10/31/2012

c.1940 Favilla 0-size Guitar


Favilla (made in New York) ukuleles are pretty well-known for being quality instruments, but Favilla guitars and mandolins (and the rare balalaikas) are less well-known, but quite quality pieces. This is a customer's instrument and, judging by the fit, finish, and tuners, dates to the early 1940s.

It's essentially a Favilla take on the Martin 0-size 14-fret guitar with a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back, sides, and neck, and a shallow body depth and 13 1/2" lower bout. The neck shape is actually reminiscent of later (1960s) Guilds and Gibsons but the bracing is more European than anything else: this guitar is fan-braced in a slightly bulked-up variant on typical classical guitar bracing style. I typically see this more on 1950s-60s German guitars.


The styling is pretty "Martin" as far as the details go, though the multi-ply binding and brown-toned rosette give a distinctive look. The light-tortoise pickguard is also in Favilla's peculiar own shape.


Work on this guitar included a bridge reglue, bridge shaping, fret level/dress, light crack repair to the back, and setup. The neck is warped nearly 1/32" so I did the best I could for it and the action came out at a respectable 3/32" at the 12th fret overall. It's very comfortable but I would have liked to get 1/16" on the treble. Because of the light bracing and also the lightly-built, unreinforced neck, this guitar should only be used with extra light or silk and steel strings.

The tone of this guitar is close to your average 1930s ladder-braced design but has a bit more sustain and balance throughout.


Aside from two small hairline cracks on the back, the condition is excellent, though the thin finish shows typical weather-checking and finish cracking.


Rosewood-veneer headstock, bone nut, bone saddle, rosewood board and rosewood bridge are all nicely done.


Pearl dots in the face. The board itself has a flat profile which makes this feel a lot like an early 1960s Guild.



Good mahogany back.


Nice-quality Grover tuners, just like on high-end Martins from the time.




That pumpkin came from our own patch!


Original endpin.

10/30/2012

Audio: Vermont Ukulele Society Concert


The Vermont Ukulele Society came and played for us at our recent October open mic/concert series event and I must say it was a good time for all of us! I've just finished up editing down the audio from the show and you can listen to the concert below:


You can also download the file directly by clicking here.

I also managed to capture a couple videos. Both videos are after the "post break" below...

10/29/2012

Power Outages, Shipping, Etc.

Hi folks -- I just want to let everyone know that we may lose power for a bit up here in Vermont if Ms. Sandy the hurricane's winds get high enough to knock our lines out. If that happens, well, there won't be any blog posts until a bit later this week and it also may delay shipping time slightly if you've purchased an instrument (thank you!) in the last few days.

10/28/2012

Local Flavor: 2nd Store Concert & Open Mic


The second official open mic/in-store concert happened tonight and it was a blast! The Vermont Ukulele Society played a full set of classics of all genres with all the skill one would expect from these fine ukers. Thanks so much for coming out, guys, and playing for us!

Video and MP3 audio of their concert will be available as soon as I can edit and get the stuff up, too, so look out for those downloads in the near future!


Thanks also to our open mic crew who popped themselves up on the stage and belted out! See you next month!

10/26/2012

c.1936 Kalamazoo KG-11 Guitar




This nice KG-11 was supplied in trade from this good fella in France. When it got to me, it had action that was a bit high (1/4"), but after I worked it over per the usual -- fret level/dress, action adjustment at the bridge saddle, bridge pin-holes, and nut -- it plays perfect (3/32" bass, 1/16" treble at the 12th fret) and sounds wonderful.

It's no secret that these shortened 00-size body guitars are favorites of old-time and blues players (as well as songwriters) because they really dish out for their size and have a wonderful look and vibe as well as a very useful tonality: open and creamy but with a good tight bass that doesn't get spongy. This specimen also has amazing, rich sustain as well. A very nice box!


This guitar is in particularly good shape being all-original (save bone saddle, bone nut, and new ebony pins) and free of cracks. The finish is also pretty darn clean as well.

As an aside -- don't you love the look of this sunburst and pickguard?

Woods: solid spruce top with ladder bracing, solid mahogany back and sides, and a mahogany neck. The bridge and fretboard are nice old rosewood.


I added small string ramps and new ebony pins when I worked over the bridge area. This guitar, like most flattops from this time, has a minor amount of belly, but it's perfectly stable (especially with the 50w-11 slightly lighter strings on it right now) and had no deflection after tuning it up. Gibson beefed up the ladder bracing on these guys as opposed to what Harmony was doing at the time and as a result the tops sound better and are more stable.


Nice multi-ply binding around the soundhole. The top is also bound in white celluloid.


Lovely Kalamazoo stenciled logo.


Radiused rosewood board, pearl dots, original smallish Gibson frets (these feel GREAT) and no side dots.


The pumkin-orange to black sunburst is so cool.







Here you can see that nice, one-piece mahogany back a little better.


Original tuners are lubed and work great. The neck shape on this is that typical medium-to-larger Gibson v-shape from the 30s. It's not as big as the 1920s ones and in comparison to other brands of the time, it feels nice and comfortable. I think, especially on these Kalamazoos, some good thought was put into what makes a good strong neck plus a very playable one.

The cozy radius to the board definitely helps, for sure.


The mahogany in the sides is nice, too.



Original end-pin.


The serial -- 902B -- dates this to 1936.


