View Full Version : 1940 Martin 0 and severe humidity changes - need advice!

12-25-2010, 06:37 PM
I'm a newbie here and need some help.

I've just dug out of my 94 year old mother's closet a Martin 0 Series soprano uke she purchased new in 1940. She and the uke have lived in the Arizona desert since 1990. Prior to moving to Arizona, the uke lived for 50 years in a beach house and other beach areas in Southern California. Talk about climate change!

It has never been in a case. The finish is in terrible condition, chipping and peeling on the front, including the decal area. The finish is largely gone on the face of the rosewood neck. The finish on the back is in decent shape, though. The tuning pegs are completely corroded and inoperable.

However, the wood itself (I think it's mahogany) does not appear to be cracked anywhere. The glue seems to be in good shape on all the joints.

She gave me the uke for Christmas. I intend to keep it and play it (I already play a classical guitar). I have several questions:

1. I live on the north coast of California where it's cold, foggy and rainy much of the year. I'm concerned about abruptly moving the uke from the desert back to a cold humid environment. Any suggestions for how to gently do this?

2. Should I attempt to refinish to wood or have it refinished? Will it destroy any of it's vintage value? (I don't intend to sell it.) What should I do to protect the varnish that is flaking off, taking the Martin decal with it?

3. Are replacement tuning pegs available and should I buy Martin ones? I'd like to keep the bone tuning knobs if possible.

4. I know several guitarists who in turn know good guitar and stringed instrument repair guys. Should I try to find a Martin or vintage uke specialist to do the work?

It's an ugly baby, but its new mother loves it! Thanks for your help.

René ("sunhotmoon")

12-25-2010, 06:52 PM
Maybe post some good quality pics when you get a chance. Folks will be able to make a better recommendation once they see what you are looking at. Try not to submit shakey iphone pics. They will need to see some detail.

Most times, a refinish will kill a significant amount of your vintage value. Buy if you plan to keep it forever, you may not care. The decal issue is a tough one. A decent refinish will entail stripping the old finish which would take the decal with it. So even if you refinish you might want to consider an alternative for the headstock to preserve the decal.

For humidity, you didn;t say how soon you want to move it back north. I would get a case pronto and a good humidifier and keep it closed up. This will gradually bring the uke up to proper humidity. When you get it to the coast, keep it in the case. This will slow down the acclimation process. I would think going from Moist to dry would be more dangerous than the the other way. I think you will be fine.

Others will have a suggestion on tuning pegs.

Start talking to the luthiers and see who you are comfortable with. If they know what you have and know their way around, you will probably be able to tell.

Congrats on the new uke. Old Martins are hard to come by and great to have. Maybe someday for me.

12-25-2010, 07:10 PM
Thanks for your reply, olgoat! I know I started a thread rather prematurely and without pics, but I'm traveling without a camera and am returning to California in less than a week. The abrupt humidity changes are the first concern and you've reassured me about going back to a wetter climate. Dealing with the finish can be done later, and I can post some pictures later when I get home.

So number one: get a case. I'll start on that project tomorrow. I can easily make one of the little humidifiers that your FAQ describes.

I look forward to learning a lot from all of you in this forum.


12-25-2010, 07:46 PM
Hey Rene', glad to have you with us. I think olgoat is right, not so much of an issue moving to a more humid environment.

As I read your post, it seems like your ukulele is in pretty rough shape. If the finish is peeling and it is really shot, and looks terrible.....I don't think you do any harm in having it refinished. Especially since you plan to keep it. Why not make it look pretty again? Some people feel like an original finish should be left alone no matter what but if your uke is in really terrible shape, I think it would help to have it in usable, beautiful condition again.

Of course, pictures would help a lot. The experts here can advise, as olgoat says. As for the tuners, they are not bone, Martin never used bone as far as I am aware. They can be replaced. I have read that Martin still sells ukulele tuners so you may be able to get them from Martin. If not, there are excellent replacements available out there.

I look forward to seeing the pictures. I am glad you are going to play it. Oh, you said the finish is worn off on the fretboard...but the rosewood fretboard never had a finish on it, so it may be fine. Do you need to take it to a Martin specialist? No, I don't think so. Someone who is adept at vintage instrument repair should be able to handle it! Let us know what you decide!

mm stan
12-26-2010, 12:24 AM
Aloha Rene,
I'm sure you have some concerns about your old martin...I had a few too...I'm almost sure the cracking on your finish is checking...most traditionalist will over look that, as i did with mine as it will devalue the uke.
If you do have it done, martins have a tin soundboard and in the sanding stage may take off too much wood making the soundboard thinner and may alter the sound(that why I didn't touch mine)you can always
put a few coats of finish on and try to fix it but will not be the same..If you really do a total restoration, a proper martin dealer can put on a new decal for you, as like when I had my headstock fixed...Only an
authorized dealer can get these decals....my restored martin before cost me $450.00 but it looked like new.....in fact while in the shop another customer offered the shop $1500.00 for it...Good Luck! MM Stan..

