MARTIN BAND INSTRUMENTS: CONDITION GUIDE
Written by: Shawn McKenzie
Last Updated: March 2018 (Version 1.0)
A Foreword about this guide and it's use:
This guide is written to assist me personally with a setting a benchmark condition for Martin instruments (as of writing in 2018 I have found that no established guide exists) - As short proviso here: I am not responsible for any losses, or any form of claims as a result of consulting this guide, nor a drop in anyone's values as a result of this being used as a reference guide by others. On top of that I am not responsible for any errors or omissions - this is written by me and for me. It is shared for the purposes of establishing a discussion point and education. Using this guide you acknowledge this fact and any claims against the writer. This guide was prepared using official printed catalogues, learnt experience and 10+ years of buying and selling these instruments - but should still be presented as an opinion rather than fact.
Before looking at condition:
I would recommend that you first establish what it is you are looking at and do an overall 'eye-ball assessment'
Serial Numbers: Check under caps, sides of pistons, piston rods etc - Martins from the Handcraft era commonly have hand stamped serial numbers matching all their parts. The absence of which should raise the question if they are original to the horn.
Be sure to refer to the reference material HERE to check for the variations of designs of different TRIM KITS , THIRD SLIDE RINGS and FINGER BUTTONS. Restored instruments that display all of these qualities and the parts are 95% original would also be considered in this range, however, it is important to understand that true original examples will always command a premium above anything that was restored no matter how professional the restoration.
I would recommend in almost all cases that if restoring instruments that your goal be to keep as original as possible. This may mean taking the time to source original parts for the horn. If value is your goal, this will be worth it in the long run.
If you are unfamiliar with the finish options available to Martin instruments between the 1930's - 60's please refer to the MARTIN FINISHES GUIDE.
These are prime examples of instruments that have had minimal use and are close to new condition. Valve Rebuilds allowed, very light repair work only. All Parts should be original (with the exception of small screw nuts, valve guides etc). (Examples which show no signs of use, and are included with all accessories would be considered MINT and are very rare and would sell at a premium).
Lacquer finished: Instruments should have their original lacquer and show minimum signs of deterioration. Light wear is allowed as long as it represents normal wear areas and is slight. Note that there is lacquer, and then the Martinamel. Martinamel was offered as a general guide pre 1950's and is a very thick and resilient finish.
Silver plated finish: Instruments should have their original silver plate that shows little signs of wear or scratches. You will typically find two versions of silver: polished, or a matt silver finish. (Matt silver was more common pre 1940's). Plate colour should be consistent across the horn and no fading or brass elements are to be showing.
Tip: Be sure to check the interior of the bell - there were several earlier options that offered a gold plated bell interior. This commonly wears away over time due to general cleaning and maintenance and if this part is missing it may knock it would sell for less to a collector (a player wouldn't really mind this as it's merely cosmetics)
Gold Plated: Would typically appear a dull gold colour due to age, or being burnished gold (present on pre 1940's models) - but should not show any signs of discoloration. Gold plating is one of the easiest finished to pick out previous repair work - look for silver patches and solder around joints and braces. Any noticeable work would not this into condition B unless the work is minimal.
Engraving (if present): Should be crisp and clear - there should be no sign of oxidation or corrosion lacquer/plate should be original and cover engraved areas. Note that there were several variations of engraving and finishes. Refer to the FINISHES CHART for details.
Bell: Bell seam should show little to no signs of an acid bleed. very slight pings - barely noticeable can be accepted. Bell and leadpipe should be straight with no droop or distortion.
Braces: All braces should be straight and no sign of damage. They should also be original to the specific model of the instrument. (i.e. Committee Braces, Handcraft Imperial braces etc. - NB: Handcraft Imperials had a few different brace options depending on the year of manufacture)
Tuning Slides: All slides should be in working order and be clean and with a smooth action. Water keys should be original and functional . Ideally springs are original - but replacements are inevitable. (NB: Handcraft Imperials had plain style water keys for some years and a squared art deco style for the 38-39 period). Also look for tuning slide hardware and the screw posts that would sit under the 1st and 3rd valve slides. It is common for these to have been removed, or missing parts. Horns with all parts and original stop nuts etc will command a small premium vs. horns missing these parts (Note: Original parts are hard to source if missing). Replacement nuts acceptable as long as they match the horn (i.e. these would have been specifically machined by a Brass Tech to match)
Third valve rings: These parts must be present, and in original condition - very light wear accepted. Some earlier models had the 3rd ring attached to the 3rd slide section as this part didn't move on some models. Please check the 3RD VALVE RING GUIDE for examples of 3rd valve rings.
Valve Pistons: Check that all serial numbers usually on the side of the top of the piston match with the serial number stamped on the side of the valve casing. The colour of the piston should be consistent and there should be an absence of any corrosion or wear on the piston. This area is the one area where a restoration that shouldn't impact value in a negative light. Instruments that are cosmetically beautiful and play in a similar manner will be of greater demand. Spring replacements should not affect value. Valve guides should be metal in most cases. The valve piston rods will also have serial numbers stamped on them for anything pre Handcraft Committee in most cases.
Instruments will show some signs of lacquer wear. Minor wear acceptable around contact points and lead pipe. These instruments area complete and are typically daily players for professionals and amateurs alike who use solid examples of their horns and keep them regularly maintained. Repair work is common at this level - but will not necessarily show in cosmetics. A raw brass horn that is clean and well presented would fall into this level also. (Note that horns were available in raw polished brass originally also). Look for good general eye appeal - and up close you will notice some areas that will prevent it from getting an A grade.) Small protective patches around common areas would also be acceptable in this level of instrument. Replacement parts allowed but must match the model to show it at face value as original.
