Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vintage 47 Tweed Suitcase Amp

Let's take a little time out from guitar talk and look at a great amp.  There are a number of folks out there now doing reproduction style work on guitars and amps and David Barnes of Vintage 47 amps is one of them.  You can't help but look through his website and be like - Oh yea, I want that one, and that one, and that one, and that one too....  He has a couple models that could double as great tube amps and art deco style furniture(check out his 1942 Oahu 12).  I love these products because not only do you get the great old Valco/Supro stylings, but you actually get an amp that works really well instead of taking a chance on an old ebay purchase that needs a new cord, caps, tubes, speaker.  You get the point.

David is a good guy, he does all the building in house and is extremely knowledgeable, helpful and cheerful to boot.  He clearly loves what he does and it shows in his products.

I won't get into specs on this amp.  I'll let you go to and check them out for yourself.  I will tell you that this suitcase model has been a great amp to have around the studio.  There is enough headroom on it to get you a clean sound.  Crank this baby up and it screams and growls like only these old school amps with big fat tubes can.  A very unique tone for a price that is very fair.  If you are gonna buy, I would suggest getting in now.  David is generally up to his ears in orders and is dealing with some pretty high profile clients.  Billy Gibbons and Tom Waits come to mind.  This suitcase amp is one of the first things people go to in my studio and say - What's That!!
1920's/30's Maybell style 5

Here is another spunky little Maybell.  Unlike the other two Maybells shown, this one is going to take a little work to get her into top condition.  She actually plays okay right now but is in need of a neck reset, some fret dressing and some bridge and saddle work.  When all touched up she is going to be a fine player as this model though not the prettiest person at the dance already has a loud voice and a nice balanced tone. 

Note the solid headstock on this one.  Maybell guitars were made by the Slingerland drum company from the 1920's - 1940's.  There were a large amount of models produced in that time and it never ceases to amaze me how I can still come across a model in my searches that I have never seen before.  They get big points from me for making some of the prettiest looking guitars as well as having one of the coolest sounding brand names in the business.
1920's/30's Maybell with angel decal.

This Maybell has been a little tougher to identify.  It has a little bit of the style 7 in it, a slotted and slanted headstock and the angel decal on the lower bout.  The bridge is not original but it has all those original bridge pins I talked about earlier.  

This guitar has a really balanced tone, giving you more bass than most parlor guitars.  The neck is wider than most Maybells I have seen or played making it a fingerpickers dream.  This guitar is also a lot louder than any other Maybell I have come across.  A real joy to play.  I try to keep this one close at all times!!


 This is a 1920's/30's style O Maybell with slotted headstock, birch body and pearloid neck.  And what a beauty she is.  My friend James Ralston did the necessary work to get her back into tip top shape.  Neck was reset, new compensated saddle was installed, and it was given a nice fret dressing.  James has worked on a ton of these Maybells and says that this is the cleanest example that he has ever seen!  I would have to agree.  This guitar is an amazing find and at 80-90 years old looks unplayed and brand new.  Now normally I like my guitars to have a little wear or "patina" if you will.  A bit of honest wear just shows that she has been played, loved by someone and has a bit of history behind it and a story or two to tell.  With that said it is nice every now and then to find such a clean example.  Clean or not I always wonder about the history of these old guitars and have often thought how wonderful it would be if an index card was provided with the guitar.  Each owner would have to jot a few words about the instruments history before passing it on to the next owner. 

These little parlor guitars have taught me some big lessons about style of play.  I am used to banging out rhythm on a big old dreadnaught with medium gauge strings.  I treat those dreadnaughts pretty hard and they respond fine to the treatment.  These parlors are a whole different animal and it took me a while to first get used to it and then to embrace the need for a style of play change.  The phrase "treat her like a lady" comes to mind.  They must be dealt with a little more reserve.  Lighter strings, lighter touch, very pretty sound.

One last thought regarding a little guitar minutiae.  If you are looking into buying one of these, try to make sure the bridge pins are original as they are really nice.  They resemble the pins used in some 30's era Gibsons.  I had a luthier once say the pins were nicer than the guitar.  He meant it in a nice way not trying to put the guitar down but rather trying to explain how good the pins were.
Kay Jumbo Acoustic Guitar.

