Ephemera: Michigan Glee Club (c.1896)

Pretty fancy duds, fellas! I'm spying many nice old 5-string banjos in various configurations: banjeaurines, piccolos, full scale instruments... and a bunch of old bowlbacks from the day and a surprisingly-large pair of guitars (one of which looks a lot like an old Washburn). Interesting! This was dated 1896 on the back in its original eBay auction.

Anyhow -- it was brutal hot and humid all day long and right before I was going to take pictures of some of the day's work (including a gorgeous old customer-owned Bay State 5-string banjo) it simply poured down! Now it's too late (and wet) outside to take pics... so we'll wait until tomorrow.


c.1935 Regal-made Slingerland MayBell Tenor Guitar

I've been meaning to get to this guitar for so long now. It's an interesting thing and it has many old folky repairs (lots of cracks cleated on the top with bits of popsicle sticks, tehe-he-he). My work on it included regluing and fixing up the fretboard extension (it was splintered and off), new bone nut and saddle install, new pins, some top brace reglues a fret level/dress, new endpin, new tuners, cleaning, and setup. It plays perfectly with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and a fast feel despite the bigger D-shaped neck profile.

What's weird about the design is the almost 0-sized body (18" long, 13 1/8" wide, 4" deep) and the 12-fret neck. What makes it even weirder is that rather than a 14-fret joint (as I'd expect for a 30s tenor) it has a 12 fret joint! Combined with Regal's light transverse ladder bracing this gives it a huge, warm sound that's like a breathier version of a Kalamazoo KTG-14. It also has a long 24" scale which makes it sit somewhere between a tenor guitar and a plectrum guitar which means it's not very useful for standard (CGDA) tuning as the A will inevitably snap all the time. I find it just about perfect for DGBE (Chicago) tuning but I think it'd also be "swell" for octave mandolin GDAE tuning so long as the A string was kept as a plain (maybe a 16, 17, or 18). The warmth and volume of this instrument should give that low G some boom.


c.1900 "Hoffmann" 4/4 Cello

This is another bogus label story of the string world. This one is labeled "Martin Hoffmann, in Leipzig 1688" but it's certainly not that old. My guess is that it's a German factory-built student to intermediate instrument from the 1890s at the earliest and probably the early 1900s to be more exact. It's well-made and mostly original (strings, tail, endpin, and bridge are new) but has a rough interior build and the ever-present Romberg bevel on the fingerboard found on late 1800s/early 1900s cellos. The fact that this bevel is present and appears to be original to the board and on a board that's original to the instrument means this was built in the mid-1800s at the earliest.

Anyhow... it's a grand-sounding beast all strung up and playable with a smooth, round sound and plenty of power. The owner of this instrument chose Thomastik Spirit strings, however, which seem to be a little bit too much tension-wise for the instrument. I tuned it up to pitch (on its longer 28" scale) and it felt fit to burst and the tone was a bit strangled/thin. This is a typical response to too much tension in most instruments. I tuned it down a whole step (Bb to G rather than C to A low to high) and the whole thing opened up perfectly. Oh well! Try and try again, I suppose.

c.1900 Storioni-copy 4/4 Violin

This is a customer's old violin that was in for a neck reset, seam repairs, and setup. She sounds awesome and (now) plays great. The owner is a fiddler and has the odd choice of Thomastik Peter Infeld strings ($100/set) on this instrument. They're a perfect choice as the clear, smooth, sweet synthetic-core sound of these strings really suits this instrument's high-octane sound. I like.

