On the Bench: 1939 Martin D-18

Mass St. Music co-owner Jim Baggett explains the next steps in the restoration of the 1939 Martin D-18 that is our latest ‘On the Bench‘ project. It should be finished and ready for sale in June or July 2012. From Jim:

1939 Martin D18 Acoustic Guitar before restoration

The '39 Martin D-18 before we began work on it.

We recently acquired a 1939 Martin D-18 (serial #73525). Always one of our favorite guitars. This is one of the dirtiest guitars I have seen in a while but, though worn through in the expected normal areas, the original finish remains intact.  The bridge is not original and the neck has been previously reset and is in need of a fresh reset and refret. Since the bridge would not be reused and there was no way of knowing the type of glue that was used, we elected to plane the bridge down very thin before removing it. This can be done with a small hand plane or a router and jig. I had just reset and sharpened my planes, and was not all that interested in spraying the shop with ebony dust, so I decided to do it the old fashioned way.

Jim Baggett shaving the bridge on a 39 Martin D18 to thin it before removing and replacing it

Jim (very carefully!) shaves the bridge down on the Martin before removing it.


acoustic guitar bridge in process of being shaven down prior to removal and replacement

The bridge shaving in process...

Acoustic guitar bridge shaved down as low as it can go before removal

The bridge shaved down as low as Jim would go before heating and removal.

Once I had the bridge down to about .080″, very little heat was required to free it up. It came off slowly, but not a splinter of Spruce came with it. The surface should clean up nicely, and even though the bridge that was removed was a tiny bit oversized (as is common), I don’t think it will be much of a challenge to make a new bridge that is the correct size and profile. The fact that the original bridge plate is clean and nice should make for a great tone sandwich.


Jim Baggett gently prying up a thinned down guitar bridge to remove it and replace

After heating, Jim gently brought the bridge up with no damage to the soundboard.


Vintage Martin bridge finally removed, with no damage to the soundboard


The next step was to remove the neck. The previous neck set was a bit sloppy and had excess glue, requiring patience, but it has paid off as the beautiful heel of the 30s Martins remains uncracked. The original finish, though chipped and scratched, has a great look that goes with the rest of the guitar.

vintage Martin neck removed prior to neck reset and restoration

A little patience helped Jim remove the neck, which had excess glue from a previous reset.


Back of the neck of vintage 1939 martin D-18

Off and ready for a reset...


Neck pocket of a 1939 martin acoustic D-18 guitar

The neck pocket


The guitar and neck are now ready for our Repair Shop Manager and luthier Mike Horan to get busy on. Making a prewar style bridge is harder than one might imagine, but having lots of original prewars at the shop and having made dozens, Mike has it down. We also have a secret stash of beautiful, naturally dark Ebony set aside for these special and deserving instruments.

The bass bout of vintage 39 Martin D-18 before restoration

The lower bass bout is just one of the areas on this '39 Martin that definitely needs a little TLC cleaning!


Lower Bass Bout of vintage Martin D-18 showing dirt  accumulation before restoration

The lower treble bout is another area that will get some TLC clean up!

I wanted to share some pics of the guitar in the dirty phase and will try to remember to update with more photos as the cleaning goes along. We have learned that patience pays off in this process. There is just no easy, quick way to get through 70 years of sweat and dirt, but I have always found the end result of a worn, honest finish to be worth all the effort. – Jim Baggett

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