12-26-2010, 02:06 AM
There is a big difference between a refinish and a restoration. A restoration will not destroy the collector value of the uke, a refinish will. There are several master luthiers in California that can restore the uke and make it look like it should without diminishing its value, but, also, the uke is going to be playable. A 1940s Martin is not that rare, really. I would have it restored and I'd play it because modern Martin ukes will not compare in tone for a long time. By the way, Martin may be able to provide another decal for the headstock. Dick Boak is Martin's ukulele historian. He might be able to help you find another decal to replace the one on there if it cannot be salvaged.

12-26-2010, 09:47 AM
This is all such good info, especially about the difference between a refinishing and a restoration. I would probably elect to go the restoration route if I could, depending on cost. The finish isn't just checking, it's blistering and flaking off in many places, generally along the grain of the wood. I will definitely post pics taken with a good macro lens when I get home (after Jan. 10th.).

I've just noticed that I'm probably asking these questions in the wrong place in the forum, but now that I have you all captive...

Any suggestions for shipping or flying it back to California? I hestitate to check it with luggage and I can only think of registered mail as a safe way to ship it. I know it's not the most valuable uke around, but to me it is!

Thanks so much for all the advice.

12-26-2010, 02:53 PM
Don't ship it, carry it on. There have been a lot of threads about carrying ukulele's onto airplanes. I have done it several times and had no problem at all. If you get a case, take it in the case and it will make the trip just fine.

mm stan
12-26-2010, 03:10 PM
Aloha Sunhotmoon,
If you have severe checking, it may need more than restoration work....and need to get to bare wood for a refinish for the soundboard...Alot of these old martins have these finish problems..have it done by
a repuable person...mine was really bad , Good Luck!!

12-26-2010, 03:21 PM
Aloha Sunhotmoon,
If you have severe checking, it may need more than restoration work....and need to get to bare wood for a refinish for the soundboard...Alot of these old martins have these finish problems..have it done by
a repuable person...mine was really bad , Good Luck!!

Stan, any chance you have before and after pictures you could share? I would love to see them! Also, did you say they were able to put on a new Martin sticker? If you don't have any before pics, I would like to see some current pictures!

mm stan
12-26-2010, 10:24 PM
Aloha Ryan,
My computer crashed and lost all my pictures..and sorry I don't have a working camera now....When I had My Martin tenor work done and it had a cracked on the headstock, the repair consisted of fixing the crack
and he put a new veneer layer on and a brand new Martin Logo Sticker logo...Man it looks better that brand new...of course now it's not original no more too...shucks...

12-27-2010, 04:32 AM
From what you all are saying, I think I may be looking at a restoration. It already IS down to bare wood in many places; I could chip off the varnish with my fingernail it's so blistered! Only on the top though; the back is in very good condition. There is no varnish at all all around where the top meets the sides, just a rough edge. Someone above said that the rosewood necks on Martins never had any finish, but I can definitely see something flaking all over it. Same with the ebony parts.

Stan, any suggestions for how to go about finding a reputable Martin restorer? I am in the greater San Francisco Bay Area - anywhere in N. Calif would be OK. I definitely want to preserve what it should sound like. But I also want that decal!

Thanks again for your interest and input. I'll be sure to post some pics later on.

12-27-2010, 06:34 AM
I believe Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto is an authorized Martin repair shop. They are also really great people.

The other possibility about your Martin is that the reason the finish is failing so badly is that something had already been done to it, such as perhaps it had been overcoated by a well meaning but mis-informed owner, which over time reacted badly with the original finish on the soundboard and fretboard.

12-27-2010, 07:27 AM
Hi Ryan, you're the second person who's recommended Gryphon. I have a friend in the South Bay who swears by them. So that's really good to know!

I asked my mom about the refinishing. She purchased this uke in 1940 for my sister who was 5 at the time. She said no one had touched it, ever. Of course, her memory isn't perfect and it might have been recoated before she bought it, so it wasn't really new at the time (making it actually older).

In any case, it needs something. Or else I might just leave it alone.
Just purchased a good case for it from Musician's Friend. Hope Southwest Air will let me carry it on. (Can you tell I'm a worry wart? :))

mm stan
12-27-2010, 12:20 PM
Aloha Sunhotmoon,
I am living in Hawaii, sorry I can't help your find a Reputable Authorized Martin Repairer..I just wanted to say, alot of the original finishes checked from back then, not sure why but mine and others I've seen was
just the soundboard....maybe it's the paint, or old, or technique....but if yours is checking to the wood, just a restore job is just the top finish will not do, if yours checking is to the wood, you may need to go as far as there to
resolve your issues...refinishing...if you just lightly sand the top and respray(restoration), you'll still have and see and have the checking..what's the sense then...Good Luck, MM Stan