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 term decal is the shortened version of the word ‘decalcomania’, which is the English pronunciation of the French word décalcomanie. It entails the transferring of a printed image on paper onto ceramic, wood or any other material. The image is then varnished over to protect it from damage.
OSCAR SCHMIDT and other makers using DECALCOMANIA
“With decals, inlaid marquetry can be closely imitated and various shades of wood and even pearl can be reproduced with exactness.” In the USA, from the end of the 1890’s, this decoration was used on pianos, mandolins, guitars and zithers etc. Music Trade Review 10 Aug 1899 p.16.Continue reading “DECALCOMANIA (DECALS) – Guitar Decoration Pt. 1”→
OSCAR SCHMIDT (1857 – 1929)
W. F. (Frederick) MENZENHAUER (1858 – 1937)
The Oscar Schmidt company was founded in the late 1890’s and incorporated in 1911. They are best known for the Zithers they produced in the early 1900’s, and for their early guitars, particularly the Stella label, and their 12-string guitars, which are still favored and sought after by blues players today (see Footnote 1.).
John Church can thank the generosity of Oliver Ditson for his success in business.
Oliver Ditson set up successful businesses and allowed his managers to take them over. This was the case with John C. Haynes, Boston, who made ‘Tilton Improvement’, Bay State, Excelsior and Hub Guitars. Also with George Lyon and Patrick Healy, Chicago, who under the Lyon & Healy name became the biggest manufacturer of stringed instruments in the early part of the 20th century.
Oliver Ditson also set up a music branch in Cincinnati managed by John Church. Somewhere between 1859 or1871 (accounts are conflicting) John Church was signed over as the owner and he incorporated The John Church Company in 1885. He had a retail arm of all things musical, specializing in pianos and sheet music, and a small manufacturing arm producing the ‘Imperial’ label of instruments.
SAMUEL C. OSBORN (1875 – 1922) (From information obtained from Music Trade Review and Presto as well as the 1920 Samuel Osborne Mfg. Co. Catalog).
The life of the Samuel C. Osborn Manufacturing Company is a short one, barely 6 years. The company made stringed instruments and specialized in koa wood guitars and ukuleles under the SammO and SammoS labels. They also sold mandolins, ukulele banjos and pianoettes (a form of zither). Different sites on the web will tell you the company started in 1897, but this is not the case as there is a small paragraph in the MUSIC TRADE REVIEW (1916) reporting on the company’s incorporation in 1916. This is backed up from text in the 1920 Osborn catalog).
With a production date of 1920 or earlier this all koa wood guitar would have been one of the early all koa guitars made on the mainland of the US. It was made by The Samuel C. Osborn Manufacturing Company.
There has been conjecture that Osborn guitars were jobbed out to other companies such as The Oscar Schmidt Company or Harmony, however this guitar has very distinctive look, unlike these and other makers at the time.
Kirtan Artist PRALAD playing this 127 year old guitar.
This small size guitar was called a 3/4 sized instrument in its’ day but today we would call it 1/2 size. It is also called a ‘Terz’ guitar. Made by Lyon & Healy under the original Washburn label it is a quality built instrument. Brazilian rosewood back and sides with a fine grained Adirondack spruce top. Originally it would have had gut strings but it has been X-braced to take lightweight steel strings.
CHARLES F. L. RICHTER (Founder)
CARL H. RICHTER (Son)
Richter (Richter Mfg. Co. Chicago) was a Chicago label of the 1920’s, 30’s and early 40’s. Their guitars were budget instruments but they are on a par with Harmony and Kay guitars of the period, and for blues playing can sound as good as any 1930’s Oscar Schmidt concert sized guitar. Most Richter guitars were all birch construction, many with a stenciled or silk screened decorated soundboard, very popular at the time.
This guitar has Mojo to burn! A great sounding ‘parlor’ sized guitar (24″ scale, lower bout 13 ½ “, upper bout 9 ½ “, overall Length 37”, nut width 1 ¾”) All Birch construction and a great sounding little guitar after restoration and modification.
It’s hard to see from the photos but there are names scratched all over this guitar: John, Helen, Mary, Emily, June, Nick, Steve, Irene, and ‘I love Mabel’. Cool black stencil. I’ve seen 2 other guitars the same as this come up on ebay over the years but the timber in those was considerably lighter in color.
I love this guitar! This is an early 1920’s RICHTER guitar. The boom years for The Richter Mfg. Co. was the 1930’s with stenciled or screen printed or undecorated sound board all birch ‘parlor’ guitars. This guitar is decorated with decals, and years of playing has given this guitar the patina that drips character.
To me, vintage guitars do not have had to be expensive to be interesting.
Around the 1930’s was an unusual time for the American guitar. Fads and decorated guitars were very popular. The depression era was hard for instrument manufacturers, for some, being price competitive was the only way to survive. Even so, many manufacturers did not make it to the end of the 1930’s.