New Martins vs Old Martins

chris667

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The thing about new Martins is there are several companies that make better Martins than Martin.

The old ones are great, but I don't think they're worth the money they change hands for.
 

rafter

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The thing about new Martins is there are several companies that make better Martins than Martin.

The old ones are great, but I don't think they're worth the money they change hands for.

Unfortunately, the folks who make better Martins than Martin also cost significantly more. At least compared to the imports. Whether that's worth it is a separate question, but the imported Martin ukes are a pretty good value, I think, especially considering how much value the Martin name commands.

And I don't know if it's my imagination, but it feels like the vintage ones have become even pricier lately.
 

chris667

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Unfortunately, the folks who make better Martins than Martin also cost significantly more. At least compared to the imports. Whether that's worth it is a separate question, but the imported Martin ukes are a pretty good value, I think, especially considering how much value the Martin name commands.
I'm not sure what the price has to do with anything. The price of any instrument is very low if you look on it as a price per hour.

Ultimately, while Martins were the best in the 1920s now they aren't.
 

rafter

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I'm not sure what the price has to do with anything. The price of any instrument is very low if you look on it as a price per hour.

Ultimately, while Martins were the best in the 1920s now they aren't.

Er, your comment about price has caught me off guard. I thought I was responding to your comment about different Martin options and prices, but maybe I misunderstood you. It sounded like you were saying vintage Martins are great, but overpriced, and that new Martins are surpassed by clones. So my reply was that, yes, the vintage ones do seem rather expensive, especially lately. And while clones can be better than new Martins, they are also much costlier. So while they might be worth it to some, it might not be worth it to others, since there's a significant price difference. Myself, I would prefer a superior instrument even at a higher cost. But I'm a little surprised that Martin, whose name allows them to dictate higher prices, offers models (albeit MIM) for prices competitive with other solid mahogany and koa ukuleles. So if I wanted a Martin-like instrument, and I could not afford the jump to luthier prices, I would be pleased to have a new MIM Martin as an option.

I didn't mean to imply that instrument prices were too high, or that any particular Martin option (vintage, new, or clone) was the best, since I don't have enough experience to say one way or another.
 

chris667

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What I'm trying to say is Martin were historically the best you could buy.

Now, they are just average. I've never played a modern Martin which I thought was that good, even an expensive one.

There are people building copies of Martins which are more in the ethos of the old Martins (the best). But Martin these days seems to get by on its name. There's more money to be made building in the middle - look at how many more Kalas there are than Martins.
 

Jag-Stang

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I realize this is an incredibly old thread but I decided to put my two cents in mostly as I live about an hour away from Nazareth PA and I have spent a good part of my life playing acoustic guitars made by Martin and more recently ukuleles. I therefore have nearly 50 years experience with Martin instruments and have a good bit to say on this subject. I now own three older Martin ukuleles A 1960 Baritone which for a baritone is OLD a 1940’s Concert Style 1 which I absolutely love playing and most recently a 1930’s style 1 Soprano, I also bought a S-O Model of relatively recent ilk I think 2007 I started learning Soprano on the older Kamaka ukulele pictured as my Avatar. It was $300 at the time.
i would love to start the new /old Kamaka thread as I see the same thing happening with the Hawaiian ukuleles as with the Martins But will save that for another day.

