RICHTER Mfg Co. GUITARS – c.1920-1943

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.

Richter Guitars from the 1920's to the 1940's
Richter Guitars from the 1920’s to the 1940’s

There is also the belief that Richter did not make their own instruments but contracted other Chicago manufacturers to do the work, Harmony is usually mentioned.  I am quite certain they did have their own factory, and they proudly display it in one of their ads (more information below).  Their guitars also have quite distinctive characteristics that further substantiates that they had their own factory.

RICHTER GUITAR CHARACTERISTCS

  • Medium quality all birch body instruments with a rounded chunky, yet comfortable neck.
  • Richter branded guitars usually (but not always) have the distinctive ‘gumby’ style headstock with the small paper ‘Richter’ label in a script font on the front of the headstock and ‘RICHTER MFG. CO. CHICAGO, ILL.’ impressed into the wood on the back.
  • Richter made guitars usually have the word ‘RICHTER’ stamped in ink onto a thin piece of wood that is glued (sometimes haphazardly) to the heel plate on the inside of the guitar. On this heel plate can also be stamped the manufacture date or a serial number.  Guitars that carry a distributors brand such as B & J Serenader still have this stamp inside the guitar.
  • The saw kerfing around the top and bottom inside the guitar usually has a small square profile.
  • Richter made some cowboy stencil guitars that were sold by Montgomery Ward, ‘The Plainsman’ from 1938-1941, ‘Home on the Range’ from 1938-1939, ‘Red Foley in 1940 and ‘Rodeo’ Scene, also in 1940.

The Richter Manufacturing Co. was founded by Charles F. L. Richter, sometime before August 1920:
C. F. L. RICHTER DIES. Charles F. L. Richter, president of the Richter Mfg. Co., a string musical instrument concern at 2532 Irving Park boulevard, Chicago, died last week. Mr. Richter was a Mason and a  Shriner. He was an active member of perhaps a dozen fraternal organizations. He was a member of the Illinois legislature in 1909. He was born in Germany April 30, 1853. and came to America in 1883.” (PRESTO 28 Aug  1920 p 5.)

Following the death of Charles Richter in 1920 the company was run by his two sons, Carl H. Richter and Harold Richter, and by February 1923 The Richter Mfg. Co. had “completed its first full year as a manufacturer of stringed musical  instruments for the musical merchandise trade” and that they were “now in a position to supply the trade with an excellent line of mandolins, banjos, guitars, ukuleles, and other stringed instruments”. (MTR Feb 3, 1923, p. 29)

In the early years of manufacturing the company seemed to have great success with the ‘Sweetheart’ brand of Ukulele: “Carl Richter, president of the Richter Mfg. Co., is highly gratified with the activities of the Sweethearts in the face of the present ukulele business situation. “I don’t know where they all go to, but everybody seems to want a Sweetheart.”  MTR Nov 20, 1926, p 38. (Note Carl Richter was now the president of the company, and after 1927 there is no mention of Harold in further articles).

Music Trade Review Ad, Dec 1930
Music Trade Review Ad, Dec 1930

The company was not afraid to try new products and advertising a “waterproof” Ukulele in 1922 (the Beach-Uke) that “It is especially adapted for use on bathing beaches, being waterproof and immune from the effects of dampness.” They also brought out a larger sized Ukulele in 1924 and in 1930 hand painted decorated guitars.

The 1930’s seemed to be busy years for the Richter company, selling direct and through distributors.  They also had an arrangement with Montgomery Ward, who sold Richter guitars through their mail order system.

In the early 1930’s one of their ads carried a photograph of their factory:

Richter Factory Ad MTR 1931

A Google Earth photo search shows this factory still stands today:

The RICHTER Factory Building Today
The RICHTER Factory Building Today

The Richter Manufacturing Company ceased trading sometime in 1943 or 1944. The Music Trade Review’s for 1943 are not available and I could find no reference to why the company folded.  I could also find no reference to Carl H. Richter after this date.

UPDATE: 22 August 2019

Music Trade Review Ad, Dec 1930

I mentioned this Ad earlier in the post, but I’d never come across a Richter hand-painted  guitar as is described in the ad.  That is until now when one was listed on ebay:

 

Click images to enlarge. The detail photo shows the brush-strokes.

UPDATE: 2 October 2019

A reader, Matt, sent me some photos of his Richter ukulele he recently purchased.  Since I have not seen one of these, with Matt’s permission I am sharing a couple of the photos with you:

Wooden tuners, nicely rounded neck, it looks to be a beautiful little instrument!

All the best

Charles Robinson.

 

32 thoughts on “RICHTER Mfg Co. GUITARS – c.1920-1943

  1. Thanks for the information and pics. I just bought one from our local guitar shop for $110 and it is more than playable-it is a sweet parlor sized slide guitar. I went in looking for an instrument with a high (but playable) action and ladder bracing for slide playing without overtones. Tom bolted the neck on and this little baby takes a .20 unwound G string and a .15 on the high E quite easily. I wouldn’t tune it any higher than Open G or D though-instead using a capo to play in A or E respectfully.

