Copyright © 2015 by Larry G. Overton
A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article about (along with pictures of) the guitars my Granddad and Dad had back in their early days. I also stated that I am on a quest to see if I can find out more about these guitars. Well, I haven’t been able to nail down just exactly what brand(s) of guitars these were, or exactly when they were purchased, but with some help I have discovered some intriguing possibilities, so I decided to do a follow up article.
About the first picture of my grandfather with the guitar, as I said before, the picture was taken around 1920. I’ve seen other pictures of him in that suit and tie around that age, and they were pictures from his college days. Granddad was born in 1900, so 1919-20 is a good guess.
Of course this would mean that the guitar he’s holding couldn’t have been purchased after this time frame. So I’m pretty sure that Granddad’s guitar was made sometime within the first two decades of the 20th century.
In discussing this in an online discussion forum (TDPRI), someone speculated “by the looks of the headstock” that Granddad’s guitar in this picture was either a Martin or a copy of one. I had noticed the Martin-esque headstock myself, the characteristic squared off top portion and slotted headstock.
But I didn’t think that it was a Martin. The price of a Martin in those days ($25) would probably have been a deterring factor. Though that doesn’t sound like much money today, it would have been comparable to at least a month’s worth of groceries. Plus I have never seen a Martin with such an embellished fretboard.
I had seen pictures like the ones below of late 19th century Washburns with embellished fretboards.
These guitars were Washburn’s top of the line models and sported solid pearl fingerboards! Interesting to be sure, but not a match for what my grandfather had in that photograph.
In the course of my search and discussions about it, several recommended that I contact Steve Chipman of Vintage Parlor Guitars [http://www.vintageparlorguitars.com/] in Vermont. I hesitated to do so at first, because from what I had read of him, he repairs, restores and sells vintage parlors for a living. I didn’t see my quest for information ending in the purchase of such a vintage instrument. So I didn’t want to be presumptuous regarding his time.
But at the insistence of others I finally wrote to Steve, and tried to be very up front about what I was after, and left the matter to him. To my delight, Steve replied to my email in less than an hour, and proved to be most helpful, and very generous with his time and expertise.
After examining the two photos I provided, Steve said that he “would lean toward Regal as the maker of each.” He went on the explain that “Of all the Chicago-based factory makers from this period, Regal was the one that went right after Martin’s body style and made it their own.” And about the fretboards, he added that the fretboard embellishments on both Granddad’s and Dad’s guitars were very “Regal.”
Armed with that lead, I began to search for catalogs and old pictures of Regal guitars. I found a few descriptions and pictures of Regal fretboards that were very close to what I make of the guitars in my old family photos. For example, here is a pic of a Regal guitar from the 1930s.
This guitar is variously described as a “Diamond Head” (because of the stenciled/painted image of Diamond Head, Honolulu on the lower bout of the guitar) or as a “Two-in-one Guitar” (meaning it could be used for the popular “Hawaiian” style of slide playing or regularly fretted notes/chords). The guitar sold for $13.75. And here is a closer look at the fretboard.
That fretboard embellishment was described in the advertisements of the day as a “silver color and black pearl-pyroxylin.” (Pyroxylin was a plastic product/lacquer made from a mixture of nitrocellulose compounds designed to produce a pearl-like/mother-of-pearl effect.)
I have yet to find a picture of a Regal parlor sized guitar predating the 1930s with such fretboard embellishments, so I’m not certain if Granddad’s guitar was a Regal. As Steve Chipman said in his correspondence with me, “There’s no way to be 100% certain.” However, it sure looks like Dad’s was a Regal. Steve also said that in addition to the fretboard of that guitar, the pickguard looked Regal to him as well.
So, that’s where I am in my quest for information about these old guitars that were once part of my family’s guitar playing heritage. Nothing is definitive yet, but I’m a lot closer to answers than I was before, and I’ve learned some cool guitar history along the way. So thanks, my fellow members of TDPRI, and a special thanks to Steve Chipman of Vintage Parlor Guitars.