Vintage Instruments: Martin Guitars

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1926 Martin 0-21K

The rarest of Martin’s 0-size koa Hawaiian models, the 0-21K was out-produced by the style 28 koa ten-to-one, and is 50 times less common than the 0-18K. The model was never listed in Martin’s catalogue, and only some 65 or so were recorded in the production records.

Apart from rarity, there is little difference between the 0-21K and its sibling 0-28K and 0-18K models beyond the trim. The style 21 features a herringbone rosette and matching backstrip, black/white purflings and rosewood bindings; fairly fancy engraved nickel Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons, and pyramid bridge. There is some attractive figure in the guitar’s koa body, and significantly more character in the wood than we find in a comparable Style 18 version.

But enough with the history lesson, this 0-21K is really all about tone. Dry and open, mature and complex, the guitar is bold through the mids and upper midrange and has very rounded and chewy trebles. The bass is much more open than we’d expect and does a great job in counterbalancing the guitar’s treble end power. The overtones are well developed but not overshadowing, and the fundamental has presence and clarity front and center. Its response to a well rounded heavy flat pick is surprisingly full, while a fingerstyle attack is very well rewarded, as you likely would expect. With 12-53 strings the guitar is responsive, alive, and robust.

This Martin 0-21K has just been through our repairshop for the full spa treatment. It’s had its neck re-set (its second reset), new bar frets installed, and a new nut. The top’s center-seam was reglued and the bridge and pins have been replaced. There are a few hairline back cracks that have been glued, and there are two nearly invisible areas of French-polish touch-up that we’ll challenge you to spot!

The guitar is set-up with John Pearse 12-53 PB lights and an action of 5-6 64ths with a saddle height of about 3/32”. The neck has a soft V carve, 24.9” scale and a nut width of 1-7/8. Bone nut and saddle, Antique Acoustic Style 21 pins. Playability is incredibly easy.

With original hardshell case

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