Blues Singers & Their Instruments
– by Dai Thomas
This started as a list of acoustic or acoustic-based blues artists with an informed (mostly) guess at the make of the instruments they used during the “Acoustic Era”, i.e. prior to The Second World War. I had a huge amount of feedback (for which many thanks to all you clever, knowledgeable people) about the original list and so I expanded it to cover later artists (including some Gospel), but I still try restrict it to acoustic instruments, give or take the odd added pickup. The information is mostly gathered from repros. of old photographs or stories told by their contemporaries, so, since the photos were not always good, the reproductions were not always accurate and memories were not always reliable, there will be some mistakes in the list. Also, please bear in mind that any one singer would have used several instruments in his career and that he could have borrowed a guitar for the photo session. Any further information to add to the list, to correct the dodgy bits (I know where they are – honest!) or to fill in holes would be much appreciated. There is a note at the end about Stella guitars.
1) Louis Allen – Kay.
2) Elester Anderson – Gibson Southern Jumbo (Kip Lornell’s?).
3) Pink Anderson (p) – Harmony, Gibson B-25, J-50, Martin 0-18.
4) Kokomo Arnold – a National Model O strung for left-handed playing (glass bottleneck on the pinkie). Also an unidentified standard guitar and, reportedly, a Martin.
5) Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong – Weyman banjo-mandolin, “Keystone” flat-back mandolin.
6) DeFord Bailey – Yes, I know, a Hohner Marine Band (pref. an A or a G), but he also played guitar (a Gibson Dove) and banjo (NorMa(?) and Maybelle 5-strings).
7) Ballard Chefs – Curtis Hayes National Triolian and Carroll Smith a National pear-shaped Polychrome tenor.
8) “Memphis Willie B.” Boerum – Epiphone Triumph.
9) Barbecue Bob – Stella 12-string.
10) John Henry Barbee – Gibson L-1, Harmony 165 flattop.
11) Jim Baxter (of Jim & Andrew Baxter) – Stella.
12) Ed Bell (Barefoot Bill) – Stella.
13) Blind Blake – Harmony(?) concert, prob. a (wood-bodied?) resonator guitar on 1929 sessions onward.
14) Black Ace (Babe Turner) – National Style 2 Hawaiian, Kalamazoo KG-11.
15) Scrapper Blackwell – National Triolian (c.1931), 1926 Gibson L-0 (thanks to Paul Fox) and Stellas. A Kay Solo Special in the 1960s.
16) Ted Bogan – Martin D-35.
17) Pillie Bolling – “A mail-order red Stella”.
18) Son Bonds – Regal Concert.
19) Wee Bea Booze (Muriel Nicholls) – Regal Model 27½ resonator tenor guitar.
20) Ishmon Bracey – Stromberg Voisinette concert.
21) Dink Brister – Gibson A-1 mandolin.
22) Big Bill (Broonzy) (p) – c.1920 Gibson Model O, Bacon & Day Senorita, Epiphone DeLuxe, Gibson L7. Bill played a Martin 000-28 during his late 40s/early 50s acoustic period.
23) Buster Brown – Dobro (Regal) Model 27.
24) Gabriel Brown – Harmony, Dobro Model 45, Gibson J-35.
25) Pearly Brown – Guild F-212 12-string.
26) Willie Brown – Stella for the May 1930 recordings; apparently this was the make he preferred.
27) Bumble Bee Slim – National Model O.
28) R.L. Burnside – Martin D-28, Gibson LG-2, Japanese Epiphone dreadnought.
29) Charlie Burse – National Silver Tenor Style 1 (tuned “Chicago” style I think), Triolian, Harmony ukulele.
30) Joe Callicott – Stella, Harmony Archtop and H1203 flat-top.
31) Blind James Campbell – Kay K-24 flattop. Also the guitarist in his Nashville Street Band played a Kay archtop with all the electrics stripped out.
32) Gus Cannon – 1920s Gretsch Broadkaster and Van Eps Recording banjos. Ashley Thompson from his Jug-Stompers played a Stella and a 1961 Gibson LG-2 in a later reunion photo.