I bought the Martin S-O as it was a clean second hand one at $185 I figured how bad can it be..
I also liked the 12 fret neck, I think this is a great ukulele for a beginner.
getting slightly away from the thread but having read the entire comments..I do not agree with many that say it does not come up to the Mainland ukuleles….first mine was actually less expensive than a Mainland and the fit and finish on the Mexican Martin S-O was much better. i tried a few new Mainlands and the frets needed dressing so they were not fun to play when new. I saw that someone else also had to spend extra on properly setting one up and as a guitarist I am picky about the feel of the neck and just did not resonate with the Mainland ukuleles. . They were loud but had what I will call very little depth and were not balanced. If you are looking for Volume I can understand liking them, they just were not for me.
As a guitar player I look for balance which the older Martin Ukuleles have over the newer Martins.
The build quality is great and they sound fabulous but as with any fretted instrument there are just too many factors involved and each instrument has it’s own personality. I think this is why we accumulate many as we are always looking for as the Moody Blues said it best in a song “we are in search of the lost chord”. In today’s marketplace many buy online and take a chance. I have done this mostly when I see a bargain or fix me upper at a ridiculous low price,,
sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. When I lose I just place it back online and mostly take a small beating as many of us here likely have experienced but when I find that great example that sounds great I don’t care who made it. I bought a 1940’s Gretsch mahogany Soprano ukulele a few years ago and ever since every time I see a clean one for under $100 I buy it put it on my bench and set it up and find it a home with a young player that wants to learn as it offers a better sound more playability and a better build than most of the Foreign inexpensive options.
I would say that these $100 older Gretsch ukuleles are as good as the newer Martin ukuleles at 1/3 of the price.
I have two close friends that are music teachers by profession, One teaches violin and the other guitar, bass, banjo, ukulele, and mandolin. I look for student instruments for them, not for profit but to help young musicians with inexpensive options to new commercial poor quality instruments. I do think older broken in ukuleles just generally sound better maybe because they are broken in or maybe because the woods used are just better than what are available now. I am a firm believer in seasoning wood naturally. Many of the off shore builders that are “contract builders’“ use new unseasoned woods, even exotic woods they just do not have that mellow balanced sound that older woods have. I like mahogany and I have learned to appreciate koa. I love the sound of a good spruce or cedar top. Every wood has a different sound. The old Martin mahogany does not compare to the Modern builds which use different wood and some are even laminates.
My reason for the S-O which became the S-1 was it is a mahogany build structurally different than the older Martins and not as well built but for the $185 there is not much out there I can find that is significantly better. So the answer to which is better new Martins or Older Martins It really depends on how much you have to purchase a Martin Ukulele. An older O in good condition can run $500 and even more if it is from the golden age of Martin ukuleles. You might find what the dealers call “players” with cracks finish issues and defects for less. I prefer original finish and structurally sound instruments to cracks and issues that can get costly in the future. You can find second hand modern Martin ukuleles for under $200 to just over $300 if you search and do your due diligence. I think the new prices are too high so second hand is the way to go. A higher end Martin like a vintage koa model will run over $1000 and into multi thousands depending on age condition and model. I think second hand older Martins are worth looking into especially if you can turn up a good older style “O” for under $500. Even the ones marked Made in USA built after 1962 can be very good quality and sell for less than the earlier ones. It is still one of the best made and built Sopranos available and many believe Martins are some of the best Ukuleles ever built. I like buying second hand otherwise I would rather pay a well known builder the money required to make an instrument exactly the way I want it And that gets very expensive. I treated myself to a custom shop ordered guitar I had Martin build for my 60th birthday. Granted I sold off several instruments to help finance it and, it’s a personal instrument that others may not appreciate. I am fortunate to have worked all of my life and to have saved enough to be able to buy a higher priced instrument. I am not one for fancy so I prefer good builds with no frills. I had the opportunity to try out a Martin Style three mahogany ukulele from the same vintage as my style one and To be honest I would rather keep mine which cost 1/3 the price of the style 3. So my last comment is we should seek out the instruments that we are comfortable playing that we can afford and that “find” us. I have sourced out stringed instruments for decades and I am not a dealer but I love music and I get a great feeling putting instruments in the hands of those who want to learn. These posts are opinions and all of us can only speak of our own experience. I did start my early days as a paid musician and worked my way through college playing in bands.
I grew up in a musical household, My father was a professional drummer he loved jazz and wanted me to play saxophone, I did learn to play alto sax and played in high school but eventually sold my sax and bought a Fender Duo Sonic when I started college. This was a beat but playable electric guitar I traded for at a pawn shop. I swapped out my sax learned harmonica and between learning some chords and knowing how to play reeds I was able to play in bands. I never saw myself as one that would play ukulele. Now at 70 and with a tad of arthritis it has become a joy and as I love History I am learning about the Ukulele. I like it here and Yes I like writing as every piece of information we are able to expose something about who we are. I have read many things on UU and decided I wanted to play a larger role in this Community. I stared to contribute about a month ago although I have read posts for several years when I was researching something they just seemed to find their way to a Google search. I hope my opinions help those who want to learn and I love to hear what other members here think and I don’t take anything personally.
 
