Sunday, September 6, 2015

1930's Slingerland Songster Acoustic Guitar

Time to take a little trip back to the 1930's when Hoover was ousted by Roosevelt and Ludwig was ousted by Slingerland as the country's top drum producer.  What a time in our history.  So much despair and yet so much art being created.  At some point we will have to study whether the two are connected.  Do we create more art in the midst of despair and turmoil?  It was certainly a tough time to be a farmer, but what seemed like a fairly good time to be an artist.  The WPA was propping up artists and their work all through this period leading to some of the finest photographs, paintings, sculptures, books and music in our history.

At this time the maker of this guitar was called the "Slingerland Musical Instrument Mfg Co.", prior to that it was "The Slingerland Banjo and Drum Company" and prior to that is was "The Slingerland Banjo Company".

The story goes that Slingerland was initially a banjo company.  Apparently the Ludwig drum company started getting into the banjo business.  Slingerland contacts Ludwig and says if you don't make banjos, we won't make drums.  Ludwig basically says F-You, Slingerland says have it your way and proceeds to take over the lead in American drum manufacturing.  This is a nice little business lesson for all you future captains of industry out there.  Play nice - or you may get your ass kicked. 

The making of drums was a fairly easy transition for a banjo company(Ludwig should have known this).  The calfskin production is already in place, you already have a factory, you basically just have to start building shells and hardware.  But what about guitars?  It is still slightly up in the air as to who did Slingerlands' guitar manufacturing. Some believe they produced guitars themselves but most seem to think they were being built either by Regal or Harmony.  Unfortunately, we are going to need a time machine to definitively get to the bottom of this.  This is the first Slingerland I have owned, but I have had a number of Maybells over the years and both these instruments have had Regal and/or Harmony characteristics.  Maybell was a name owned by Slingerland and what seems to be a more prevalent offshoot product of theirs.  One thing we can be sure of is that it was Chicago made.  The mystique of guitar manufacturing in that town in the 30's is almost too much for me to handle.

Anywho - This is a damn cool guitar with a colossally funky vibe.  Part of the reason I acquired it was because I thought it looked like a piece of folk art.  The bonus was that the instrument played pretty well too.  The only issue that needs to be addressed is the string spacing at the bridge.  As the high E string comes down the neck it starts to fade a bit off the fretboard.  This shouldn't be too hard of a fix.  Nonetheless, the tone is cool.  Just like all these catalog guitars, it has its own thing going on.  It's tough to compare it with anything.  I can say that this will make a great recording instrument as it knows how to get out of its own way.  Not too loud, not too bassy, not too bright or midrangy.  Just right.

I have a thing for these 12 fret to the body guitars.  All those shredders out there get frustrated because they can't have a jerk off session up past the 12th fret.  But that's not my scene.  These guitars are normally great fingerpickers.  Great thing about this instrument is that it holds up to a pretty heavy strum or chunking rhythm as well.  It can do it all.  Not bad for something that looks like it should just hang on the wall!!

Ladder braced, 15.5" lower bout, 1.75" nut.  Spruce top that was sanded down and re-lacquered.  Normally, i run for the exits when I see that any type of refinishing has been done and might have done the same with this instrument if I had known it was refinished - believe it or not, it didn't show up in the pictures or was done after the photos were taken.  Either way it thankfully doesn't bother me too much in this case as the argument can be made that the new finish was to preserve the block lettering on the top.  Would still loved to have received it unfinished as i have a feeling the guitar top would have been even more responsive, loud and toneful.  I can't help but feel all that lacquer knocks the sound down a bit.  Maple back, sides and neck with a rosewood fretboard.  These Chicago companies were using real deal materials.

That's some crack repair - That big 'ol splice was pretty well done and gives the guitar a facial feature - kind of like a scar on the face of the bad guy in a western

It's amazing that they would possibly "job" these guitars out to Regal and Harmony and still come up with a one of a kind headstock like this.   

these are replacement tuners with a couple of filled holes in the center of the headstock 

She is curvaceous isn't she.  All that ink is of course a mystery.  I would venture a guess that this was a guitar that may have been overseas during the war and a bunch of wartime buddies signed their names.  Sounds like a good tale at least.  This is why I love these guitars - the stories they could tell!!

It should be noted that Slingerland has a pretty important place in guitar history.  Many believe(including myself) that they built the first solid body electric guitar.  Not only that, but they initiated the neck through design.  They have a songster model that looks like a lap steel, but was built with a spanish style neck and string height that would allow for fretting.