33) Bo Carter (p) – National Style N (Gary Atkinson of the wonderful Document Records has a 1930 Style N which he considers to be a possibly Bo Carter’s guitar as shown in the earlier (mid-30s) of the two photos that we know of. The guitar has longer head slots than usual, no neck binding and has a nickel-silver back with a copper front to the body, giving it a unique tonal quality very similar to that on Bo’s recordings of the time).
34) Goree Carter – Stella (Harmony).
35) Catiron (William Carradine) – Kay concert ¾ size.
36) Sam Chatmon – Gibson L-4, Harmony Sovereign H1203.
37) Rev. E.W. Clayborn – Grand Concert Stella.
38) Sam Collins – Stella.
39) Johnny Copeland – Ovation “Glen Campbell”.
40) Elizabeth Cotten – Mike Seeger says “Ms. Cotton played a Stella when she was young; then, about 1960, a mid-century Martin D-18; and eventually, from the late 1960s onward, her favourite 00-18 Martin”. She was also pictured with 000-18, D-28 and a Gibson J-45.
41) Ollie Crenshaw – Stella.
42) Arthur Crudup – Silvertone (Kay), Kay Upbeat and Gibson archtops.
43) Emma Daniels (of “Two Gospel Keys”) – Stella.
44) Jed Davenport – Stella concert 12-string, Joe McCoy’s Washburn(?), Regal mandolin.
45) Blind Gary Davis (p) – National Duolian then a Washburn, a Kay K-26 jumbo (1950) and various Gibsons including J200s, B45-12s, Hummingbirds, a Southern Jumbo, a J-50, also Bozo and Martin 12-strings and briefly, a Bozo 6-string and a huge Zemaitis. There are photos of him with a Yamaha dreadnought and a Martin D-28. His first guitar was “an $18 Washburn for his 8th birthday”. He also played the banjo, a 5-string that he was lent and that I can’t identify, a 1930s Gibson GB-1 (c.1962) and a 12-string Framus which was strung as a 6-string. There is a long-necked Vega-ish instrument pictured on the “Guitar & Banjo” CD, but I can’t tell how many strings it has (plectrum?) The banjo featured on that record was a 6-string.
46) Dan Dixon – Martin D-28 (The Lonnie Johnson Trio).
47) K.C. Douglas – Harmony Sovereign H1203.
48) Scott Dunbar (p) – Kay Grand Auditorium, Gibson J45.
49) Ford “Snooks” Eaglin – Harmony Archtop.
50) Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards – Stella, Martin 00-17 (1930s), Kay Monarch (1942), Martin D-41.
51) Sleepy John Estes – Stellas, Silvertones, Gibson LG-1 (“mid-50s”, customised), a Lark Junior archtop in 1962, Harmonys Stella, Models 162 and Sovereign 1260, also a Yamaha dreadnought later.
52) Bud Ezell – Bacon & Day (Regal made?).
53) Blind Boy Fuller – National Duolians (1 from 1933, 1 1938).
54) Jesse Fuller – A really huge12-string based on a Prairie State (Larson Bros.) (from the late John Joyce, via Paul Brett), also various Harmony 12-strings.
55) Clifford Gibson – Looks like a Regal-made grand concert with odd string anchoring (repair?).
56) James Gooch – (of The Gospel Stars) Dobro Model 65.
57) Blind Roosevelt Graves – Large Kay archtop.
58) Arvella Gray – various National Duolians, a Model O, a Gibson J200 and a Les Paul (yeah, really).
59) Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortascue) – Kay K-22 flat top with custom floral decoration, Kay archtop, “steel” National (from Danny McLean).
60) Clarence Green – “My first guitar cost $12. It was a Stella”.
61) Buddy Guy – Kay Archtop for “Muddy Waters – Folk Singer” session, also a Kay Jumbo, possibly a Solo Special.
62) “Hacksaw” Harney – Gibson J-200.
63) Buddy Boy Hawkins – Washburn grand concert.