  2. Hi Charles, great blog you’ve launched, I’ll be checking in quite a bit. We just acquired a Richter, stamped RICHTER and 5513 on the heel block, red stain with position marker paper glued on the fingerboard and set up for lap playing, much like a First Hawaiian Conservatory from the OS factory in Jersey City.
    Best Regards, Tom from Vintage Blues Guitars

    1. Hi Tom, will you have some pics on your website soon http://www.vintagebluesguitars.com ? I’d love to see some photos. Might date from the 1920’s with that red stain, especially if it does not have the ‘gumby’ shaped headstock. I have a link to your site on my Links page as well. You always have some great blues guitars listed there.

  3. I found a Richter at a garage sale the other day. It’s not in great shape and where the tuning pegs should be there are screws to wind the string on. Wondering if that means it is one of the earlier models or if is just one of their lower quality guitars.

    1. Hi Braedon, most of the Richter guitars where mass produced and considered lower quality compared to some of the makers. However they are all made with solid timbers and can be great sounding guitars with a little TLC and restoration. If you’d like to send me some photos of your guitar to charles@honucreative.com I may be able to tell you more about yours. Many thanks…Charles

  4. I was given a richter..guitar for my daughter in Chattanooga Tennessee last year. We didn’t know anything about it other than it had this stamp on the back of the head stock. It has Hawaiian sayings with a lady playing what appears to be a ukulele in it. It wasn’t playable at the time but my local luthier did a neck reset on it and a proper setup. I was truly amazed and how wonderful it played and sounds a great blues guitar. Everything is 100% original on it except for the nut quickly replace the wooden one with a bone nut. Great guitar.

  5. I have a Richter guitar that I had restored. It is a parlor sized with a hula scene. I found it at a thrift store in the toy area. They marked it 4.99. I am just wondering if they are plentiful or was this a rare find?

    1. Hi Meredith. The Richter guitars themselves are not rare but you cannot complain about the $4.99 purchase price! The guitars are not worth much today, maybe a few hundred dollars or more restored if it plays well. Various scenes were either screen printed or stenciled onto the soundboard of a standard guitar. There are people who collect the guitars as wall hangers for the scenes but generally more the ‘cowboy’ themed guitars. I have also seen advertisements in old copies of the Music Trade Review for Richter guitars with hand painted scenes but have yet to come across one of those. I’d love to see a photo of the scene, could you please email a photo to charles@honucreative.com when you have the time and I can comment more? Thanks again for the message/comment. Charles

  6. Hi , I just picked up a beat up caved in painted white and black with upholstery tacks all around it . Inside on the neck block is stamped 31525 is that the date? Anyway it has a great sound even with the caved in top . There are cross supports missing . So I’m going to make some new ones and play around with it. Also needs new frets. Thanks for any info. Best regards Guy

  7. I bought this Richter Guitar with a Silver/Grey Duco Finish guitar recently and want to sell it. The problem
    is that I can’t seem to get any action on it. It is in near mint condition with the original case. Any hint as to it’s value??

    1. Hi JT,
      Sadly these guitars are worth very little. They were a cheap guitar in their day (1930’s) and the construction and quality suffered because of that. That’s the case with Richter’s generally ( the ones from the 1920’s are generally better) but while this finish has some historic value people who are interested in vintage guitars would rather put their money into Martins or Gibsons. Just to get that Richter to nice playing condition would cost maybe $800- 1,000. And then it would be a bit of a gamble how it would sound. I think also you either love that finish or hate it. Personally I’m not a big fan.
      What’s it worth? I’d say maximum of $200 but may need to drop to under $100, I don’t really know. Only way to tell is put it on ebay with no minimum. I temper this with saying I am NOT an appraiser. These days I don’t watch the values guitars sell for because I am not in the market.
      Sorry I cannot help more and I hope you don’t have too much in it. All the best, Charles

  8. Good Morning,

    I recently came across a Richter slide guitar. She was pretty rough, I have to say. All 4 back braces had let go. Two of the 3 top braces were cracked and had a poor attempt at trying to fix them. The top had caved, of course. Someone in their infinite wisdom thought it would be good if they put in a chunk of a Home Depot stir stick to hold up the top! Made me laugh.

    Needless to say, after a few hours with the back off and two new braces for the top, she sounds amazing! Even has the original paper fingerboard cover. E A E A C# A.

    My only question is age. Can you give me an idea of when she might have been made? Gumby headstock. Oval Richter logo and stamped on the back of the headstock. I don’t recall seeing any stamps when I had the back off.

    Cheers,
    John

    1. Hi John, There is a relatively small window from the 1920’s to 1943 for it to be made. If it has the paper fingerboard cover these were popular around 1930. Sorry I cannot be more specific than that, because they did not have serial numbers it’s hard to be specific. All the best, Charles.

