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Thread: Thinking about an older Martin soprano--what to look for?

  1. #1

    Default Thinking about an older Martin soprano--what to look for?

    So far (just 6 months) I've been interested primarily in tenors, though I do have a cheap concert that I enjoy. But I think it's time to try a soprano. There are obviously lots of great options out there, and among value priced solid wood models, I'm thinking about an Ohana or Mainland.

    But I'm also intrigued with the old Martins. I would be looking for a "player" and have no problem with cosmetic issues, or things that make it non-original, like replacement tuners. But I definitely do not want a "fixer-upper." From reading a few descriptions, I think I'd be ok with cracks that have been repaired and are stable. But I don't want to have to deal with any setup issues (nut, bridge, frets). I'd be looking for great playability and sound representative of these classic instruments, so I can hear what the all the fuss is about.

    Given the above, what should I expect to spend for an older Martin S0 or S1? What are typical problems with these instruments that I should look out for? Since I'm not sure if I'll want to stick with the soprano size (the fret spacing is certain challenging for me when I've tried them, though I'm hoping that's just a matter of practice time), I don't want to sink a lot of money in this. A new Martin soprano is also a possibility, but at $419 for an S1, that's near the top of my price range.

    I didn't post this in the Marketplace because I'm in the learning phase rather than the acquisition phase. But would still be interested in anything someone might want to part with.

    Thanks for any advice/insights!

    Jack
    Last edited by jackj; 09-18-2017 at 05:34 AM.

  2. #2
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    I think the market has definitely softened for vintage martins, but if a new one at ~$420 is near the top of your range, I think you'll have a hard time finding a vintage Martin that is not a project. However, if you're patient, you should be able to pick up a vintage Style 0 or Style 1 for around $450-$500. I just picked up a 1950's minty Style 1 for $600 as a wedding gift from my company to an employee -- that was simply right place, right time.
    Last edited by Ukulele Eddie; 09-18-2017 at 05:47 AM.
    More an appreciator of the ukulele than a true player. My motto is: "Don't matter how good it ring if it ain't got some bling."

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.—Voltaire

    Curious about the relative importance of tonewood vs. the luthier? See Luthiers for a Cause to learn more!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ukulele Eddie View Post
    I think the market has definitely softened for vintage martins, but if a new one at ~$420 is near the top of your range, I think you'll have a hard time finding a vintage Martin that is not a project. However, if you're patient, you should be able to pick up a vintage S0 or S1 for around $450-$500. I just picked up a 1950's minty S1 for $600 as a wedding gift from my company to an employee -- that was simply right place, right time.
    Sorry , but I have to disagree , if you watch Martins on Ebay , decent ones have been going for 3 to 4 hundred. Your 1950's S1 is not an S1 , it is a Style 1 , an S1 is a newly made Martin from Mexico.
    A Martin SO is a modern Martin made in Mexico no longer made and they go for about 200 on Ebay when you can find them. I like the SO , I have two.
    I hope I dont sound like a jerk , just wanted to add my two cents.
    Last edited by Pukulele Pete; 09-18-2017 at 05:44 AM. Reason: Old Age
    " Anything larger than a soprano is cheating "
    " I'm no luthier but ,........"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pukulele Pete View Post
    Sorry , but I have to disagree , if you watch Martins on Ebay , decent ones have been going for 3 to 4 hundred. Your 1950's S1 is not an S1 , it is a Style 1 , .
    A Martin SO is a modern Martin made in Mexico no longer made and they go for about 200 on Ebay when you can find them. I like the SO , I have two.
    I hope I dont sound like a jerk , just wanted to add my two cents.
    No worries, I was abbreviating S0 and S1 as I had clearly indicated vintage before. But I'll edit my post to avoid any further confusion. I just check eBay and most are still listed in the $500 range. However, I did not search exhaustively and I did not look at Sold listings. For the OP's sake, I hope you're right and he can find one in that range. Did you see sell a few last year? What ranges did they go in?
    More an appreciator of the ukulele than a true player. My motto is: "Don't matter how good it ring if it ain't got some bling."

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.—Voltaire

    Curious about the relative importance of tonewood vs. the luthier? See Luthiers for a Cause to learn more!

