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Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic #3018305 12/03/19 08:07 PM
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LX88 Offline OP
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Hello

I spend most of my time over at Keyboard Corner, but they let me log in on this forum so here goes

I recently found a 1907 Martin parlor guitar in a Goodwill thrift store bin. For those of you who have never seen a bin, its a large table generally filled with ( mosrtly) junk. Stuff is sold by the pound so in this case, I paid $3.60 for it.

It actually plays ! All the tuners are there, but the bridge pins were not.

There are several repaired cracks on the guitar, mostly on the sides.

The main thing it needs is to have the neck straightened a bit. There is no truss rod in this, so after 112 years.... what would you expect?

I have seen a couple of videos regarding clamping the neck and applying heat to a metal bar that goes up against the frets. This makes sense. I would imagine that just clamping the neck in this manner and letting it set for a month or so might also have a positive effect.

I tend to avoid most " luthiers". One guy in Eugene Oregon wanted 400 dollars to make a nut for it. No thanks. In wonder what economy he is living in.

The thing is far from pristine cosmetically, bearing a close resemblance in many ways to Willie Nelson's Trigger. Except that no holes are worn through the top.

I've been playing it.... but would just like the action to be a bit more friendly.

Any thoughts or comments welcome

Last edited by LX88; 12/03/19 08:10 PM.
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Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018323 12/03/19 11:06 PM
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Awesome!!! You scored big time!!!!

I've done very well at thrift stores, just got back from a run.
Never found a vintage Martin but I did pick up a Gurian guitar and a pre-1920s Hawaiian uke with fancy inlay and solid flamed koa throughout.

I am a luthier, have cut many nuts and I agree - $400 is absurd. It is telling that the nut would be the LAST thing you would repair/replace on a guitar that needs restoration. Until you've corrected the primary issues, a nut cannot be adjusted for optimum play. That is and should be the final step. The luthier should have mentioned that... ugh...

I don't favor the heat treatment for straightening necks. First, you need to remove the neck from the body or the heat will compromise nearby glue joints and finish.
Second, it doesn't always work. It may start out straighter and get pulled crooked again.

My best advice would be to sell it. This is one of those items that is best sold at auction. If you are established on ebay, start the auction on a Thursday afternoon no later than 4:30pm (you mention Eugene so I assume Pacific time). Post for 10 days so it ends on Sunday afternoon. You want it to end after the second pay period of the month, that is the check that people can spend. The first check is for bills.

Start it at 98 cents with no reserve and As-Is. Take lots of photos, describe it accurately. You don't want a "not as described" return.

I got about $1,300 for the Gurian, it needed quite a bit of work. I got $600 for the uke, it needed work too. I also got $3,200 + for an excellent plus 82 Gibson Les Paul Custom in white. It works, the low starting price gets the bidding moving early. There will be a war at the end. You should do very well with a vintage Martin, very well!!!

Then you can use some of that money to buy a really nice, fully functional acoustic guitar that is ready to play.

That is exactly what I would do. Vintage is cool but this sounds like it should be SEP - Somebody Else's Problem!

Good Luck, Kuru

PS, we just had a strat sell for charity on here and the gentleman took my advice and did very well with it.


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Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018346 12/04/19 03:07 AM
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Glad to have you over here LX88! I would have it appraised in it's current condition and +1 on putting it up for sale and/or auction. Trying to repair it or make it into a player could lower it's value. The fewer repairs, missing original parts or upgrades, the better. In very good condition, I have seen them for sale at $8,500. In Willie's trigger condition it might still go for half that amount. If you throw on a light set of strings say 11-52's and detune a half step, the neck might straighten out a little and it probably won't hurt the value while making it a little more playable... cool


Take care, Larryz
Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018351 12/04/19 03:24 AM
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Double post? ( edited)

Last edited by LX88; 12/04/19 03:36 AM.
Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018353 12/04/19 03:32 AM
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Thank you for the reply Larry. My first time here, though I spend a lot of time on Keyboard Corner.

Right now the guitar plays. I had to make my own nut for it, which is doing fairly well.

The guitar does sound good. The lower register is very resonant, surprising for a smaller instrument. Right now I have regular acoustic guitar strings on it, though I know that it needs as close to period correct as possible.I have heard that these older parlors use a modified version of original gut type.

If this had a more forgiving string it might change the whole ballgame anyway.

By the way, I strongly believe that the reason that it wasn't snatched up by the people at Goodwill is because the logo is stamped into the back of the headstock, not the front.

As far as condition, it's not quite the "Trigger" level of wear and tear. The front has an interesting patina from who ever was picking or strumming it. There are no holes in the top ala Trigger, but as I said there is some cracking on the sides though I have seen much worse on Youtube repair videos.

