Official Kojo welcomes back the noted guitar collector and historian Paul Brett with his unique take on vintage guitars. Just what’s left that is affordable and – most importantly fun to play?
This article – 1920’s Oscar Schmidt ‘Pocket Mandolin’ (selling November 2012 for c. $650), 1956 Kay K-136 (selling November 2012 $600-$1700) and 1953 Maccaferri G-30 (selling November 2012 for $500-600)*
Sometimes I come across a find that is out of the norm of my collecting timeline but by the same token, I find it interesting and enjoyable to change the pattern occasionally and especially when I come across an excessive rarity. Now, I am not a mandolin player by a long stretch of the imagination, but I was taken with a beautiful little instrument made by Oscar Schmidt, he of the legendary Stella guitars, called quaintly, a ‘Pocket Mandolin’. No, it doesn’t quite fit into your pocket but it is certainly a piece of eye candy and it’s loud as you can hear in the video that accompanies this article! Made in the mid-1920s it carries the Sovereign brand on the headstock, which was Schmidt’s top of the range brand during the company’s period of prolific manufacturing in the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Constructed with a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides, it is adorned with a perloid fingerboard and headstock. It has a standard mandolin scale but the body is only 5 1/4” wide. Unlike traditional mandolins, it has a flat back, as opposed to bowl back, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen another.
As Americana goes, it could be the only one left and I would love to know if anyone else either has one, or knows of someone who has? It’s difficulty also to value it exactly but I guess it’s probably at present worth around the $650 mark to a collector. You can never tell however with unique items, what a collector will pay on the day.
Kay guitars are one of America’s iconic guitar makers with a history stretching way back to the 1930’s and are recognised as pioneers in the development of the electric guitar. From the mid ‘30s to the 1960s, Kay produced some of the finest electric guitars around, even at one time they were on a par with Gibson. I have been collecting some of their models over the years and have seen them steadily rise in collectability and value. Guitars like the K-131, known better as the ‘Thin Twin’ because of its lipstick shaped pickups, was used by the great Bluesman, Jimmy Reed and Jazz greats like Barney Kessel endorsed their Upbeat models with the famous ‘Kleenex Box’ pick ups, which I shall feature in a later edition.
The guitar I want to show you in this article is the solid body K-136 single pickup model. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best all round electric guitars I own. I have demonstrated a few different styles and sounds on the accompanying video but it really has a far greater versatility than I can cram in. It even plays great slide and Jazz chords! I have my one set with a slightly high action so I can play a bit of bottleneck occasionally when needs must. It’s a mid-’50s model, probably 1956, and is finished in spring green and white which gives it an Art Deco appearance. It won’t be everyone’s choice as a player because of the thick chunky neck, but after a while, it’s barely noticeable.
These are quite rare in original condition and I have seen a few around where over the years, players have changed and added various makes of pick ups which may give the guitar a different sound, but have decreased its collectability value as it’s not in original condition.
These guitars over the last few years have become quite collectable and prices have increased considerably for models in vgc. I have seen bad ones on sale for around the $600 mark and good ones for up to $1700, so if you spot a good one and you have a few bucks to spare, it will be worth picking up as an investment and also as a very enjoyable play.
Django’s style of‘Jazz Manouche’ inspired so many guitarists it is impossible to list them all. Even today, there are swathes of his admirers keeping his music alive around the world. The large D – holes and the oval soundboard of the Selmer Maccaferris threw out a louder sound when strung with metal strings and were ideal for Django’s style and music.
The iconic shape of the guitar also inspired many later copies and in juxtaposition with the music of Django, ensured the success and future legend of Mario’s design.
However, one great design doesn’t another. In the Spring of 1953, Maccaferri launched another unique guitar, this time, made of plastic! He even got the likes of the great Andreas Segovia to laud the guitar.
The Dow Chemical Company produced the material under the name of Styron and a massive PR exercise was launched to herald Maccaferri’s new icon. It had a bolt on- neck that could be adjusted by a simple turn of the screw situated under the tailpiece.
It boasted a warp proof neck and perfect intonation. These guitars in fact, were a serious piece of kit and far superior to many guitars of the period whose playable actions at the first fret were akin to finger strippers when one tries to fret them.
I actually really like these guitars and feel that Mario may have come up with a viable guitar well ahead of his time, especially with the CITES treaty and its restrictions on the
import and export of rare woods. They were released in two models the G-30 and G-40. The one here is a G-30. They have started to rise in value recently after spending a while in the doldrums and if you find one with its original box and labels this will increase the value. They currently pitch for around $500 – $600 although I did see one on Ebay for around the $1700 mark which is a little hopeful to say the least!
Important note about our guide prices:
The prices quoted are US-based (prices in the EU tend to be higher) and represent a spread between private and dealer figures at the time the article was written, as shown in the text. They are not meant to be any more than a very approximate guide and are subject to change on a weekly basis!