Martin's Forgotten Mahogany Parlor Guitar
History of the Martin 2-17
Following the wave of popularity of Hawaiian music in the United States after World War I, Martin guitars made of Hawaiian Koa wood were selling well in the early 1920s. These guitars were built to be played lap style with a slide bar and a nut extender to raise the action. However, the frets were raised and the nut extender was removable, so they were widely played as conventionally fretted guitars. Inspired by this popularity, Martin reconfigured the 17 line to include the all mahogany model 2-17 in 1922. This was the first Martin Spanish style guitar braced for steel strings. In a 1925 Martin catalog, the 2-17 was described as "amateur size" and as being handy for "general knock-about use." The catalog also stated that the model could be shipped with gut strings instead of steel strings at no extra charge.
When introduced in 1922, the 2-17 had a list price of $25 which was at the low end of the Martin line but not an inexpensive guitar overall. The 2-17 sold 344 in its first year (1922) and nearly 800 in 1923. The 2-17 turned out to be Martins best selling model for a number of years with more than 6,000 sold in the first eight years of production, peaking in 1926 with 1,300 sold. To put it in perspective, Martin made roughly 4,600 guitars in 1926, so the 2-17 accounted for 28% of the Martin guitars made that year. Economics undoubtedly contributed to the success of the 2-17, not only the selling price of the guitar but also the fact that a set of steel strings sold for $1 compared to $2.25 for a set of gut strings.
In 1926, the price of a 2-17 had risen to $32.50 and sales began to decline as the decade came to a close. In an attempt to boost sales, Martin eliminated the rosewood binding (pictured at left) from the top and back in 1929 which brought the price back down to $25. This model was referred to as the #25 for a short period even though it was identical to the previous 2-17 with the exception of the missing binding. The price reduction did result in a boost in sales going from only 25 sold in 1929 to leading all models with 750 sold in 1930. By 1929, Martin had recognized the demand for steel string guitars and had made the change from gut strings to steel on all models. Additionally, two new all mahogany models, the 0-17 and the 00-17, were released. The 0-17 was first produced in 1929 and 00-17 was first produced in 1930. Both of these models were larger than the 2-17 and reflected the shift in demand to louder, larger body guitars with 14 frets clear of the body and non-slotted headstocks.
The 2-17 was produced until 1938 with little change. A tortoise shell pick guard was added as an option in 1932 and became standard in 1934. Additionally, the stain was changed to a darker stain in 1935 and a gloss finish was added in 1936. There were 775 model 2-17s produced from 1930 until the model was finally discontinued in 1938. In total, there were 7,431 model 2-17s made over the 16 years it was produced from 1922 to 1938. This accounted for over 13% of the Martin guitars sold during that period. The 2-17 played a key role in Martins success during that period. It also served as a stepping stone from the gut string parlor guitar to the modern steel string flat top acoustic guitar.
Arguably the most famous musician known to play a 2-17 was the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rogers.
The Mississippi born singer was country musics first superstar and had a significant impact on the popularity
of the guitar. He is pictured at right with the 2-17 he played early in his career before he obtained his famous
custom built 000-45.
Today model 2-17s continue to pop up on the vintage market with some regularity but they are not typically included among the more collectable and valuable vintage Martin guitars. It is evident that Martin did not cut any corners in workmanship or selection of materials with the 2-17 and consequently it could be said that it is a good value in the vintage market. Many guitarists comment that the smaller body makes it very comfortable to play and the volume of the guitar is impressive in spite of its size. As is the case with any guitar of this era, many of the 2-17s existing today are in need of a neck reset to correct the neck angle to allow for comfortable string action if one has not been performed recently. Also, the majority of the 2-17s produced utilized bar frets as opposed the more modern T frets which Martin switched to on all their guitars in 1935. Bar frets are notoriously more difficult to work with and may limit the selection of luthiers available to perform fret work when necessary. The bar frets do have the advantage of adding stiffness to the neck which helps prevent twisting and warping of the neck.
Finally, it should be noted that Martin did briefly produce a model designated as a 2-17 in 1910. It was similar in size to the 1922 to 1938 model 2-17 but it had a spruce top. There were only 6 of these 2-17s made and this variant of the 2-17 is not the focus of this website.