1/17/2015

1920s Oscar Schmidt-made FHCM Parlor Guitar




Let's face it: this was not built from the get-go to play "Spanish" or "regular" style. It's branded with the First Hawaiian Conservatory of Music label inside and bears evidence of old "fretboard pitch marks" which are usual for lap-style (ie, Hawaiian-style or raised-string slide playing) guitarists learning the ropes. It was made by Oscar Schmidt for the Hawaiian craze and would have been one of a bunch of instruments just like it made under various other marks, too. After all, lap-playing guitars were very popular.

Fortunately, after work, we modern guitarists can enjoy these for "Spanish" style, too. This had already had a neck reset before I touched it (I worked on this for a customer) and the few cracks had already been cleated and somewhat-filled, too. My work was really more on the setup side and included fitting a new rosewood pyramid bridge, making a new bone nut and saddle, leveling and dressing the frets, some seam repair work, and general setup. It plays spot-on and has that mellow, percussive, and mids-rich tone that makes OS builds from this time particularly attractive to modern players in the folk and blues vein.


Could this be a one-piece spruce top? It's that or some other one-piece softwood. Look at the wild grain. I love how it's all "raised" itself over time, too, for that extra-rustic look.

I just bought some big slabs of fir today to use for electric guitar bodies and I'm betting that this imprint was stuck in the back of my head.


I fitted a big old nut on here to replace the original big old wooden nut which was not useful at all (these would've been sold standard with a raised "Hawaiian" metal nut that slipped over said wooden nut). When I make the new nuts and saddles I try to leave them somewhat "rustic" to suit the look of these guitars.

I wanted to catch the sunlight for these photos so there's still some obvious discoloration right up at the nut from wear on the board. I've since "ebonized" the area like the rest of the board. These are stained-maple boards to begin with.


Due to minor twist/warping in the neck, this instrument showed some unhealthy relief on the treble side, mostly. During the level/dress of the brass frets I managed to effectively remove that, however, and this plays with 3/32" bass and 1/16" action at the treble which is what I like to see as standard-issue height.


To a repairman who's worked on a lot of these, the top bracing is interesting. Instead of OS's usual three-brace lower bout bracing, this guitar has only two and a slightly larger bridge plate. This gives it, comparatively, a slightly mellower and woodier tone than your average 0-sized OS parlor from the time. I've got this strung with 11s rather than 12s in consideration of the lighter bracing.


The slightly-oversize repro "pyramid" bridge is rosewood and I'm not ashamed to say that I picked this up from a Chinese seller who ships these in bulk. It came in a bundle with others of these, roughly-cut (no fine-sanding or polishing), and perfect for use on these funky old beasts as the idosyncracies look perfectly at-home.

This had an original bridge on it when it came but the straight saddle made it useless for Spanish-style setup and, I'm going to admit it... the original Oscar Schmidt bridges are mostly garbage anyhow. They tend to split and warp and weren't made from decent wood in the first place (especially after a liberal dose of "ebonizing" dye which softened them up).



The back and sides are solid birch, as usual. The funky pseudo-burst finish is pure OS fun.



The old neck reset job isn't the prettiest but it does work just fine. When it was done the fretboard extension wasn't shimmed-up so it does dip off after the 12th fret... but who's gonna play up there on a 12-fret, anyhow?


Does it get any better than this? Here's that big old (poplar?) c-shaped neck with, yes, a knot right in the middle of the back. You would never see that on any sort of production guitar these days. I love it.




This came to me with two sets of tuners and this is the better-quality set without bent baseplates. They're period and after a bit of lube and adjustment they work well.


Original endpins are handy.

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