c.1935 S.S. Stewart (by Harmony) Archtop Guitar

Though sold under the S.S. Stewart brand name (originally a fine banjo maker in the late 1800s) and marketed by Buegeleisen & Jacobson, this guitar was made by Harmony. It's definitely a great-quality machine, and thunders out chords with a woody, warmer-than-typical-for-an-archtop tone. It doesn't lack the penetration and clarity typical of archtops, however.

Materials include a hand-carved quality spruce top, solid mahogany back, sides, and neck, and binding front, back, and neck. Cool pearloid block fret markers, awesome multicolored marquetry purfling, and of course that super-cool celluloid headstock veneer. This thing breathes vintage charm.

The nut is original, and is bone.

Fretboard is rosewood, with nickel-silver medium frets.

Here's my new bridge arrangement -- a rosewood topper with feet of bone on the treble side and ebony on the bass side. I think this gives really nice sustain and a sweet overtone to the treble and a warmer, punchier bass. The original bridge had been cut down and made useless when I got it.

Cool warm, cherryish tobacco sunburst.

I had to reglue the neck block (it was annoyingly loose) and do a neck reset on this guitar, as well as some brace reglues, which had previously had a poor neck reset attempted. How's it play now? 1/8" at the 12th fret and super easy.


Bridge detail.

Marquetry detail. This cool grain is also repeated via the bookmatching on the other side of the upper bout, too.


New Grover tuners.

B&J logo. Note the nice mahogany of the neck.

I love the look of the back and side mahogany. It lightens this guitar up, too, which makes it really easy to handle for long sessions.

Yum! There are a few glued-up hairlines on this guitar, however -- one down the middle and one on either side of the upper bout -- they're dryness openings along the grain, and all secure now.


Other side.

Tailpiece is original... and nice little end strapping & ebony end pin, too!

c.1900 Bay State Bowlback Mandolin

Another mandolin! This is a turn-of-the-century (or late 1800s, for sure) Bay State mandolin sold by J. Haynes out of Boston (if my memory serves). It's all-original, except for a couple of tuner shafts and my replacement bone nut and bone bridge. Nice tortoise pickguard, too, despite its age-cracking.

I repaired a number of bowl separations and did my usual sprucing up and full setup. Plays like a dream, now, and has a complex, loud, and very pretty voice. Easily a good choice for a mandolin orchestra or classical session.

Ivoroid tuner buttons. The fretboard is rosewood, the bowl is rosewood and maple, and the top is spruce.

MOP dots with a greenish tint. This mando has bar frets, too, just like old Martins or Vegas.

Nice, simple, rosette.

Here's my new bone bridge straddling the bend in the soundboard.

Side view.

Detail -- nice contrast.

Back. This mandolin is also quite lightweight, and the bowl isn't reinforced by any canvas or paper lining. It has a few cross-strips inside, however.

Headstock rear -- note the "Bay State" stamp up top.

Good, strong heel join.



Tailpiece is definitely not original, as there are two sets of holes.

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt Tenor Banjo

First reactions? Nice tenor! This is a mid-twenties Oscar Schmidt tenor banjo, unmarked, but clearly made by OS -- hardware is OS-style, headstock is OS-style, and rim is OS-style. Often these were branded "Stella" when sold, though others were sold to mailorder catalogs who then resold them.

It's very simple and no-frills, and is entirely original except for a new bridge and a couple of strap hooks that have replaced two missing rim shoe/hook/nut sets. The neck, like all these old OS/Stella tenors, feels great -- nice and round and easy on the wrist for hours of play.

MOP dots on an "ebonized" board. Original nickel-silver frets are in good shape.


Though the original skin head is marked "CGDA" under the bridge, I'm using John Pearse heavy-gauge tenor strings (040w, 030w, 020w, 013) which feel perfect for "Celtic Tenor Banjo" tuning: GDAE an octave below mandolin. The wooden turned-top rim "tone ring" gives a perfect, mellow, woody, sweet sound to this banjo. Very open and excellent for Celtic tunes, or even jazz or old time music.


Back. The neck finish is slightly darker, walnut-i-er, than the lighter finish of the pot, which gives an attractive look to the banjo.

Simple all-metal friction tuners work perfectly.

Heel join. I had to reset (ie, reglue and set the angle) of the dowel stick on this banjo, as it had been hastily "repaired" at one point at a poor angle with a poor bond. It was a little loose when I got it.

Back of rim.

Good, solid neck brace.

Unfortunately, the mandolin-style tailpiece is lacking its distinctive cover, which would have had flowers stamped in it.


Other side.

c.1880s? Ornate 4/4 Violin

No labels, but definitely a cool violin. This is a 4/4 size and it appears to be more-or-less original, save the newer (1920s? 1930s?) chin rest and fine tuner. It's got a loud, direct voice, perfect for a bluegrass or old-time fiddler wanting to cut through the crowd.

Fancy-ish appointments include rope-style binding around the edges on top and back, and purfling as well. The wood is typical nice spruce on the top and nice flamed maple on the back, sides, and neck. The fingerboard appears to be "ebonized" maple.

Peghead. Note small holes on the side of the pegbox: this used to have right-angle geared plate-style tuners installed. They were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s and (from my point of view) seem to have become a victim of tradition (wood pegs) over common sense (14 or 18 to 1 ratio, meaning easier tuning and no need for fine tuners).

The finish on the top is quite "played in" and shows a lot of love.



Note the "rope" edging.



Pearl-inlaid two-piece back. Nice!


Neck heel.


This violin came with a nice vintage (1920s-style) case and a good-quality, engraved-pearl bow.