Guitar Interactive welcomes back the noted guitar collector and historian Paul with his unique take on vintage guitars. Just what’s left that is affordable and – most importantly fun to play?
This issue – Gibson L-00 (around $4,000) Burns GB65 (around $6,500?), Gibson KG- 14 ($2-3,000) Harmony Roy Smeck ($800- 1,000) Prices at May 2013.
Summers on the horizon (I hope!) and in this issue I’m going to present some rare vintage acoustics and one exceptionally rare electro-acoustic. A couple of issues back I featured a 1930’s Gibson L-00 , one of the most sought after vintage Gibsons from that era. I’m going to begin with its predecessor, the Gibson L-0 . The one featured was made in 1932. The Gibson catalogue of 1930 describes the L-0 as “Made of Honduras Mahogany with natural amber, hand rubbed finish, truss rod neck construction, rosewood fingerboard with nickel silver frets and pearl position marks, ivoroid binding top and back, rosewood bridge, ebony saddle, black pins and mono steel strings.” The later, 1932, model is 14.75” wide and has 14 frets clear of the body with natural finish mahogany top back and sides. It is bound top and back and the scale length is 24.75”.
My model does not have “the” in front of the painted Gibson logo. These tend to be rarer than the L-00s to source and especially in vgc. Whilst looking very similar in shape to the L-00, the L-0 sounds a lot tighter and crisper in its voice, due to the woods used. They tend to be priced around the $4,000 dollar mark and more if the condition is excellent. They are rising in collectability and value and also give the player a different sound to the warmer L-00. They are light in weight and I would advise NOT to use heavy strings on them as they are not built to take them.
If you want to get the best out of them, use light gauge strings, or even La Bella Silk & Steel, which I tend to favour for all my old vintage acoustics, even 12-strings.
Jim Burns is a legend in the UK and around the world. He was one of the UK’s best and most creative guitar makers. The Hank Marvin Burns is now an iconic collector’s piece and Burns guitars from that era are now becoming very collectable and rising in value. Jim never really had the breaks whilst he was alive to establish a truly international company as he, like many UK luthiers, had a tendency to be dogged with financial issues. One of the rarest Burns guitars is the GB65. This was Jim’s first attempt at making an electro-acoustic.
Bearing in mind he was pioneering this genre for Burns, whilst it was an interesting guitar design at the time, it didn’t quite make the acoustic’ sound happen that he had probably envisaged. It was to all intents and purposes, a good beginner guitar that hovered somewhere between Jazz and Country styles in sound and maybe touched a little on Blues in fingerstyle.
In 1965, the US Baldwin company took Burns over as Jim’s financial management skills were not in the same league as his guitar designs.
However, the GB65 was made by Ormston Burns London Ltd . around the time of that takeover. There were very few built in ‘65 because Baldwin ceased production of it in ‘66. Its design is, for want of a better description, based around a flat top acoustic, but its weight feels more like that of a solid electric.
It had what Burns termed ‘controlled resonance’ because of the two sound holes in the table in juxtaposition with the intentionally placed bracing. It’s true to say that in 1965, this was very different to what was being built by other makers. The two surface mounted ‘Rez – o – Mane’ pick ups of the bar magnet type, do give the guitar a wide range of sound, controlled by a selector switch. The body is hollow and made of mahogany and the top has a flamed sycamore veneer. The tailpiece is a fundan trapeze type with a B on it. I have rarely seen one of these for sale but recently I spotted one on Ebay with an asking price of $6,500. It looks in A1 condition and I think the price is reflected in its rarity, rather than its application. A1 point to consider in collecting vintage is that many of the ‘60s semis or acoustics, can suffer from varnish cracks or starring. This in no way implies that the wood underneath is split. If you apply layers of glossy finish on a guitar, it is more likely over time to show these kind of effect. That’s also how you can tell if the instrument is genuine from the era or not.
Finally, I would end by presenting two vintage collectables. One was reputedly played by the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson and the other was a signature model for another stringed legend Roy Smeck. The Kalamazoo KG-14 was one of only two guitars that Robert Johnson was photographed playing, the other was a 1928 Gibson L-1. It was more than likely that the Gibson L-1 photographic prop that Johnson was given to pose with and that the KG-14 was the one he actually played on the historical sessions he did in Texas in November 1936. If this was the case, it was because the KG-14 was new to the market and was far more affordable than the L-l.
Although made on the same Gibson benches by Gibson luthiers, the Kalamazoo range were made for non-Gibson dealers and with less construction costs than the actual Gibsons proper. This looks somewhat similar again to an L-00 and has the same body size and dimensions, but it has less of a bass response, but in reality, sounds pretty darn good for a cheapie, even against an L-00. It’s ladder braced and as light as a feather to hold, with 14 frets to the body. These are collectable both as a player’s guitars and a collector’s model. Of course the association with Robert Johnson has an effect on the price and some dealers are charging up to $3,000 plus for vgc models but it’s best to shop around as you can pick up the odd one if you’re lucky for under $2,000.
Roy Smeck is another legendary American string king who played a variety of instruments and put his name to a few too. He also designed products like the Vita Uke for Harmony and was proficient in playing banjo, lap steel and guitar. He recorded over 500 tracks for various labels during his career and released instruction books of how to play methods. He designed some tasty acoustics for Harmony that are quite rare to source these days in good condition. One being made in 1947 (which is, I suppose, a jumbo in style, but not quite) was the H2453 as I think it was called and it may have also been released as a Hawaiian model. It has a spruce top and mahogany back and sides and the body is 15 3/4” at the lower bout with a 25 1/4” scale length. Body depth is 4” and it’s finished in a stylish lacquer. Smeck’s name is on the headstock with a 40s style linear design interwoven.
As a change from my usual demonstration in the accompanying video clip, I thought Fd take the KG-14 and the Smeck Harmony to a session I was doing with a new duo Paul Brett s new CD ‘Taming the Beast’ is released through iTunes and Amazon on February 19th 2013. It is available on download and On Demand (Amazon).
We only had the camera mic on the video, recording the sound, so there is no great production mix, but it seemed to come out quite well for an impromptu jam and Sam certainly liked the way the old Harmony took to his modern style. Value probably between $800 and $1000 in vgc at present.