I got into vintage guitars not so many years ago because I liked the blues sound of the old Oscar Schmidt Stella guitars. I ended up with about 30 vintage guitars from all different makers, plus others I bought and sold on. I’ll feature some of these guitars and others I’ve come across. It’s usually the case that the history of their makers is just as interesting as the guitars.
Some of the guitars that will be featured in individual posts in this section:
The First Hawaiian Conservatory of Music (FHCM), is well documented as a mail order marketing tool for the Oscar Schmidt Company. They were sold for lap-style (i.e. Hawaiian-style) playing. However played as a steel string flat-top they have a woody and punchy sound which is well suited for blues playing. The gospel blues player Blind Willie Johnson, amongst others, is reputed to have played one.
Jake Wildwood describes the sound: They’re braced a little differently from the average Schmidt and, as a result, have a sound that flits between “normal” ladder-braced voicing and something like a Gibson-ish x-braced voice. They’re woody, loud, and direct like your average Schmidt parlor but have more of a kick in the bass and lower-mids and with a slightly-scooped treble rather than the focus being all mids. This makes them vastly more suitable for genres outside of fingerpicked country-blues and the like.
These birch FHCM guitars must have been produced in their thousands from around the early 1920’s to 1935.
They are a ladder braced ‘O’ sized guitar (13 1/2″ wide) and originally were given away with a mail order course of how to play slide guitar ‘Hawaiian’ style. However it was realized by many of the early blues masters such as Blind Willie Johnson that birch guitars, with their raw sound, were great for playing the blues. At the time these guitars could probably have been picked up quite cheaply from some of the many students of FHCM who gave up playing and never finished the course!
These days they command good prices because of their reputation of sounding like those early blues recordings. Red was a popular color but there was a variety of stains from almost black, to red, to orange to natural wood.
This is another guitar I’ve been wanting to do a post on for quite sometime.
If you are an up and coming luthier and looking for a small guitar to test your restoration skills, you’d be hard pressed to find a better guitar to start with.
This guitar is the holder of a couple of ‘firsts’. From the beginning of 1930 to the early 1940’s, Western themed decorated guitars, along with Hawaiian themed guitars, were hugely popular, dominating much of the budget guitar market. This is recognized as the first ‘Cowboy Guitar’. This guitar is also recognized as one of, if not the first, ‘endorsement’ guitars.
I bought this small guitar quite a few years ago now, and it had been sitting ever since in an old guitar case. I bought it because it cost very little and I do like small guitars. It is made by the Kay Musical Instrument Company in Chicago. It had 2 horizontal braces on the top between the bridge and the base of the guitar (end pin end). A tell-tale trait of Kay’s, as is the style of bridge. Continue reading “c.1940 KAY SMALL GUITAR with floral decoration”→
A hundred and twenty-year-old guitar that is an impressive survivor of an era before electricity.
The vintage Bay State guitars were made from about 1887 to 1904 by the John C. Haynes Company in Boston. If you want to know more about the history of Bay State Guitars and the different models and dating of the serial numbers, check out the links to the two pages I have made in conjunction with luthier Sylvan Wells, who owns the Bay State Guitar name:
While I am merely a hobbyist when it comes to working with wood, it is something I have done my whole life. I don’t have a lot of specialized tools, but I do like precision, so I try to work out methods of doing things that work for me.
Cutting the ‘valleys’ accurately into the guitar bridge blank goes a long way in determining how well a finished bridge will look. I’ve made probably 30-40 guitar bridges, and when I first started I was not comfortable using a drill or a small sanding drum to make these valleys. I didn’t give me enough control.
So, I made a simple jig to sand the valleys by hand, as will be explained a bit further on in this Post. I’m sure there are many other ways to make these pyramid bridges, so take from these posts what you will. I hope someone finds it useful.
There are many styles of pyramid bridges, and it makes sense to individually craft them for a particular guitar.
In the next 3 Posts (Parts 2, 3 and 4) I’ll demonstrate how I make each of these different pyramid bridges.
I believe this style came into use about 1910 but I am open for correction. I really like this style of pyramid bridge. It was used by many manufacturers including Oscar Schmidt. By the 1930’s most manufacturers had phased out using this style (most likely to save on costs) replacing it with a simpler made bridge.
Part 3. Truncated Pyramid Style (or Chicago) Bridge.
Truncated just means ‘shortened’- by cutting off the top of the pyramid in this case. It’s also called a ‘Chicago’ style bridge because it is the bridge Lyon & Healy (one of the first guitar manufacturers based in Chicago in about 1880’s) first put on their early Washburn guitars. Used by many manufacturers including Martin, Weymann, Regal, and Harmony up until about 1930. Continue reading “HOW TO MAKE PYRAMID GUITAR BRIDGES- Part 3.”→
A pyramid bridge from the 19th Century is characterized by the elongated pyramids on the ends. Used on 1800’s Martin and Bay State guitars plus others.
Keep in mind that pyramid bridges can look very different from maker to maker. You can also buy a ready-made pyramid bridge online from Stewmac.com and others, but I like to tailor-make them. There are other sites online showing how they make a pyramid bridge, but once I’ve made the jig to cut the valleys, the bridge is relatively easy and quick to make, and the results are accurate. Because they are all hand made with minimal electric tools, it gives me more control and I have very few rejects.
This 19th Century style pyramid bridge I am making here will be a stylized version of the 19th century pyramid bridge for a beautiful c.1890’s Bay State Grand Concert guitar I have.