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The Story o My Grandfather's Guitar (long)

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Brother Rob, Jun 30, 2010.

  1. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    A while ago I posted this on the Martin Forum. I thought it might be a good introduction from me to this Forum. I'll also post some updates to the original story.

    Not long ago, my father asked me to contact my Aunt to pick up my Grandfather's Guitar. About 20 years before this he made the same request and my Aunt declined to let me have the guitar - I wasn't "ready" - so I was a little reluctant to try again.

    Besides, so many stories like this conclude as a disappointment - the guitar winds up being a disaster or some off brand plywood junky thing...

    ...this, fortunately, is not one of those stories.


    When I finally made a date with my Aunt to pick up the guitar, I could sense her apprehension. Twenty years ago she had balked at giving me the guitar because she feared that no one but she could be entrusted with this family heirloom and it was still an emotional moment for her to allow me to take responsibility for her father's guitar. I assured her that I took the responsibility as an honor. Now, as she handed me the battered case she gave me a brief history of her treasure. My grandfather was born (we think) in 1900 in Santiago, Chile. In 1926, he ordered the Guitar directly from the C.F. Martin Guitar Company in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Imagine a 26 year old man in Santiago, Chile ordering such an instrument.

    When he came to the United States my grandfather brought little more than a suitcase and his guitar. Tragically, he passed away in a construction site accident in the 50s. The guitar sat in a case in my grandmother's house for years. At some point my uncles were cleaning out my grandmother's house and had a large fire pit to dispose of "junk". My aunt happened to see the pile of stuff destined for the fire pit, and at the top of the heap was the guitar case. She snatched her father's guitar almost literally from the flames of destruction!

    The guitar continued to sit in its case, in attics and back rooms until this week when my Aunt finally handed it over to me to be the caretaker for my generation.

    Before opening the case I realized that the condition of the guitar and even the "collectability" of it were irrelevant to me. I never met my Grandfather nor have even seen a picture of him - now I was about to get my first real link to the man.

    Inside the case was an actual 1926 Martin 0-18 Guitar. It has Hawaiian Koa wood top and Mahogany Sides and back. All of the tuners are straight and intact - including the knobs themselves. It has the classic pick wear on the body and groves in the frets, indicating many many hours of play. It is in unrestored "Good" condition. The only things not 100% original seem to be the Bridge Pins.

    Needless to say, I am thrilled.

    Many things still intrigue me about the provenance of this guitar - and I look forward to researching the instrument as well as learning what I can to help me understand the potential story behind my Grandfather acquiring the guitar. I may have to take some "poetic license" as I piece together the back-story. I am curious as to how someone in Santiago, Chile in 1926 orders a Martin Guitar from Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The sheer logistics of the transaction alone boggle my mind - not to mention the personal decisions that must have been behind my grandfather doing so. For example this must not have been his first guitar - you don't buy this sort of guitar from America as an "entry level" instrument. This was also certainly not the most simple way to purchase a guitar in Santiago - there were clearly other Guitar makers and even local Luthiers that would have been easier and less expensive. In 1926 you didn't just hop on the Internet and research/order a guitar - heck, you didn't just pick up a phone either. Foreign currency exchange, slow communication, language barriers, unreliable shipping across multiple continents - this was not a "walk in and buy a guitar off the shelf" transaction. Were there even Spanish Language Catalogs? How many weeks or months or even years did it take to save the money to purchase such an instrument? Or did he win the cash in a single night of playing cards? I've bought several fine guitars and could barely contain the excitement of the purchase and transferring it home in my car. Imagine the anticipation of a 26 year old in Chile in 1926 waiting for his guitar to arrive from America!
     
  2. Dave_O

    Dave_O Friend of Leo's

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    Welcome, Brother Rob. That's a doozey of a story. And probably a doozey of a guitar, too:D
     
  3. buddywayne

    buddywayne Tele-Afflicted

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    I'm looking forward to pictures of this guitar and further updates. Welcome to the TDPRI.
     
  4. kddean66

    kddean66 Tele-Holic

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    Great story. Can we see pics please?
     
