Okay, I took a risk. It wasn’t a big risk, but it was a risk. How good was the new Facebook Marketplace? Someone on one of the ukulele forums on Facebook had shared a For Sale posting. It was listed as a 1920s C.F. Martin & Co. Soprano Ukulele Style 0 with an instruction book. Lots of pictures showing the condition issues and problems.
The first thing I realized, without even checking the books, was that the double fret marker at 7 indicated it was a Style 1, not a Style 0. So after a conversation over Facebook, and a couple of actual phone calls, I transferred the money and got a tracking number. The only thing left was to wait for the arrival of the package.
Two days later it arrived. Very well packaged and exactly what I was expecting to see, down to all the scratches and dings. With the instrument in hand, I pulled up my copy of The Martin Ukulele: The Little Instrument That Helped Create a Guitar Giant to research the specifics and boxed in the time frame:
- After 1916 – Inside stamp parallel to the back brace, no serial number.
- 1920-21 – Marker at the 10th fret instead of 9th.
- 1920-21 – Ebony nut and saddle
- 1926 – Added rosewood binding on the back
- 1927 – Grover Tuners
That narrows the time frame to being as early as 1920, probably 1921, and as late as 1925.
I contacted three individuals, two top collectors and my favorite luthier, for advice about what direction I should go. Should I get replica tuning pegs or replace them with modern version of the Grove Tuners? The response was mixed!
My research, as well as one of the collectors, indicated that Martin had ordered violin pegs for use in their instruments. I was given a recommendation to check with a violin shop for pegs, so I visited the local violin shop to see about obtaining a new set. And was educated on risks of trying to make or fit tuning pegs without the appropriate tools! After discussion with Rob Wilson, owner of Wilson Fine Violins, we agreed on fitting a set of ebony pegs to replace the original ‘ebonized’ maple ones. While Martin had experimented with ebony, no ukuleles with original ebony pegs are known. The new ones are shown installed:
Rob also cleaned up the finish and was able to minimize the scratches without refinishing as well as repaired the small crack that was just starting in the back. When we tuned it up, I was totally shocked at the amazing sound that came out of the 90+ year old instrument!
Here is a video that shows a number of close ups with background music played on this wonderful vintage instrument.
Oh, and the ‘instruction book’ that came with it was Dick’s Improved Ukulele Method, published in 1924. The author is Richard W. Konter, who was infamous for smuggling an ukulele (a Martin!) on the first flight over the North Pole with Admiral Byrd. I have posted a review here.