6/30/2010

c.1930 American-made Portuguese Mandolin





I'm not sure if this is a Portuguese mandolin or mandola, as it has a 3 1/2" depth, 14 3/4" scale (long!), wide fretboard, and 11 3/8" (wider than my old gut-strung "parlor" guitar) width. I have it setup as a mandolin, however, with lighter strings after Portuguese guitar fashion (silvered-copper wound strings, gauges 31w, 22w, 12, 095).

That said, this thing is incredible. Nice wide ebony fretboard makes hitherto impossible (for me) chords on mandolin easy as pie (blackberry pie), deep Brazilian rosewood (solid) back and sides give it crisp, sweet, rich, and powerful tone... choice spruce top has the looks as well as the goods, and a cedar neck in the classical guitar tradition feels really comfortable and fast. Did I mention the slotted headstock with 1930s Klusons on it?


This mando has had a number of amateur repairs and uglification, much of which I've reversed or minimized, but there's no hiding that yuckily-filled hairline on the top, and believe me... it was much worse!

And speaking of the top, it's got bracing resembling a "tic tac toe" board which gives it a lot of strength plus tremendous power. Braces are very tall but very thin. Tone is somewhere between a flattop's punch and warmth and a bowlback's clarity and treble brilliance, but at twice the volume level you'd expect for either. This thing cuts and response is delightful.


Rosewood headstock veneer. Bone nut (orig).


Brass frets and... bone? dots.


Original ebony and bone bridge. Cool typically-Portuguese rosette.



Can anybody say... lush?



Pretty amazingly nice rosewood. All bound with wood, of course, top and back.



Gorgeous, true, Spanish heel.


And a regular tailpiece cut and bent to resemble a Portuguese-style tailpiece (ie, no cover). Thank goodness this has the regular tuners, however, and not the watch-key wildly-annoying-to-change-strings tuners.

c.1960 Kay Archtop Mandolin w/Pickup


This is the exception to the rule... normally I'm disgusted by press-arched plywood Kays from the 50s and 60s, but this one... after a neck set, fret dress, and setup... pretty cool! It's definitely a "take anywhere" mando, and it comes with a surprise: ...surprisingly nice folk art on the headstock (not mine) and an oldie-but-goody transducer (I think) pickup under the top on the treble side, feeding this a quite hot, decent-sounding signal for your acoustic amp.


It's all-original, too.



Pretty cool, huh? A vast improvement over the yucky logo we'd normally be seeing.







So, while these aren't my sort of thing, I was happily surprised by the surprisingly good (bluegrassy) tone of this beast and the even more surprisingly good amped tone of it. This would be sweet for barroom gigs. It's solid enough you could knock someone out with it, too.

What you shouldn't do...


...why NOT to install ugly oversized pickguards...


...poor Martin!


...and on a Gibson this time around... why NOT to use KrazyGlue to put your bridge back on!

6/24/2010

c.1939 Harmony-built "Marwin Star" Archtop Guitar


Gotta love these old pre-war Harmony archtops... they're built so much better than what came after and have a great, punchy, reverb-hall tone, great for fingerpicking, gypsy jazz or swing, or big chop strumming. This one's stamped S-39 (Spring 1939) inside and has the features of a mid-grade archtop that I like to see: celluloid bound top and bottom with multicolored marquetry purfling, a comfortable D-shaped 14-fret neck, and original fittings: tailpiece, tuners, pickguard, etc.

My work included a fret dress, two hairline repairs (cleated behind) to the bass f-hole, and a little bridge adjustment. I'm not sure that the bridge is original, though it is period. I had to take out the adjuster screws and make a rosewood shim for the bass side foot to get the action where it should be (1/8" at the 12th).


Really nice, richly-toned sunburst. Looks great especially with the marquetry edging.


Flat, ebonized fretboard with inlaid celluloid dots.


Cool Marwin headstock stencil and original nut. Apparently the "Marwin" instruments were distributed by the Tonk Bros, according to the Harmony Database. However, this model doesn't confine to the parameters of the other "Star" model listed on that link. This one has a solid spruce top, solid birch back & sides with faux-flame on the back. IE, nicer than the one on the link.



Originally this purfling marquetry had bright red lines on the outer sides, rich brown middles, and teal and bright yellow details between the brown (I know because you can see it, minus sun damage, below the tailpiece mount.


Some washboarding below the pickguard -- maybe the previous owner had it off beforehand?



Faux-flamed, but solid birch. Back is arched, too. Some old Harmony archtops had flatbacks.


Solid neck joint.


Original tuners are in great shape, with bakelite buttons.





Bound top and back.



Overall, a nice mid-size (15 1/4" lower bout) archtop that's quite comfortable to play and is nice and super lightweight so you can haul it around at shows/sessions without breaking your back. The neck feels great, too, and has room for complex chords and fingering.

6/23/2010

c.1935 Regal Upscale "Parlor" Guitar



Update 2012: I'm now sure that this was a Regal product, especially judging by the bridge, fretboard, and general hardware and appointments and construction.

Wowza! Someone will be a very happy camper when they get their hands on this guitar. It's in fantastic condition with great finish, super looks, a loud, punchy voice and a bunch of features that you just don't see on modern instruments.

For example: extremely high quality spruce top (flattop and ladder braced), fancy flamed maple (solid) back, solid maple sides and neck, cool tortoise pickguard, and an elevated fretboard extension and neck joint like an archtop. It's got a 24" scale with a 1 3/4" nut and a radiused rosewood fretboard which gives it a relaxed and comfy feel. It also resounds like nothing else with that "on-board reverb" like you hear on gypsy jazz or quality archtop guitars. In fact, that's what this thing sounds like -- like one of those smaller-bodied Gibson round-hole archtops ala Robert Johnson style. It'll cut and pop and zing, too.


My work included a light fret dress, parts cleaning, general cleaning, and setup. Also sinking some glue into a very tight hairline (hard to see it in the photos) crack on the treble upper bout top (with the grain).


Cool headstock and helpful for identification. While the body style and built (especially the bracing inside) looks like a Regal to me, this headstock is more reminiscent of a Harmony from the times (this guitar is c.1930s).


Radiused rosewood fretboard and celluloid dots... in real great shape. Killer feel.


Celluloid-bound soundhole.


Sweet pickguard!


Nice adjustable and compensated rosewood bridge.


Simple and effective tailpiece.


It's nice to see this style of build with a 12-fret neck. Gives it a lot of volume over similar guitars with the shorter-bodied 14-fret join.



Nice mellow wine-colored maple sides.



See how nice that finish is?


...and there goes yer breath! Nice maple, huh?


...real nice... did I mention the top and back are bound in cream celluloid binding?


Tuners are c.1940s or c.1950s replacements. Originals probably had bakelite buttons on squared-off plates.



Good strong neck joint.



Tailpiece area.