Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Imagination:

     A friend of mine stopped by the other night.  He is a fine blues picker and an even finer conversationalist. 
      This nights conversation was spurred on by a 1940's Regal guitar that I own and that he was picking on.  The guitar is in wonderful shape for its age and this fact stirred up a whole bunch of questions from the both of us.  Why was it so well preserved, who owned it.  The list goes on and on.
      My friend told me that if he were walking in a field and came upon an old tool half buried in the soil, he could stand over that tool for an hour wondering about its history as well as how this piece of ground became its final resting place.
      My friend questioned his mindset, knowing full well that most of our scurrying population couldn't find this mystery he was imagining to be intriguing.  I responded quickly.  A righteous thinker shouldn't be ill at ease with such thoughts.  This is the way we should be thinking.  These items of the past deserve scrutiny and should invade our imagination and enliven our subconscious, in turn, making us more conscious of the world that presently surrounds us.
      I told my friend that I tend to live with one foot in the past.  The way he would think about that old tool is exactly the way I have always thought about old guitars.  This process of thought has always been very important to me.  Expressing these thoughts is how we locate spirits who are kindred and any day in which we find a kindred spirit is a good day.
      We no more knew the real story behind that tool in the dirt than we did the story behind that old Regal we were picking.  So why not give it a story?  The suspension of disbelief has always driven the best guitar pickers, the best songwriters, the best storytellers and the best listeners(a lost art in and of itself).  If there are no facts to support the life of a given item or guitar, doesn't it deserve to be given a history that stands as much of a chance of being true as it does being false.
      I've often thought that as guitars are passed through time to a new home that they shoud be accompanied by an index card that provides a brief history of the instrument.  Presently, I am not so sure of this fairly idealistic hope.
      I have a 1920's Supertone parlor guitar that has aged and worn so beautifully and so naturally that it just stirs my imagination.  It looks like it was rode hard and I desperately want to believe it lived with a hobo through his travels during The Great Depression or it possibly rode on the back of a cowboys bedroll as he coursed the plains.  If I had received this guitar and found that index card advising me that this was simply an instrument left in a closet after a failed attempt to master it, would I love it less?  Quite possibly.  I love this guitar because I have been able to surround it with my own story.  Imagination is my drug and this guitar feeds and fuels the habit.
      I suppose that in a perfect world of guitar history I would be provided with index cards for about half the instruments I come across.  I believe that oftentimes truth is stranger than fiction and those historical index cards could provide a far better story than I could ever imagine.  Of course, this means that fifty percent of the guitars I come across would remain unaccounted for and need a story attached to it.  The wonderful part of this process is the story we create doesn't have to come out of thin air.  These guitars provide us with a lot of historical information simply by remaining in circulation.  We are able to date them quite specifically and we can generally be sure of the builder and the guitars geographic genesis.  Because I like to collect depression era instruments I can look at that instrument and knowing the date that it was built be able to have an idea of the type of clothes the original owner wore, the type of car they drove,and how the local gas station and main street looked.  When you have no other information to go on, this is where the story of an instrument can begin.
      I guess I have chosen to direct my attention to such companies as Regal, Kay, Harmony, Supertone, etc. not only because their hayday was in the 1930's and 1940's but also because I feel their history/story is more opaque.  Much more so than a Martin or a Gibson.
      With old Martins and Gibsons you are pretty much assured of purchasing a top quality instrument.  Not so with the so called "catalogue guitars" as they were often tiered in terms of quality in the production line.  These companies made many more entry level instruments than they did high end instruments.  The possibility of tripping over a diamond in the rough lies solely in these brands.  Martins and Gibsons reputation is based on the fact that they do not make diamonds in the rough(mind you, we are still talking about the work these companies did in the 30's and 40's).
      Wading through the history of these catalogue guitars is like being on a constant treasure hunt.  I can still occasionally come across a model I have never seen before remaining simultaneously intrigued, entertained, and floored by its unique musicality. 
      Imagine a production line of ten luthiers at Harmony's Chicago factory.  Perhaps out of the ten, nine are good at what they do, but the tenth luthier just happens to have the magic touch.  For him, guitar building is innate.  His talents and love for the process flow through his hands and into the instrument.  He gets his hands on a rogue piece of timber, one that has musical qualities and characteristics that far exceed all the other woods he has worked with that month.  Tap tones sing to him and he braces an instrument as if his life depended on it.  Thats the diamond in the rough and the instrument that I will forever be in search of.
      I can't help but think that oftentimes reality just isn't as good as our dreams.  In time, I have come to realize why I provide content for this site and why guitars stand at the forefront of what I consider art.  My imagination is at stake and in the hands of these instruments.  These old guitars allow me to extinguish reality, letting my imagination be the ruler of the moment.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

1940's Regal Playtime Deluxe

Here is a beautiful Regal that dates to wartime or just prewar.  It has been very difficult to pin down an exact date as I have only seen one other example of this particular instrument in all my years.  A very rare bird indeed.  This was an ebay purchase that needed a bit of work to get back into playing condition.  It came to me in wonderful cosmetic shape which makes it even rarer.  You may find one of these someday lurking in the loft of an octogenarians barn, but I'm pretty sure you will never come across one in this nice of shape.

My friend James Ralston did an amazing job getting this guitar into fantastic playing shape.  He had to reset the neck, redo some bracing, replace the tuner buttons, do a little fretwork and install a bridge doctor to keep a persnickety top from bulging when tuned to pitch.  The bridge doctor was an enormous help.  The top is now holding its place and some say that the bridge doctor goes a long way in adding to a guitars tone.  James also reglued the bridge.  With the bridge properly glued we didn't need the bridge bolts that were common with this era of guitars so he removed them and filled the holes with some nice pearl dots.

This is a ladder braced instrument and I was a little concerned when making the purchase.  I have a few ladder braced instruments and feel that I
have that tonal range covered, so I was pleased to find that this guitar isn't your average ladder braced instrument.  The body size matches that of a dreadnaught at about 15.5" at the lower bout.  The dreadnaught sizing gives the tone a lot of extra body and keeps you out of the tonal range of ladder braced parlor guitars.  It is very loud when strummed, but the complexity of its tone really comes out when it is fingerpicked.  Gorgeous tone when you treat her like a lady.

This guitar was clearly a more upscale model made by the Regal factory.  It has some amazing all original appointments.  The only thing we changed out were the tuner buttons.  We added some very nice ivoroid buttons that play the part well.  The pearl inlays are really unique and beautiful.  The tuners are original Klusons with a pair of the coolest covers on them I have ever seen.  In fact I have never seen any like these before.  James says he thinks he has seen them on a couple of old Nationals.  25.5" scale with 14 fret neck, amazingly clean sunburst top with a fat maple V shaped neck and original bridge.  The nicest surprise was the wide frets that came with this guitar that are now in like new condition.  They allow you to dig into this instruments a little more than you can with those skinny frets that were popular on prewar guitars.
Beautifully aged sunburst finish

that is just a reflection on the pickguard - it is in perfect shape

you have to see this fretboard up close and in person to believe how clean it is

If you are a fan of guitar making history, you can't help but love this instrument.  Not only for its tone, beauty and the fact that it is very well constructed, but also for that little bit of mystery that surrounds it in terms of dating the instrument and exactly where it was made.  Thanks again to James Ralston for doing a great job bringing her to life and thanks to Nathan at Juke Box Bonfire for doing an equally good job making sure these instruments get into the hands of those who love them.

If you want to see a video of this guitar being played go to

if this link does not work just go to you tube and type in "regal playtime deluxe acoustic guitar"