1931 National Duolian Resonator Guitar

The steel-bodied Duolian was National's answer for a "downmarket" single-cone guitar. This one is from early in the production (they "came out" in 1930) and sports the earlier 12-fret body and flat-cut f-holes. Its original finish was "green frosted duco" which is a crystalline-looking bit of fancy stuff but that's been worn-in all over on this guy to produce a "rich rustbucket" effect. It now looks more like something that's trying to camouflage itself with woodland surroundings.

This came in with a lot of funk attached: it needed a total teardown, the fretboard needed regluing on about 1/3 of its length, the biscuit (bridge on the cone, really) needed a new saddle, the tuners needed overhauling, the frets needed work, hairline cracks on the board needed filling and stabilization, and a number of setup issues needed to be worked out internally (the neck is supported via a long oversized dowel in these like in a banjo rim).

After surgery, though? What a kick. It's just plain fun!

1953 Martin 0-18 Flattop Guitar

Personally, I think the early and mid 50s Martins are some of the best Martins out there. Don't get me wrong -- the pre-war and wartime Martins are fantastic (if sometimes finnicky from the extra-light builds) -- but there's something full and familiar about the 50s Martin sound that does it for me. This has to be the best 14-fret 0-size I've heard thus far, with a lot of lower-mid saturation and a creamy top end. It's a perfect blues, thumping, or picking guitar with innate volume and snap. It sounds like it embodies the "guitar tone" of a zillion old Folkways recordings.

Hyperbole aside, this got a fret level/dress, some seam repair work, a small hairline crack repair to the neck near the nut, a bit of bridge/saddle adjustment, cleaning, and setup. The only "new" bit on the guitar are the new rosewood pins which replaced the remaining trashed black plastic pins that this probably had on it since "birth." It plays spot-on (3/32" bass, 1/16" treble action at the 12th fret) and is ship-shape and ready to go, strung with 12s.


1994 Alvarez A-100 A-Style Mandolin

For a student, all-ply mandolin, this really isn't too shabby. After leveling/dressing the frets, fitting the bridge a bit better, and giving this a good setup and stringing with 10s, it plays spot-on and has a convincing tone. It's certainly no Gibson, but it sure is a lot better than your average Rogue-style product.

The previous owner told me it's circa 1994 and that makes sense: that's around when most of these models were made. It's quite clean save a couple finish weather-cracks... the most obvious 3" finish crack being right under the pickguard.


1920s Stromberg-Voisinet 2-Point Flatback Mandolin

While this is labeled "Victoria" in the soundhole, this is clearly a product of the Stromberg-Voisinet (in 1930, Kay) factory and follows the stylings of their 2-point guitars and tenor guitars in mandolin form. I worked on a fancy mahogany model in 2010, and like that one, this one has a sturdy feel in the hands and a good, midrange, cutty old-time sound. It's in good shape and all-original except for a new pickguard (which replaced a similarly-styled "aftermarket" pickguard) and a missing tailpiece cover.

Work included bolting the heel (with countersunk evidence at the back of the heel's bottom), giving it a fret level/dress, compensating the original bridge, and a general going-through, cleaning, and setup. At the same time I reinforced a damaged under-fretboard-extension area on the top with a "strapping brace" (thin and wide like a bridge plate) as there were a few hairline cracks under it and to the side of it.

1975 Gurian S3M 000-Size Flattop Guitar

X-braced, 000-size, long scale, light build: this is certainly intended to go head to head with Martin 000-18s of its day and it sounds like a more-refined version of one, too. I'm betting the wide waist and rounder shoulders help to give it a mellower tone vs. its Martin counterpart which would tend toward punchy in the mids. The slender neck on this guy gives it a playability edge for most players over a standard Martin neck, too... though I have to admit the below-soundboard hidden truss access above the soundhole is bothersome to get at.

I worked on this for a customer and it does what these high-class Gurians are supposed to do: it sounds great and plays great. It's a quality guitar.


