VAQUERO GUITARS – (1936-1938)

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;

Vaquero Guitars
Vaquero Guitar Designs
  1. ‘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.
  2. ‘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.
  3. ‘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.
  4. ‘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.
  5. ‘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.
  6. ‘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.
  7. ‘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.
  8. ‘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.
  9. ‘Orchestra’ Orchestra with ballroom dance scene. Only example I’ve seen of this guitar that came up for sale on eBay. Catalog unknown.
  10. ‘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).
  11. ‘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).
  12. ‘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.
  13. ‘Musicians’ – Musicians playing various instruments.  Only example I have seen which came up for sale on eBay. Spiegel catalog number unknown.
Section of a page from a 1937 Spiegel catalog showing giveaway extras to entice mail order buyers.
VAQUERO GUITARS – Section of a page from a 1937 Spiegel catalog showing giveaway extras to entice mail order buyers.

 

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:

SPIEGEL Catalog Fall/Winter 1937
SPIEGEL Catalog Fall/Winter 1937

Thanks Barry!

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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:

Vaquero ‘Spanish Dancer #3 Guitar

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.

Thanks Chris!

_____________________________________

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:

Thanks Rob!

All the best, Charles.

14 thoughts on “VAQUERO GUITARS – (1936-1938)

  1. I just bought a Spanish Dancer 3′ . I have no idea what it is worth . It is in nice condition . All original . Do you have any information on that model ?

    1. Hi Chris….I’ve never seen a picture of that guitar, if you get a chance could you please send me some to my email address address on the Links page.

      The guitar is most likely made by Kay, one way is to check inside the soundhole and see if there are 2 soundboard braces between the bridge plate and the base of the guitar. If there are 2 it will most likely be made by Kay, if there is only one then made by Harmony would be the best bet.

      These guitars are not worth a lot, maybe $300-$400 in found condition but with a bit of TLC can sound great!

      All the best…Charles…P.S. Hope you can send me some photos!

  2. Hi:
    I have a Del Oro with the Hawaiian motif that you only have as a catalog image. Let me know if you’d like a picture!

      1. I just picked up rodeo version in pretty rough condition. Do you know anyone who might be interested in restoring one?

        1. Sorry Rob, I don’t know anyone. If not too much trouble though I’d like to see a photo of the guitar top sometime, the only other one I have is not a good example. All the best, Charles

  3. Thank you so much for posting this information. I have my Grandfather’s old Vaquero that he bought back in the 1930’s before he went off to the army in WWII. He played many socials and barn dances with that guitar. He told me stories of riding his horse to the train station in Atkins Arkansas anticipating it’s arrival. I realize that the guitar isn’t worth much but I cherish it because it was his. ….. Thank you again, Keith McNutt.

    1. Thank you Keith, can you tell me which design it was? I’m curious to know. Thanks again, Charles

  4. Hello Chaitanya das
    I just bought a Vaguero acoustic at the flea market $10 today, guitar is really good shape. Guess it is a Spirit of Rhythm – with skyscrapers and people dancing in the sky, but the picture is different than the one you have posted. I will clean it up, the tuners are a little rusty but work only need a little oil. I will add new strings and breath life into it again. I would of added a photo but the site does not have a way to do that.
    Take Care…….b

  5. That’s my Spanish Dancer #3 at the end of this post. I found it early one Saturday morning at a flea market in Springfield, Ohio. With new strings and a nut reset, it sounds good.

  6. Hi there, just bought a 1937 vaquero Hawaiian 2 but notice that the fretboard is different from the catalogue in that I think mine looks like ebony. Haven’t fully cleaned it yet. The number inside is 1970. Were there possibly variations a on neck types or more than 2 years for the Hawaiian 2?. All other features seems to match

    1. Hi Joe, Could easily have been a different finish on the fretboard. Yours could be an ebony fretboard or ebonized (painted black to resemble ebony). It was advertised in 1937 as having a gold crystalline finish fretboard. In the example I’ve illustrated that gold finish has been removed. That guitar was also advertised in 1939 in a N. Shure Co,. Chicago brochure so most likely it was made in more than one year.

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