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View Full Version : Thinking about an older Martin soprano--what to look for?



jackj
09-18-2017, 04:16 AM
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

Ukulele Eddie
09-18-2017, 04:24 AM
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.

Pukulele Pete
09-18-2017, 04:40 AM
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. :drool:

Ukulele Eddie
09-18-2017, 04:46 AM
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?

spongeuke
09-18-2017, 05:36 AM
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.

frianm
09-18-2017, 07:44 AM
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

Ukecaster
09-18-2017, 10:10 AM
What's the deal with bar frets vs. the more modern T frets on vintage Martins? Any reason to prefer one over the other?

frianm
09-18-2017, 10:26 AM
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.

ScooterD35
09-18-2017, 01:17 PM
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-Martin-S-1-Ukulele-with-Padded-Gig-Bag-/391631779936?epid=691132544&hash=item5b2f12b860:g:v4oAAOSw3YNXYfQq

Good luck with your search!


Scooter

jackj
09-18-2017, 04:32 PM
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.


Also, while searching Martinís 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-Martin-S-1-Ukulele-with-Padded-Gig-Bag-/391631779936?epid=691132544&hash=item5b2f12b860:g:v4oAAOSw3YNXYfQq

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?

ScooterD35
09-18-2017, 04:58 PM
Martin does not sell factory seconds, ever. They have also dramatically relaxed their rules regarding eBay sales and advertised pricing, particularly on their Mexican made instruments. This is probably an authorized dealer, and the 39 sold happened over several years time. The standard formula for Martins is that wholesale = 50% of MSRP. That means that, even with shipping, he’s still making close to $100 on an S1. I certainly understand your pessimism, though.

I think that if I were in your shoes, I’d take the ride to Mainland. Mike will always treat you right. He’s a great guy, and you’ll enjoy giving him your money!


Please, let us know what you end up with!


Scooter

Ukecaster
09-18-2017, 06:13 PM
Re cracks, it seems that many of the vintage Martins you see for sale online will have cracks, hopefully repaired correctly. I like this video, comparing 5 vintage Martin sopranos. They all sound great to me, although slightly different. The video has links to descriptions of each of the ukes, and every one of them had repaired cracks.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV0uiOrOFqc

70sSanO
09-25-2017, 05:51 PM
You need to check out the Timms on the marketplace. I don't play soprano, but everytime I see a Timms I want to buy it.

This video is NOT the one for sale, but you'll get the idea.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb9Imp2HTC4

John

Ziret
09-25-2017, 06:13 PM
An even cheaper S1 http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-Martin-S-1-Soprano-Ukulele-with-Padded-Gig-Bag/222646863288?_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIM.M BE%26ao%3D2%26asc%3D47507%26meid%3Daf479efdfeb6446 6a3fe01dc6eeba1ce%26pid%3D100005%26rk%3D5%26rkt%3D 6%26sd%3D391631779936&_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851

Ukecaster
09-26-2017, 01:34 AM
Would you prefer a well played vintage Martin, with wear/repaired cracks, etc., or a more prisitine example? With a pristine example, I would assume it didn't get played much, probably just sat in a closet somewhere, although humidified well, as evidenced by no cracks. I wonder if the stuff you hear about unplayed vintage instruments "going to sleep", and then reawakening to better volume/tone after being played hard for awhile is true? I've never had a vintage Martin before, and was wondering this. I know its a controversial topic (instruments opening up, going to sleep, etc) Anyone ever experience this with a vintage Martin that was probably not played much at all?

Ukecaster
09-28-2017, 08:15 AM
Here's one...Model 0 for $299.00

https://reverb.com/item/6728232-vintage-martin-style-o-ukulele

maki66
09-29-2017, 03:30 AM
Here's one...Model 0 for $299.00

https://reverb.com/item/6728232-vintage-martin-style-o-ukulele
That's prudy!!

frianm
09-29-2017, 03:52 AM
I would jump on that one if I did not already have one. With Reverb you can always make an offer.


Here's one...Model 0 for $299.00

https://reverb.com/item/6728232-vintage-martin-style-o-ukulele

maki66
09-29-2017, 02:12 PM
never mind

jackj
09-30-2017, 04:53 AM
Thanks for all the helpful information in this thread. It's now clear that there are some great deals out there. While still very interested in trying an older Martin, it looks like I'll be starting out with a Favilla instead, which will arrive next week from a U.U. marketplace purchase. Really liked the shape of this soprano, and it's had a couple of previous owners here who have sung its praises. It will at least let me know if I can bond with the fret spacing on a soprano.

Jack

Hilomar
09-30-2017, 10:17 PM
I have a Martin 3 style soprano and it's made by John Claughton and it is rather good! Maybe another path to go down? Get a luthier built copy? Just my two pennies worth..or is it two cents? But...it will never be two euros!! Hahaha (this is a brexit joke!) ��

Ukulele Eddie
10-02-2017, 09:17 AM
Congrats on the wise purchase and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Good way to step into it without jumping off the high dive. ;-)

Hilomar
10-02-2017, 09:58 AM
Congrats on the wise purchase and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Good way to step into it without jumping off the high dive. ;-)

Just read about luthier for a cause..fascinating! I'm in the wood game myself and am interested in tone woods..but luthier tapping wood to hear the resonance is a mysterious art..how is that learned? I'm guessing experience? And making a uke out of antique reclaimed wood, does it make it sound better or is it the skill of the maker? I have a all pine uke and it sounds bright and 'woody' little surprised not more ukes are made entirely from pine? ( my uke has rosewood fretboard and bridge with ebony nut and saddle) it's my uke for gigs..it gets covered in beer etc..lol quick wipe down and good as new!

EDW
11-26-2017, 03:28 AM
When looking at the various vintage instruments out there it can be dizzying to try to make sense of it all. It is hard to know what to seek and what to avoid. I sometimes see instruments listed for sale or auction that seem like good deals, but don't seem to have been snapped up or bid on. It then makes me wonder if there are issues I am unaware of or if it is just a case that it has not found the right buyer.

Martinlover
11-26-2017, 02:10 PM
Beware of buying vintage Martins on eBay. I once drove an hour to follow up on a Martin listed on Craigslist only to find that the neck had be snapped off and terribly glued back on. The angles the guy photographed the ukulele and the fuzziness of the photos hid this major trauma. A month later I saw the same Martin (same photos) listed on eBay.