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Projects: 1978 Martin M-38

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When the M-36 and M-38 were introduced in 1977, they were the first new models to appear from the Martin factory since 1969, - these days they seem to happen almost monthly! - and the first new body shape since the prewar era. A grand auditorium model, they were slightly larger than the 000 at 16" across the lower bout instead of 15" (hence their alternative designation as 0000) but had the same depth as the 000 guitars, unlike the later (deeper) J series. The M-38 had a standard 2-piece Indian rosewood back, while the cheaper M-36 had a D-35-style 3-piece back.

This M-38 has had one owner since new, and needed a complete overhaul after a lot of playing. The neck was quite bowed - quite an issue on a pre-1980s Martin, as it has the fixed truss rod - and the guitar was in urgent need of a neck reset as well to return the action to normal. The frets were worn out and lifting at the ends over the binding, and the fingerboard was quite pitted. Another problem with this guitar was that the intonation was well out and early in its life it had been fitted with an ultra-wide compensated saddle to address the problem. Over time, though, this had caused the front edge of the bridge to crack and begin to come away from the top. The original plastic bridge pins were also worn out and a poor fit.

The bowing in the neck was sorted out with a heat blanket from Luthier's Mercantile and a heavy aluminium spar, and the neck was removed for resetting in the usual way with a steam jet. As with most Martins, it could be removed relatively easily, although refitting at the correct angle is a slow, labour-intensive job! The fingerboard was lightly sanded and the worst of the fingerboard divots removed before refretting. As this guitar has a bound fingerboard with the fret ends seated on top of the binding I use a fret nipper to remove the ends of the fret tangs so they seat nicely.

As the bridge was in a poor state it was best to replace it with a rosewood replica, ensuring that the intonation was correct before cutting the drop-in saddle slot. After discussion with the owner, the slot was cut to the wider Gibson width and compensated. Finally, a nice set of bone bridge pins was matched to the new bridge using a 5 degree reamer, and she was good to go!