9/22/2014

c.1935 Armstrong Dansant Carved-top Guitar






Update 2015: Back in trade and I've added a 2nd soundclip with a section of plugged-in pure pickup sound. That's the lower clip above.

The last time I worked on this guitar was in May of 2011 and it came back recently via a friend for consignment. I did a fresh working-over including a fret level/dress, new rosewood bridge, replacement binding for the pickguard, cleaning, and a good setup. This thing really is a champ: it's loud, proud, and now that it's playing properly again, it's quite aggressive: this reacts like a good carved-top Epiphone from the same period -- it'll zing out single-note lead work or give you a good, crunchy chop-chop chord sound. This thing also comes ready for gigging with a $70+ K&K Big Twin pickup installed "under the hood" and a pair of strap buttons to hang it from.

I'd heard these were made by Harmony and in 2012 I thought I'd gotten confirmation of that: someone pointed out a Harmony xxxxHxxxx model number designation inside of one but I never actually saw the guitar. I'm therefore a bit skeptical again because I've seen a few lower-quality (but still nice) Armstrong-branded models floating about on eBay that were certainly Harmony makes but not up to the specs or design style of this instrument. That's not to say that Harmony didn't do top-flight work on their high-end models or that they didn't make this... only that this doesn't conform to any typical Harmony body molds or bracing types. To add credence to the Harmony claim, however, I have seen a few high-end Harmony-made mandolins from the same time that did have very similar trim, finish, and materials used.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way: this thing's classy!


This guitar has a carved top rather than a pressed one and a body shape and dimensions that's very similar to a Martin-style archtop guitar. There are a few repaired/cleated hairline cracks on top -- some older work, some I did back in 2011, and all stable.


The guitar is all-original save the new bridge I installed and a couple of strap buttons. This headstock is super-elegant, no? The script is all in celluloid inlaid with rhinestones. Way, way too cool.

This has a 1 3/4" bone nut, too. The neck profile is a mild V shape similar to 1930s Martins and the rosewood board has a light radius to it. This makes it quite playable in all positions compared to the likes of most Chicago-style instruments from the time which are mostly bigger-necked.



The fretboard extension goes right up over the body farther than normal for any archtop guitar. This gives it a high-end look and feel. The multi-ply pickguard is also heavy-duty and tres cool, too.

This guitar has a longer 25 1/4" scale and because of some relief in the neck that I had to dial out in the fret level/dress, I strung this up with a set of 50w-11 strings. I think a "custom" set of 50w-11s where the plain strings were swapped for a 12 and 16 would be best for a soloist, however, while the regular 11s sound great as a backing/fills machine.


I cut the new rosewood bridge to replace a failing original adjustable one. Because of the neck-set angle (I never reset the neck, as I recall, but it had been done before me) a low bridge was needed and so I made this one-piece rosewood one and fit it. Its intonation is good and the non-adjustable design certainly added a bit more crunch/bottom end mwah to the guitar.

Action is spot-on at 1/16" treble and hair-under 3/32" bass.


A small section of outer-edge binding is replaced on the pickguard.


Fancy pearl inlay decks out the neck...



...while big multi-ply top and back binding set off the flamed maple sides.


Both the back and sides are quite pretty with their heavily-flamed maple but, folks, it's actually laminate (and thus nicely stable) -- which would've been fairly new for the time -- and I got a glimpse of its interior while regluing a patch of loose binding.



The heavy-duty, quality Grover tuners are slightly fussy but a lube now and then will help them for sure. They do hold excellent tuning, though, as I strung this up, tuned it up a couple times, then pounded on it for an hour without having any trouble.


The one-piece maple neck sure is pretty with all that flame... and workmanly flaking finish.


Since there's a strap button installed at the tailpiece I figured one here would be a good addition, too.




If the looks of this thing don't make other guitar players jealous I dunno what would...




Even when the guitar had a taller bridge installed to begin with both this guitar and its Orchestra relative I also worked on had low clearance over the top... so here I jacked it up slightly to make sure it stayed clear from bumping into the top and so muting the guitar itself or rattling against the top.


Oh yeah... practically brand-new tweed arched hard case included, as well!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake, I'd take a wild guess that this is more likely a Regal build, as opposed to a Harmony build. The fretboard inlays, the fretboard extension riser (stepped in and not flush with the binding), pointy fretboard extension and the laminate B&Ss all point to Regal, in my humble opinion. If it was made by Harmony, it would definitely be solid wood and I've never seen any of these other features on a Harmony. A neck reset would've been nice to achieve some break angle, but I know a great deal of customers aren't willing to pay for things to be done right! Love your site, thanks!
Cheers, GuitarMike

Jake Wildwood said...

Mike: I agree on the neck reset -- but the work would entail an extra in price that folks just don't pay for on "different" guitars. I'm tempted to just buy/trade for it back again myself and do the work to make it play like new -- but no $$ for gear at the moment! :)

As for Regal: I'm entirely convinced this is not a Regal of any sorts. The materials add up, but the construction is not right. Regal never used this type of bracing on even any of their high-end archtops that I've handled, the F-holes are very wrong, the body shape doesn't correspond to any Regal model I know, and the top is carved different from Regal carved-tops I've handled. The neck is also and entirely different V shape (more like a Martin in feel) than I've ever felt on a Regal. The hardware style is also quirky. I think it's probably made by a smaller workshop, though we'll have to suss it out over time.

Jake Wildwood said...

p.s. Though, as it is, this plays awesome.

Ed Goist said...

What an interesting guitar!

Bracing? Also, Jake, how "light" is the radius...Martinesque?