Antiques Road Show, Guitar edition, Metafilter-style.
June 8, 2011 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify this old flat top guitar for my brother.

My brother recently found this guitar, and we would like to know more about it. It came in a nondescript black guitar case (no markings on or in the case), and the only marking we can find on the guitar is "Made in USA" stamped inside (visible if you view the original sized photo). The white triangle fret markings are painted on, not inlays, so I figure this was a low-cost guitar back in the day. (You may notice two of the strings are broken. We wrapped them loose around the head to prevent my toddler from grabbing them.)

I figure it is old, based on the shape of the body and the fact that the neck joins the body at the 12th fret. The strings are steel, but there does not appear to be a truss rod. A close-up of the tuners, the back of the guitar.

We would like to know the approximate age, (long shot) maker, and an estimate of value. Based on the steel strings, I know it has to be 1890s or later, but I have no idea how late guitars like this were made. 1950?
posted by fings to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Could be a type of Harmony Supertone, or other Sears guitar. It is probably pre-1940 or so, when they changed to Silvertone and put labels on the headstocks.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:06 PM on June 8, 2011

It appears to be a mid-50's Wabash Regal parlor acoustic, made in Chicago. This one went on eBay in April for around $150.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

First of all, you can't date it by the strings. Strings are meant to be replaced. (Which incidentally, you can go ahead and do; a playable guitar is always more valuable than the alternative.)

You could date it by the tuners, if anything. They appear to be injection-molded plastic, which would probably be a marker of a post-WWII build date. Of course, those too could have been replaced.

The nut is rather interesting, though. Is it bone? (Not that that would date it, necessarily; cows still exist.)

On preview: It would appear that Ice Cream Socialist has nailed it.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:37 PM on June 8, 2011

posted by fings at 4:36 AM on June 9, 2011

ICS how did you figure that out so quickly?
posted by sully75 at 5:37 AM on June 9, 2011

Well, from fings' description and the pictures, it sounded like it was a low-cost/student parlor size guitar, and Threeway Handshake's Supertone/Harmony/Sears hypothesis seemed pretty sound, but I couldn't find any to match. I thought it might be a Kay because they often have unusual fret markings, but nothing matched there either. Regal is a very common maker, so I searched for Regal parlor guitars and luckily someone recently sold one on eBay and included a whole lot of photos, which made identification pretty easy since the tailpiece and the fret markings are distinctive.

The color/finish is not the same as the eBay one, but that's really the only difference as far as I can tell. On fings' brother's guitar, there's no "Wabash" on the headstock, which at first made me wonder if it had been refinished. But the light-colored purfling looks like it's probably original, and it seems pretty strange that someone would refinish a student guitar like that. But someone went to the trouble of taking the Wabash name off, and there's no finish checking or splitting, and actually if you look at the close-ups the finish looks like it could be new. Curious, eh?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:29 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps Regal manufactured it for another seller? I see on wikipedia that "Regal specialized in mass-produced student instruments, sold under many brands including Regal through all major wholesalers." It could explain why there's no "Wabash", the different color/finish, and a different bridge.
posted by fings at 7:54 AM on June 9, 2011

It's a pretty good bet that's the case, fings. Aside from the many brands Regal manufactured student flattops for, it looks like they made archtops that sold under the Wabash mark in the 20's, too.

Your brother's guitar looks to be in good condition. Aside from the finish, the neck looks straight and true. Even with a short neck, guitar necks without truss rods can curl or twist over time. I'd put new strings on it and see how it sounds if I were him. Even with inexpensive guitars, when that wood ages and dries out, it can really ring.

Of course he'd probably want to take it to a shop tech first to make sure string tension won't split something or exacerbate a not-so-visible problem. Still, sounds like fun.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:22 AM on June 9, 2011

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