A labor of love - Refurbishing an old Martin Tenor Guitar
Growing up, my dad had two musical instruments. An old banjo, and a guitar. I remember them hanging on the wall of his trailer after he and my mother divorced and we were visiting him. He lived at a trailer park barely in Mountain View north of highway 85 off of El Camino Real, and we visited every other weekend.
I recall him playing for us, mostly campy folk tunes, and the like. At the time he explained that his guitar was unique, it was a 4 string “Tenor” guitar, and he bought it originally to play as it has 4 strings, and thus was tuned like a banjo’s top 4 strings.
Thus, he could play the same chords as on the banjo, and get a different sound for the same songs.
I never appreciated that at the time. I was a kid and oblivious.
Why I have it?
My dad is getting into late stage Alzheimer’s and well it sucks. The week of Thanksgiving, we (my brother and I) were drafted into helping clean out my dad’s office, as he is moving into a care facility.
Very sad, but alas, it is what it is.
Of all the things he had, I only wanted two items. The Guitar, and the Banjo. Alas, the banjo is in pretty sad shape, and will need a new drum head, and I will deal with that later. But my main interest was the guitar. I brought them back.
When I removed it from the packing, it was in pretty rough shape. If I had to guess, the strings were at least 30 years old. I am pretty sure my dad never played it after he moved to San Diego in the early 1990’s.
There are a lot of dings, and one of the bushings on the headstock was missing.
On the side of the body, there is one pretty large ding, that has pushed in the wood. Not awful, and likely to not affect the sound and tone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if our horsing around with it when we were kids caused it.
The guitar is a C. F. Martin, made in Nazareth Pennsylvania. Probably sold in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. It is dark wood, and like a tenor guitar it has just 4 strings.
Last weekend I lightly cleaned the exterior. It was pretty filthy. I removed the strings, and pulled one of the machine heads off, and it was pretty tightly bound up.
This weekend, I went to Guitar Center and bought some cleaner, fret board conditioner, some new string pegs, and then proceeded to clean it deeper.
But, apart from the dings, dents, and scratches, it looks to be structurally sound, and it should take a tune.
I am not going to be able to completely recondition the finish, but that is OK. The value in this guitar is sentimental.
I did figure out that I can replace the machine heads with some vintage Grover tuners that will bolt right in, and be a lot smoother. Stewmac sells them, and they are inbound, with a set of D’Addario Tenor Guitar Strings.
I want to get it playable, and then hang it on my wall. It will always remind me of my father, from better times.