Sunday, January 10, 2010

Martin Archtop Guitars

During the 1920’s through the 1940’s Gibson guitars pretty much owned the archtop market. There were excellent instrument from other makers such as Stromberg, D’Angelico, Epiphone, Gretsch, Guild, Framus and Hofner. But for reliable factory built guitars Gibson was the king. Stromberg and D’Angelico even based some of their designs on the Gibson 400.

1937 Martin R-18
Martin tried to take advantage of the archtop market with three different series of guitars. This is a Martin R-18.

The C series included the C-1, C-2 and C-3 which had arched tops with round soundholes, although in 1932 Martin updated the C-2 to have F style soundholes. The size of the C series was comparable to a 000 Martin flattop guitar. The guitar was 15” across the upper bout.

The next to be developed was the F series.

The F-7 was similar in features to the C-2 with a slightly narrower body.

The F-9 had a body comparable to a 00 Martin. Both had F sound holes and were 14 1/8” across the upper bout. This guitar came with a bound neck, abalone fret markers, and a fancy Martin logo on the head stock.

1942 Martin F-9

The Martin F-9 was similar in accouterments, but had a wider body.

Martin R-17

The R-17 was introduced in 1934 and the R-18 was introduced two years earlier. . These also endowed with F holes and in an effort to keep up with competition, there were 14 1/8” across the upper bout.

In 1942, perhaps due to the war effort or perhaps due to poor sales Martin called it quits.

1931 C-1

The C-1 used mahogany for the back and sides, with the C-2 and 3 having a rosewood back. The F series used rosewood backs and mahogany sides as did the R series. The rosewood and mahogany produced a sound unlike maple that some other manufacturers utilized.

1934 Martin R 18
I have played an R-18 and loved it, however there were some unusual features found in these instrument that were not found in similar products by other companies. Because of this the sales were flat perhaps due to the sound and the unusual construction.

1934 Martin R-18 back

As I recall, the top of the R-18 that I played was arched, however although literature says the back is arched, the arching was barely noticeable and almost appeared to be flat.

The neck was pitched at an unusual angle so that the portion of the neck that is over the body was about ½” or so above the body. This was due to the floating bridge that is a feature on archtop guitars. The strings need to be higher to match the bridge. For folks used to flattop Martins, the Martin archtop guitar would take some getting used to. Besides there were better products to be had at the same price.

There were Martin archtops to be had at a bargain prices. So in 1965, during the Folk Music Revival, a guitarist brought a broken F-7 to a New York Music store.

Rather than have it repaired he used it in trade along with some money to purchase another guitar.

The store owner ordered a new dreadnaught size flat top from Martin and put it on the F-7.

The conversion was not as simple as merely gluing on a new top, since the neck would need to be adjusted to the straight pull of flat top guitars. The scale also may have to be shortened. The guitar made it around Greenwich Village and Washington Park.

Soon after this Folk musician David Bromberg bought a F-7 and took it to Matt Uminov's shop for a similar treatment. After getting his coverted guitar Bromberg spoke with Martin and suggested they come out with a guitar that was similar to the conversion.

This did not happen until 1977 when Martin introduced the M-38. In the 1980’s the guitar was given a cutaway and then the J series came out with a slightly deeper body.

Last year Bromberg was awarded with a Martin named after him called the M-42. It was a 0000 sized guitar.


Martin Guitars did not produce another archtop until 1962, when they decided to into the electric guitar business. History has proven, once a guitar company has a good core product, they need to stick with it. Martin did not sell many of these F-55 electric guitars.

2004 Martin CF-1
In 2004 Martin Guitars was approached by luthier Dale Unger to see if there would be any interest in creating a jazz style archtop guitar. Chris Martin and Dick Boak agreed and a limited number of archtop guitars were built.

Martin CF-2
The CF-1 model had a body with a depth of 3" and one floating pickup. The CF-2 model had a narrower depth; 2 1/2" and came with 2 pickups mounted on the instruments body.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


Thomas Carlisle said...

A few years back I bought a 1926 or 7 converted from an "F" hole R-18. This conversion looks identical to a 000-18. While not heavily decorated the instrument Sounds and plays wonderfully well. I also own an old D-28 and a 1964 New Yorker, but this is the guitar I pick up for mos occasions. I suppose the conversion devalues this instrument, but I didn't buy it to sell, so what matters is how it sounds and plays.

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