...and it has a plain-Jane, no-frills modern gigbag that works just fine with it!

c.1955 Gretsch Soprano Ukulele


This Gretsch-made soprano uke dates to probably around 1955-1960 and is all-solid mahogany throughout with a very thin rosewood fretboard. It's styled after Martin ukes but is a lot less fancy. In terms of quality it rounds out about the same as a Favilla from the same period.

This is a customer's instrument and the work included a neck reset (plus reinforcement), fret level/dress, cleaning, brace reglues, and setup. I'm not sure if the tuners on it are original but they work just fine for plain-Jane friction pegs.


Sound is sprightly and alive with good volume. This is not that "creamy" Gibson or Martin uke tone, but more of the pronounced higher-grade Harmony tone.


Fun Gretsch decal on the headstock.


Brass frets, tiny plastic or clay dots.


I had to slot the saddle a little bit to improve action.



The mahogany on the back is very lightly curly in figure.




So, like all these post-war Gretsch ukes I've had the pleasure to play, it really stacks up especially when you compare prices of these guys to prices of Favillas or Martins.

Ephemera: Couch-Banjo-Cuddle (c.1938)


Definitely click this one to see it a little larger. Cute couple!

Anyhow, please don't mind me if there aren't as many posts this week as normal. Business as usual should return next week and I've got a lot of fun stuff on the way.

Repair time has been seriously cut down this week since I've been hunting a new vehicle and there are many shows and events going on! Speaking of which...

TOMORROW, FRIDAY - Come see our 3-piece band (The Baba Yagas) at The Wild Fern in Stockbridge, VT at 7pm -- free! We've been playing there weekly lately.

SATURDAY NIGHT - This will be our 2nd open mic/concert series show AT THE SHOP at 7pm with the open mic and 8pm with the feature performers. This month it'll be THE VERMONT UKULELE SOCIETY! -- and they're a great bunch! It's also free so come and listen and/or perform at the open mic! Refreshments & snacks are served. Check the concerts page link above for further info.

10/24/2012

c.1910 Larson-made Stahl "Parlor" Guitar


This pearl-trimmed, slightly-under 00-sized guitar is owned by a friend of mine and boy am I jealous!

While branded "Stahl" in the soundhole, this is a Stahl that was made by the Larson Brothers, those oh-so-famous Swedish fellas in Chicago who have in recent times started to get the renown they deserve.

So what does that mean as far as this guitar is concerned? High class, high quality, and wonderful sound -- rich, sustained, full, and precise whether flatpicking or fingerpicking.


This guitar sports its original finish which is in gleamingly-good condition. It's possible the top was either lightly French polished at some point to bring it back up to luster or it was simply buffed up because there is a small amount of pick wear at the treble side of the soundhole that has been blended into the finish.

Either way, it hardly matters. The condition of the instrument speaks for itself: extremely well-kept! It is also crack-free except for a couple under-1" hairline cracks with the grain on the back.

...and if you were wondering, this is a 13 3/4" wide body and the top is ladder-braced, though in typical Larson fashion the build is well-thought-out and very sturdy.

These were built in what we call "domed" fashion today, with the top and back built "under tension" over slightly curved braces. This means that compared to a typical ladder-braced Harmony, Regal or other mail-order guitar of the time, the top and back have a slight "dome" shape overall, and with the wood flexed in this manner it's much more stable than a flat piece of wood that can more easily bend or warp... and a more-stable top means better sustain, clearer tone, better volume, and so forth.


The headstock and fretboard are bound in the same white celluloid that the rest of the instrument has all over it. The headstock has a nice dark-stained rosewood veneer on it and check out the slotted cuts: they've been squared-off for a super-elegant look. That's an inlaid pearl "snowflake" at the top of the headstock.


Original frets, dressed nicely, in an ebony fretboard. This board hasn't been "ebonized" so the natural grain is allowed to show through which looks simply beautiful. The pearl-inlay workmanship is also top-notch for the time and very clean.


Nice "Chicago" style bridge with inlaid "wings." The pins appear to all be original ivory types with pearl dots inlaid.


Lovely soundhole rosette and pearl top edging! Notice the red piping that really pops the pearl out and also the nice soundhole binding -- a very "Chicago" (vs. Nazareth) addition. The appointments on this guitar are similar to early Martin style-45 trim.


Gorgeous stuff...







The Brazilian rosewood, as typical for a Larson-made instrument, is fantastic and beautiful. Many firms at the time sought out very straight-grain rosewood, but the Larsons seemed to have really enjoyed stuff with good figure and an interesting mix of colors.


The neck looks like nice Spanish cedar as opposed to "true" South American mahogany to me, but I might be wrong. At any rate, they're in the same family and have much the same strength characteristics. Spanish cedar is the stuff used in classical guitars to this day and was found on most nice guitars (read: Washburns, Martins, etc.) up until the 1920s.


I love the multicolored, inlaid backstrip. The heel is also perfectly fit to this guitar.


Wonderful rosewood used for the sides, too!




The rosewood is so pretty on this side!


Nice Waverly tuners.


Ivory end-strip with pearl-inlaid ebony endpin. Classy!


Here's the "Wm. C. Stahl" mark on the inside. The penciled-in bit at the top of the photo reads "J.B. Sutton" -- though, except for a possible Tennessee general store connection, the lead seems to be dead.