According to Martin company records and research by late Martin Historian Mike Longworth, Cable Piano Company, in Atlanta, special-ordered at least three Martin 000-18HS guitars in 1937. Two others have previously emerged – serial numbers 67197 and 67198 – and this one recently found its way to Nashville for a Martin event featuring company historian Dick Boak.
Boak had heard about this guitar in the early ’90s, when it wound up in the shop of luthier John Arnold, in Knoxville, and it does not conform to standard catalog specifications. In fact, it’s befuddling why Martin specified it as a 000-18HS; it was seemingly designated a style 18 as it is constructed of ’30s-era style 18 woods (Adirondack spruce top, mahogany neck, back, and sides). However, it has style 28 ornamentation, including herringbone edge trim, white ivoroid bindings on the top and back of the body, zigzag back stripe, and slotted-diamond fingerboard inlays. It lacks the carved volute on the back of the peghead, and in that respect is like a style 18; in every other, however, including ornamentation and structural features, it’s typical of the style 28, with the obvious exception of the mahogany back and sides.
Unlike the other two 000-18HS models, this example has a sunburst top finish, which Martin began offering as an option on flat-tops when archtops with standard sunburst were introduced in the early 1930s. The finish on the back does not match the neck and sides, indicating the back was refinished at some time in the relatively distant past.
The H in the model name indicates the guitar was originally set up Hawaiian-style, which was the popular musical style prior to World War II. Martin began building guitars and ukuleles fairly early during the Hawaiian-music craze, which was a strong impetus for Martin to design steel-string guitars. Unlike heavy steel strings, gut strings do not respond when sliding a steel bar across them. In addition, several tunings for Hawaiian-style music feature so-called “high bass” tunings. As a result, Martin modified bracing and top thickness to accommodate steel strings and the tension required for higher tunings. Once Hawaiian guitars were in production, the company continued with additional steel-string models.
All three of the 000-18HS examples encountered have been converted from Hawaiian-style, with flush frets and high nut, to Spanish-style with standard frets, lower nut, and a replacement bridge. Unlike other Martins, which have a radiused fingerboard, Hawaiian guitars by Martin have a flat/non-radiused fingerboard and bar frets tha t are ground flush and can be difficult to remove. Many Hawaiian-style Martins have been converted by filling and re-cutting the fret slots or replacing the fingerboard; the ideal way to convert them is to pull the flush frets, radius the fingerboard, and install bar frets. Typically, the flat/level neck-set angle on a Hawaiian style guitar is not well-suited for standard conversions, so it is also necessary to reset the neck. Hawaiian style guitars have a straight bridge saddle similar to a classical guitar so to accommodate standard style playing with steel strings, the saddle slot must be recut in a slanted position in order for the guitar to intonate well. While it can be fairly easy to convert a Hawaiian-style guitar to a semi-playable standard style, it requires expert repair (which can be expensive).
This 000-18HS has a 12-fret mahogany neck and a slotted headstock, typical of Hawaiian-style guitars. Today, Martin uses S to designate a 12-fret neck, but until the ’60s, S indicated “Special” which could mean any deviation from standard spec. The first time Martin used S to describe a 12-fret model was most likely a special order (possibly by Wurlitzer) for D-28S and 000-28S guitars with 12-fret necks. Since that time, the S designation has been reserved for 12-fret models, and Martin has used “Custom” for special orders.
The back strip is stamped “Made Especially for Cable Piano Co.,” which was an early Martin dealer, well-known among guitar collectors and enthusiasts as a result of employee Perry Bechtel’s request for a 14-fret version of the 000-28 he had been borrowing from his employer. After visiting the Martin factory, Bechtel ordered and received his “000-28 Special” in 1929, and the design of his special order yielded a new body shape in the Martin line in 1930 – the OM (Orchestra Model). Unlike Bechtel’s special order, the reasoning behind Cable Piano Company’s order for these three 000-18HS models is unknown. Regardless, it’s interesting to reflect on the impact musicians and dealers made on the history of the Martin company.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s December 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.