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Tom51251

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The only way the new Martins are going to sound as good as the vintage Martins is if the new ones are built with the same excellent woods; they are not. They may look the same to you but in my opinion they are completely separate in build and sound. Perhaps the new ones will sound good in 50 years or more (that is how old the vintage ukes are now), but I sincerely doubt they are going to be in the same ball park as the older Martins.
How do you know with such certainty?
 

Jag-Stang

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How do you know with such certainty?
As one might have guessed I am a fan of mahogany and I started 5o years ago playing guitar and I love Martin instruments which more recently includes Ukuleles. I might add this to the mix here. Well this is interesting I have two Martin tenor Ukuleles and they sound quite different one is a 2012 Mahogany 14 fret to the body tenor (10 years old) It is not as mellow more “woody or earthy sounding” The other a late 40’s early 50’s Style 1 mahogany 12 fret To the body (70 years old) loud but mellow and very balanced. Every instrument has it’s own sound and the sound develops by playing, the wood certainly makes a difference in sound but saying that an old instrument is always better is a ridiculous comment. Saying that an older instrument is different is a much more logical assessment. Better is a matter of personal taste.
 

Tom51251

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As one might have guessed I am a fan of mahogany and I started 5o years ago playing guitar and I love Martin instruments which more recently includes Ukuleles. I might add this to the mix here. Well this is interesting I have two Martin tenor Ukuleles and they sound quite different one is a 2012 Mahogany 14 fret to the body tenor (10 years old) It is not as mellow more “woody or earthy sounding” The other a late 40’s early 50’s Style 1 mahogany 12 fret To the body (70 years old) loud but mellow and very balanced. Every instrument has it’s own sound and the sound develops by playing, the wood certainly makes a difference in sound but saying that an old instrument is always better is a ridiculous comment. Saying that an older instrument is different is a much more logical assessment. Better is a matter of personal taste.
But you said that the Martin Ukuleles made in Mexico are not made with the same excellence as the vintage ones. How do you know they aren’t. I have a 1940 D18 and a 2015 D18. While I agree that age certainly enhances the tone they both are equal in build quality. In fact, I suspect that 80 years from now my 2015 will sounds just as good. Also, to say that Mexican builds are inferior to American builds, in my opinion, is cultural bias. Just saying.
 

