Tim Teel, Head of Instrument Design at C.F. Martin, and Wood Sourcing Specialist Michael Dickinson share information about Martin’s new Vintage Gloss Finish.
I sat down with them, and others, to hear more about this latest historical discovery and how it is being used to make the guitars in Martin’s Authentic series that much more authentic.
Key: TT – Tim Teel, MD – Michael Dickinson, OP – Others Present, OMG – One Man’s Guitar
OMG: So the old rumors are true, about a less glossy finish on vintage Martins?
TT: From day one of the Authentic series project, Michael gave me a rash of grief about that. “They shouldn’t be full gloss. They weren’t full gloss.” Well, how do you prove it? “Well I just know.”
MD: There was no data but, you talk to a guy who had talked to a guy who talked to another guy… And in this town that means 120 years ago.
TT: But we didn’t have the proof we needed. So when (Custom Shop General Manager) Jeff Allan joined the company, he went through the archives and read thousands of pages of letters and correspondence; (Martin Archivist) Dick Boak gave him a whole bunch of stuff to read through. Jeff actually found the exact recipe of how they buffed out a guitar in the late 1920s. And there are also records specifically of that softer gloss. It’s not satin but it’s not full gloss.
MD: Now a days that would mean they are taking gloss and adding chemicals to it to change it. Back then they took it and they did stuff to it to get the finish they wanted.
OMG: And using that term would make people think of semi-gloss paint…
MD: And that’s not the same thing.
TT: OK we have a “gloss meter.” It’s a gauge that measures the amount of reflectivity on the surface. Today our satin finish falls on the meter at about a 15. So, 15 for Satin and 90 for our Full Gloss Finish. This new vintage Gloss falls on the meter at about a 60. It gives it a warm glow.
OMG: It’s applied by hand?
TT: It’s applied by hand using the exact materials and process they used back then. Let’s put it this way, it is not robotically manipulated like our full glosses are today.
MD: That doesn’t mean they are doing it like when they first started using lacquer, like on a Model T Ford, where some guy with a right arm much bigger than his left arm was dipping a rag in a bucket and wiping it over the entire car. It is sprayed on, just like they did in the 1920s.
OP: The application is authentic to the period.
MD: It is hand-sprayed.
TT: We actually found the spraying equipment from the late ‘20s!
OMG: Does the human touch mean the result may be different from one Authentic to the next?
OP: Sure. It is a person doing it. Even if it is the same person doing each guitar, the finish may refract a little differently, depending upon the light. But they will all look different from full gloss when out in the sunlight, under fluorescent light, and so on.
TT: We also found some correspondence that made clear they were putting what we are calling “Vintage Gloss” today on everything below 40 series guitars. Anything 40s was taken to the full gloss sheen. So the new OM-45 De Luxe Authentic 1930 is full gloss, “90 sheen.” Because we do not currently offer a 42, all other Authentic series guitars will be vintage gloss.
OMG: So how does this affect the aging toner used on the Authentic models?
TT: There is no more toner.
OMG: So you are not using the yellowing on the body and binding?
TT: Correct, that has been discontinued.
MD: The new OM-28 Authentic has a normal rosewood toner. We are no longer using aging toner on the tops.
OMG: The tops are the natural color acquired during the new M1 level of the VTS.
[VTS being Martin’s new Vintage Tone System of wood torrefaction, where spruce is treated with high heat to remove the moisture from the cellular interior, which then takes on physical and sonic properties similar to very old wood. M1 is the designation for the perfected VTS treatment reserved exclusively for the Authentic series guitars. See Martin’s official video about this HERE.]
OMG: So this new OM-28 Authentic 1931 we are about to see will not only look more like a prewar OM, it will sound more like one too?
MD: The first time I strummed the prototype, I could not believe how good it sounded. I thought it sounded better than the original we based it on.
OP: So did I!
TT: I was back in the shop, and I see Michael and I tell him, “Go back and play that guitar.” And a half an hour later he walks back up into the shop and says, “Close up shop. Put everything away, and go home.” I go, “What are you talking about?” And tells me, “We’ve made the perfect guitar.”
MD: I said, “We’ve done it, Tim. We’ve made the perfect guitar. Now we can retire!”
I certainly hope they don’t do that. There is much work to be done for them yet, and if I had my way it would be in the form of a 00-42 Authentic 1929, and 00-40K Authentic 1930, and a 000-21 Authentic 1938, and a 00-21 Authentic 1926, and 000-18 Authentic 1928, and an 0-30 Authentic 1917, and a 2-27 Authentic 1893 and a… Well, you get the idea.
And that is one man’s word on…