View Full Version : Mystery Yard Sale Find: Tenor Guitar?
Attached are some photos of an instrument I bought at a yard sale for $5. I was very intrigued by it because, even though it has obviously been abused beyond the pale, it still seems to be well made with nice quality wood. I just couldn't bear to see it just thrown away. It is 31" long overall, 8 1/2 inches across the upper bout, 11 1/2 inches across the lower bout, and about 3" wide at its widest point. It has 4 banjo style tuners in a banjo shaped headstock. Neck appears to be plain maple, sides flamed maple, back nicely book matched 2 piece flamed maple, top possibly cedar or redwood, neck block mahogany, braces who knows? Finish seems to be varnish I think. Scale length- I can't tell because there is no bridge, but there is a mark on the top where a bridge MAY HAVE sat, if I am right the scale would be 20 inches or so. There are also pictures of the tailpiece, which has sharp metal edges actually digging into the wood so I detached it. There were 3 very old metal strings just hanging there that I discarded. So first I want to know, what do I have here? Tenor guitar (would have to be a very short scale)? Baritone uke? None of the above? There are no labels or maker's marking of any kind. I was thinking about restoring it, but this would be a lot more work than I have ever done. First, it is almost falling apart. I bet it spent many years in an attic. There are top and bottom seam separations and loose braces. Most worrisome is a long crack in the back that is too wide to close without taking the back off. It would also require making a new bridge with no pattern to follow, a new nut (old one missing), fixing the tailpiece so it doesn't damage the wood, new binding on top (channel cut, but binding is gone), probably a re-fret, and I also thought about stripping the old varnish and re-doing that. I know it sounds like more work than it's worth, but I would think of it as a learning experience. And I could end up with something cool when it's over! With that scale length, I'm thinking tenor guitar tuning, or maybe octave mandolin tuning, or who knows? Any repair thoughts or identification help would be appreciated. 751717517675172751737517475175
Just multiply the nut to 12th fret distance to check the scale length. 19-20" would be baritone uke territory.
That's DOUBLE the nut to 12th fret distance.
With those friction tuners, I'm guessing baritone uke too. Very nice find, I'm thinking. Baritone uke is a LOT of fun to play-- tune it like the highest 4 strings of a guitar and go for it.
Since this one was built with a tailpiece and moveable bridge, I'd expect it was intended as a tenor guitar. Nylon or gut strings would be pretty low tension for that setup, to say the least. Then, too, there are guitar-shaped instruments of other ethnicity. . .
That's looking like heavily figured pearwood on the back and sides....?
Hard to say without seeing it up close...
I would also say tenor guitar. They often have banjo tuners and sometimes have movable bridges. It would not be hard to make a bridge for one. BTW I don't believe that that tailpiece belongs with this guitar. It looks like a banjo tailpiece esp with that bolt on the end of it. You want a std tenor guitar tailpiece. Like the ones pictured below. Check here (http://www.billcampbanjos.com/Banjotailpieces.htm) for those two. The simpler cheaper one might do you well since I am not sure that anyone is selling anything like that new for 4 strings.
Jim, I KNOW you, but I don't know the tailpiece guy in your link. Those prices see totally outrageous! I have never seen anything like them!~
I dunno, #185 is only $35.
Lots of folks who buy the Saga electric mandolin kit decide to use a different tailpiece, which means there are several of the Saga e-mando tailpieces floating around. Those are meant to be used for 4 strings (although Saga says they'll work for 8 as well) and have sort of a vintage art-deco look to them ... and you can probably score one for ten bucks. I'd guess one of those would work on a tenor guitar, in a pinch.
I wish I had found it. Check out the slots in the nut. Are they large to accomodate Nylon Ukulele strings or small; ie .010 or so for steel Tenor guitar strings. Ukulele would have 4 large strings with little difference in diameter. Tenor guitar strings will be .009 to .030, more or less.
I'd say tenor guitar for certain.
Regal, Stella and Kay made quite a few 21 inch scale tenors in the 20s and 30s, though this is obviously of far higher quality. Wish it were mine!
A simple floating bridge would do the job.