Like many other late-1800s, early-1900s violins it bears a bogus "Storioni" label in the bass f-hole. It's certainly not from the 1700s and to my eyes doesn't even fit a the Storioni looks from instruments I've seen on the web... but who cares? As its own thing it sounds great.


c.1923 Weymann Style #140 Openback Tenor Banjo

Weymanns are always a favorite of mine when passing through the shop! Big, robust builds with plenty of structural reinforcement are their hallmark and they sound tops, too. This one is essentially built like a Vega "Little Wonder" with a hoop-in-sleeve tonering though the heavier hardware and bigger rim give it a distinctly warmer sound. It's got plenty of volume but the 10 1/2" head and short 21" scale length mean that while the fingering should be ideal for Celtic (low GDAE-tuned) banjo the tone is much more suited to "Chicago" DGBE tuning (which it's in) or standard CGDA tuning.

c.1940 Regal Squareneck Hawaiian Guitar

This guitar came by way of a customer who bought it and didn't realize it was a squareneck! Oh well! So he's got some trade-in value at the shop and now I've fixed this fella up and set it back on course to do its job: play some sweet Hawaiian/old country tunes outdoors in a mellow way.

It's totally a catalog-style, student-level instrument with solid birch throughout and a faux-mahogany grain paintjob with painted "purfling." It's braced like other parlor-size Regals with transverse ladder bracing and it has a warm, sweet, woody tone to it with a definite midrange flavor and "rolled-off" treble.

c.2013 Ramsey 5-String Old Time Banjo

When folks ask me about getting a nice old-time 5-string banjo I usually ask them what features they want and then I redirect them to modern makes like this customer's Vega-ish Ramsey. Old 5-strings have charm and have certain attributes that make them must-haves as well but for someone embracing old-time sounds in this era the modern player expects newer features: frailing scoops, easy 5th string capos, necks that stay stable with heavier strings and switching tunings every 5 minutes... the works... and for those seeking to do old tenor banjos in by stealing their rims to put new necks on: why bother? Modern makers build same-sounding (tone!) stuff at lower prices and with more stable builds.

This banjo sounds great! Ramseys that I've played have tended to be simple, practical, no-frills affairs and this one is as well. It's got it where it counts.


c.1979 Ovation 1615 Pacemaker 12 String Guitar

Audio in a bit!

This guitar was given to me a while back and I just got around to giving it a proper fret level/dress and setup today which was all it really needed to get playing again. It has some age-related issues and a bad old headstock repair which is holding... for now. I've always had a soft spot for Ovation 12s because the jangle is so focused and clean. This 12-fret model can be tuned down a step below open D (as in open C in CGCEGC format) with 12-string "10s" and still sound barn-burningly full and boomy. Most Martin 12-fret D-style 12-strings can't claim that!

Workshop: Cleaning House

The first part of the day was spent cleaning out the closet in the workshop and hanging everything remotely interesting from the beams in the shop... including old speakers and busted/funky old necks.

Ephemera: Third Wheel (c.1915)

...#3 being the guitar keeping these two at arm's length.

In other news: for the moment I'm not accepting any new repair jobs as I'm trying to get caught up and back on track in a number of areas. This doesn't really apply to folks needing quick setup work or maybe a fret level/dress and setup but structural repair jobs are backed up and need to be taken care of to keep on schedule.


c.1920 Gibson A-2 Carved-top Mandolin

I meant to grab the serial number and record a clip of this mandolin before its owner came by but ran out of time... so the date is a guess. My work on this mandolin was a slight bridge recut/fitting and setup. It's actually in great overall shape but the neck does show a bunch of fretwear and a light warp. Still... because it's a Gibson... it miraculously plays just fine with proper action at the 12th fret and a good, woody, classic old-timey sound.

What makes it an A-2? Binding on the board, top, and back and a slightly nicer rosette. And who can blame the original owner of this for choosing a nice brown-stained beaut? A fella loves a dark horse.

Review: Blackstar HT-1R 1w Tube Amp

Yesterday the family and I visited friends up in Montpelier and I happened to stop by Guitar Sam to chat with owner Kevin Crossett. After much catching-up and shop talk (he showed me a really fun tenor-necked faux-cigar-box uke he'd just finished up building) he was taken away by customers and I glanced over the stuff available in his shop. I like to check out the current market because I like to redirect folks that are looking for first instruments or more modern instruments up to Kevin's to see if he has anything more "in tune" with their needs.

As I hovered over the amps I spotted this white and black little number and within a half hour I was out the door with it. And the best bit...? My Esquire matches it!