Sunday, May 30, 2010

C.F. Martin Pre-WWII 000-45

The pre-WWII series Martin 000-45 is one of the finest, most collectible and the 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.

Click here to see Roy Rogers' personal 1930's 000-45 Martin with 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 either the nameplate was damaged from a prior bashing or perhaps it was a copy guitar.

Pete did not do too much damage that afternoon. I suppose he was saving his guitar 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 recently checked your local Vintage guitar store, those old Harmonys, Kays, Teiscos, Truetones, Cameos, Casinos and others are selling for $200 to $500.

So someone in the guitar biz noticed a need to be fullfilled and has 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 basses and guitar was founded by three men (Homer) Sonny Storbeck, Randy Dritz and Randy Curlee around 1975 in Randy Curlee's Matteson Illinois music store.

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 Storbeck, Dritz and Curlee was that the guitar company should build a quality instrument at an affordable price for the user. The company began by building 100 instruments, 75 basses and 25 guitars) for the 1975 NAMM show.

These were truly handmade instruments.

Jigs were improvised and the brass bridges were cast in a barnyard in Indiana. This all occurred 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.

Shortly after the 1975 NAMM show, Randy Dritz left the company. Around 1977 the S.D. Curlee’s changed the pickups to DiMarzio “Hot” P-Bass models.

The big problem for the company was the fact that there was only one actual luthier running the company. The other partners were business men. This really put a kink in ramping up production to meet sales demands.

Denny Rauen today
Denny Rauen was a young construction worker that worked for the company that owned the building where S.D. Curlee was building guitars. He was a ceramic artist and had a natural ability to figure out how things worked.

He offered to fix a sander that was in need of repair for the company and was offered a job. Within a year and a half he was in charge of the work shop. He was able to upgrade the tool and jig designs to be more efficient.

1976 Liberty Bell Bass
In 1976 he also designed a little known instrument called The Liberty Bass. This is a Curlee bass guitar with a body that looks like a bell. For those of you who were too young to remember, 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence aka the Bi-Centenial. A lot of companies made commemorative products. Martin even designed a 1976 D-76 guitar.

They took some of these to the NAMM show and were met with dozens of them from the Hondo company, a Japanese firm that specialized in knockoffs. What had happened was that Randy Curlee had licensed the design to the Texas importer of Hondo guitars called ICM. This made Curlee among the first to license overseas copies. This practice turned into a business model for many American firms.

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.

SD Curlee guitar
The majority of the S.D. Curlee USA instruments were built between 1978 and 1980. Nicer bass bridges were put on the basses around 1977. Some of these were made by Gary Kahler’s company before he became famous for his tremolo design.

The surface-mount Badass II models were first made in 1978. Badass bridges that were sunk into the body were first used in 1979. The number of instruments that were actually produced is hard to pin down.

Denny Rauen recalls that the numbers were exaggerated for publicity sake. The monthly output was in the neighborhood of 25 instruments.

The USA made SD Curlee instruments say USA under the burned in SD Curlee logo. The international SD Curlees will say Int’l and these were made at the Matsumoku factory in Japan.

The Aspen models were lower quality instruments that were made in Japan. The Global and SD Curlee Design series were manufactured in Korea. The new SD Curlees sold for $500 to $1000 dollars in the late 1970’s. This was a lot of money for that era, when the minimum wage was around $3 an hour and household income was on average $15,000 a year.

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 serial numbers on the basses and guitars were somewhat erroneous due to the company’s embellishment of production numbers and the fact that there was a bin of numbered plates that were randomly used, but there was no real record.

Randy Curlee exported SD Curlee guitars to Germany, Italy and Belgium. He imported HiWatt amplifiers and distributed them through out the USA. Homer "Sonny" Storbeck left around '79. This same year the bridge plates changed from brass to chrome and then to aluminum.

Also the control cavities shape was altered. By 1980 the SD Curlee logo was replaced to one that just read Curlee. 

By this time Denny Rauen had a very good grasp on the guitar/bass manufacturing business. He became frustrated at the business decisions that undercut the SD Curlee company and the fact that non-builders were changing designs and procedures. He had been courted by Dean Guitars and left the company. Although he returned a few times to help out. SD Curlee built its last instruments in 1982.

This same year MTV featured a video of Night Ranger with bassist Jack Blades playing an SD Curlee bass. There was another video of Alec John Such of Bon Jovi playing his SD Curlee bass. Prior to ceasing operation “Curlee” was retooling to build pointy guitars and basses.

They had planned on using poplar and painting the instruments.

Those of us that can remember that era, the 1980’s brought an influx of very well made imported instruments. This was the era of pointy guitars/basses and heavy metal.

These factors plus the changing economics including exorbitant interest rates of the time brought about the demise of SD Curlee guitars and basses. Randy Curlee moved to San Antonio Texas and took with him all the guitar parts from inventory.

He took a position as the District Manager of Yamaha Guitars for Texas, Oklahoma, Louisianna and Arkansas. He later was a promoter for Yamaha to head up their drum, guitar and amplifier division in Buena Park California. He left Yamaha and went to work for Peavey Guitars and worked there until his early death at age 56 in 2005 from complications of diabetes.

Denny Rauen went to work for Dean Guitars and designed the Dean Baby series. He also worked on their multiple radius fingerboards. Lately he has a career as an independent luthier based out of Milwaukee.

Jack Blades of Night Ranger went from using to SD Curlee bass guitars to Hamer bass, which looked amazingly similar to his Curlees. Some of 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 (Bell)

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.

SD Curlee guitars and basses have been resurrected and are currently being built at the Wingfeather Workshop in Wimberley Texas by Birdsong Guitars. For much more information visit SD Curlee USA.

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 and 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 was the year that could be written upside-down and it would still be the same. This was the year that ushered in a new page in American music history called The Folk Era.

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.

Seriously, there were some excellent musicians from those days that changed music and the world as we knew it. Guitar manufacturers jumped at the chance to produce instruments that would appeal to these folksie folk song types. C.F. Martin was no exception.

Martin 0-21 NY and 0-16 NY

This same year two new 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, although some models made toward the end of the run, had solid head stocks. 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 very lightly braced and 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.

Here is a 1992 Martin 0-16NY. Look closely at the wonderful straight grain in the wood. It is a beautiful instrument.