c.1895 Imperial 0-Size Gut-strung "Parlor" Guitar

This is a darn attractive guitar with a body-shape and styling obviously lifted from a period Martin 0-18, but done over in the maker's own style and sporting solid spruce over solid birch (I think) instead. There's not much information on the Imperial brand, though it appears it was a Ditson spinoff company that built them.

Here's a patch of information that I gleaned from this website (click here) that sounds honest to me:

"Another Ditson-related guitar manufacturer and distributor was the John Church Company. Ditson’s Cincinnati branch, launched in 1860, was sold to its founder, John Church, in 1871 and renamed.  Church’s small instrument manufacturing arm built guitars that were sold under the Imperial brand. In 1891, Church introduced a new model of Imperial guitar incorporating a bridge and tailpiece combination intended for steel strings, patented by one Charles F. Geiger, which may be the first guitar to be advertised as built specifically for steel strings."

My work on it included regluing most of the back braces, a fret level/dress, cleaning, bridge shave & new saddle, and setup. Unfortunately, the guitar had been subjected to steel strings at some point so the top had domed a tiny bit (hence the bridge shave) and the neck has a hair over 1/64" relief along its length, mostly in the first 5 frets. This yields an action height, at the end of setup, of between 3/32" and 1/8" at the 12th fret, which is about normal for a setup on a classical guitar, but I like to get gut-strung instruments 3/32" on the dot if I can.

The bracing is ladder-style and reminds me of European design influence more than anything else. The main lower-bout brace is directly at the leading edge of the bridge, which is sort of interesting, since I usually only see ladder bracing of that style on German guitars. Tone is good: warm, nice volume, sweet, and balanced. Unlike many of the smaller body styles, this doesn't sound forced or thin. It has more of a classical tone for its time than the more typical boxy midrange tone.

The instrument itself is entirely crack-free and all-original except for the new fret saddle (the original fret saddle was brass but became bent upon removal).

Nicely-cut headstock. The neck appears to be one-piece maple (or similarly-grained hardwood). The fretboard, nut, and bridge are all made from rosewood, though the board is dyed darker. The board itself has a tiny bit of radius and the back of the neck is a mild, rounded soft-v shape. It's almost identical in feel to period Martins that I've played.

Nice, big pearl dots and original smallish frets.

The Martin-style 3-ring rosette is really classy, especially with the rounded-off inside, unbound edge.

Binding looks like rosewood to me and the purfling is like style-18 Martin stuff. Of course, this gives it a great, elegant look. Note how clean the finish is -- minor playwear to the treble side of the soundhole but overall this has very few nicks and scratches for its age.

Great, rosewood pyramid-winged bridge! The rosewood-with-pearl-dot pins are original, too.

Real pretty!

After a quick lube, these ivoroid-buttoned, brass-plate tuners work perfectly.

This has a one-piece back.

Curious serial number!

Nice rounded heel cap. The neck set is quite good.

Oops -- one more unoriginal part! The endpin was missing, but I had this (c.1900s) Regal endpin hanging around, and with a bit of masking-tape shim, it fit just fine.


James Gass said...

I have a similar guitar from Imperial c.1895. The size and shape look about the same, but the the bridge is a metal piece that goes to the bottom of the base and the Imperial logo is much smaller and nailed on to the head. I also have the original slide in case. I have never been able to find any information on the guitar or the company until I saw your post! Thanks for sharing.

Tony Herman said...

I also have a very similar guitar serial number 3420.
I would sell this piece if i recieved the right offer

Unknown said...

I also have one that needs to be restored near Tallahassee FL. Please let me know who I might contact.