64) John Lee Hooker – Kay Jumbo.
65) Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins – Kay K-24 Jumbo, Harmony 165 Grand Concert, Gibson J-45s, J-50 and J-160E, also a Washburn and a Framus.
66) Son House – National Duolian, Triolian or Model O. He favoured Stellas early on and said that he used one for the 1930 recording session; there is a 1960s photo of him holding one, but it was on loan; there is also a late picture of him holding an early 20s Gibson L-1.
67) Peg Leg Howell – Stellas (there is a 1963 picture of him with a nylon strung guitar). Henry Williams, a member of his “Gang” also played a Stella.
68) Howlin’ Wolf – Kay Archtop, Guild G-212 12-string, Harmony Sovereign H1203.
69) Mississippi John Hurt (p) – The guitar he used on the 1928 sessions was provided by the studio, his personal guitar (“Black Annie”, of unknown provenance) was not considered good enough quality. A Stella (Harmony era) in the 1950s, a Gibson J-45 (customised & refinished) and an Emory belonging to Tom Hoskins, Gibson/Harmony/homemade 12-string belonging to Peter Silitch, Guild F-30 NT, a Gretsch resophonic (pic.), Harmony Sovereign H1260, 1930 Martin OM-45 (from Stefan Grossman), a custom guitar by Jim Snow and another auditorium-sized by Jack Alderson. This list was culled, in the main, from Philip R. Ratcliffe’s excellent book on Hurt, with input from Stella expert Neil Harpe.
70) James “Bo Weavil” Jackson – Gibson L-1.
71) Papa Charlie Jackson – Possibly a Euphonon guitar banjo in 1925/6 pic. (I once played one dating from 1914ish that had the same type of tailpiece), a Gibson GB Banjo in the 1927 photo &, reportedly, a Gibson guitar, possibly an early L-4.
72) Jim Jackson – Stella 12-string and Concert.
73) John Jackson – Early 1950s Gibson J-50, 90s L-00 reissue.
74) Lulu Jackson – Stella.
75) Melvin “Lil’ Son” Jackson – Harmony Sovereign H1260.
76) Elmore James – Kay Western Rhythm dreadnought with added electrics (specifically DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1000, the actual pickup he uses on most/all of his recordings, mounted on the guitar top between bridge and soundhole, with the DeArmond vol./tone control box hanging down from the bridge. He also experimented with pickups attached over the soundhole. a DeArmond soundhole pickup is present on the November 1959 pictures, not there in 1957 pictures and gone by December 1959 pictures. The Rhythm Chief pickup is present in ALL photos !!). He apparently also used a National Princess. Thanks to the Elmore Oracle “Snakehips” O’Donnell for all that; you can see photos of Richie’s amazing Elmore collection on http://s51.photobucket.com/user/snakehips82/library/My%20Elmore%20Kay.
77) Homesick James – Stella.
78) Skip James – Gibson J-185, J-45, Martin D-18, D-28 in the sixties. The guitar used in the 1931 session is now generally accepted to have been a Stella 12-string strung as a six-string.
79) Blind Lemon Jefferson (p) – Stella (and reportedly an Oahu – see pic.).
80) Alfred “Snuff” Johnson – Martin D-28, Gibson LG-0, Gurian (prob. borrowed).
81) Henry Johnson – National Model O 14 fret “chicken-feet”, Gibson J-45.
82) Herman E. Johnson – Stella 928.
83) Lonnie Johnson – Martin 00-21, 1942 Gibson J-100, Harmony MontereyAn Epiphone archtop with a DeArmond clip-on pickup, a custom-made Mexican 12-string which he occasionally played with single strings in the two high string positions rather than doubles.
84) Mager Johnson – Guild F-30 (poss. borrowed).
85) Robert Johnson – 1928 Gibson L-1, Kalamazoo flattop KG-14 (Johnny Shines referred to Johnson’s last guitar as a “big old Kalamazoo”, but he also said that R.J. had a Kalamazoo archtop that he favoured). He was also reputed to have played Stellas and a brass National with the high E string doubled for extra volume.
