A Martin model 5-18???? WTF is that???
I literally had to look it up. I even called my good Bud, Dave Smith, who I consider a vintage expert, and he'd never seen one, nor knew a thing about it!!
But, I digress.............
I've had a small sign up in all of my offices for about 5 years that says "We buy old guitars and amps". In five years, I've not got many significant results from these signs. But, about three weeks ago, I got a phone message from a woman saying that she had this old 5-18 she'd gotten from her Mom when she was a child. Her Mom had bought it used, and she'd never really taken to playing, and since none of her kids, or grandkids (she's 62) had any interest in playing, she'd been trying to sell it.
I looked it up, and found out that it's a little "Terz" guitar, small in stature, and tuned a third higher than standard tuning. So, the open 6th string is a "G", not an "E". Some of my books incorrectly described this guitar. I think that there weren't many made, in spite of it having been manufactured from 1898 thru 1989. It started as a Braz Rosewood body, but changed to Mahogany in 1917 and onward). It's got 12 frets free of the body, and the early ones had a slotted headstock. It was braced for steel strings beginning in 1923.
I remember reading about "Terz" guitars, but in all honestly, didn't have a clue what that meant. So, I looked it up. It's not easy to find a lot of information about "Terz" guitars. But, I found a cool description of how these guitars are oftened strung and tuned by Dick Boak, who was the driving force behind what I think was one of the last times Martin issued 5-18's. The following is from a pamphlet that was in the case of the Martin 5-18's in what I think was the last regular run of them;
Dear Martin Enthusiasts,
The fact that you are reading this letter means you are probably one of a select group to have in your possession one of the Size 5 “Mini-Martin” guitars. These little instruments are very close to my heart and I am proud to have played a part in reviving them for this special Martin edition. As many of you know, Size 5 Martin models came to be known as “terz” guitars because the instrument was invariably tuned to a minor third (3 half notes) above standard guitar tuning or G, C, F, Bb, d, g.
The Mini-Martin is equipped from the factory with Martin MSP-4050 Custom Light “SP” Phosphor Bronze strings. I recommend that you first tune your Mini-Martin to standard pitch (E, A, D, G, b, e). You’ll see that the strings are not stretched quite tight enough. Play the bass “G” note at the third fret, then tune the low “E” string up to that note. Accordingly, tune all of the remaining strings up three half steps to achieve the terz tuning: G, C, F, Bb, d, g. Now the strings will feel more correctly tensioned.
I personally prefer to string my personal Size 5 instrument with a customized “high string” or “Nashville tuning” set. This is similar to using the high strings only from a 12-string set. The first four (bass) strings are thus an octave higher while the two treble strings remain unchanged. I first saw such as string set when I visited Paul Simon. I was so impressed, I came back and experimented with a variety of gauges. My clear preference is:
Standard Pitch Gauge Terz Tuning Bb Tuning
E .025” wound G (one octave higher) F
A .017” plain C (one octave higher) Bb
D .013” plain F (one octave higher) F
G .008” plain Bb (one octave higher) Bb
B .012” plain d d
e .010” plain g f
I have enclosed a customized set of these “high” strings. They have an extremely sweet, almost “piano-like” tone. I encourage you to experiment with both standard and alternate tunings using these strings. For example, tuning the two G strings down a full step to F and the C string down to a Bb, yields an open Bb tuning. These string sets are not yet available in stores, so if you fall in love with this tuning, you might want to pick up individual string gauges to make up your own sets. I hope you enjoy the Mini-Martin as much as I do!
C. F. Martin & Co., Inc.
I called my Bud, Danny Brown, who's in Martin's Custom Shop, and of course Danny immediately knew about 5-18's, and Terz guitars. I'm more and more convinced that Danny knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Martin guitars..........He said that they were cool little guitars. It seems that with their unique voicing, that some artists use them in conjunction with standard tuned guitars to achieve some very interesting harmonies. Apparently the Custom Shop has done a limited run of signature 5-18's, one for Marty Robbins, and apparently another for Nick Lucas.
As the above "blurb" from Dick Boak explains, the guitar is often strung with the "upper" strings from a set of acoustic guitar strings meant for a 12 string acoustic. And then, the open 6th is tuned up a third to "G". Several of the strings are then tuned up an octave. It makes for an interesting sound. I think that this is called "Nashville tuning"????
Anyhow, so I looked up the "book value", and not having a big interest in such an unusual guitar, figured I'd call her anyway. I mean, it couldn't hurt to check it out, right??
She told me all about the guitar, and that it came with it's original case. After a second call, she admitted she'd tried to sell it on eBay without success.
So, I got Dave Smith to accompany me to go check out this old Martin. We literally traveled "over the hills and thru the woods" to a remote horse farm, off of a dirt road, in the middle of almost nowhere.............
I get out of my truck, and several dogs come up to greet us. The woman comes out on her porch, and I KNOW HER.
She looks at me inquisitively, and says "I know you from somewhere". I say, "you should, I'm your eye surgeon". In fact, I'd just taken her husband's cataracts out. He was due for his 10 day post op visit with me the very next day!!!
So, in her home we go, and check out this little old guitar. It's immediately obviously that it needs a neck reset, which is NOT surprising on a 1958 acoustic guitar. It's got old (and I mean OLD) strings on it. I get it as close as "in tune" as I can manage, and it's a cool little guitar. It's got a really cool thick mahogany neck. The Adirondack spruce top is VERY COOL. And, it is is decent shape, although there are a bunch of scratches on the back of the body, and one one on the side. I can find no cracks, no repairs, and the open Grover tuners look virginal.
So, I told her it's not a guitar I'd normally be in the market for, but it's a cool and unusual, if not particularly collectable, guitar. So, I asked her what she needed for the guitar. She immediately got to the bottom line, and I agreed, and cash was exchanged.
I'm actually very very happy that I bought this guitar. I've only had it for about 2 weeks, but I've learned a ton from it already. I've taken the Grovers off, and throughly cleaned and lubed them. I've cleaned the guitar up, and strung it properly. I even THINK I've got it properly tuned up!! LOL I will post a separate thread with photos of how I cleaned the tuners, and cleaned the guitar's body and neck soon.
In the mean time, here are some photos;
I took this next photo next to a couch/chair in order to give some perspective to the size of the guitar;
Videos to come.................