Jag-Stang

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But you said that the Martin Ukuleles made in Mexico are not made with the same excellence as the vintage ones. How do you know they aren’t. I have a 1940 D18 and a 2015 D18. While I agree that age certainly enhances the tone they both are equal in build quality. In fact, I suspect that 80 years from now my 2015 will sounds just as good. Also, to say that Mexican builds are inferior to American builds, in my opinion, is cultural bias. Just saying.
‘But you said that the Martin Ukuleles made in Mexico are not made with the same excellence as the vintage ones.“
‘No, not exactly what I said
actually I said “they are not built the same“
which is true They aren’t built the same There are many factors in building an instrument that affect the way they sound and the Martin ukuleles built at the Mexican plant are not built the same as in Nazareth Where Ukuleles have been built the same for the past hundred plus years
The Mexican plant is a production facility much like the old Harmony or Kay factories They are assembly line builds, and they do not get the care, fit, finish etc that the shop in Nazareth does.
Less time goes into construction as well as lower grade woods and materials. They absolutely can not sound the same.
Like Fender‘s plant in Mexico their guitars from the Mexican plant cost much less to build. They use lower grade wood. Wood culled out from the California plant. Mass produced electronics. They don’t use hand wound pick-ups but machine wound. Less expensive hardware. Parts made in China and shipped to Mexico. They build for the masses in the Mexican plants to accommodate all that can afford these factory built instruments. Martin does the same They cut as many corners as possible in materials and grades of wood.
I never said these instruments were “junk” I said they are not the same and they just aren’t.
There is a reason for the way the builds in these plants are priced at 1/3 or less than the American builds. It is not just labor, It is the materials used and the quality of the build. The time it takes to build is a part of the way they are priced.
i have gone to the tours at Martin several times. I have not been to their Mexican plant but I have seen a film of it.
i’m just saying if it were true that the Mexican builds produced a sound equal to or better than the Nazareth plant
there would be no reason to spend so much more on an instrument. This has nothing to do with prejudice. There are Mexicans who work in the Fender Custom shop in California who are among the best builders at Fender. I don’t know of any Mexicans at the Nazareth shop at Martin but then again Mexico is far from PA but neighbors to California.
This has nothing to do with race it is about the process of assembly line instruments and how those factories work.
You may like the less expensive Mexican builds so do I, for instance I bought a Fender Duo-sonic made in their Mexican plant. I like the scale of the guitar and I don’t want to spend the money on a Vintage American Duo-sonic. I own a Custom Shop Stratocaster. I don’t need the Duo-sonic but it is fun to play. If I am playing out I am going to play the Strat simply put IT SOUNDS BETTER and when performing I want to use whatever sounds the best.
When I am home I can play whatever I feel like. I can take an instrument that does not have a great deal of value to the beach but I would not risk taking a valuable instrument.
We place value on sound , the quality of the build, and scarcity. I think everyone has an idea of what they prefer in sound and everyone has an idea of how much they have to spend. I am fortunate to have worked my entire life and been able to save up enough that I can afford to buy a high quality instrument, however I am not wealthy enough to spend in the five figures for any instruments. I try to do my homework and if I am going to spend $2000 I will play a number of instruments before making a decision of which one to me “sounds best” and feels best to play. When it’s a few hundred dollars I do not give it nearly as much thought. I own a few Martin Ukuleles I can not afford to buy Martin Style 3 Koa Ukuleles and as a guitarist I like the sound of Mahogany so I have a Mahogany baritone and two Martin tenors then as I am learning Soprano I have at this point a few Soprano Martins , a Mexican S-O a 1950’s style 1 and I recently bought a 1917 style 2 which was inexpensive
considering the scarcity and how early it is. I actually prefer the 1950’s style 1 as I am used to the feel of it and it’s sound. I can take the S-O to the beach and not worry about it. I paid $185 for it second hand It’s a Mexican factory made Martin it sounds fine the expression “It is what it is” comes to mind, but it isn’t anywhere close to the 1950’s style 1 and I don’t expect to be even when it becomes 70 years old but I won’t be around then so I really don’t care what it sounds like 50 years down the road!
 

Tom51251

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And Standard Martin Guitars and ukuleles built in Nazareth are they not built on an assembly line (Production Line), too. They do have a Custom Shop. Maybe we should argue about this over a beer. That would be more fun.
 

VioletLotus

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I had a new (used) Martin that I purchased and played for a couple of weeks. Recently I also had the opportunity to play an older Martin. They both had really lovely sound and were quite loud for their size. The older Martin was more visuallly appealing, the wood looked like better quality, less monochromatic than the newer one. Also on the newer one, the edges of the nut and the frets were weirdly sharp.
 

PereBourik

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I had a new (used) Martin that I purchased and played for a couple of weeks. Recently I also had the opportunity to play an older Martin. They both had really lovely sound and were quite loud for their size. The older Martin was more visuallly appealing, the wood looked like better quality, less monochromatic than the newer one. Also on the newer one, the edges of the nut and the frets were weirdly sharp.
Yeah, what’s that sharp nut edge about? I had the same thing on my T2K. Repair guy rounded it nicely.
 

Graham Greenbag

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The old instruments are always the best, but maybe that’s because anything substandard either got fixed or trashed years ago. I’m thinking about selling some of my cheaper Ukes, to free up space and to help with new purchase funds. The funny thing is that all of the issues that they had from new - or rather when they arrived with me - are now sorted out; they’re better than when they were new, they (for the price paid) now play lovely and you can’t buy a new one that’s as good. As I said, the old instruments are …
 
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Tom51251

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I just received a brand new Martin s1 in a trade deal. I'm pleasantly surprised. The frets are level, fret ends smooth, great sound all way up neck. I played it side by side with my friends 1940 something Martin S1 that her grandfather bought during the war and past down to her. The sound and response were very comparable. The vintage Martin was a little more open (It should be with almost 80 years to open up). I really don't understand all the bashing of Mexican Martins. I think that they are a great value and just as well built as an American Martin -- maybe not as pretty and refined - but a great player. Just saying.

Tom