9/22/2014

c.1935 Armstrong Dansant Carved-top Guitar


Audio coming soon!

The last time I worked on this guitar was in May of 2011 and it came back recently via a friend for consignment. I did a fresh working-over including a fret level/dress, new rosewood bridge, replacement binding for the pickguard, cleaning, and a good setup. This thing really is a champ: it's loud, proud, and now that it's playing properly again, it's quite aggressive: this reacts like a good carved-top Epiphone from the same period -- it'll zing out single-note lead work or give you a good, crunchy chop-chop chord sound. This thing also comes ready for gigging with a K&K Big Twin pickup installed "under the hood" and a pair of strap buttons to hang it from.

I'd heard these were made by Harmony and in 2012 I thought I'd gotten confirmation of that: someone pointed out a Harmony xxxxHxxxx model number designation inside of one but I never actually saw the guitar. I'm therefore a bit skeptical again because I've seen a few lower-quality (but still nice) Armstrong-branded models floating about on eBay that were certainly Harmony makes but not up to the specs or design style of this instrument. That's not to say that Harmony didn't do top-flight work on their high-end models or that they didn't make this... only that this doesn't conform to any typical Harmony body molds or bracing types. To add credence to the Harmony claim, however, I have seen a few high-end Harmony-made mandolins from the same time that did have very similar trim, finish, and materials used.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way: this thing's classy!

Ephemera: Drums Forward (c.1930)


My favorite part of many of the old bands (this one's French) is the drum kit. That, sir, is for proper time-keeping and not impressing the chromed bits of your Dad's old car.

9/20/2014

c.1905 Weymann Size 2 Gut-strung Parlor Guitar




This is a customer's "size 2" (per Martin specs) gut-strung parlor guitar with a serial that places it in the early 1900s or 1910s at the latest. It's a beautiful thing, finely built (as I'd expect), and it sounds excellent. It's a little more open-sounding than period Washburns, for sure, and feel-wise it's similar to something like a Bay State guitar with a 1 3/4" nut medium-sized v-shaped neck and a radiused fretboard.

Work included a neck reset, fret level/dress, tuner lube, light cleaning, new saddle, and setup. The strings are new Aquila Alabastro nylguts (with their creamier, more gut-like color introduced last year).

9/19/2014

c.1960 Alamo Jet Lap Steel Guitar




Alamo lap steels don't turn up as often as other brands and all of the variations I've seen have been a little weird. This is the coolest and most practical one I've had my hands on. It feels like a 50s steel but I'm pretty sure it's early 60s in vintage. The above soundclip is recorded via the direct out from my 1w tube amp with onboard reverb so you can get a sense of the crisp, singsong quality that this pickup has.

This one came in via a friend who's clearing house. After a bit of light work (spraying the pots with cleaner and adjusting the tail/bridge and pickup/control assembly) and setup at the nut I tuned it up to open B (the strings were gauged for C7 tuning but I don't play in that) and away it went... sounding quite chimey and alive in the process.

c.2013 Epiphone Viola Electric Bass (Hofner Copy)




This is a friend's pretty much brand new Epiphone "Viola Bass" -- obviously a copycat of the old Hofner "Beatle bass" in an updated, import form. I have to admit it... for something that runs $300 new shipped to your door... this thing is pretty neat. It handily beats those old 70s import versions which tend to need a lot of finessing to get the most out of them.

A small adjustment at the bridge was all this one needed to play correctly (it was just slightly out of place and adjusted too low) and play it does -- well, with that short scale thump that's being filtered through a set of new $35 tapewound strings which gives it a real springy, rubber-bandy vibe that actually suits the two mini-hum style pickups mounted on this thing.

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt-made FHC Parlor Guitar




This 0-sized 12-fret guitar is a customer's that was in for work including a neck reset, bridge reglue, fret level/dress, new bone nut and saddle, and setup/cleaning. It also got some new ebony pins all around. She plays great and has that husky, darkish old-time sound I find typical with old Oscar Schmidts with a very defined, thick mid-presence that the blues guys really like.

Heavier ladder bracing combined with solid birch construction throughout the body definitely contributes to that sound while the longer (for the time) 25" scale helps drive that sturdier build. What's funny about these guitars marketed under the First Hawaiian Conservatory brand is that they were not at all built to be regular (Spanish-play) guitars so they often need a bunch of fudging to get them playing well. This one (thankfully) was never overstrung so the substantial neck has no warp and the top is perfectly flat, too, with no cracks.