This guitar is super easy on the eyes.  She takes over the photos with her 17+ inch lower bout.  I've been very lucky to come across a few guitars that are in great shape and this is one of them.  I would dare say again that you may have a hard time finding one in better cosmetic shape.  Neck is clean as can be with big frets.  The older Kays always seemed to have the best headstock appointments and this one doesn't disappoint.  Grover tuners that look to be original and work great(i have seen these kay jumbos with klusons as well so I can't be 100% sure about the originality - nevertheless they fit the bill).  Bridge has been screwed to the body which was a standard part of the Kay building process.  Thing is, I think this might have been a job done by an over eager previous owner.  The placement and screw type don't exactly fit the bill.  I'll have to check into it a little more.  I love these older Kay models.  I have a dreadnaught that I will feature later that needs a lot of love, but is worth looking at.  These Kays are built like battleships.  Great construction with big necks, and big tone.  This Jumbo is the guitarists version of onomatopoeia.  It sounds just like it looks.  Say the word "Boom" and you are getting close.  Going to give this guitar a neck reset as the angle is just a wee bit off and the heel is ever so slightly pulling up.  But that is about it.  She will be perfect when done.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1930's Regal.  This guitar is giving me the shivers.  The thing that I love most about picking up these guitars for cheap is finding that diamond in the rough.  Quite frankly that is the way that I feel about most of the guitars that you will see here.  I get them cheap because that is all I can afford.  I can't imagine paying multi thousands of dollars on ebay for an instrument you can't hold in your hands before purchasing it.  I'm not saying that some of them aren't worth it, it's just that I get even more of a thrill finding value in an instrument that was two steps away from the junk yard.  This old Regal is definitely giving me a thrill.  She is one of, if not the loudest parlor guitar I have ever heard!!  What gives me the shivers is that she is currently in need of a lot of work and still sings like crazy!!  The neck is kicked way forward(but straight), the bridge is lifting off the body,  there is virtually no saddle and in turn virtually no string break angle.  The fretboard looks like a mine field.  Check out the photo above of the fretboard - Do you think the previous owner knew their scales???  I thought this would be a problem but I've grown to love the look and it provides no discomfort to me when I play it.  This guitar is in line for some major renovations, but I'm going to take my time with it and make sure I get it right.  Now, a little talk about slide.  I'm no slide pro, but because of the current high action I couldn't resist throwing the glass on my finger to see what happens.  About the only way I currently play this guitar is in open G with a slide.  The tone is crazy.  I'm pretty sure that those proficient at slide would kill for this instrument.

Monday, February 27, 2012

1940's Gene Autry

Okay - so a guitar blog run by a guy who's nickname is Cowboy would have to feature a cowboy guitar or two.  Problem is I'm a guy who demands that the instruments I own actually function.  There are tons of old cowboy stenciled parlor guitars to rifle through.  These guitars are fun to look at but generally play horribly and sound even worse.  They are hard to resist though and if I were to buy a guitar to just hang on the wall these old cowboy guitars would be my choice.

These Gene Autry/Melody ranch models are the exception to the rule.  They are good little players and pretty well constructed to boot.  It helps when you can pick one of these up after they have been gone over by a talented repair guy.  I picked this guitar up from Steve Chipman of Chester, VT.  Steve has a cool little side biz repairing old parlor guitars and sending them back out into the world.  He possesses the two qualities I need from a seller.  He is knowledgeable and nice.  You see a lot of these Autry guitars out there, but you would be hard pressed to find one in this good of shape and that plays as well.  Check out Steve's website at     
Thanks Steve!!

Mystery Kingston/Wurlitzer/Harmony

Well, this guitar is one of lifes little mysteries.  The "Kingston" name clearly stenciled on the headstock is only half the mystery.  The "Wurlitzer" name stamped on the inside of the soundhole is the other half of the mystery.  I know that kingston was a lower quality japanese brand that specialized in "Teisco" type electric guitars.  Kingston also apparently manufactured some lower quality acoustic models in the 1950's(I believe).  I have a hard time believing this guitar is related to either.  First of all it is much higher quality construction than the acoustic models I mentioned of the 1950's.  The jedistar website has photos of a similiar guitar and claims that it could be made by Harmony.  To add to the mystery you will notice that the body looks very similiar to the Kalamazoo KG-11 series.  To further add to the mystery, the finish on the back and the neck is a tiger strip finish which is very beautiful but also seems to be a Japanese finishing trait.  Had enough yet!!  Alright, so I can't properly identify it - fact is this is a smoking guitar.  Huge neck, 14 frets to the body, ladder braced, but with a much more balanced tone than those old ladder braced blues honkers.  It came to me with a floating bridge as well as a fretboard extension that floated over the body much like an archtop.  It was also in need of a neck reset.  I wanted to put a fixed bridge on it which would require getting the fretboard extension flush with the body.  So that's what we did.  Add a little fret dressing and this is one heck of a unique instrument.  Action is low with big frets.  I have a friend who is a great fingerstyle blues player and he loved this guitar.  Big crack on the top below the soundhole that was cleated with popsicle sticks and is very stable(hey, whatever works).  Feel free to provide any info on this baby if you have some.

postscript - 2/28/11 -  I've seen a guitar or two made by harmony with a similiar tiger stripe type of finish to this one, but I've come to believe that this is a Regal made guitar.  It has the same body style as the kalamazoo kg models which Regal made a few attempts to copy(or visa versa - I'm not sure who was first).

Nonetheless - this remains one of my favorites.  Sounds great in standard tuning and really kills it in open tunings.  A fantastic find!!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This is a wonderful 20's/30's Supertone parlor guitar.  I bought this guitar totally on looks.  Didn't know what it sounded like and wasn't sure if I would ever know.  It was fairly unplayable when I got it.  It needed a neck reset, fret work, the top had seperated from the side on the upper bout and we replaced an unworkable floating bridge setup with a fixed bridge that really looks the part.  Now it plays great!  The work was done by my friend James Ralston.  James is an amazing player and just as amazing guitar guru.  You will hear his name mentioned in this blog a number of times as I have used his services on a number of occasions.  As I said I bought this guitar on looks.  The pictures don't do it justice.  Up close it looks like it could have rode on the back of a hobo as he jumped from train to train or was strummed around a cowboy campfire beneath a Montana night.  Oh yea, it happens to sound great as well now.  I used it in a recording project last night and couldn't believe how much it loved the microphone!!  I hope to get some sound clips up at some point because I won't do the sonic description justice.   As we all know, guitars have a tendency to come and go in our lives.  Circumstances may force a sale or we may simply fall out of love.  I don't see this little baby ever leaving my side.