  5. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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  6. middy

    middy Friend of Leo's

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    In 1926 there would have been plenty of local guitar makers in Chile... if you wanted a gut-string guitar. Most model 18s would be braced for steel strings by 1926. I can't quite tell by the pics, but it looks like it's strung with nylon now? The fret wear would indicate that your grandfather used steel strings. The koa top O-18K is pretty collectible.
     
  7. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Update #1

    Before giving the guitar to me, My Aunt had it inspected.

    The guitar was personally inspected in 1994 by George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars of Nashville TN. There was a signed inspection sheet in the case with the Guitar.

    Here is his description...

     
  8. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Yeah. I agree that based on fret wear it was steel strung. Not certain who strung it with a set of mismatched nylon strings. I've kept it strung that way to keep some string tension, but not full tension since it needs some bracing and neck-set work.
     
  9. slickschoppers

    slickschoppers Tele-Holic

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    just curious.. but are you SURE that he was still living in Chile when he bought the guitar?

    I am fascinated by the story and the history of the guitar, I just recieved a fairly rare gretsch from my uncles estate....

    I spoke with a "friend of a friend" who is relatively well known in the martin guitar circles. He said there were VERY few martins sold overseas in 26.

    there were only 4600 guitars made by martin in 1926. they were very popular in America but he did not think Chile had an early history of martin enthusiasts....... Also at the time he said that you would have been relatively WEALTHY to have been able to afford a Martin AND Ship it to Chile.

    as you said they didn't have internet in 26. they also didn't have UPS or fedex.... the shipping costs would have been ASTRONOMICAL.

    he did say that he is SURE that they did not have spanish catolouges or anyone that would have been able to interpret it at the factory.........

    was your grandfather very wealthy?
    had he been to america prior to this?

    when DID he come to america?

    again, he said he would not dispute the claimes, and the guitar looks absolutley beautiful.. but he would be hesitant to immediatley believe the "shipped to chile brand new in 26" part of the history without more reasearch.
     
  10. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Some very good questions and points.

    I've spoken with a helpful woman @ Martin and based on the SN she was able to confirm the basics about the guitar itself. She again confirmed that the guitar was made in 1926, apparently in December, and that it is indeed an 0-18K ("K" for "Koa Top, Back, and Sides" as opposed to the standard Adirondack Spruce Top with Koa back & sides.). They started production of the model in 1918 and ended in 1936. A total of 3,132 were made, 330 in 1926. They don't have numbers for the "K" units produced, but apparently it was a pretty rare option. I'd wondered about the frets which seem very short and she confirmed that the production specifications for this guitar indicate "flush frets" so they are very likely the original frets. Further confirming my reluctance to replace them.

    Unfortunately she was unable to provide any information about the transaction in 1926. She had no information about who ordered the guitar and where it was shipped.

    I know very little about my grandfather, and our family's history is poorly recorded and relies heavily on "oral documentation".

    My grandfather came to the States sometime in the 30s and was dead by 1948. A fact I learned quite recently. Previously I believed that he had lived into the early 50s.

    I am not certain of his wealth. Here in the States he owned a small bar & restaurant in a wealthy suburb of Detroit. He died during the construction of his second restaurant. I have no idea of how he managed to own and operate a business.

    As far as the specifics relative to how and when he obtained the guitar, it is certainly plausible that he could have obtained it after arrival in the States. I will ask my aunt if she has any more details.

    This is exactly why I decided to share this story: I am now feeling excited and motivated to renew my investigation into the the Guitar's (and my own) History.
     
  11. Singin' Dave

    Singin' Dave Friend of Leo's

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    First of all Welcome Brother Rob!

    What an entrance to the forum! A very well written, entertaining and intreaguing backstory to a real piece of history. Very reassuring to hear your perspective on it as a family heirloom and not some piece of property! Good on you!

    As an heirloom, I would strongly recommend another Gruhn inspection and appraisal, this time via the web with many pictures form all angles and all supporting documentation (i.e. a scan of their '94 inspection sheet and letter/email text indicating nothing has been done to the guitar since but noting any cracks or other blemishes that may have happened in storage over time). Prior to this I would try to see if you can get something in writing from Martin re: heritage similar to that which you have written above.

