MARTIN | O18K | 1934 | “Little Koa”
he Style 18 was introduced by CF Martin and Co. in 1857. It had featured a blank ebony fingerboard and had Brazilian Rosewood back and sides. The initial single O line up expanded over time with the OO introduced in 1898 and the OOO in the early 1900s. In 1917, the 18 series featured Mahogany instead of Rosewood back and sides.
This was the beginning of the 18 style we are familiar with today with it’s elegant dark binding, short 24.9″ scale. However the 18 series has also featured guitars made entirely out of Koa. From 1923 to 1935, Martin built a little jewel of a guitar, named the O18k..
Built entirely with koa, these guitars looked and sounded very different from their spruce or mahogany topped cousins. Although earlier O18K styles had been made, the O18K was only formally introduced in the early 1920’s as a Hawaiian style guitar with a high action.
These original 018ks had a removable nut adjuster which raised the action for Hawaiian lapslide style playing. Once removed, the guitar could be played in the usual spanish style. By 1925, Martin has dispensed with the nut adjuster and instead installed high nuts and a straight bridge with straight saddles.
Earlier guitars were fan braced and designed for gut strings, often special orders for distributors.By 1926, the guitars were listed as having flushed frets, clearly marking them as a lapslide guitar- to be able to play these in spanish style, the fingerboard had to be refretted. This limited market was soon reversed in 1929 when the 018K was made with raised frets and had an optional low nut and regular bridge.
In 1934, this handsome O18K rolled out of the Martin factory. Retailing at around $45, this guitar had evolved with it’s original 1923 specs. Rosewood binding has been replaced by 5 ply purfling and black plastic purfling, the small 5-7-9 fingerboard inlays were now graduated from the 5th to the 15th fret. The Shellac finishes of the 20’s became nitrocellulose and the straight bridges were now belly style to cope with higher string tensions.
This 018K is one of 103 made in 1934 and a total production of ~3000. It has had a professional refinish, neck reset and an additional pickguard added. The maple bridgeplate has been replaced and a new saddle and nut installed.
Owner Steve says “1934 is right in the heart of the pre-war golden era of Martin guitars. The guitar has that wonderful vintage tone that only comes from a 70+ year life of playing music. Koa brings a woody, warm sound that is between Mahogany and Rosewood in many respects. The single 0 size offers great balance over the range from bass to treble.”
- 12fret O
- Serial: 56959
- Year: 1934
- Width:13 1/2
- Depth: 4 3/16
- Length: 19 1/8
- Back & Sides: Koa
- Top: Koa
- Top Trim: Line Purfling
- Rosette: Line Purfling
- Finish: Nitrocellulose
- Frets: Bar
- Bridge: Belly
- Neck: 1 piece mahogany
- Headstock: Slotted
- Fingerboard: Ebony
- Frets to body: 12
- Bridge: Ebony
- Case: Period Hardcase
Links: Martin Guitars http://mguitars.com
References: Longworth. Martin Guitars A history.
©2008 Terence Tan.
Recordings and photos by Steve- used with permission
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