This is a great guitar which I was given to me, buy a local Irish musical instrument shop many years ago—for free!
As Han Solo once said of his ship Millennium Falcon, “I know it doesn’t look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.” In fact, my friend Ben Prevo even made a few modifications himself!
It was an amazing stroke of luck really. I was at the music shop counter, in the late 1990s, and my eye was caught by the book-matched flame-maple back of a blonde, parlour size guitar. The rib/side of it was flame maple too, and the neck was pale to match. It stood against the wall behind the counter, facing the wall. The conversation with the assistant went something like this:
“Oh, that’s an interesting looking guitar. What is it?” (I’d been very interested in old vintage parlour guitars, and I was a gigging acoustic blues player at the time)
“(pfft) That? Yeah, someone left it in to see if we could do anything with it, but it’s in bad shape and not really worth fixing.”
“Can I have a look at it?” (not expecting to try to buy it or anything, just very curious)
He picks it up and plonks it on the counter, face up. It’s pretty ugly from the front. The top looks like a plywood spruce door and it has a horrible lumpy mess of old varnish all over it. The Bridge is the worst. It’s cracked from left to right and is lifting up from the soundboard, under the tension of the strings. Actually, there might only have been a bass E and A on it. There was even a screw driven though it, I think, hence the split wood. The area around the bridge looked scarred and awful as if a bridge tore off from it, with the glue pulling a layer of spruce with it.
I think I remarked that it didn’t look as nice as I expected but that it was “still pretty interesting.” Then the assistant surprised me:
“You can have it if you like. The owner left it in ages ago and has lost interest in it.”
Strangely—for me—I didn’t immediately jump at the chance of a free guitar. It was in a terrible state, but I said, “Maybe I could fix it up and give it to my nephew.” Because it’s about 3/4 size.
“It’s all yours.” He said. I think he might have even added that he thought they’d never get rid of it.
I brought it home and thought about what it might be like for my nephew to play. Gingerly, I tuned up the couple of strings, fearing the bridge would fly off. Then, I plucked the bass E string—or maybe half of an E chord. My God, the sensation! The guitar vibrated through my whole body, starting with my rib-cage. And it sounded big and deep. Bigger and deeper than I expected a 3/4 guitar to sound.
I thought, “I don’t think I’ll give this to my nephew.”
A friend of mine actually had a replica parlour style guitar, a bit like a Robert Johnsony kind of thing, and it was crap. About as resonant and deep as a ukulele.
I still didn’t even know what brand of guitar it was. From what was left of the label, I drew this in Adobe Illustrator:
A second label inside read,
MODEL: G 40.
NO: 1010 (or 1012?)
My interest in this half lovely, half ugly guitar was truly piqued!
The First Expert Lookover
In 1999, I brought it to a great, lovely vintage instruments shop on Capel Street in Dublin city, called J. McNeill.
The English man who I showed it to, peeked inside and said, in a very English midlands accent, reminiscent of Warwickshire, “Ohh… it’s a Martin Coletti!”
I was pleased that he recognised it—even though the name meant nothing to me. I asked if it was worth fixing up, and he said it definitely was. We were both puzzled by the woods used its manufacture. The back and one side/rib, were beautiful blonde flame-maple. The other rib on the treble side, was a dark reddish-brown hardwood, a bit like mahogany. Very strange. The top was a crappy looking wide-grained spruce which just seemed out of place. I couldn’t say what wood the blonde kneck was made of, but he surmised that it might be “pear wood” of all things. He thought it might had had the top and one side replaced after it was badly damaged. I think also thought it was pre-WWII. I think, but couldnn’t swear by it. He might even have said that certain woods—like maple?—would have been hard to come by later, during the war. (1939–1940)
I went away pleased. Now I had a brand name. And a possible date: Pre-1939 perhaps!
Fixing it up
Savagely removing the damaged bridge (c.1999)
Above: Crudely removing the cracked Martin Coletti G40 bridge! I was far too hasty, in retrospect.
One thing I regret, is removing—and destroying the cracked, warped bridge. I now suspect that it was the original, and bet it could have been fixed and straightened. My brother-in-law and I rushed into getting the thing off. I subsequently learned that it could probably have been removed with a bit of heat. But alas, we set about chiseling it off, splitting it up and removing it bit by bit with a hammer and a flat-head screwdriver of all things!
Then I stripped off the horrible old polyeurethane varnish, without remorse, and sanded down the spruce top. I re-varnished the top with thinned layers of clear polyeurethane varnish. But first, I sanded down the top really smooth, filled cracks, and used grain-filler. For the final layers of varnish which were getting pogressively thinner I used steel wool and then finally smoker’s toothpaste of all things and maybe even cream hob cleaner! Apparently cornflour with a powered buffing tool is great too.