    You'll want a insurance value on the guitar and should strongly consider insuring it. They'll charge you $50 for this service, but you'll have an up to date appraisal of a very valuable item, so small price to pay.

    I might also ask them about ways/ costs to restore the guitar. It will be more valuable in playable condition restored by Martin or the like. Your grandpas guitar deserves to get its voice back, no?

    Please keep us posted and stick around! You seem like the kind of guy we appreciate around here!

    Best

    SD
     
  12. Hiker

    Hiker Poster Extraordinaire

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    Excellent story, congrats!

    The same 'fire pit' threat/reality often happens to other real treasures, including family histories and old, old, photographs of ancestors...
     
  13. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for the encouragement and advice SD.

    I did take the guitar to Elderly Instruments up in Lansing Michigan. Elderly is one of the last great independents. Just a fabulous store. When I spoke with Martin they said that when they are looking for a specific instrument or when customers need restorations and warranty work to be performed, they often call/recommend Elderly. Elderly did an inspection and confirmed the Serial Number and other aspects of the Guitar. It looks like it might have been used as a slide guitar at some point. It does have a reglued bridge and needs some work - Neck reset, bracing, bridge work. They also suggested a re-fret and neck leveling. These last two actions will make the neck more playable, but it is altering the original elements of the guitar. So I am still looking for input regarding how this will affect the guitar value. I don't need a "perfect player". So if the other noninvasive work can make it reasonably stable and buzz free, I'm inclined to get those things done. We are still looking @ over a Grand of work.

    I also strongly agree that while guitars can certainly be investments and functional art, they are built to be played.
     
  14. slickschoppers

    slickschoppers Tele-Holic

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    actually there are many articles that confirm BOTH of your theories. the Koa guitars were commonly the "hawaiian" models. the easiest way to tell is that they had near flush frets. this is because they were setup with High action and designed to be played as a lap guitar.

    lap guitars were HUGE in the 20's - the early 50's.

    my uncle played the gretsch as a lap guitar, but it was Intended to be a standard (spanish) style guitar,

    now mind you vintage frets are different. they are not as tall, but flush frets are like you said VERY shallow.

    Just from your description and what you have already discovered on your own I would bet that you have a a Koa Hiawiian lap guitar. the model numbers are the same either way, but the frets and the action are different.
     
  15. Stubee

    Stubee Doctor of Teleocity Gold Supporter

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    Tried to read thru all the post & haven't seen this to check out UMGF = Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum: http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/forums/3 This is the 'Vintage Corner".

    I'd join and post/ask questions about your guitar there. Many, many vintage Martin & Gibson owners there w. much information & help.

    Nice guitar.
     
  16. spikypaddy

    spikypaddy Tele-Afflicted

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    Beautiful guitar, Brother Rob. You're incredibly lucky to have such an amazing piece of family history in your hands and it sounds like you will be giving it all the love and care it needs. Your Aunt needn't have worried about you becoming the Martin's new guardian - you obviously know the "real" (as opposed to financial) value of this instrument to your family.
     
  17. winny pooh

    winny pooh Friend of Leo's

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    Wow, makes me wish I had any musicians in the family before me, but sadly nada. You could even leave it as a lapslide guitar (cheaper than all the repair work of course) but either way the feeling of playing is when it is all fixed up will be really special.
     
  18. slickschoppers

    slickschoppers Tele-Holic

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    Make sure and Check out Gruhn's Inventory page and search for 0-18. they list a couple of the same vintage as yours...

    here is a pretty common description for the lap martins....

    attractive Hawaiian koa wood body, original Hawiaian setup with high nut and flush frets,

    VERY KOOL GUITAR!!!

    I've got to be honest.. I'm excited FOR YOU!!!
     
  19. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for all of the great input and support. Looks like this was a great introduction to the Forum!

    My progress on this may be a little slow, but I'll keep you all updated on any new information as I learn it. My father will be in town in a few weeks and we plan to have my aunt over. I hope to ask her a few questions about my grandfather and the guitar at that time.
     
  20. Brother Rob

    Brother Rob Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for the Gruhn link. Some of those are nearly identical to my grandfather's guitar.

    Glad you can share in the excitement. I'm certainly having fun sharing with the Forum.
     
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