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.
In the scheme of things, the ‘Vaquero’ brand of guitars is a short inconsequence in the extensive stencil guitar market of the 1930’s and 40’s. This label of guitars was owned and sold by Spiegel’s through their mail order catalogs from 1936–1938. Like many other ‘budget’ guitars they were ladder braced and had a reasonable sound as they were all made of solid woods. But they were massed produced, and taking one of these guitars today and restoring it with TLC can bring the guitar to its full potential.
To me, what sets the ‘Vaquero’ guitars apart from many others of the period is the graphics used in their decoration. Their silk screened and stenciled designs are a cut above many others. The dominant themes of Hawaiian, Western and Spanish themes of the soundboard decoration reflected the fads of the era.
I have not managed to see all the Spiegel catalogs from those years but I have identified 13 different Vaquero designs, if you know of others I’d really like to hear from you;
- ‘Hawaiian Scene 1’ – White palm trees with Volcano, white with red highlights. This sold in the Spiegel 1936 Fall/Winter Catalog No. 142 for $5.98. Rare guitar, I’ve only seen one other example. Made by Kay.
- ‘Hawaiian Scene 2’ – Hawaiian girl lying down playing a Ukulele with guy climbing coconut tree. Sold in the Spiegel 1937 Spring/Summer Catalog No.143. I’ve seen about 3 of these guitars come up on eBay in about 4 years. Made by Harmony.
- ‘Hawaiian Scene 3’ – Described in the Spiegel 1937 Fall/Winter catalog No. 144 as ‘Moonlight at the beach in Waikiki, Dark Walnut finish’. Price $6.98. Never seen one come up for sale.
- ‘Amateur Hour’ – A microphone and scenes of performers and unusual lightning bolt sound holes, 2 color ways. Photos courtesy Elderly Instruments www.elderly.com. Spiegel catalog number unknown.
- ‘Spanish Dancer 1’ – Brown and cream with red and white Spanish scene. Appears in the Spiegel 1936 Fall/Winter catalog No. 142. Never seen one come up for sale.
- ‘Spanish Dancer 2’ – Dark walnut brown with a Spanish dancer scene. Appeared in the Spiegel 1937 Spring/Summer catalog No. 143. Never seen one come up for sale.
- ‘Spanish Dancer 3’ – A guitar player serenading a Spanish dancer, 2 hats at the top of the soundboard. This guitar is featured in ‘Cowboy Guitars’ book authored by Steve Evans. It appeared in the Spiegel 1937 Fall/Winter catalog No. 144 for $6.98. Never seen one come up for sale.
- ‘Polo Players’ -2 Polo players on horseback plus polo equipment and horseshoe graphics, with ‘f’ soundholes. This is the only example of this guitar I have seen. Featured in the Spiegel 1936 Fall/Winter catalog No. 142 for $7.98.
- ‘Orchestra’ Orchestra with ballroom dance scene. Only example I’ve seen of this guitar that came up for sale on eBay. Catalog unknown.
- ‘Floral Pattern’ – Different flowers screen printed around the soundboard. I’ve seen one example of this guitar come up on eBay. Featured in the Spiegel 1937 Spring/Summer catalog for $4.98. The next year, 1938 it was also featured in the Spiegel catalog as a Del Oro guitar (another Spiegel label).
- ‘Spirit of Rhythm – with skyscrapers and people dancing in the sky. The photo above is a Del Oro guitar. The Vaquero ‘Spirit of Rhythm’ guitar has the scene in white (instead of blue) on a two tone brown finish. I have not seen one of these but Steve Evans who wrote “Cowboys Guitars” has one in his collection. The guitar appeared in the Spiegel 1937 Fall/Winter catalog No. 143 for $5.98. If you have one with the white stencil I’d really like a photo to post. (A reader supplied a photo! See below at the end of this post).
- ‘Rodeo Scenes’ – 6 cowboys shown doing rodeo activities. I’ve seen a few of these but still a rare guitar. Appeared in the Spiegel 1936 Fall/Winter catalog No.142 for $4.98.
- ‘Musicians’ – Musicians playing various instruments. Only example I have seen which came up for sale on eBay. Spiegel catalog number unknown.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (April 2, 2018)
A reader, Barry Martin (see his comment below), sent me photos of the Vaquero ‘Spirit of Rhythm’ guitar which I have not seen before. The photo I used in the collage is a ‘Del Oro’ labelled guitar which I mentioned in the description and has different coloring. So here is one of those photos of the Vaquero ‘Spirit of Rhythm’:
And the listing of that guitar in the Spiegel 1937 Fall/Winter Mail Order Catalog:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (April 18, 2019)
Thanks to a reader, Chris Till, I now can post a photo of the guitar I call ‘Spanish Dancer 3’, previously I only had the Spiegel catalog listing:
From the details supplied by Chris this guitar was made by Kay, and the image is screen printed onto the soundboard rather than applied by a stencil.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (Sept 2, 2020)
I was contacted by an owner, Rob Gates, who just acquired a ‘Rodeo’ Vaquero guitar that has a nice clear stencil on the soundboard. With his permission I thought I’d share with readers of this post:
All the best, Charles.