86) Tommy Johnson – a Stella, a Washburn, a Martin and a Gibson; also “many cheap guitars” (c.f. the excellent “Tommy Johnson” – David Evans 1971).
87) Blind Willie Johnson – a concert-sized Stella in the photo (poss. taken 1927), but Pillie Bolling borrowed his Washburn in Atlanta 1930.
88) Dennis “Little Hat” Jones – Harmony Archtop (from c.1950).
89) McKinney Jones – Harmony Sonata Superior archtop with added pickup.
90) Moody Jones – Martin 00-28.
91) Charlie Jordan (p) – I don’t know what this guitar is (the one with all the pearl dots) so we’ll call it a “Stella”.
92) Luke Jordan – a Gibson.
93) Junior Kimbrough – Yamaha dreadnought.
94) B.B. King – there is a very early photo of him with a well-worn acoustic guitar of strange appearance, possibly with a resonator. Does anybody know what this machine was? Also “a red Stella”, a Gibson L-30 with added electrics (The Original “Lucille” was one of these) and a J-45.
95) Freddie King – Silvertone “Roy Rogers” acoustic (first guitar).
96) Eddie Kirkland – National (Pete Lowry).
97) Charlie Kyle – Stella Grand Concert 12-string.
98) Clyde Langford – Gurian Auditorium, “Honda 500”.
99) Leadbelly – Stella 12-strings, one Grand Auditorium (an emergency buy for him by John Lomax in 1935 – the one on the films and most of the photos), also a Martin 000-18 in 1949.
100) J.B. Lenoir – Michigan archtop (Hoyer-made?), Gibson LG-0.
101) Furry Lewis – Stella concert, Martin 0-18 in the early ‘60s, an Epiphone Texan and a Gibson B-25N in the late 1960s.
102) Charlie Lincoln – Stella concert-size 12-string.
103) Mance Lipscombe – Harmony Sovereign H1203, Gibson J-200 and J50 (prob. borrowed).
104) Robert Jr. Lockwood – “$3.98 Gene Autry model from Montgomery Ward”, Gibson L-0, Dobro “Hula Blues”, Guild 12-string.
105) Willie “Poor Boy” Lofton – National Model O.
106) Joe Hill Louis – Kay archtop.
107) Barbara Lynn – “My first guitar was an Arthur Murray ukulele”.
108) Carl Martin – Stella.
109) Maxwell Street Jimmie – Harmony archtop, Martin 00-28, Gibson L50, Silvertone Kay archtop, Martin-copy dreadnought.
110) Lil McClintock (p) – Stella concert in the photo, but I think that he plays a 12-string on the recordings.
111) Charlie McCoy – Washburn (Regal) mandolin (model 5281?).
112) Ethel McCoy – National Duolian 1933/34 12-fret.
113) George McCoy – Gibson J200.
114) Kansas Joe McCoy (p) – Washburn, Harmony, National Style 3 Tricone, National Electric Spanish.
115) Mississippi Fred McDowell – Washburn DeLuxe, Martin D28, Harmony Cremona and Stella Jumbo, Kay K-1, Hofner Congress, Guild F-30 (prob. borrowed from John Hurt).
116) Brownie McGhee – The Martin D-18 is what he’s famous for, but, before that, he played “an f-hole S.S. Stewart” (possibly made by Gibson), a 14-fret National Duolian, 1938 Gibson J35 (later customised with, to the eye, extended f/board & modified bridge), a Martin D-28, a Harmony archtop and a Gibson J-200. He preferred Black Diamond strings with an unwound 3rd and used steel National fingerpicks (2) and a plastic thumbpick.
117) “Stick” McGhee – National Trojan (1935?), Kalamazoo KG-31(?), Epiphone Spartan with added DeArmond.
118) Fred McMullen – Stella Auditorium, Martin OM-28 c.1930.
119) Hayes McMullen – Harmony Stella concert.