9/18/2014

Local Flavor: Incoming Fall


Well, it's that Fall time again. The above pic is in the pineywoods on Mt. Cushman which is 10 minutes from our house. Gorgeous, mossy place and you could almost fall asleep on that green

Lately we Wildwoods have been busy as usual and I've started adding a 6th work day to my week to catch up on structural repairs (vs. light repairs/setup) I can't get to while conversing with folks stopping through the shop. This has been helping to get me back on schedule after a super-intense Summer and boy is it helping to curb a bit of stress over stuff hanging too long in the "waiting room."

Oona's in preschool now and little Elsa and I get to share about 2 hours every morning before work now which is super: we go for walks, strum on the old banjo(s), practice fife, watch old Felix the Cat cartoons and roll around in the grass or hunt bugs in the garden.

It's just starting to get cold here an we've laid in our 10 tons of pellets (5 store/5 house) and now I've got the unenviable task of opening the pallets all up and stowing them in the barn. We've had our first few fires in the stove, too, as the weather creeps colder and more leaves start to turn.

I love this time of year... it's the sitting on the porch writing songs season... while at the same time it's the gathering wild apples to make tart apple pies season... and the thanking old Ethiopia for coffee season... because you know you're gonna need it in a 3 months during that harshest part of the Vermont cycle.

9/17/2014

Ephemera: Play a Bari, Wear a Boa (c.1960)


Apparently, playing baritone uke (50s Harmony) means that you also have to wear a snake as well.

c.1940 Favilla 0-size 14-fret Guitar




I posted this 40s Favilla a while back but decided to entirely repost now that it's in the shop again. I previously worked on this for a customer but now it's back for resale as he's downsizing his collection. This time around I did all the work on it that I wanted to do in the past to turn it into a perfectly-playing guit. As a bonus it also sounds even fuller and more responsive than it did before which is extra icing on the cake.

This was made by Favilla in New York and the original tuners and basic build date it probably to the early-to-mid 40s. It's essentially Favilla's take on a Martin 0-18 14-fretter with a solid (Adi?) spruce top and solid mahogany back, sides and neck. The lower bout is 13 1/2" across and it has a 25 1/4" scale length. The top is fan-braced which gives it a sound somewhere between an x-braced small-body Martin on the low end and a ladder-braced parlor on the high end. You get a ton of rich sound but also more sustain and warmth/crunch vs. standard ladder bracing. It's also hecka loud for its size and suits fingerpicking as well as flatpicking equally well.

9/14/2014

c.1940 Regal Carved-top Archtop Guitar




This guitar is, hands down, very cool. It's also pretty rare: there aren't a whole lot of carved-top Regal guitars out there and it's too bad because it sounds excellent and is definitely in the warmer, creamy "Gibson archtop" camp. It makes a perfect chordal-backing guitar but does have enough punch for single-note lead runs. It's fun! Quality, sound, and feel-wise I'd easily put it right alongside a Gibson L-48 or L-50 from the same time.

This is another one that came in for consignment via a friend of mine and it only needed light work to get it spot-on which included fitting and adjusting the bridge a bit, a very minor fret level/dress, cleaning, and a setup. Amazingly, the guitar is also crack-free.

c.1935 Harmony-made Biltmore Diana Archtop Guitar




This guitar came in for consignment from a friend of mine and during today's light work of setups and whatnot I... set it all up. Harmony made this for the Biltmore brand which can be seen at the super-cool celluloid deco headplate. Unlike most of their archtops this one is quite fancy and has what appears to be a carved spruce top over solid birdseye maple back and sides.

It looks like it was refretted in the past (a good job) but it was poorly setup and the (newer rosewood) bridge needed much fitting, the frets needed a very light dressing/leveling, the nut needed setup work and the tuners needed a lube. That's all done and it plays spot-on despite its bigger V-neck shape, longish 25 1/8" scale, and regular light (12s) strings. The top is carved in a similar manner to an Epiphone carved-top guitar with a high arch and likewise it has a zingy, punchy-loud, crisp sort of sound. It's not at all like a Gibson-flavored carved-top and I tend to think this type of tone is ideal for a lead player in a group while a Gibson-flavored guitar of similar design would be much more suited to chordal thumping. When you drive this guitar hard it's all clarity with a bit of a compressed "mwah" on the low end that cuts right through.

c.1940 Gibson-made Kalamazoo KG-21 Archtop Guitar




Another lovely KG-21! These L-00-size instruments sure kick butt. This one came by way of a trade deal and after a bit of work (seam reglues, bridge fitting, fret level/dress, cleaning, and setup) it plays spot-on and has that classic creamy/crunchy sound I've come to associate with Kalamazoo-style archtops. There's a lot more bottom end on these guys than your average archtop but it's pushed forward so your audience hears it more than the player. It makes these a perfect choice for someone who needs cut/carrying power but also needs to clean up their tone.