5/23/2013

c.1950 Vega FT-85 Concert Guitar


Update August: Just FYI, I've been hoarding this one but have to admit that I need to let it go to fulfill some non-musical "secret projects." Yes, it's a sublime guitar. Ask anyone who's been to "visit it" in the shop...! Vegas (Boston-made) sit right up there with Martins in craftsmanship as well.

With a 14 1/2" lower bout and deep 4 1/2" sides combined on a 14-fret, slopey-looking body, this guitar totally speaks to the Gibson L-00 tree of guitar life. The difference is that it's ladder braced, however, and made in Boston instead of Kalamazoo. This makes it most similar to the Gibson-made Kalamazoo KG-14 models of the 1930s which used the L-00 body shape but featured ladder bracing. 

For comparison, here's a tenor model based off of the KG-14 body. This Vega's voice is actually remarkably similar to that tenor's, being full and sweet and loud but with much more bass response, complexity and old-timey crisp cut than I normally expect from a ladder-braced guitar.

Now, rumor has it that most postwar Vega flattop guitars used Harmony-made bodies. This is certainly true of the bigger FT-J (jumbo) model from the late 50s and 60s (the only flattop one I know of that used a Harmony body) but this FT-85 is a 100% Vega product. It shares the same 1930s prewar Vega flattop body shape and depth and sports a finely-built inside with nicely-carved bracing. There's no evidence of the reddish-brown glue trail and rough carving so commonly seen on postwar Harmony interiors of all stripes (low end to high end) and, frankly, the build quality is a lot higher than I'd expect with a bracing pattern and bridge plate design that I've never seen on Harmony products.

And, if all that doesn't convince you, dredge the net for shots of late-30s and late-40s known Vega-built guitars (the Profundo dreadnought comes to mind) and compare some of that bracing and build style.

I actually received this guitar in the mail this afternoon and after putting in a day's worth of work on various customer gear (to be seen tomorrow!), I did the only work this guitar needed after closing -- a light fret leveling/dressing, saddle shave and setup, and new ebony bridge pins.


As stated, this is a roughly 00-size (L-00 size and shape, to be exact) guitar and it sports a solid spruce top over solid mahogany back and sides. The neck is also mahogany and the bridge and board are Brazilian rosewood.


Bone nut, truss-rodded neck, and some of those funky original tuners (as seen on numerous 50s/60s guitars) which feel slightly slippery but hold pitch just fine.


The oversized pearl dots look great in that radiused, streaky-grain rosewood board.


The soundhole rosette is tasteful and minimalistic and the original pickguard looks pretty good, too, though of course with a guitar like this wouldn't you also be tempted to pop a firestripe one on?


This had some replacement (cheap) plastic pins in so I replaced them with some ebony ones. The saddle is a (previous) replacement and seems to be Tusq or similar.



Rather than stain the mahogany darker on the back and sides (as would be typical from the teens through the mid-40s), the wood was finished in its natural honey color.


The binding is one-ply but gives a simple Depression look to it.






This is (presumably) an original endpin.


...and here's the label on the inside.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey There, I have #8500 FT85. Traded it for a Guitar Fetish electric I just got a few days ago. Maybe I can find someone with a Vega cylinder guitar I could trade this for (ha ha). This 85 has seen some odd repair molestation, including someone striping the body and doing a nice sealing job, and of corse, the cracked headstock has been glued and screwed back together with short brass flathead screws. Seens stable enough. Anyways, I just spent the evening doing a fret dressing and set up. I'm quite impressed...this little oo has excellent intonation and a midrange push that's truly quite pretty sounding. Always wanted a Vega archtop, but this will have to do for now.

ps. Do you remember back in the early 90's when Gruhn (or maybe it was Stan Jay?) announce that Vegas were "under valued". I had been looking for a Vega cylinder guitar, but then the eBay Vega prices quickly shot up and hasn't come down yet. Maybe he had one to sell at that time... bummer. Enjoy your 85!

Dean