8/08/2012

c.1935 May Bell "College Pal" Parlor Guitar




While I hate the (broad) term "parlor" guitar, it does a good job describing these 0-size, 12-fret guitars for the general populous. This one was made by Regal for Slingerland who sold it under their "College Pal" moniker, which is a model attached to their "May Bell" line of guitars.

Most of these seem to have been sold for the intention of Hawaiian stringing (with metal raised nut and high action for lap slide play) and most were played that way. This one was, too, since the frets were untouched and it had the 1-17 fret numbers (for use with instruction books) scribbled on the treble side of the fretboard.

What's cool about the "College Pal" models is that they're identical to other May Bell 12-fret guitars of this style, save that the headstock is solid rather than slotted, which to my ears opens the tone a little bit more away from the bluesier side of things, since there's less back-pressure at the headstock.


Materials: solid birch back, sides, top, and neck with dyed-maple fretboard and dyed maple bridge. Frets are original brass stock.

This guitar came to me today and it turned out that it was in amazing shape. No cracks, no seam separations, good neck set... though I did need to replace a missing tuner button, give it a fret level/dress, light bridge shave (plus new bridge saddle), and setup. The non-slotted bridge pins came with it, but are not original.


When I shaved the bridge top to lower action (it's now at the ideal 3/32" at the 12th fret) I had to touch up the color, since this is a maple bridge (typical for many Regal products).


The cute rosette is painted-on while the binding is actually real cream celluloid. Ironically, the top "binding" is painted-on black.

Check out the very cool tobacco sunburst on this fella. The finish is in extremely good shape and it really looks like a dapper dandy. Almost as if it was played a few years and then detuned and sat in a case for the rest of its life.

The strings are 48w-10 DR Sunbeams, which I suggest on almost any old ladder or semi-ladder braced guitar. More on this one's bracing in a bit...


The "College Pal" logo with its harp is damaged. Nut is rosewood and original.


Dots are clay or celluloid.



I love that sunburst... and Bonnie's sunflowers aren't too shabby, either! I can't wait for the flowers to come out.



After a replacement (old) button and a lube, these tuners work great and are clean, clean, clean.


The neck profile on these isn't the hard and big V typical to 1920s/30s Regals. It's a rounded D shape similar to 1940s Gibsons right after they stopped using the bigger V shape. Maybe slightly slimmer, though. I find this a lot more comfortable for chords up the neck vs. the older Regals, though both neck shapes are great for picking up and down.






No endpin/strap button (indicative of a guitar intended for Hawaiian/lap use), but it does have an endstrip!


See the bracing? It's not really "ladder" per se, but more like a ladder/x hybrid, or what we in the business call "transverse" bracing where the main brace is half an x shape with a body-wide bridge plate below it and one other transverse brace below the bridge plate.

The tone on this is lovely -- sort of like a mahogany Martin 0-17 or something similar -- balanced and crisp and clear but with a sweet warmth and all around great sustain. It's also loud! I'm a fan of these old transverse-braced guitars, but one has to be careful to not over-string them since they're so lightly braced. The hardwood birch top helps stabilize the instrument, though, no doubt, and gives a nice sweet sound to the treble and a focused bottom end.


An original, but dilapidated, chip case serves as a good storage device.

1 comment:

Scott Sween said...

No doubt about the tobacco-sunburst....a dapper dandy fur sur Jake! Makes me want to put on a slick chocolate-carmel swirled suit and tie from the 20'/30's, shine and burnish up my shoes 'til they looked like two butterscotch hard candies, grease up and slick back maw thick head of hair (if I actually had some) pick up this here guitar and head to a steel guitar gig at the club. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Thanks for the string tip info btw, always love the info, use it too.