Jim, I KNOW you, but I don't know the tailpiece guy in your link. Those prices see totally outrageous! I have never seen anything like them!~
As they say, go try to find them in your local Guitar Center. Yes he is on the high side but I have been offered some vintage parts for equally high prices. ironically, you can usually find better deals if you buy a whole instrument carcass and throw out the body and keep the parts. Got a bunch of parts that way.
I really think the tailpiece is original. You cannot see it in the pictures but there is a big wood screw type end with a hole in the head made to hold the nut and bolt like tail piece hanger. The metal has a very old patina. The hinged top flips up to to reveal punched-up pins obviously made to take loop end strings. There are 2 rows of these, one with 4 and the other with 3 and a hole (one pin might be missing). Also, I measured to the 12th fret. 10 inches exactly, making the scale length 20 inches. That seems very short for a tenor to me, but I'm no expert on them. The old strings were loop end metal wound with what looked like little bristle brushes down by the loops. I hope this additional info help you guys solve the mystery for me. Sure would like to know who made it also.
Also, the nut was missing so I couldn't look at the width of the slots. But the old strings were for sure thinner wound metal, not thicker nylon or gut. But I have no guarantee that it was strung correctly. I restored a violin recently that was strung with hardware wire and household twine when I got it!
I still think it is a tenor guitar. They had varied scale lengths.
Yes, that tailpiece is old but I can't see how it attaches to the body of the guitar. Also, it has 8 pins so was prob from a mandolin-banjo. Are there any screw holes in the tallpiece area of the bottom bout of the guitar (butt end of the guitar). There might be three or four holes to attach a more standard trapeze tailpiece as I pictured above.
Jim- There are no other holes drilled in the instrument other than the one for the installed screw type end pin, more evidence that this is the original tailpiece. It does resemble a mandolin tailpiece, which adds to the mystery. I wonder if the non standard scale length, mismatch of parts, and lack of label/headstock logo might mean this is luthier made rather than commercial?
Can you post a photo of the butt end of the guitar where there is that screw type end pin? I just can;t quite picture how that tailpiece attaches.
Here is a picture of the end pin. I have had it out. It is basically like a big wood screw that threads right into the hole. the hole on the pin takes the bolt-like attachment that you see in the previous photos and the nut goes on the other side to adjust it up and down. There are also 9 holes in addition to the 9 (1 missing) loop end pins. Holes are for ball end maybe? It seems to be some kind of all purpose tail piece that could be used for a variety of instruments.75185
Ah, yes... that confirms it that this is a banjo part. Of course, it could be original to this instrument, but that configuration is exactly how they work for banjos.I can;t quite place the tailpiece but I think it might have been used as a universal one: 5 holes for 5 strings and 4 for tenors and plectrum instruments. I believe that you would thread each string thru the appropriate hole to add tension.
Not exactly the same but similar to this one.
It is a PRESTO Style tailpiece. I have one on my 1969 Vega Ranger tenor banjo. If it is not an original end attachment, it will work well anyway. It should be good and solid to attach a strap.
Tenor for sure... did you measure the scale Don? Looks about 21"
Those straight friction pegs would have worked just ok new for a 21" scale, probably now they will be weak. Put them in the case and get some 5-star planet pegs from Stew-Mac, they will work great.
Here's a little Regal tenor guitar of mine.
Overall length is 31 7/8 in. (80.96 cm.), 10 7/16 in. (26.5 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 1/16 in. (7.77 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 21 in. (53.34 cm.).
Interesting, Brad... yours also has a banjo tailpiece.
Tenor banjo tailpiece will work on a tenor guitar. Multidon's has had a tailpiece set-up for a mandolin-banjo attached, either a retrofit or the way it was made. The globe-headed "wood screw" with the hole pierced through it, normally was screwed into the dowel stick of the MB, through a hole in the shell, and the bracket for the tailpiece was inserted through the hole in the globular head, and tightened with a bracket nut similar to the ones on all the MB's brackets.
Some tenor guitars had pin bridges, like my Gibson, and took ball-end strings; others had trapeze (or other) tailpieces, floating bridges, and took either loop-end tenor banjo strings, or ball-ends. I've not seen a baritone ukulele with a floating bridge and tailpiece; doesn't mean one didn't exist, though most "baris" had tie bridges.