A New Bridge
My good pal Ben Prevo, who is not only an excellent professional musician, but also very accomplished at guitar and amp building and repairs, kindly hand-made a new bridge from hardwood. He made it pretty big to cover the aforementioned damage to the top. I suspect that expoxy resin had once been used to stick the cracked, warped bridge back down, and then it had ripped back, taking layers of soft spruce with it. After that, it looked like they’d even tried putting a big screw through it. Actually, that might be why it split in the first place!
Ben also gave me some old Kluson tuners, from a Les Paul electric guitar, and I may have put those on myself. When he gave it back to me, it was set-up and ready to go. He also mounted an old Gibson humbucker pickup of mine on it, and a socket.
It’s great! I ended up bringing it to gigs, for playing standard-tuned stuff, when I wasn’t playing the S.S. Stewart archtop acoustic with slide.
More Information on the Guitar
Back when I first had the guitar in the late 90s, I could find no information on the guitar, other than what the man in J. McNeil’s music shop had told me (see above). The internet was still young at that stage and there was literally no mention of it. I even went into a guitar shop in Venice, Italy, and asked them about it. It sounded like an Italian name, after all. They’d never heard of it.
More recently however, you can find some other Martin Coletti instruments online for auction etc., and I seem to have found my G40 model, along with some info which I can’t verify. But here it is anyway. I’ll let you decide for yourself. And if you know anything more, please tell me in the comments below, so we can all learn more and share notes.
Photos from the Web
Here are some photos of G40s that are in good and even original condition—unlike my own one.
This webpage has a fantastic set of big Martin Coletti G40 photos:
I’ve no idea who posted them, but they seem to have been part of an auction. I’ve included some here, in case that page is ever taken down.
Above: Note the tighter-grained wood in the top than on mine, with lovely expertly done tobacco sunburst. Also note the tortoiseshell pickguard. Missing from mine.
A decent shot of the label. Mine is half-torn away.
You can see that this is a proper sunburst finish. Like on a Gibson. Later, 1950s Colettis seem to have that horrible, cheap, speckled, airbrushed sunburst effect, that always looks awful.
You can see above that this guitar uses the same wood for each rib. Mine is different, having blonde flame-maple on the bass side, and what looks like dark mahogany on the treble side. It may have been to accentuate the trebles, but I suspect mine was originally exactly like the one above, but had a damaged rib replaced with a different wood.
The bridge that was on mine, which was cracked, and which I destroyed while removing it—didn’t look like the one above. It was a brown, softer wood. It didn’t look like ebony. If it looked like this, I never would have destroyed it.
This might be the exact same instrument. At The Saleroom:
Another one that i found, identical looking model as the others. This one has been well-played for many many years.
Lots of cracks in evidence.
More photos of a G40 from Shönbach Vintage Guitar Gallery
The flame maple is very obvious on this guitar. Much more like my one, though mine no longer has the sunburst effect.
Information on ‘Martin Coletti’
Info is thin on the ground. It’s a good instrument, with a suspiciously cheap looking, and gaudy (red and blue) inner paper label. But people online, like me are impressed by its quality, craftsmanship and sound. Some, with more intact/original examples than my one, even compare it to top quality Gibsons that they’ve played. And someone remarked that this was what was intended, that it would be an affordable instrument (made in Europe) with an American stye to rival Gibsons.
I suspect that the info is hard to find because—sadly—this may be a case of another made up brand name. Made up by a distributor who had the guitars made by a variety of suppliers. The pre-war models were made excellently, the post-war ones were of declining quality—especially poor in the 50s. But they were still badged with ‘Martin Coletti’. Apaprently by a British distributor called ‘Dallas Instruments.’ Disappointing. But hey, if it’s a good instrument, that’s all that matters. Unless you want to sell.
What follows is what I’ve dug up around the web. I’d advise caution though. Some of these people may be just copying and pasting from somewhere else. A date of 1935—39 that you’ve seen elsewhere, is more tempting to use than one of the 1960s, which you’ve seen somewhere else!
Jack, a blogger in the UK writes:
Jack appears to have a pale wood topped G40 which looks much nicer than my own. It doesn’t have the tobacco sunburst which you’ve seen pictured over and over, above. Jack writes of it:
“A Martin Coletti – not one of the 50s junk jobs that he let his name be used on, but a sweet little thing made from good woods, which easily matches for tone and playability any thousand pound guitar I have tried.”
From an eBay listing:
“we offer a rare and collectable MARTIN COLETTI Model G40 small size acoustic guitar. Circa 1935-1939. This fabulous guitar was made in Germany (Schonbach?) or Czechoslovakia and imported to UK by Higham’s – R. & A. W. Johnson (76 Bridge St. Manchester). It is a well built small size guitar made of quality woods, sadly it is in need of some TLC. (…) Guitar comes in its original case (Black with blue felt lining—JW).