120) Blind Willie McTell – various huge Stella, Regal & Harmony 12-strings.
121) Memphis Jug Band –– Robert Carter – Gibson L30; “Unidentified Member” (Charlie Burse?) – National Triolian; Will Shade – Stella, Gibson SJN, 1933 National Duolian.
122) Memphis Minnie – Stella, Harmony, National Tricone (Joe McCoy kitted them both out with identical Nationals in c.1929), 1938 National New Yorker Electric Spanish (1940 pics.), early 1950s National Aristocrat with non-standard quadrant fret markers (c. 1953 – thanks to Mark Makins), Harmony.
123) Memphis Slim – National Electric Spanish archtop (perhaps just minding it for a friend?).
124) Lottie Merle – “An old Stella”.
125) Flora Molton – Stella, Del Vecchio, “some was Gibson …… some was named Stellas”.
126) George “Daddy Hot Cakes” Montgomery – Kay archtop.
127) Willie Moore (Kinston N.C., not the barber) – Kay archtop.
128) Buddy Moss – pre-1933 National Duolian, Gibson L-00, Kay Kraft Style C (poss. Curley Weaver’s).
129) Charlie “Dad” Nelson – Stella 12-string.
130) Robert Nighthawk (p) – Stellas.
131) Hammie Nixon – 1933 National Triolian.
132) Jack Owens – Silvertone (Harmony) 12 string strung as a 6, Harmony 165, National Model 0 (14-fret), Gibson LG0, Yamaha concert & auditorium-sized flattops, Martin 000-18, Guild F-30 (poss. not his own), Eko Ranger 12 (thanks Bahadir Mutlu).
133) Charlie Patton – Stromberg-Voisinet Concert in the photo; he reportedly used a “brown Stella with lots of fancy pearl and stuff” for some time. Patton was also said to have used “a Gibson with a Black Top” around the time of his last session; the guitar lasted well because of its robust construction, although he apparently preferred Stellas for bass and volume. It is also said that he played and destroyed the odd Washburn.
134) Ike Perkins (Albert Ammons Rhythm Kings) – Gibson L-5; in 1936 he was photographed holding an early Rickenbacker Frying Pan (prob. A-25), complete with correct amplifier (these guitars had a round neck, so could be played either as Hawaiian or Spanish). The way he held the guitar suggests that he played it in conventional “Spanish” mode, possibly even while standing.
135) Robert Petway – c.1931 Sears (National) Duolian.
136) Washington Phillips – a complex double zither of his own devising.
137) Eugene Powell – Silvertone (Harmony) auditorium-sized flat-top.
138) Doug Quattlebaum – National Duolian (mid-30s).
139) Herb Quinn – Martin A style mandolin with optional shaded top.
140) Yank Rachell (p) – Gibson A-1, F-5s, Flatiron F-5, Harmony mandolins with the bottom strings octave tuned; he also tended to tune the whole instrument down about 1½ tones. Gibson J-200 guitar.
141) Charlie Rambo (Star Band 1933) – Dobro Mod 66B with custom decoration on top.
142) Moochie Reeves – Kay-Kraft.
143) Leslie Riddle – Stromberg-Voisinet mandolin.
144) Frank Robinson – Gibson B-25, Stella.
145) Jimmy Rogers – Silvertone (Kay) acoustic archtop
146) Dr. Isiah Ross – 1960 Gibson SJN, Harmony Cremona.
147) Bobbie Rush – Gibson Hummingbird.
148) John T. Samples Sr. – Fender dreadnought (1993).
149) Dan Sane – Harmony concert (Beale Street Sheiks).
150) Tom Shaw – “$8 Stella”, Gibson J45.
151) Bud Scott – Martin 0-21 with Papa Mutt Carey.
152) Johnny Shines – Stella, “a little black Regal”, Kalamazoo archtop (at least two of these, one with a Dearmond pickup c1942), Gibson B-25 (his favourite), J-45, J200, National Duolian (c.1932) and an Alvarez dreadnought.
