Eric Schoenberg with a one-of-a-kind vintage Martin.
by Teja Gerken
February 19, 2018
Having spent more than 50 years playing, selling, and studying vintage guitars, Eric Schoenberg isn’t often stumped when someone brings an old Martin into his shop, Schoenberg Guitars, in Tiburon, California. But when a customer walked into the store with a pair of Martins, the guitar featured in this video and a ukulele, both of which had no internal stamps or serial numbers, he had to call on the help of some friends to figure out what they were.
The customer, who was from Austin, Texas, said that the guitar had belonged to his father. On first sight, Eric thought the guitar might be a 00-18 H Hawaiian that had been converted for standard, instead of lap-style, playing. “They made those from the mid-’30s to the early ’40s, and they looked just like this,” he said. When he heard that the customer’s father had grown up in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and that his next-door neighbor was a foreman at Martin, Eric suspected that the guitar was an “employee model,” an instrument that Martin employees are allowed to build for their own use. Employee models generally don’t have Martin markings, but this instrument is unusual because it has the Martin logo on the headstock.
Without a serial number, determining the year the guitar was built required a combination of experience and detective work. The guitar’s owner thought it was made in 1927, but Eric thought it was probably built somewhat later than that, due to the appearance of the sunburst finish. But because it has bar frets, Eric also knew that it was unlikely to be later than 1934, the last year Martin used them. Eric posted some photos of the guitar online and vintage Martin expert Willi Henkes helped pinpoint the year to 1932. “He looked at the photos and the details, and based on the tuners thought it must be 1932,” Eric said.
In this video, shot at Schoenberg Guitars, Eric discusses the instrument, which he describes as being “very lightly built and extra resonant,” and uses it to play some fingerstyle pieces.
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