11/10/2014

1940s Vega FT-85 00-size Flattop Guitar




Let me start by saying that I adored the FT-85 I owned for a bit previously so I was well-prepared to expect a nice guitar when I started going through this to get it ready to play. The last one had a warm but focused bottom-end and a sweetness to the treble that one doesn't expect from a ladder-braced guitar. It made a super fingerpicker along the lines of those underbuilt late-20s, early-30s Martin 0 or 00-size 12-fret guitars. I'm fairly certain that this FT-85 dates to the late 40s while the other one was a 50s model.

So what's new with this one? An entirely different bracing pattern! The last one had a nicely-installed but fairly standard ladder pattern: one above the soundhole and three below it with a bridge plate/strapping brace. This one has one above and... one below! The rest of the bracing is that thin, flat "strapping brace" material (like you see on the backs of some guitars) installed in a big triangular shape below the bridge and then with additional rectangular, thinner, "strapping braces" installed above and below the outsized "bridge plate triangle brace."

Upon finding this I immediately thought: this is braced as light as most classicals! So, my setup limit is for a set of 46w-10 (extra light) strings on this guy. And does it deliver?


You bet it delivers!

The bottom end is, unsurprisingly, a lot like a classical guitar's: full, very warm, and open. The mids and tops on this, very surprisingly, sound like late 20s/early 30s Martin x-bracing. They're sweet and warm and rich. That's not to say it's a quiet guitar, though: it's quite loud. I think the best use is as a fingerpicker but it does a fine job with a light or medium flatpick for strumming. In the soundclip I'm using a bigger Blue Chip pick but I've long-since learned to finesse very light-gauge strings with these things so I'm not overpowering it.

So, on to materials: the top is solid spruce (no cracks) while the back, sides, and neck are solid mahogany (with a couple small and tight/glued up hairlines on the back). Both the bridge and fretboard are Brazilian rosewood.


The scale is 25" on this which brings it closer to a Gibson length than the last FT-85 which had 1/4" extra on this as I recall. The truss rod works perfectly and the nut is 1 11/16" with a neck profile that is somewhere between a late-50s/early 60s Gibson shape and something like a 60s Gretsch shape. It's fast and feels quite modern.

Don't you love that diamond truss cover, too?

Everything on the guitar appears to be original save my new bone saddle and replacement bridge pins.


The rosewood board is radiused and has bigger pearl dots (with a cool "bar" at the 12th fret) installed. The frets were more or less untouched and only needed a light level/dress. They're around "medium" in gauge so they, too, feel pretty modern.


I reglued the main brace below the soundhole as its wings had detached.

And speaking of soundholes: the edges are slightly rolled over and the simple 2-ring rosette is as classy and understated as you'd expect of a Vega.


I reglued the back edge of this bridge, added string ramps, and cut a new compensated bone saddle for it. There's plenty of adjustment room left but I don't think that this top is going anywhere. It's been two days strung up and I'm not seeing any deflection to the top over what was there to begin with (not very much at all).

The pins are any creamy-looking ones I could find from my bin to match the look of the broken old ones. Two are slightly bigger than the others but the overall look is preserved.



The finish shows tons of weather-check. I looked it all over carefully for actual cracks but only found the two tiny ones I've since filled/glued up on the back.

I love how the finish has darkened-up on this and given the binding a creamy-yellow color and the whole guitar that warm saddle-brown-orange color on the back and sides.


These are the original tuners... and in good functional shape. The buttons seem to have discolored naturally.


The neck set is good to go. The tiny "gap" at the heel cap is due to the heel cap having a slight angle on its back edge rather than a flat edge. I'm assuming someone sanded incorrectly that day...!


Dimensions? This has a 14 1/2" lower bout which makes this something between 00 and 000 in size. The narrow waist and upper bout give this an L-00 look and flavor when handling it and the deep-ish 4 3/8" side depth, I'm sure, helps to produce so much of that warm bottom end I'm hearing.





The original endpin is shrunken but preserved.


It's too bad Vega didn't bother serial-stamping many of their products from this time. Still... I like seeing the label in the soundhole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,

Love it, just wanna say: thank you.
For all your work and inspiration.

Greetings, Frank