1930s Gibson-made Mastertone Special Hawaiian Guitar (Electrified)

Gibson made these Mastertone Specials as student Hawaiian guitars ("square" necks and strings set above the neck for slide/lap play) in the mid-30s and they share the body shape and ladder bracing of the down-market KG-11 models, though they're entirely made from solid mahogany, have a 12-fret (bolted!) neck joint, and rosewood board with painted frets.

They're not well-received guitars in the vintage market (well, what Hawaiian guitar is?), but I honestly think they sound awfully good for a mid-grade Hawaiian flattop from the time -- they have that sing-songy, woody, sweet, mahogany tone and the bridge is exactly in the best place for driving the top.

A friend of mine has been playing this for a long time and I helped him replace a bad saddle and shore-up some of the old repairs to it last year, but a couple weeks ago he called me up asking if I could electrify it for him. As that sort of thing is right up my alley, I said, "of course!" Modifications included a hot Alnico-magnet lipstick pickup (8k ohms vs 3-4k on the originals) installed at the soundhole and installation of a tone+vol wiring harness. I also replaced the saddle with a length of threaded steel (Fender-style! -- in my dreams) so I could ground the strings, too.

The guitar is much-abused, but the new pickup and knobs give it a bit of a "dapper dandy" look, now.

Like anything Gibson-made, even this "student model" was a good-quality, well-thought-out product when made.

I used a Strat-sized modern lipstick pickup but mounted it to a Danelectro-width brass baseplate from my parts-bins so that I could get the mounting holes where I wanted them.

The new saddle is 100% inelegant, but it works well for grounding purposes, matches the hack-n-slash old repairs, actually boosts sustain a little bit, and lets me adjust string spacing, too.

I was originally going to use some old bakelite knobs, but they were a bit finicky so these Gibson-style speed knobs seemed a better choice.

1 comment:

Robert Gardner said...

Very happy to have it back. With that new pickup it really has a nice woody ring through the amp, rings like silver shines like gold. Thanks for the handsome upgrade.