanez due to Vai’s use on his personal instruments. The Ibanez instruments had a finish that had evolved from the Fender guitars due to improvements in Johansson’s process.