8/02/2017

1910s Bauer Company Parlor Guitar





This top-notch "size 2" guitar (12 3/4" on the lower bout) was sent for repair by a customer of mine and sports solid spruce over solid Brazilian rosewood. It has a Bauer Company label inside and everything about the instrument is well-crafted -- braces are tapered and tidy, interior work is clean and refined, and the medium, soft-V neck feels elegant and comfortable despite a 1 7/8" nut width. The "Monogram" mark on the back of the headstock suggests it's not one of Bauer's fancier instruments, but aside from not having elaborate pearl inlay, it was upmarket for its time.

Back in the 1890s, guitar and mandolin maker George Bauer and banjo maker S.S. Stewart were mixed-up in business out of Philadelphia, PA. They were supplying good-quality instruments to a ready market and both had fine reputations. By 1910, both outfits were essentially on the goodbye swing and the Bauer history gets a little muddled especially after the partnership with S.S. Stewart ends. It's my understanding that by the time this was built (probably the mid-to-late 1910s judging by the original tuners), the company (like S.S. Stewart) was in-name-only -- but please correct me if I'm wrong!

My conspiracy theory, thus, is that it's possible this was made by Vega for whomever was controlling the Bauer name at that point. It has a very Vega-like serial number stamped in the headstock's top edge (which would put it at 1919), the fudged 24 5/8" scale length is similar to other period Vegas I've worked on (some with 24 1/2" and some nearer 24 5/8"), and the bracing style inside on both the top and back is close to several Vegas I've had through my hands -- though to be fair, refined ladder bracing and "strapping" back braces were common on nicer-grade East Coast flattops of the time. Old SS&B catalogs make fuss over the radiused fretboards of rosewood or ebony, but this one is ebonized maple and flat, too.

The headstock "star" is meaningless to any sort of attribution and the same can be said for the 9th/10th fret dot-placement debate on various builders (mostly pointless), but I just get a hunch on this one. If you'd like to compare notes, check out this 1919 size 2 Vega, this 1890s 00-sized Vega, and lastly this 1898 Vega. Whether it's Boston-made or Philly-made, it's a great little guitar and the owner should certainly be proud of it.


Work on this guitar included a fret level/dress, mild bridge shave, and fret-saddle relocation for proper intonation. The owner has it strung with Thomastik KR116 strings which are classical-tension but have more of a fingerpicked steel-string tone. This instrument was intended for gut strings and so shouldn't wear regular steel of any sort.

It's all-original as far as I can tell but has had a sort-of sloppy bridge reglue in the past.


The neck is mahogany, has a rosewood headstock veneer and back-strapping, and ebony nut.




The trim is nice, isn't it? The binding on the top edge is rosewood and the soundhole has celluloid. The "rope" purfling really pops.


The ebony, pyramid-wing bridge is original, though I did shave it down in the center a bit to improve action and relocated the fret-saddle slot about 1/8" aft as it'd been cut in the wrong place!

The pin-holes got mild string-ramps mostly to resist wear on the strings themselves (they're $30 a set and tend to unwind on sharp edges) and I added two extra ball-ends on each string to keep the "overwrap" of the string from running over the saddle. Of course, that would be a moot point if this were wearing normal classical-style strings you'd knot-up yourself. During setup I adjusted to nut slots so normal classical strings could be used, too, without modification.





The ruddy, chocolate-colored Brazilian rosewood is lovely stuff.










3 comments:

Brad Smith said...

I have come across two of these that are virtually identical, both with a George Bauer label inside and earlier serial numbers. It could be that the one in your blog piece was built by someone else for the Bauer Company, which I suspect was the company run by Bauer's sons after he died. Hard to be sure!

Brad Smith said...

I have come across two of these that are virtually identical, both with a George Bauer label inside and earlier serial numbers. It could be that the one in your blog piece was built by someone else for the Bauer Company, which I suspect was the company run by Bauer's sons after he died. Hard to be sure!

Jake Wildwood said...

It could've certainly been built by folks who worked in the old company but under the sons' names, too. The more I think about it the more I think the similarities with Vega are just coincidences of the makers emulating one another -- or sharing workers.