Twenty inches is a very short scale for a tenor guitar; they tended to be around 22-23. But it's a bit long for a baritone ukulele, which is usually closer to 19. So perhaps just an odd, "off"-brand instrument? I've Googled various brands of tenor guitars; many have the "figure eight" headstock, but not exactly the shape of this one.
Last night I successfully removed the back. I knew I would have to do that to fix the crack in the back because it wouldn't close otherwise. Inside I found two tiny remnants of a printed paper label, very thin paper with double black line border, one remnant just the border and one with the letters "co". They practically disintegrated when I touched them. But this tells me it was something commercial, not luthier-made, so this increases the mystery since nobody seems to be able to find anything like it. All of the back braces were so loose they were just hanging by a thread. Strangely, the top and its braces are in much better shape than the back- I would have expected the opposite-with just one small seam separation. I am torn now between just fixing the structural issues, putting it back together, and leaving it look "vintage", or going the whole nine yards with a complete restoration. It's put together with hide glue but I will probably repair with titebond- it's just easier to work with for an amateur. Well, probably I will do the crack and braces with titebond but put the back on with hide glue to make it easier to remove again if need be. I am considering stripping the old finish and re-finishing with violin varnish. With that 20" scale length I am considering stringing it as a 4 string octave mandolin. Do the forum members think this is feasable? What should I use as a bridge?
Some people would call a 4 string octave mandolin...... a tenor guitar. ;)
delsbrother- I thought tenor guitars were tuned CGDA. I wanted to know if I could tune it GDAE, which seems feasible to me since my instrument has that unusual 20" scale. And I still want to know what kind of bridge to buy for it that would have the right string spacing. Mandola perhaps? Should it be fixed or adjustable? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
multidon - plenty of folks tune tenors to GDAE, particularly Irish trad players. You'd likely need to do something to the nut/bridge to accomodate the heavier strings though. Check out the Fletcher Instruments (http://www.fletcherinstruments.com/) website to get an idea of the kind of bridge Jamie Dougan uses on his Fletcher Tenor Tone tenor guitars. I recently got one and tune it GDAE - it's a great wee instrument!
Also, you will find lots of different scale lengths on tenors. In Brazil, for example, 23" would be considered "long" for a violao tenor.
Last night I successfully removed the back. I knew I would have to do that to fix the crack in the back because it wouldn't close otherwise. Inside I found two tiny remnants of a printed paper label, very thin paper with double black line border, one remnant just the border and one with the letters "co". They practically disintegrated when I touched them. But this tells me it was something commercial, not luthier-made, so this increases the mystery since nobody seems to be able to find anything like it.
As usual, it would help if you can photograph the label as-is. We may be able to piece something together as to the maker or store that put a label in.
I am considering stripping the old finish and re-finishing with violin varnish.
Maybe you can tell from in-hand examination that that flamed-maple is genuine, but it seems also possible that it is faked with finish. Before you strip the whole thing, find a small area that would not be visible and try removing finish. I am not saying anything definite, but you may find some rather plain wood... or not. If it were me, I would not bother refinishing. I like the way it looks now, real flame or faked. I would just reglue braces and set it up the way you want. BTW, I can't imagine that octave tuning would be a problem.
Jim- Thanks for the advise. There really wasn't much of a label to start with, the pieces were about 1/2 in square and like I say they turned to powder when I touched them, unfortunately. I don't really think they would have been any help. I have already taken off the back, closed the crack, and glued the braces back on. The flames are real, they go all the way through. I am now thinking to do as you say, just fix the damage, put it back together, string it up and play it. It has lots of scratches but I'm sure they are well-earned battle scars. It is cool looking as-is, and besides I'm impatient to play it! The total restore would be cool too, but take a lot longer!
Nice looking instrument. I'm totally unfamiliar with such things. I did note that if you look at the first few photos that multidon put up, you can truly see the flame on the back and compare it with the through-the-soundhole pattern and they do match up well. I appreciate photos like this for just that kind of detail, so I can learn to see more readily what might land in front of me at some yard sale a few weeks hence.
Maybe you can tell from in-hand examination that that flamed-maple is genuine....
I'd bet a six-pack that we're looking at a real nice set of flamed pearwood there...