153) J.D. “Jelly-Jaw” Short (p) – Stella, Regal (Dobro) Model 37 spanish with the resonator cover removed and the hole filled in with wood (also with a wonderful custom harp-rack clamped to the top bout). The photo showing this guitar was taken in 1962 when he was recorded by Sam Charters and the guitar he used sounds like a Dobro with its resonator intact.
154) Frankie Lee Sims – Gibson J-50.
155) Robert Curtis Smith – Harmony Sovereign H1203.
156) Smoky Babe (Robert Brown) – Stella 922 12-string customised as a 6-string with the tailpiece removed and the floating bridge replaced with a fixed, string-retainer type.
157) Spark Plug Smith – Martin 2-17.
158) Joseph Spence – a large Kay archtop in 1958, a 1949 Martin 00-18 by 1977, also a Dobro (Regal made) No.35.
159) Roebuck “Pop” Staples – Kay K-44 Archtop.
160) Frank Stokes – Harmony concert, Martin 00-28.
161) Jewell “Babe” Stovall – National Model O and Triolian (Silvertone badged says Chester P.) both c.1932, Stella, Kalamazoo Oriole mandolin.
162) Daddy Stovepipe (Johnny Watson) (p) – In 1924, a 9-string guitar with doubled-up treble strings and single basses. Neil Harpe identifies this as a Grunewald, c.1905, made in New Orleans, Harmony archtop (Conondo?).
163) Stovepipe No. 1 – Stella (I’ve no idea what make the stovepipe was).
164) Roosevelt Sykes – Gibson J-50 (you’d better believe it!).
165) Tampa Red (p) – 1928 National Style 4 with custom engraving (sadly nickel plated, not gold), now on its third neck at least. Custom National Electric Archtop c.1938.
166) Steve Tarter – Stromberg Voisinet mandolin. Harry Gay played a Washburn concert.
167) Baby Tate – Gibson Southern Jumbo, Leader jumbo.
168) Sister O.M. Terrell – National Triolian flat f-hole model with a plated cover-plate.
169) Sister Rosetta Tharpe (p) – National Triolian, Gibson L-5.
170) Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas – Lyon & Healey concert.
171) Rambling Thomas – Washburn, his first guitar was from Sears.
172) James “Son” Thomas – Wolfram Triumph with an aluminium clad fretboard, Martin D-28.
173) Willie Thomas (w. Butch Cage) – Harmony Sovereign 1203, Gibson J-50 (prob. borrowed from Chris Strachwitz).
174) Buford Threlkeld (Whistler’s Jug Band) – Stella.
175) James Tisdom – Grand concert sized Kay.
176) Henry Townsend – Stella, also a Thorn or Thornton which he says was the best ever (prob. a Thornward by Lyon & Healy – thanks Todd). Later, Henry was filmed using a c.1937 National Model O.
177) Willie Trice – a “fine steel National” and a Regal (Recording King?) concert.
178) Walter Vinson (aka Vincson, Vincent, Jacobs) – National Style 1 Tricone.
179) Aaron Washington – Harmony Archtop.
180) Muddy Waters (p) – Stella, followed by “a beautiful Sears-Roebuck box”, a borrowed Martin for the L. C. session, a National Trojan (maybe a Sears model?) in 1943 John Work photo, Harmony Archtop, Gibson Southern Jumbo and the “dunno” in the picture (for “Folk Singer”).
181) Curley Weaver – Kay Kraft style C.
182) Sylvester Weaver – Stella, Washburn Auditorium-size.
183) Peetie Wheatstraw – National Style 3 Tricone (possibly belonging to Joe McCoy).
184) Bill Weldon – Stella (1927). If you believe that the early picture is of Casey Bill Weldon, then you should know that the guitar that he favoured on the 1935 onward recordings was, almost certainly, a National Tricone squareneck. There is a poor quality photograph of him with an electric lap steel which I can’t identify; the photo is dated 1941, but he “went electric” before Dec. 1938 – his last recording session.
