The introduction of the steel T-bar neck reinforcement is directly related to introduction of T-frets (for information on T-frets see Chapter 9.14-Frets and Fret Material). Once Martin had decided to switch to T-frets they were presented with the problem that the compression wedging effect of bar frets was no longer available. In order to compensate Martin replaced the ebony bar with a steel T-bar to provide the necessary stiffness and strength to the neck.
That, of course, meant that the previous practice of adjusting a bowed neck by installing different thicknesses of bar fret material was no longer possible and, in the future, the neck would need to be removed to reset the neck angle.
The first order of T-bar material was received on August 31, 1934.
On the same day Martin corresponded with Horton-Angell Co. of Attleboro Mass. concerning T-fret wire:
"After long consideration we have about decided to change from solid nickel silver frets to T frets and were are interested in your No. 3091 pattern of which you sent us a small quantity last month.
We have been using thirty per cent nickel silver wire in the solid frets, rolling it ourselves, and we are very anxious to continue to use this grade of material in the T frets. We understand that it will be harder to work but we would like to have your quotation on one hundred pound lots, No. 3091 pattern. How soon could you make delivery?"
The first large order of T-fret wire was received form Horton-Angell Co. on October 3, 1934 and was probably put into use immediately.
The first batch of guitars that received the new steel T-bar and T-frets was stamped on August 28, 1934. This batch had only started a few days prior to the arrival of the first T-bars and was also still in production when the first T-frets were received on October 3, so this batch was updated to the new features as it proceeded through the factory.
The 3/8" steel T-bars are not a regular size for structural tees. The story goes that theses T-bars were made for the runners on winter sleighs and were thus available for other uses. Steel T-bars were ordered in 12½" and 14" lengths. However, the records are somewhat unclear and other lengths may have been ordered. The 14" lengths were used for regular guitars and the 12½"lengths for size 5, and possibly tenor, guitars.
From 1934 until at least 1955 the steel T-bars were supplied by Ralph W. Fry only, a business in Easton PA that specialized in industrial and farming equipment and supplies. The steel T-bars were always supplied as cut lengths so Fry was responsible for sourcing the T-bar in full lengths.
The 3/8" T-bar was hot rolled from mild steel at the beginning but by the 1960's the material seems to have changed to cold rolled steel, possibly because the hot rolled product was no longer available.
Interestingly, a Ralph W. Fry (1881-1961) is buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Nazareth PA.