  9. Hi
    I have my grandfather’s Richter guitar with Hawaii scene with palms trees and woman playing ukulele. How would clean the guitar?
    Thank you
    Gloria

    1. Hi Gloria. If you mean “who could clean the guitar” I suggest you contact a reputable luthier in your area. It probably needs some work done on it as well to make it more playable. If you meant something else please let me know. Also would you mind sending me a photo of the front of the guitar with the Hawaiian theme, it may be be one I haven’t seen before or a one-off painted one. Can email me on charles@koolaru.com if you’d would like to do that. All the best…Charles

  10. I have a Twenties version Richter Hawaiian guitar (similar to picture #1 with braided string strap) set up to be played with a slide which I bought around 1972. I was excited to see your picture of the factory and hoped to get a picture with the instrument next to the building. Sadly, when I googled the address I saw that the bulldozers beat me to it.

    Thanks for your excellent blog.

  11. Hello, I have a “wall hanger” guitar I have learned is a Richter. (after some disassembly) Being retired and currently home, I have decided to make it into a resonator, having some spare parts. It was interesting to learn about the company. My guitar is an archtop style, different than the others I saw on this site. The top and back were cracked, all the braces loose. I figure I can’t screw it up too bad.
    Thought you might be interested. I have been documenting my progress with photos.

  12. Hello Charles, I have an early( 30-40’s) cowboy Stenciled parlor guitar, the stencil looks similar to a “plainsmen” that I’ve seen on several other brands for that era. I believe it to be a “Richter” made for Montgomery Wards but I can’t find any manufacturing labels or identification marks. There is no curvature at the nut or saddle and the string action seem to be quit high. I’m wondering if this unit was made to be a Hawaiian style Slide parlor guitar? The unit is solid built and I like to resurrect it. My curiosity on this unit is that it has wooden frets?

    1. Hi David, it probably was, it was the big fad at the time. There were Hawaiian clubs set up everywhere (even Australia) learning how to play ukes and guitars Hawaiian style. Interesting about the wooden frets. Regards Charles

  13. Hi,
    I have just had a look at a Carl Richter parlour guitar here in the UK. The seller says it is Austrian??? I think she is thinking that because it was in her Family in Austria and played by a relative pre WW2. It has been in the Family since then. The photographs clearly show Carl Richter in the body of the guitar. It looks in very good condition. Any thoughts on this? P.S. Sorry, meant to mention it has no artwork on it. Just plain wood.

    1. Hi William, there was also an Austrian Carl Richter who made guitars. They are earlier (early 20th Century) and distinct from the American Richter guitars. The fretboard of European guitars do not usually end square at the soundhole but at an angle or a curved angle. Charles

  14. Hello. I’m cleaning a gift to my dad for his bday. An old hat rack. Found this metal tag and went to google. Haven’t found much, except your blog on guitars. Any insight on this? Interesting for us, since Dad is a bluegrass picker from way back. He will love the connection to guitars, if there is one. Thank you!
    Bege in TN

    1. Hi Bege, after looking at the photo you sent this hat rack is made by a different company Richter Thatcher Manufacturing Co. in Chattanooga Tennessee, around the turn of the 20th Century, definitely a different company. Regards Charles

  15. I just bought a Richter “Volcano” stenciled soprano uke. It is in rough shape. About 30% of the back has come unglued, It should be easy to repair.

    However, the backlite tuners are a mess. Two of them need to be replaced because they are broken to the point of no return. Where can I find two tuners that match, or a set of 4 that are period correct?

  16. Hi Charles, I just discovered your web site and blog and am elated to find the information you have shared! Thanks for your efforts. I have really enjoyed everything you haved posted.

    I like to try to make vintage parlor guitars playable again after they have been seriously damaged. My newest project is an unusual archtop with “Richter- 29312” stamped on a small piece of wood glued to the neck block and a square green paper “Wards” label on the inside back. The guitar has a round sound hole instead of the more typical f holes on archtops and uses 3 horizontal ladder braces for the top instead of vertical braces often seen on archtops. The finish is a painted woodish colored horitzontal zebra striping, sort of a darkish exaggerated faux flamed maple, but about half missing. The tuning keys and bridge are long gone, but the old Harmony style tailpiece is there.

    The guitar was literally trashed after apparent water damage severely warped, broke, seperated and cracked the top. The back also is badly broken with several cracks and about an inch of wood missing. That said, however, the sides are alltogether and crack free, and the neck is a fanastically comfortable hard V shape with a solid snakehead headstock in great shape. As noted above the tuners are long gone and if you have some vintage tuners you might part with maybe we can work a deal?

    Any idea of the age or origins of such a guitar from my description? I can text or email photos if you are interested. Thanks, Mark

    1. Hi Mark, Yes please send me some photos, especially of the neck, I’ll send you my email address. I might have some old tuners that may suit depending if the headstock is slotted or not. If it is can you measure the length between the barrels, center to center (first to third). It sounds like it was distributed by Wards Montgomery via their mail order catalogue. I maybe able to tell you more when you send me some photos. These guitars are not worth a lot but it would be an interesting project to do. Regards, Charles

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