185) Booker T “Bukka” White (p) – National Duolians & Triolians after his first Stella; he swapped a Gibson “in bad shape” for his first National. He also used a very rare 1938 National “Exploding Palmtree” squareneck Tricone, with the nut cut down for use with fingers, on the Takoma Sessions and was filmed playing a Gibson J45 and Furry Lewis’s B25N.
186) Josh White – Kay Kraft (as Curley Weaver & Buddy Moss), Martin 00-21, 00-42, with custom scratch-plates applied when he wore the tops. Custom Guild (1965) and Ovation (1967) “Josh White” models.
187) Mott Willis – Guild F-30 (prob. on loan).
188) Rev. Robert Wilkins – Gibson J-45, Martin D-28, Stefan Grossman’s OM-45.
189) Bill Williams – Gibson L-1 c.1931.
190) Blind Connie Williams – National Duolians, both 12 and 14-fret.
191) Poor (Big) Joe Williams (p) – Gibson L-1, Stella 12-string, then all sorts of Harmonys, Gibsons, Kays, Silvertones, etc. butchered in an infinite variety of fascinating fashions.
192) K.M. Williams – Dobro copy.
193) Robert Pete Williams – Harmony Stella Grand Auditorium 12-string sometimes strung as 6-string, a Regal, Harmony archtops, Harmony Sovereign H1260 & H1203, Martin 000-45.
194) Hosea Woods – Stella.
195) Johnny Young – Martin 00-21; Gibson A-40 (with added pickup) and Wilson flat-top electric mandolins.
Note: I realise that I’m guilty of using “Stella” on occasions when I can’t identify the exact model of a guitar, but it could be a Stella and it’s of that type of instrument; I’ve become aware that I’m not alone in this irritating tic (I’m told I’m even worse on banjos), some of the most reliable of Blues artistes use “Stella” in the same way, when they can’t remember, or never actually knew, the correct make or model that they played, or saw played. Stella guitars were made by the Oscar Schmidt Company of New Jersey before 1935 and by John Carner’s Stella Company from 1935 to 1940. These were usually well made, playable and relatively cheap instruments with good tone and projection. Harmony took over the name in 1940 and the quality dipped rather, although some made under the Sovereign marque were OK. I am not good on Stella models and so I have made some errors in identification and I certainly have not tried to differentiate between Stellas and other brands that were applied to Stella guitars, e.g. Sears, Galiano, Sterling, etc.. All rather bewildering, but if you wish to be less confused, I recommend reading Neil Harpe’s excellent “The Stella Guitar Book” available from his website http://www.stellaguitars.com. Also Paul Brett’s magnificent collection of Stellas, etc. is viewable on http://www.fret-dancer.com; his other site http://www.paulbrettguitarist.co.uk/ has a Q&A section where people can send pictures of their vintage guitars for identification and valuation, also you can ask all sorts of question regarding care and maintenance, where to buy parts etc.. Recommended!
I should also add that Harmony, Regal, Richter and Kay also made guitars under very many different brand names for differing reasons, and that some brands featured instruments made by several manufacturers, e.g. Supertone, Concertone, Recording King, in fact it appears that Richter almost never used their own name on a guitar. Even the “top” makers such as Gibson, Martin and Larson Bros. produced guitars under other names for the larger dealers in these times.
Dai Thomas at Max’s Blues Forum, Lancaster
“The guitar is a mahogany Stromberg-Voisinet from c1925 and is a slightly more deluxe version of the guitar that Charley Patton is cradling in the photo. I believe that they made three styles of this guitar and Charley’s is the basic model (the decal on his guitar also might denote a lower level of trim – I’ve seen another gold garland type that extended much further over the body of the guitar), mine has a fancier bridge, a strip of marquetry around the inside edge of the body binding and a scratch plate. The usual top of the range model had the same stuff as mine, including the large hawaiian decal, but with a fancier scratch plate and a pearl celluloid fingerboard (known as Mother-of-Toilet-Seat in the trade), also the marquetry strip was fancier. It has a nice, refined sound with plenty of bass and projection, but isn’t the loudest guitar around.”
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