Got any close-up pics of that wood, multidon??
Sorry Spruce, any time I try to do close up with my camera, even on its close up setting, it blurs terribly. So these pictures are about as good as it gets. I am a retired orchestra director, and I've seen a lot of flame maple in my career, but I've never seen flamed pearwood. How would one go about telling the difference?
How would one go about telling the difference?
Does the wood on the inside of the instrument have a pinkish cast?
If "yes", we're looking at steamed pearwood...
Just that lack of graining and the type of flaming immediately screamed "pear" to me, and you do see pear on a lot of those instruments from that era...
The medullary rays--if you have some perfectly quartered wood anywhere on that instrument--would be the real giveaway...
Fruitwoods have very distinctive rays...
I'd say tenor guitar too. The headstock is banjo-like, which says tenor. The neck is narrower than any baritone uke I've seen. those old regals and stellas were 21 inches.
My regal has the same tailpiece as Brad's. (an aside: Brad, looks like you've got one of the rarer rosewood back Regals. I've only seen pics. Mine's mahogany.)
Bruce, I see what you mean-- there are some rays visible just above the center join in the photo of the back, and they remind me a lot of cherry (I don't have any experience with pear).
Hey Cary. My Regal is a very high grade of mahogany with a tight curl. Along with the colorful marquetry it was one of the fancier tenors to come out of the Regal factory, and on top of that, it has an adorable little original hard shell case!
I really wouldn't say there is any pinkish cast on the raw wood. I will see if my wife can take close ups- her camera is better than mine. The reconstruction is going well! Crack is closed and cleated, back ribs are re-attached, seam separation on top is closed, loose linings re-glued, all work done with Titebond, all appears solid. I will soon put the back back on. I have decided to just fix the structural problems and leave the finish and hardware alone. The tuners still seem to work well. I will have to make a new nut and bridge. I still have to solve the problem of the sharp tailpiece edges digging into the wood. It's like a cover is missing on the lower section. I will probably make an appropriate hardwood shim to go between the tailpiece and the body to solve that. What about the bridge? would a fixed height rosewood mandolin bridge work? I can hardly wait to play it in GDAE! No learning curve from fiddle and mandolin!
...I still have to solve the problem of the sharp tailpiece edges digging into the wood. It's like a cover is missing on the lower section. I will probably make an appropriate hardwood shim to go between the tailpiece and the body to solve that...
I'd reconsider retaining the banjo tailpiece. The reason it has "sharp edges" is probably that it was designed to fit over a metal banjo shell, not the end of a guitar. Shouldn't be too hard to come up with a "trapeze" or other tailpiece that would be more suitable; I really doubt that the banjo tailpiece was original to the instrument, though I may well be wrong.
Here's (http://cgi.ebay.com/Tenor-Guitar-Tailpiece-18K-Gold-Plated-4-string-Bridge-/300522300600) a tenor guitar tailpiece on eBay with a $15 "buy it now." Doesn't look too bad, stamped metal with "gold" plating; takes ball-end rather than loop-end strings.
H e r e (http://cgi.ebay.com/CHROME-BASS-TAILPIECE-DOBRO-RESONATOR-GUITAR-/400198280678?pt=Guitar_Accessories&hash=item5d2dad25e6#ht_1660wt_1244) is a chrome one listed as a Dobro or resonator guitar tailpiece but it is for four stings. I have purchased from the seller Bezdez two or three times without out problems.
Bezdez is one of the best sellers on e.bay. Totally honest, and quick to ship. If they say "it is",,,,,,,,,,it is........NFI.
Good luck with the guitar. Looks like a dandy.
I like the look of those tenor guitar tailpieces but I want to use loop end strings, they're easier to find than ball end for GDAE. I noticed that Fletcher uses what appears to be a mandolin tailpiece and bridge. What would be wrong with that? I would have to drill new holes and plug up the old one from the banjo tailpiece.
I would agree with Allen and Multidon and keep the original tailpiece. I think the others are repros designed to go on National tenors which might work and are certainly workable. But I am sure you can shim or otherwise protect the top in some way -- even a small piece of leather or felt.