Lacquer finished: Instruments should have their original lacquer, but will show some signs of lacquer wear. Minor wear acceptable around contact points and lead pipe. Minor case rash ok (where the instrument has rubbed off the lacquer in the case). What you are looking for here is 'genuine' wear from playing or long term storage. Minor cosmetic dings allowed around the bell interior and back of the bell. There should be no damage to the lead pipe or mouthpiece receiver.
Silver finishing: Instruments should have their original silver plate that shows a few signs of wear. Light fading around contact points acceptable. The finish should not be flaking anywhere - but shows signs of genuine use over time. I would expect to not see gold interior inside bells at this level as it would have been likely polished away over time. The example pictured shows a perfectly functioning horn that is in excellent shape - however it shows cosmetic issues which drop the desirability down one level.
Raw Brass: Would expect to see either polished or a light patina at this level. Raw brass is the easiest to restore back to a higher level as long as there is no actual damage that exists over the rest of the instrument. I will not mention the raw brass levels further in the guide as conditions of raw brass are easily reversed with a polish. Other factors are more likely to impact the value apart from the finish of the instrument than a raw brass finish.
Bell: Bell seam may show slight acid bleed. No signs or corrosion however. Minor cosmetic bell dings acceptable. Also acceptable would be a bell seam that has been repaired to a high level. Bell and leadpipe should be straight with no droop or distortion. Some minor scratches on finish would be expected if these were playing instruments.
Braces: All braces should be straight and original. Evidence of re-soldering braces and joints acceptable as long as the repair is of a high quality. Braces should be original to the instrument - replacements should be noted and will slightly impact value.
Tuning Slides: All slides should be in working order and be clean and with a smooth action. Water keys should be original and functional . Ideally springs are original - but replacements are inevitable. A nib missing from a tuning slide is acceptable in this condition as they are easily replaced.
Engraving (if present): Should be crisp and clear - can be signs of oxidation or corrosion but it should be slight and be genuine. If the horn is presented in raw brass look for signs of buffing or light spots where the text is hard to read.
These instruments have been well played, show signs of extensive wear, some parts would have been replaced, or can be missing. (For example trim parts - top or bottom caps, non original finger button, replacement 3rd slide ring) Lacquer can be heavily worn or removed. Valves will often require rebuilding for optimal performance. You can have patches on instruments of this level but they must be functional and not hinder playability or hide major damage. Lead pipe may show slight signs of drooping or curve, as well as the bell. Finish is expected to be worn in multiple areas.
Lacquer Finished: Instruments would have little remaining of their original lacquer and show signs of deterioration through heavy usage. General wear expected as are exposed sections of raw. Cosmetically these may appear unappealing - but try to look past the initial first signs of wear for potential.
Silver finishing: Instruments would commonly show wear around multiple contact points and tarnish across several sections of the instrument. Investigate closely any bubbling around the leadpipe and main tuning slide areas - as this may indicate the presence of Red Rot under the plating. (Be sure to also check inside the pipe for evidence of flaking also). Expect to not see gold interior inside bells at this level as it would have been likely polished away over time.
Gold Plated: The early process of gold plating involved a quadruple layer of silver plate and then a quadruple layer of gold plate. Thus, it take a lot to wear through this finish. Horns that display heavy wear should be looked at as instruments that have also been heavily played and would likely need work. Commonly they would fall into this category.
Braces: Braces might be replaced, or are slightly out of alignment. Expect to see obvious signs of re-soldering braces and joints. Braces ideally should be original to the instrument - replacements should be noted and will slightly impact value, but minimal compared to other grades.
Tuning Slides: All slides should be present and functional. Expect to need slight tweaks for optimal performance. Water keys should be present but springs and corks likely require replacements . Ideally valve springs are original - but replacements are inevitable. A nib missing from a tuning slide is acceptable in this condition as they are easily replaced. Expect to find minor dings on second slide, and potentially first slide.
Engraving (if present): Expect signs of oxidation or corrosion. If the horn is presented in raw brass look for signs of buffing or light spots where the text is hard to read. Re-lacquered horns expect to see signs off hard to read engraving also.
Finger Rings/Hooks: While original parts are preferred - expect to see modifications to these as they have likely been replaced by a player actively using the instrument .
Instruments are heavily damaged, shown signs of extensive wear, have some parts missing. Are almost playable, but need work. This level and below should be considered for parts and paid for accordingly as it is likely the cost of repairs would exceed the market value of the instrument. They are likely using several non original parts, or have heavy damage in 1-2 areas that requires expensive work. Would recommend you leave this level for the professional re-sellers, instrument techs to work on unless it is a rare and desirable instrument.
The example of the Indiana Bb Trumpet here displays an example that could well fall back into Condition C with some minor work. The guide really is for looking at initial conditions and you can make initial judgement based on what you see. This horn could easily fit into the C level if it did not also have functional playing elements that required work also - so it's important to note that where possible testing of instruments is encouraged. (This one had a sticky third valve along with a stuck tuning and 3rd valve slide as an example).
Anything below this level should be looked at as a potential parts donor for other instruments. Initial cosmetics also rarely tell the full story. It is very common for hidden items to be apparent - valves are distorted at the bottom of the piston, threads are worn off, there is a hairline crack in the bell or lead pipe. Most instruments can be repaired - whether or not it is desirable, or more importantly economical to do so would ultimately dictate your decision.
The riskiest option is to purchase instruments unseen and un-played for these reasons.
My recommendation if you wish to avoid these kinds of mistakes is to deal with a reputable re-seller or store who would have put their own money on the line and taken the risk in advance. You will find most sellers will list of any potential issues quite freely and upfront as their long term reputation is much more important than making a few dollars and 'flipping' an instrument.