Scale: 640 mm
Body length: 480 mm
Nut width: 45 mm
Another: ‘Martin Coletti G40 vintage guitar 1930s’
I have a rare and collectable MARTIN COLETTI Model G40 small size acoustic guitar. Circa 1935-1939. This was bought from new by my grandfather and has been in the family ever since. (copy & paste?—JW)
This is about a different cutaway model:
“Over the last 30 years or so, I have come across four Martin Coletti guitars, all of them cello or “f” hole types and all to the same design. Each and every time I have tried one, I have been struck by both its tone and potential. About a year ago, I finally took the plunge and exchanged a Maccaferi type guitar for a Martin Coletti which clearly needed a good set-up and a refret. I’m glad I did for it is a better instrument than the Mac. Age I don’t know but would guess early 1950’s. My instrument is an acoustic cutaway, has a 16″ lower bout, is 3″ deep, is one and three-quarter inches at the nut and has three parallel, diagonal white plastic (?) stripes at the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets.
As for origin, those in the know suggest that, despite the name, these are not Italian made instruments but were manufactured in eastern Europe …. East Germany, Czechoslovakia or, possibly, Munich
Hope these notes may be of interest,
and… this sounds like my G40:
“I have a Martin Coletti guitar which I bought from a friend for £5 in the sixties. He was given it by his dead uncle’s wife when we started a skiffle group in the 50’s. The uncle was the guitar player in the orchestra on the Queen Mary on the New York run. It has a round sound hole and unusually for the time, a curved fret board. It got a bit tatty & unfortunately I left it with a well known expert restorer in the ’70’s at a guitar shop in Newcastle. The shop was sold & I went back for the guitar to find it still in bits with the tortoiseshell pick guard in 3 bits & fag burns in it!! (funnily enough, the heel on mine looks like it has 2 deep fag burns—JW) My son is currently considering having it restored. Some of the original purfling was also damaged – but the thing still has a super sound & action. I spoke to Ivor Mairantz when I originally decided to restore it & he seemed to know a lot about the Martin Coletti name. Some were built by craftsmen working independantly in Hungary & places like that, but there was a factory somewhere which eventually in the late ’50’s started to knock out £5 classical style klunkers for Woolworth’s, under the name of Coletti. – Don’t know any more.”
“All I have been able to find out is that it’s German. Any help would be appreciated.
Not all coletti guitars are junkers, bit haphazard trying to find a decent one though.
Interesting factoids: they were distributed in UK by the Dallas co who made the famous Dallas Arbiter fuzz face pedal.. Dallas also distributed Jedson guitars(made in Japan by the good folk at Tiesco!).”
A Martin Coletti acoustic guitar, c.1940, in case, the back scratch engraved with owner’s address, World War II enlistment details and engagement dates in the 1940s. Ex. the Michael Woolfe Collection.
An old American Acoustic Martin Coletti Guitar in a case, c.1940, paper label inside, serial number 1278. The back with scratched World War II enlistment forms, other venues and dates. English owner, well used condition. Length 104 cm
Martin Colletti was one of the many brand names used by Dallas back in the day- mostly on German and Czech guitars by the looks of it. If you want a proper ID, I’d post over here:
http://www.euroguitars.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=22 (link is dead—JW)
Martin Coletti brand guitars were distributed by Dallas musical instruments in the UK, from around 1930 to the 1960s. Martin Coletti guitars were imported from various countries including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Germany. The range included flattop and archtop acoustics, long scale 4 string acoustics models and ¾ sized student instruments.
An odd looking 1932 one with a ‘star’ motif headstock (not a G40)
The guitar was made in munich, many others where made in the Czech republic. It has been built with waulnut back and sides, and a spruce top. The use of steel strings instead of nylon has caused the Bridge to be pulled out and broken.
Shönbach region guitars
In this guitar Forum, at JazzGuitar.be, a contributor gives lots of well researched info re: Martin Coletti branded guitars not in fact ever being made in Munich or anywhere in Bavaria, despite once seeing Munich on the label of one. He also says that Martin Coletti never even existed. The Schonbach region of Germany was a busy centre for the production of quality guitars—particularly archtops. After the war, the region was taken by the Czechoslovakia. Thsi probably expains why some people say Martin Colettis were made in Germany and/or Czechoslovakia.
So, take from the above what you will. I’m no expert, that’s why I’m posting all of this in the hopes that others with the same guitar will find this page and add to the discussion! Please comment below and we’ll see if we can help each other out. Feel free to post links to photos of your own G40—or other quality (so-called) Martin Coletti.
Thanks for reading,