10/31/2013

c.1941 Regal-made Recording King Electric Archtop Guitar


Like the National New Yorker and the Vega Electrovox I've worked on in recent memory, this is a 40s-era electric archtop guitar (specifically 1941, here) with a soundposted design to cut feedback and add stability and a pickup mounted in the bridge-mid position. I almost didn't buy this guy because it was so rough -- missing its pickup and housing, bridge, and tuners and with a warped neck -- but I can't stand something as funkily-interesting as this to get shoved back in a closet or basement for another 72 years...!

Work included what appears to be a second or third neck reset, fretboard extension reprofile and reglue, fret level and dress, cleaning, installation of a replacement soundpost (there are 3 in the ladder-braced body), installation of a replacement pickup and wiring, new bridge solution, bone nut install, and new tuners. Yeah, it also needed a lot of cleaning (the finish is kinda rough, still, though).

It's come out of work a decent player but the action is still higher than I'd like (I like it really low). Because it's an electric you can crank it down to a standard-ish string height (3/32" bass and 1/16" treble at the 12th fret) but if you want it to not buzz acoustically when played hard past the 8th or 9th fret, you'll need to crank it up a bit more (hair over 3/32" at the 12th). Still, this is plenty comfortable especially if you like to bang on your guitar or like open-tuning blues stuff.




The body is all-laminate press-arched with a plain-wrap maple-veneer back and sides and spruce-veneer top. The neck wood is probably poplar and the board is a lightly-radiused rosewood. Internally, the top is braced ladder-style but each brace (there are 3 that go across) is supported by a soundpost that mounts to the back. There's been top deformation and geometry changes since it was first built (which is to be expected with a guitar like this) but they don't pose any issues.


The initials of a group or owner are carved into the bass upper bout. The long, thin f-holes are sort-of Gibson-looking but they're definitely Regal to the trained eye (like on fancier Regal models like the Bobcat or those made for Bacon & Day). The body profile also reeks of Regal manufacture: compared to the Gibson or Kay-made Recording King-branded instruments, it's got a slightly narrower waist and a "boxier" feel to it. It's still 16" wide, though.


Typical 40s Regal-style headstock shape. The Recording King stencil is pretty cute, huh? Rosewood veneer on the face... and new bone nut. The nut width itself is 1 5/8" which is pretty slim for the time. Front to back, the neck is typical for something like a 40s Gibson or Kay -- deeper vs. modern but not chunky. It's also a C shape.


Nickel-silver bigger frets. They're leveled lower near the fretboard extension join and also near the nut but are fuller-sized in the middle. This is how I managed to remove some warp in the neck (there's still a 1/32" warp overall, though). That pearl-dot style (3 on the 12th fret and bigger dots on the center above it) is typical of Regal from this time, too.

The scale length on this guy is a long 25 1/2" which is just like a Fender Tele or Strat. This is especially useful for detuning to open D or C with standard 10s-gauge electric strings as you still retain some tension to keep them in tune.


Note that the new bridge is hard-mounted to the body. It's still adjustable but because of various geometry changes to the guitar I found that this was the most practical solution. It's set for intonation with a wound G string but I'd stick to very light gauges: I have a set of 46w-10 on here and the G is an 18w.

The new control plate and pickup housing is a bit of 1/16" solid veneering cherry from my wood pile. I'm guessing that the original pickup assembly may have looked something like what was on this old Regal lap steel. My new assembly is parts-bin finds: a Firebird-style minihumbucker, new Alpha pots with a less-bass-heavy tone roll-off cap, Switchcraft output jack, and proper grounding to the tailpiece. The mini-hum is twisted-and-taped to the volume pot so if the new owner wants to play around with mini-hum-sized pickups, swapping out will be easy as heck.

That said, this mini-hum gives this guitar a different tone from its closest period relatives (which would have had low-output single coils). It gives the guitar a more 50s, crisp and clear balanced tone, but with the tone rolled off a bit you get some of that thicker jazz comp sound. It's very practical for a one-pup guitar.


The original tailpiece with its deco motif on the string-holding bar is pretty cool.


As is often the case, the celluloid has started to deteriorate in this one spot. This is typical on many older celluloid pickguards (and the reason many old guitars are missing their guards).




The finish on the neck is entirely crackled. I'm wondering if it may have been primered or painted white to begin with but then was finished-off in black. It's all factory work but that would explain the odd heat/weather cracking on the neck.


What's strange about the use of the plainer/lightly flamed maple veneer on this guy is that on the inside is birdseye maple veneer which (to my eyes) would've looked a little fancier.



I splurged for the nice Grover 18:1 Sta-Tites on this guy. I love these tuners -- rock solid, smooth-turning, and hold their pitch well whether you tune your strings up or down.



New ebony endpin.


It's date-stamped July 1941 on the interior bass-side of the back.

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