c.1935 Unmarked Round-hole Archtop Guitar

Update: This does appear now to actually be an Oscar Schmidt product.

While at first glance this appears to be a rather plain tailpiece-loaded flattop "parlor" guitar, it's not! This one is actually a round-soundhole archtop patterned after the early-mid 1930s Gibson round-hole archtops. It's a 13 1/2" body (0-size) instrument with a "12 fret" length (meaning taller upper bout) but coupled with a 14-fret neck and long 25 1/2" scale. For its age and build level (this is roughly "student" grade) it's in phenomenal condition. I just had to give it a fret level/dress, cleaning and setup at the nut.

All hardware is 100% original which is nice, and the only "cracks" are a not-through, tight pickguard-screw hairline on the upper bout and a very tiny not-through crack on the back near the heel.

Woods: dyed mystery-hardwood for the fretboard, poplar neck, solid birch body, rosewood bridge. The saddle is bone but the nut appears to be celluloid or similar. Binding is painted on with the exception of the soundhole "rosette" which is celluloid binding.

Nice slotted headstock and round-hole archtop vibe gives this very much a "Django" look. It sounds great for that sort of music, too -- loud, driving, percussive when dug-into, and balanced throughout with a longer scale that suits "custom light" (52w-11) or lighter strings quite well. This actually had old LaBella gypsy-jazz strings on it when I got it... so someone else had the same idea, too!

The grain on the top is pretty cool. While it's obviously birch, the sunburst and interesting graining makes it look almost like walnut or similar here and there.

Good, well-fitted rosewood/bone bridge. The bracing under the top is 3x ladder braces on the lower bout and one above the soundhole.

Celluloid pickguard.

Plain-Jane pearl dots, original brass frets.

Despite the clumsy painted-on "binding" this has a really cool look to it.

Great heel join.

Original strap button, too.


Anonymous said...

Jake, the owner told you that this guitar wore LaBella Gypsy Jazz strings, right? Or do you have some string identification superpower?

Rolfyboy6 said...

LaBella Gypsy Jazz Strings - Silver plated copper wound on silk & steel. 010 014 022 028 036 046 for Gitane. Quite distinctive. Jake might just know his own business.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Rolfy has it right. They're similar to silk & steels in look and feel and tone but have slightly different details.

Anonymous said...

Hello .Il has one there " gretsch ( JR) who looks like a lot


Anonymous said...

Oscar Schmidt made.
Without doubt.

Antebellum Instruments said...

I totally agree. I updated that info for the 2nd one of these I worked on. Will update it here, too!

Driftwood Artist said...

Hi, I have a very similar looking guitar with different headstock. It is badged The Michigan. Everything else about it looked exactly as your photo when it was original but it has been re-polished in a natural honey colour. I have tried to research a little historical info but unsuccessfully. Maybe you can enlighten me?
Simon, Cornwall, UK

Anonymous said...

I just bought one of these and have been doing some research on them, while I'm waiting for it to arrive. I know, I know-but it was only a couple hundred bucks shipped-and where can you find an 80 year old round hole archtop for that price? This guitar is a NIOMA(National Institute of Music Arts) guitar. NIOMA was an organization based in Seattle, Washington in the 1930's that purchased house brand instruments from Oscar Schmidt or Regal(depending on the source). I'm leaning towards OS also. Coincidentally, these instruments were featured in the Jan 2014 issue of "Vintage Guitars". I don't have a copy of the mag, but have seen references and photos on the internet. From what I can tell, the only marking on the guitar was a "NIOMA" decal on the headstock that's missing on yours. If you do a google search for images on the net, you'll see a few. It is an exact match.

NickR said...

A message to Driftwood Artist. The Michigan was a brand of Beare & Son Ltd- the celluloid badge shows B. S. & L. and the company still exists- its logo was the Cat & Fiddle. There was a shop in London and Toronto and guitars were even sold with the cat and fiddle on the headstock- made by Harmony and sold in Toronto. Guitars by quite a few US makers were sold in the UK as Michigan badged items- after WW2 they were European made as the current post-War £ to $ exchange rate made US made items prohibitively expensive. The guitar you have is almost certainly a 1934/5 Harmony Valencia- then coded as an H1265. It has a round hole and is arched- the bridge on mine is identical to the bridge on this guitar. The guitars look similar but have some differences- not least the headstock shape. You can find this guitar on the Harmony Demont site- Francois Demont had one in his collection.

Jake Wildwood said...

I'm not sure if this is what you're saying but -- this instrument is not a Harmony Valencia model. They are, I agree, very similar... but the devil's in the details. I've handled Valencias before of the like you're talking about and internally they're different and externally, too.

The body shape is different in the shoulders and waist (rounder on this one), the arching is different, and the bracing is quite different. Also note the heel shape, the lower location of the soundhole, the neck profile shape, the fact that these don't have a standard Harmony scale length, etc. and you can add up the wrong details. I know there's a second "Valencia" shape that's more rounded but that, too, has a higher-up soundhole and less of a "L-00" and more of a peanut sort of shape to its body.

Makers back then were all building very close-spec instruments in imitation of others and this is very often the case with low-end stuff that's close but not quite the same. I can't guarantee it but there were too many "wrongs" for Harmony attribution on this particular guitar.

Jake Wildwood said...

less of a = less of an -- tired :D