This guitar's back and sides are not made of rosewood, though the fretboard is ebony. The top is spruce.

I may decide to put it up on Reverb to get some kind of trade. What I really want or need is a piano. I am an amateur guitarist, but have been picking a little bit more lately. I do love dreadnaught style acoustics. Am not much into electrics these days. It's mostly late night," lets see if I can figure this tune out" type of things I am doing.

Another thing I am doing is to transfer my keyboard voicings to guitar. I have arranged two complete jazz tunes and want to do more. Voicing melodies and being able to remember them is much more difficult than doing it on piano.

I don't know how you guitar guys do it, honestly!

Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018357 12/04/19 04:54 AM
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I read on Wiki where the early Martin guitars used gut strings of some kind and there was a demand for more volume which led them to use steel strings beginning in the 1920's. Since yours is a 1907 model it may have had gut strings. Not sure if they were larger gauges like most nylon string guitars are today? If so, that may be a reason for the different nut cut...did it come with the original nut? Anyway good luck with it. Since you like acoustic guitars and jazz tunes, you might consider an archtop...I used to play a little keyboard and may get back on it some day if my guitar fingers crap out on me LOL! I have my 88 key Kurzweil. I sold my Juno 60 long ago and have kicked myself in the ass for doing so. Anyway keep us posted on the Martin if you put her up for sale. Kuru was very helpful on the Ebay bidding info he spoke of up above if you decide to go that route, and I would love to know what it goes for... cool


Take care, Larryz
Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018367 12/04/19 06:26 AM
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Yes, it would have had gut strings back then, nylon had not been invented. I am amazed the bridge hasn't been torn off the top.

If you talke the strings off for a week and the neck is still bowed then it has taken a set and will not revert to being straight.

If I had to keep it and have it repaired I would send it back to the Martin factory. Or Elderly, Gruhn or Dan Erlewine.
None of them will be inexpensive!

If you put nylon strings on it you should use low or medium tension. It will become a completely different instrument. I love nylon strings but the techniques are quite different.


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Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018404 12/04/19 04:15 PM
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Well, good score anyways LX88, have fun with it. I will bet good money, that you can get a big bunch of bread for it if you decide to resell it.


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Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018517 12/05/19 02:47 AM
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If I sell it, I doubt it will be on ebay.

I hate auctions, and hate thinking that I won't get much for it because I don't have a long selling history.

I can see putting it on Reverb.com though.

And no, I also don't think it's necessary to send it to Gruhn or Erlewine. If the sides did not have ( repaired) cracks... maybe.

Anyway....right now I am looking into getting different strings. Do I want nylon, or isn't there something else?

I did notice some nylons by Ernie Ball at Guitar Center that had ball ends. I might try that.

This thing would probably make a pretty cool nylon string type guitar anyway. I can imagine string tension would be less, which seems to an issue.

But no, the bridge is not lifted at all. In many ways the guitar is in good playing condition. But the original (?) nut was gone. I have my own home made version of one for now that seems to work fairly well.

Re: Restoring a 1907 Martin 017 acoustic [Re: LX88] #3018520 12/05/19 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by LX88
If I sell it, I doubt it will be on ebay.

I hate auctions, and hate thinking that I won't get much for it because I don't have a long selling history.

I can see putting it on Reverb.com though.

And no, I also don't think it's necessary to send it to Gruhn or Erlewine. If the sides did not have ( repaired) cracks... maybe.

Anyway....right now I am looking into getting different strings. Do I want nylon, or isn't there something else?

I did notice some nylons by Ernie Ball at Guitar Center that had ball ends. I might try that.

This thing would probably make a pretty cool nylon string type guitar anyway. I can imagine string tension would be less, which seems to an issue.

But no, the bridge is not lifted at all. In many ways the guitar is in good playing condition. But the original (?) nut was gone. I have my own home made version of one for now that seems to work fairly well.


Ball ends are handy, nothing wrong with that. Nylon strings will intonate better, especially on a guitar that was originally intended for gut strings. Extra light steel strings might have low enough tension but they won't sound very in tune going up the neck.

A new nut shouldn't cost much, certainly not $400. If you are careful it won't hurt to try making your own. A set of cheap needle files will be useful. Of course the slots will be wider for nylon.
I've sold on Reverb, they're good. You won't get higher than you post it for and probably lower.
Auctions seem risky but you will have lots of bids on a vintage Martin.

Gruhn, Martin and Erlewine will all understand how to preserve the maximum value of the instrument, how to properly address the neck without causing more harm, etc.
I've been fixing guitars for over 40 years and I wouldn't touch it myself. I'm good but a 1907 Martin deserves the best possible treatment.

Which is why I called it Somebody Else's problem. It is a great score no matter how you slice it!!! Cheers, Kuru


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