  5. #5
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    I am a fan and restorer/rescuer of vintage Martins. I know it is subjective but I've found that the more modern sopranos made after 1970 are not the same. I would look for a 1950s or older with some wear. often bridges have a blown out slot that are still functional using a small bead to hold the string. I've found that the setup is usually correct unless some modification has been done to the saddle or nut. Cracks and such can be problematical as some buzz and others don't.
    Look on eBay, Craigslist, Goodwill or other shopping options. Refine your search engine as needed. If you have questions about a specific one, PM me a link, I'll tell you what I think.
    If you want to wait a few months A current project occupies my shop later I will list some rescued Martins. I have ready to go a Style 2 and 3 that are above your price range.

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    My first ukulele was a 1934-ish (bar frets) and it was not in good shape when I found it - several repaired cracks and horrible replacement tuners. The latter have been replaced and I finally had the body refinished professionally. Sounds great Living Waters strings) and plays great.

    Great place to begin
    Martin c. 1934
    Martin OXK
    Kamaka pineapple gold label - 1950s
    Mele pineapple - koa and mahogany - modern
    Kamaka tenor - 2002
    Mele, Braddah tenor 1990s
    Slingerland banjolele Maybell - 1920s

  7. #7
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    What's the deal with bar frets vs. the more modern T frets on vintage Martins? Any reason to prefer one over the other?
    Ask NOT what your country can do for Uke...ask what Uke can do for your country.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ukecaster View Post
    What's the deal with bar frets vs. the more modern T frets on vintage Martins? Any reason to prefer one over the other?
    It is IMHO, not a case of better but it does help to tell the age of an instrument.
    Martin c. 1934
    Martin OXK
    Kamaka pineapple gold label - 1950s
    Mele pineapple - koa and mahogany - modern
    Kamaka tenor - 2002
    Mele, Braddah tenor 1990s
    Slingerland banjolele Maybell - 1920s

  9. #9
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    As far as the vintage Martin’s are concerned, patience and perseverance are the key to getting a good deal.

    Daily searches on eBay for clean, mostly crack free Style 0s and 1s will eventually pay off. Use the search function here on the UU and learn all you can about the old Martins. If you come across one that looks good to you, post a thread and ask for opinions.

    If you’re looking for a quicker gratification timeline, you can’t go wrong if you buy a Mainland directly from Mike at Mainland Ukes or an Ohana from Mim at Mim’s Ukes. They are both very reputable and do a full, professional setup on every Uke they sell. Satisfaction guaranteed!

    Also, while searching Martin’s on eBay just now I came across this Brand new S1 for the very good price of $349, shipping included. Seller looks to have excellent feedback and ships from Illinois.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-in-Box-M...oAAOSw3YNXYfQq

    Good luck with your search!


    Scooter
    Last edited by ScooterD35; 09-18-2017 at 06:30 PM.
    Tenor Koa Fluke (rosewood fretboard, Pegheds)
    Concert Tie-Dye Flea (rosewood fretboard, Lucy's tuners)
    Soprano Firefly (walnut fretboard, Pegheds)
    Late 40's Martin Style 1 soprano
    Concert Oscar Schmidt Mousekulele
    Tenor Mainland Mahogany Slothead

    "The way I see it as soon as a baby is born, he should be issued a Ukulele."
    ~Linus Van Pelt~

  10. #10

    Default

    Thanks for all the great advice! I'll be following up on a few of the suggestions.

    A new soprano is definitely a possibility. I've got a Mainland tenor that I really like, and I'm only an hour or so away from Mike's store, so I will check out his smaller ukes next time I'm in Nashville, IN.

    I've read several very positive reviews of new Martin S1s, so they do intrique me. Though they are apparently built heavier than the vintage Martins and don't have the same sound/responsiveness, they still have the classic look, and apparently come with a consistently great setup and build quality. Normally I like to buy from a dealer I know and trust, and for Martin, that would probably be Elderly. But the following is $70 cheaper.
    Quote Originally Posted by ScooterD35 View Post
    Also, while searching Martin’s on eBay just now I came across this Brand new S1 for the very good price of $349, shipping included. Seller looks to have excellent feedback and ships from Illinois.
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-in-Box-M...oAAOSw3YNXYfQq
    That's a great deal, but my pessimist side kicks in and wonders: How is this guy getting these and selling them so cheap? I suspect authorized Martin dealers may have to stick to a uniform minimum price. But this eBay seller apparently had 45 of them. How is he managing that? Could they be factory seconds?

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