4/05/2017

1920s Lyon & Healy American Conservatory 4970 "Camp" Guitar





I'm a big fan of Lyon & Healy's "Camp" instruments -- of which I've handled many Camp Ukes and one Camp Mandolin -- but I'd never seen a "Camp Guitar" before and so the moment I saw this I knew I needed to see what it was all about. It bears the "Camp" imprint on the headstock, but the materials are a little different from the normal "Camp" line (it has a spruce top instead of monkeypod) and an American Conservatory (L&H's mid/professional label) brand in the soundhole, just like a same-materials pear-shaped tenor guitar I worked on years ago.

Fit and workmanship on the instrument is high quality (similar to a Washburn from the period) and the materials are, too. This has a solid spruce top and solid monkeypod back, ply monkeypod sides (L&H did a lot of ply on the sides of instruments during this period), a mahogany (or Spanish cedar?) neck, and a Brazilian rosewood fretboard. The nut is ebony and the original bridge is long missing -- but everything else appears to be original equipment save the strap button at the tailpiece. Specs-wise, it's "terz" in sizing -- with a 22" scale length (similar to a Martin size 5 or tenor scale length),  and 12 1/4" lower bout. The nut width is 1 3/4" and the neck has a flat fretboard and medium, soft-V bulk.

I knew the moment I bought this that it would need a neck reset -- which it got. I also leveled/dressed the frets, reglued a couple of back braces, and made a new, rosewood adjustable bridge for it. It plays on-the-dot with 1/16" DGBE and 3/32" EA at the 12th fret. The action can be lowered just a hair on the bass side, even, for a light-touch player (and that's easy since the bridge has thumbwheels). I've strung it up with 46w-10 "extra light" strings and tuned it like a "terz" guitar -- a minor third above normal guitar (so G-G instead of E-E). With regular lights (56w-12) it would handle regular E tuning just fine, and I've notched the saddle and nut to accept them. I think it sounds nice and different a bit higher-pitched, though, and it really rings-out with a crazy amount of punch, volume, and cut. Still, the voice is sweet and "good natured" for fingerpicking, especially.


Bracing on the top is ladder-style in the same pattern as a Regal tenor guitar, and just like the Regals the top deflects down just a hair around the bridge (these are very, very lightly-built instruments). 

There are absolutely no cracks on this instrument save for a tiny bit of veneer hairlining (just the ouside layer) on the side near the tailpiece. It's, overall, in remarkably excellent condition, I've gotta say. There are a few light scratches here and there but it really does look nice.


I love the "shield" headstock shape.


The dots are pearl and though this looks like ebony, it's actually rosewood. I forgot to mention that I added side dots, too.


Just like on many Washburn-branded ukuleles, the soundhole has a cool "rimmed" celluloid rosette.


The tailpiece is the same adjustable-angle type seen on old Stella/Oscar Schmidt parlor guitars from the teens/20s and, judging by the screw holes, original equipment.



The monkeypod wood on the back looks great!





Here you can see how good the neck angle is after the reset. The fretboard extension does dip down from the strings a bit, but it's not like we're going to be playing lead at the 17th fret, anyway, right?



The tuners look like original equipment, too, but I think someone had it strung Hawaiian-style for a while as there are extra screwholes (ie, the tuners might have been flipped over for lap play) and...


...there's wear just under the nut at the fretboard that suggests one or two of those "extender nuts" were installed on it from time to time.




This came with a modern strap button installed at the tailpiece, but I swapped that out for a vintage-style aluminum one to keep the look more accurate. Note the one little "hairline" in the veneer layer of the side -- below and to the "right" of the tail. Because the sides are 3-ply this has no effect.



The 900s serialization suggests 1925/26 manufacture, I believe.

2 comments:

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

As it is from the 1920s I would expect to see the tuners with the worms below the capstans. You mention those holes- do you think the tuners have been turned around?

Jake Wildwood said...

Many 20s tuners were above-worm but there a good number that have them below, too. I think they were swapped-over as it looks like it was used Hawaiian-style for a while which would explain flipping the tuners up. The baseplates matche both ways and there's a line at the nut on the f'board which suggest an extender nut was used for a few years.