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7/25/2014

c.1919 Vega Size 2 Mahogany Parlor Guitar




Gosh, how rare is this? I would say that this Boston-made guitar is Vega's take on a Martin 2-17 except that this guitar predates the debut of that model by 3 years judging by the serial number. Pretty neat, huh? It's featherweight, very lightly ladder-braced, and sounds fantastic. It's also extra-rare: I barely ever see Vega guitars come through. I have no idea if it was built for gut/nylon because the original bridge is long gone and it was strung with medium (medium!) steel flatwound strings tuned up to pitch for at least the last half century. I've glued a bridge suited to steel and strung it up with extra-lights (10s) though someone more risk-taking might string it with 11s and be just fine.

This came in totally off-kilter with a terrible giant bridge installed, a bad neck angle, and some questionable side crack repairs (with, amazingly, external cleats). The top was (is) also bellied. It was mostly good, though, to my eyes: the neck was straight, the bracing was all intact, and I knew it'd go back together just fine. So that's what I did... neck set, fretboard extension shim, new bridge, some minor crack repair as well as removal of the uglier/sillier bits of the old repairs, new pins all around and saddle, some replacement (same period, same type as the damaged originals, but from my parts bin) tuners, cleaning, and a good setup.


It's a killer fingerpicking or folky-strumming guitar and nails that sort of open, clear sound I'd expect from a Martin mahogany-top guitar of this size from the 20s. Because of the ladder-bracing, though, it's got a bit more ring and sustain rather than that sort of velvet thuck that I'd expect from a Martin's bottom end. Volume is good, too, and it compares favorably in that regard with the various 30s 0-size Martin instruments I've had around. I keep comparing with Martins because that's its closest match in quality build and feel.

The whole thing is made from solid mahogany with a flamed mahogany top (isn't that gorgeous?). The top is crack free, the back has only a tiny 1 1/2" hairline (fixed), but as you'll see later it's the treble side that has old big repairs. It runs 12 1/2" on the lower bout and 3 7/8" deep.


Rosewood-veneered headstock with ebony nut (all original)...


...plus an actual "Vega Star" inlay.


The fretboard is dyed maple similar to Weymann-built instruments. Those are pearl dots and original nickel-silver frets. The neck profile is sort of a bigger C shape and the board is flat-profile with a 1 3/4" nut.


I added the new rosewood bridge with nice tall compensated bone saddle and new ebony pins (to match the nut). Note the disrupted-finish area around the bridge: there was a bigger "replacement" (to put it kindly) installed but I didn't want to use something so big as it would sap a bit of tone. Besides... I'm not one to hide old damage/repairs... and it's harder to see when you're just playing it in a room, anyhow.

Oh, and also: under the top in the bridgeplate area someone installed a big, thick bridgeplate when they added the other bridge (which was bolted to the top!) and it's my guess that the combination of that bridgeplate plus a massive 2nd bridge is the only reason this survived so much abuse for so long. The top has belly like a very worn-in same-period Martin but it's stable nonetheless and at least the poor gal hasn't been ripped in two with a zillion hairline cracks!


The trim is all wood: rosewood binding with some delicate purfling lines and a nice rosette, too. Note pickwear around the usual spot...


Here's some of hte pretty trim I mentioned... classy and understated.



The hog on the back is nice stuff, too.



This neck has a tenon joint that was very shallow. Instead of just regluing it (which would inevitably just pull up and off) I glued it and added two (over/under) hanger bolts like a Gibson banjo neck attachment. Access is through the soundhole and that will keep this snug and tight for the rest of the guitar's service life.


37000s = 1919 date.


Despite obvious use-wear and nicks, dings, and light scratching, the finish looks great. It (thankfully) hasn't been oversprayed.



The tuners work just fine.


Here you can see the ugly bit of some of these old side repairs... but they're all good to go and plenty sturdy. The cleat job inside was thuggish but practical.



New ebony endpin and the 2nd bit of "disrupted finish" where an external cleat (!!) was applied. I lightly sanded the remains of it and clear-coated it to seal the wood. I'm not particularly concerned with hiding it, though, especially since this stuff is on the "leg side" as you play. I consider it history, anyhow. Note the 3 filled odd holes, too!


Here's the belly... it came like that... it strung up like that... and it's remained the same since stringing it. I don't think it's moving. Check out the nice tall saddle, however: that gives plenty of adjustment room if needed. The action right now is perfect for fingerpicking with the 10s on it but will be a little too slick for a heavy-handed flatpicker who may like either 1) upping string gauge to 11s or 2) either a shim or 2nd taller saddle. Both are easy to do. Action is set for "factory standard" (ie, fast) 3/32" at the 12th on the bass side and 1/16" on the treble.


There are a cluster of longish, repaired hairline cracks in this area that are all stable and good to go.



Here you can see one of my two bolts installed in the heel. The big connector hex nuts make tightening/loosening very easy.


And now to in-repair shots: I initially took the fretboard extension off because it needed to be reglued and shimmed -- but then I noticed the tenon joint built and I said "oh sheesh" and steamed the neck off to bolt/glue it back properly.


While a joint like this might be OK for gut/nylon (see "Bay State" instruments for similar builds) it's certainly not going to handle steel over time. It'll always creep.


Here's one of the panel/cleats that was installed over the outside of the guitar... though strangely enough internal cleats were installed as well which work perfectly. Why'd they bother? Who knows!

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