1/19/2017

1890s Howe-Orme Cylinder-Top Parlor Guitar





Howe-Orme cylinder-top instruments are exceedingly rare and the guitars (as opposed to the mandolins) are even rarer. They were marketed by the retailer Elias Howe out of Boston and this particular one bears a Bohmann repair label. I have a sneaking suspicion that the cylinder-top instruments themselves were made by Vega or Haynes/Bay State (both out of Boston), but that's absolutely unconfirmed. I do know that Howe did not make most of the instruments -- if any -- that they sold... and have seen a number of "Howe" banjos that were clearly made by other makers. Does anyone know a deeper version of the story that would confirm they were (or were not) made in their own factory?

For tertiary information overload, check out this Wiki page, this page, and this old sales entry.

All that said -- this is an amazing instrument. The top is cut paper-thin, press-arched into its "cylinder" shape for strength and an overall featherweight build. The top is solid spruce and the back, sides, and neck are solid mahogany. The fretboard is excellent-quality ebony and the bridge is ebonized maple.

It has some thoroughly modern (and ingenious) features, including an adjustable neck-angle/orientation attachment that requires a cantilevered fretboard extension, radiused fretboard, and zero fret. These are all features that I love seeing on a guitar and are icing on the cake for an excellently-built instrument.

My work on it included regluing the bridge and cutting a new saddle slot, a fret level/dress, some minor seam and crack repairs, and a good setup. I wrote a bit about the repairs in two workshop posts. The owner decided to keep the compensation at the saddle "straight" so as to make it useful for gut/nylon strings which would've probably been on it when it was played "new." It's wearing a set of fancy Thomastik KR116 rope-core steel strings which have the same tension as nylon/classical strings and intonate the same way but have more of a steel-strung, fingerpicked tonality -- albeit with a bit more warmth and definition on the bass-end.

So what's my conclusion on the guitar? It's a "size 2" instrument but sounds much larger, has excellent projection for its size, and has a tone to die for. I simply love it. Unlike the later Vega cylinder-top guitars, it doesn't need much tension to drive the top, and the elevated fretboard extension and wide-nut, soft-v, slim front-to-back neck give it a professional feel.


The top is orange-stained like many guitars of the 1890s. The lower bout is 12 3/8" across which puts it in the "Martin size 2" realm, and the 25 1/8" scale is fairly long for the time (when 24" was more standard across makes).


Here's the shape of the top. Wild, isn't it?


Note the precision of the workmanship -- lines are crisp and cuts are clean. The nut width is 1 13/16"  and the spacer-nut is ebony.


A radiused fretboard gives the neck a more modern feel.



The rosette looks great and the rolled-over edges of the top blend into the mahogany sides.


The "mellowed pyramid" bridge is in line with period tastes from Martin and Vega. The bone saddle is new and the ebony pins are new, too.




The mahogany on the back and sides is uniform and simple, but the rich, red stain gives it a classy look.




The neck actually isn't bolted to anything. If you remove the strings and pull back on it, it will fall away from the two locator/holder pins -- the one on the back of the heel, here, and one at the "front" of the heel that sits in the body. It's an interesting and effective design.


I love the herringbone backstrip.

The back is flat, by the way.




The Waverly tuners may put this more around 1900-1905, but my hunch is that this probably dates from the late 1890s.


There's plenty of saddle -- though there's no need to adjust it down here save for modifying the radius on the saddle! That neck joint lets you do a lot very quickly.




There's old, repaired damage near the endpin area. I've added an older ebony endpin from my bins, too.




Perhaps, some day, this stamp will be more useful.

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