What is intriguing to me is the 11 frets-to-the-body neck. It looks like there are two former bridge shadows on the top, suggesting a bridge was in the wrong place for least part of its life. From your photo it appears the lower shadow (closer to the TP) is closer to the correct position.
I think you've got a real nice find there. The lines and proportions are quite beautiful to my eye. I'm glad you're leaving it as original as possible. I'm sure there's a way to touch up any little areas where finish might be missing, but I don't know how to advise to about doing it. But I've seen numerous photos of vintage "touch ups" that worked quite well. I expect they were french polish touch ups. In any event, you can continue to search around and someone who has done that wort of work will give you guidance. You might inquire in "stringed instrument repair" over at mimf.com. Lots of people will see your post on both sites, but you might run across some different folks over there who can give good advice, too.
This is a tenor guitar and your hardware dates around 1925-30, as well as the build style.
People are always calling these baritone ukes in the uke world (and wondering why they sound like crud strung with nylon) but they're simply flat wrong. The earlier tenor guitars had the short 19-21" scale length, 12 fret neck join, and smallish "size 5" bodies. Very similar size to bari ukes but usually deeper, bigger body, with slightly longer scale.
FYI, banjo tailpieces were used oftentimes on Regal-made tenor guitars to allow for downpressure adjustments. You simply screw the tailpiece in with one bigger bolt to the side of the instrument. This also allowed for the (typically loop-end) tenor banjo strings to be used easily on the guitar.
Thank you for the info Jake. I am a little unclear about how to install that banjo tailpiece without the metal digging into the wood of the guitar. It has a large screw though the end block with a hole in the end pin part and the tail piece bolt goes through the hole and has a bolt on the end to adjust it. That much I understand. But the tailpiece has sharp metal edges that dig into the end wood when the strings pull it forward. I was going to just put an appropriately sized hardwood shim in between the tailpiece and the guitar body. Would you have any better suggestions? By the way mine has an 11th fret body join. Any speculation as to maker? It is unmarked.
I think that guitar was a one-off by a smaller maker, but it does have some Chicago influence in its design. I'll bet that whoever made it worked for Regal or Harmony in their past. And yes -- the hardwood shim sounds like a grand idea -- or you can file the nibs on the tailpiece flat so it sits nicely.
I sold a small tenor guitar a few years ago that was similar (in my misty memory). It belonged to a friend and had a label Winner on the headstock. Unfortunately, I could not find the photos I used to sell it.
Never mind: I just found the pics on my computer. Little resemblance and this one had a fixed bridge and lesser quality woods. Oh well.
Jim: The tenor in question here looks like some sort of a weird lovechild between a typical cheapo Harmony tenor from the late '20s (the headstock, especially) and some of the nicer Regals from the '20s.
This is a very cool little tenor and you can't beat the price.
Jake, " Weird Lovechild " would be a great band name.
The loose back braces suggest an instrument that's been left on it's back on the floor of a basement, I've had 3 repairs in the last year that had similar issues. I'm curious now that you have the back off is the figuring real or hand painted?
The figuring is absolutely real, I knew that already from looking through the sound hole. That's why I bought it, really pretty wood, I figured if I couldn't fix it for 5 bucks it would make a nice wall hanger. But the repairs have gone quite well so far. My whole philosophy with this thing has been to keep it as vintage-looking as possible. So far I have done the following, in this order: 1. Removed the back. 2. Glued and closed the big crack on the back, then cleated it with cross grain spruce (all repairs done with Titebond) 3. Re-glued the back braces, which helped to pull the back to pretty close to its original shape. 4. Re-glued a seam separation on the top 5. Re-attached the back 6. When all was dry, used Stew Mac Preservation Polish to clean off LOTS of grime. 7. Darkened top damage with wiping stain and sealed top with 2 thin coats of Behlen Master Gel. 8. Installed 2 rows of Stew Mac violin purfling, using it as binding (original binding was missing). 9. Cut and installed a Stew Mac Tortoid Pickguard. Now that I am at this point I have to say I am pleased with the results. It still looks old, everything I put on looks like it belongs there, nothing sticks out and screams "new". All I have to do now is make the nut (vintage bone), notch the bridge (a vintage ebony/galalith that I found on eBay), and string it up to see what happens. When all is complete I will post pictures.