1946 Martin 0-17 Mahogany Flattop Guitar

This is a consignor's 0-17 and while it's had some rough times in its life it's now buttoned-up, ship-shape, and humming. This one has a very rich and big sound despite the 14-fret 0 body size and easily outpaces my own Gibson B-25 (an inch wider and slightly deeper) both in volume, bass response, and projection. Part of that is the longer Martin scale, part of it is the era of build (the 40s were a good time for Martin), and part of it is the simple fact that this was played-in.

My work on it included a fret level/dress (the original brass frets were pretty worn), replacement bridge (you can see the hack-job first replacement here), cleating and repair of a 5" back crack, a new saddle and new pins all around, rehab of the remaining original tuners (new buttons, lube) and a replacement tuner of the same vintage type from my parts bin, much cleaning, and setup.


Ephemera: 2-Point Spotted!

Not only is the 2-point Kay/Stromberg-Voisinet guitar she's holding extremely rare... but what a very cool and spooky Adams Family-style snapshot. This could be right at home on any new retro-style album cover from these days.

Workshop: Pesky Old Bridges

Four bolts installed through a classical-style poplar bridge installed on a 40s Martin steel-strung 0-17. I mean, come on. This kind of stuff is just irritating to remove. Generally because the glue sets up against the bolts you have to chisel away at the bridge until you have leverage on them to turn them ever so slightly with pliers from the top and free them up.

It's all fixed, though, and in the morning the new/old "belly" bridge will get a brand new bone saddle.

1930s Regal Size 5 Spruce/Birch Tenor Guitar

I work on a lot of these and I'm going to be honest: the ones that have been beat to heck and washboarded all over from pickwear are the ones that sound the best. This one, rigged up with standard CGDA strings, sounds awesome. It's much fuller and warmer than you'd expect from a box this size. I'm continually surprised by that with these size 5 little critters.

This is a customer's instrument and didn't need the usual neck reset (yet), but it did need some cracks shored-up as well as a new bridge, fret level/dress, vintage geared pegs installed, and general setup and cleaning. It plays spot-on, now.


1930s Regal-made MayBell #32 Flatback Mandolin

While this "tain't no A-Century" like the mando I posted earlier today, it's still a respectable little machine despite a past full of hard times. I worked on one of this same model a couple years ago that was in better condition but after doing a bit of work (re-reglued some seams and braces, gave it a fret level/dress, new rosewood bridge, some replacement parts for its tuners, crack cleating/fill to the top, etc.) it plays like a champ. It's also quite loud and has a good, solid tone without the tubby lows you might expect from a flatback. I'm hoping this one's owner finds this as fun as I do when he picks it up.

Regal-made mandolins tend to have a 14" scale by the mid-30s which feels "at home" to a Gibson player's 13 7/8" standard length. They also tend to have wider nuts and somewhat beefy necks which means that they hold up pretty well over time, too, and folks who get cramped on the average narrow mando neck will find these a lot more comfortable. I do!

1950s Harmony-made Silvertone Baritone Uke

Yep... one more Harmony baritone. This has the bone nut and saddle which signify a 50s build. The mahogany is pretty stuff with some flame and curl... especially on the back. It came to me looking pretty clean except for an old hugely-botched attempted neck reset which had removed too much material and was looking to remove more. The solution was to shim it all up and reset it with a combination of glue and a big old bolt-through at the heel.

1937 Gibson A-Century Carved-top Mandolin

Our soundclip today is played by guest Mr. Paul... who owns this mandolin! He brought it by both to show it off to me and also get some minor fret and setup issues worked-out. It was already playing quite well when it came in but now that it's dialed-in... mwah, what a nice'n.

These things are totally rare (this is called a "Century of Progress" model and these were originally meant to feature at the exhibition of the same name) and this one is in the even rarer condition of nearly-unplayed. The frets hadn't been worked on before and showed only the tiniest wear... though a few were out of alignment with one another. Aside from age-related finish crackle and a couple tiny hairline cracks on the back, it could be a nearly-new instrument. It's amazingly clean. The factory order number stamped at the neckblock is hard to read but either says 1303C, 1803C, or either of those with a "G" after the number. Considering that there's an A-Century logged into Spann's Guide to Gibson as 1303C, I'd have to guess that it's the same instrument. So... we'll call it a '37.