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1840s Parlor Guitar

Discussion in 'Other Guitar Discussion' started by unionjack515, Sep 22, 2019.

  1. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    This morning I sat back and took some time to truly appreciate the age we live in. I looked over my inbox and realized I, over the last 24 hours, had personal correspondence with two of the world’s foremost guitar authorities—George Gruhn (while he was in Italy no less!) and Dan Erlewine. Luckily, as this forum is hosted *on the internet*, I don’t have to be apologetic to those technology non-participants...but the web has truly made the world a much smaller place. And in many cases that’s a great thing. Anyway, enough opining on the state of technology.

    My local pro (who always thinks to call me when something cool comes through his shop...recently gave me a heads up on a dead-mint Violet Ram’s Head) is unparalleled here in the Chicagoland area for set-ups, repairs and knowledge. I’d certainly consider him the Third Pillar to Gruhn and Erlewine’s Pillars One and Two. He gave me a heads-up on an at the time unidentified parlor guitar he had come into his shop and asked if I’d want to come take a look. I did, of course, and I’m never disappointed to see something THAT old that has survived relatively unscathed (in context, of course). Sure it has had repairs, the finish isn’t anywhere near pristine, and many of its parts are worn to the point of non-function, but it was new *20 years before the US Civil war.* An article I read online reminded me that this was probably shipped up a river by barge or travelled on one of the first railroads and then was delivered to its destination by horse and carriage. Remarkable.

    It’s been made available to me at a great price, and my emails to George Gruhn and Dan Erlewine were to gauge their knowledge of its origins (Gruhn) and to understand possible courses of action with the instrument going forward (Erlewine). George is reasonably confident its an 1840s parlor guitar made in Markneukirchen Saxony Germany in the Martin style. Dan would like to put his eyes and hands on the guitar to determine how much work it really needs. It appears to have some sort of spruce top, rosewood back and sides and nice marquetry mid-side and on the back. Friction tuners and what appears to be a replacement bridge. The case is a site to behold in and of itself. Always fun to see something constructed with square nails. This will be a fun story to unravel, regardless of whether the guitar ends up playable or not—though that is most certainly the hope!
     

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  2. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    Took this home today! I have an old beaten up Ameritage 00 sized case on the way for shipping purposes and then it’s off to Dan Erlewine for evaluation while I’m gone on vacation. Excited for this project!
     
  3. Stormy Monday

    Stormy Monday Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

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    Wow!
     
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  4. rafasounds

    rafasounds Senior Stratmaster

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    That's very nice. 1840's... Romantic times.
     
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  5. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    So romantic they made their guitar strings out of GUTS :D
     
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  6. rafasounds

    rafasounds Senior Stratmaster

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    Which probably lasted longer than a pack of D'addarios
     
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  7. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    Lifetimes longer! Ha!
     
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  8. CB91710

    CB91710 This is a Custom Title Gold Member Strat-Talk Supporter

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    Congrats! Beautiful piece, and I'm sure will sound beautiful when Dan is done with it.
    It really doesn't look like it needs too awful much work... but not something I'd monkey with myself.
     
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  9. Bob the builder

    Bob the builder Senior Stratmaster

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    You're sending it to the best
    It'll be cool to have a almost 200 year old guitar that you can really play
     
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  10. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    If I took a picture down the fretboard you’d definitely think otherwise! But yes I think it’s in much better shape than it should be for how it is. Even the case is in remarkably good condition. The plan is to do minimal work, just enough for it to play nicely...not trying to bring it back to new.
     
  11. EC Strat-boy

    EC Strat-boy Senior Stratmaster Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I wonder if it’s broken in yet??

    Did the ad say “played lightly with minimal fret wear” ??
     
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  12. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    Ha...just like CME says! I think I was the only person other than the shop owner to lay my eyes on the guitar while it was in his possession. He knows who to call!! I’m just a lifetime steward for this one. And imagine, it has probably seen 7 generations or so. Unbelievable.
     
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  13. CB91710

    CB91710 This is a Custom Title Gold Member Strat-Talk Supporter

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    When my grandmother passed and we cleaned out her home, there was an old parlor guitar in her bedroom.
    Completely CAKED with tar and nicotine (you could scratch it off it was so thick). It had a stamped steel tailpiece, floating rosewood bridge, and classical style headstock in a Martin shape, but with steel tuners.
    I was BRAND new to playing and had no idea of the potential value... my guitar at the time was my sister's masonite Silvertone burst acoustic.
    We used Fantastik to strip through the tar, and dad sprayed the tailpiece and tuners with metallic gold paint... painted the body with gloss clear poly.
    He didn't know anything about guitars, but he did know cabinet making ;)

    I managed to twiddle with the bridge enough to get the intonation so it sounded "right"... not knowing the first thing about intonation, just comparing it to the Silvertone and fingering a "D" and "G" at the octave.
    It had a few loose frets, but it worked fine for cowboy chords and it held me over until I bought a Goya 12 string.
    I don't know what happened to it... I'd love to have it as a project guitar today, I would assume it got tossed when dad retired and they downsized to move to a smaller home.
     
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  14. EC Strat-boy

    EC Strat-boy Senior Stratmaster Strat-Talk Supporter

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    it’s breathtaking when you take in the full scope of it. I’m so curious to hear how it sounds!!!
     
  15. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    I bet it’s an all-too-common story, and why wouldn’t it be. That’s just kind of how things happen unless a parent knows the value of an instrument and introduces their kid to it at a strategic time in life when they think it can be appreciated. And I’m sure those cases are pretty rare. Much more likely that someone just kinda stumbles across it I bet. AND that makes it even more incredible that any instrument can last this long.
     
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  16. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    This is probably the best I can do...fret sprout of course and just a lot of good old fashioned uneven wear on the board. Neck is a very unique profile too...ha. Kind of a reverse SRV. No one was ripping any face melting leads in the upper registers on this—much less shoulder on the bass side than the treble.
     

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  17. Groovey

    Groovey Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

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    That's awesome!
     
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  18. Bowmap

    Bowmap I nose a thang or two. Gold Member

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    This is definitely something really special. When it is all said and done, how does one preserve such a piece? Does it need to go into a humidor?
     
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  19. unionjack515

    unionjack515 Senior Stratmaster

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    Well...the Ameritage case I ordered has a compartment near the headstock designed to contain a humidifier element. So I plan to put a d’Addario Humidipak in there as well as one in the soundhole whenever it’s in the case. But my guitar room is kept at about 58% humidity year round, so when it’s out it should be ok. This all being said, that was just my plan going in to it...if Dan Erlewine tells me otherwise, I won’t be following my plan anymore!
     
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  20. EC Strat-boy

    EC Strat-boy Senior Stratmaster Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I wonder if today’s luthiers has to use the tools that were available back then, would the guitar they build be any different or better??
     
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