The Bluesbox Collection

Montgomery Ward (?) Kit Parlor Guitar (circa 1940's - 50's)

This is another inexpensive acquisition from eBay. It presented quite a mystery when I first examined it because it was seemed to be hand made by someone who was a master wood worker, but probably not a luthier. There is an ink stamped maufacturer's name under the sound hole, but it is long faded to unreadable. The top, back and sides are all made from solid mahogany, as is the four piece neck. This close up of the face shows the one contribution that I made to the instrument - I have reconstructed the tailpiece. My reason for the change was that it was originally constructed in such a way as to put undue pressure on the heel. The trapeze uprights were resting right on the join between the top and the sides. That is one of the things that convinced me the builder of this guitar knew very little about such matters. The other evidence was the way the body is constructed. Most guitars have some kind of wooden interior binding (called "lining"), to hold the top and back securely to the sides. This builder eschewed the lining and instead made his sides extra thick (about 3/16" - which is 2 to 3 times the thickness of an ordinary guitar). When I received it, the badly designed tailpiece had begun to force the heel inward, pulling it away from the top. I removed the tailpiece, shaved the top down to match the new profile, then reglued and clamped the damaged area. I then added the corner flange at the bottom of the tailpiece, which spreads the pressure over the edge of the heel, thus holding the top down without forcing the heel inward.

Here is the back. As you can see, the mahogany has a nice figure to it. Another interesting thing about this guitar - I found a wasps nest as big as my fist inside! The guy who sold it to me said it came from an estate sale, and had been sitting in a barn for many years.

I had hoped to be able to date it by examining the tuners, but they only deepened the mystery. They appear to be very old, the gears, for instance, are riveted on instead of being held on with screws. That practice pretty much ended in America by the turn of the century. But they are also unusual in that the gears are much smaller then any I have ever seen on a guitar. I suspected they were European - possibly the guitar was as well. Or maybe the builder used parts off an older European guitar to build this one, because this guitar doesn't look like it could possibly be more then 50 or 60 years old. On the other hand, good mahogany is a very stable wood, not so much subject to splitting and cracking like rosewood or maple, so the instrument could be older than it looks. The wood itself appears to be unfinished except for some rubbing oil, so their was no finish checking to give me a clue.

The most unusual feature of this guitar is that the fingerboard is also made of mahogany, and then faced with what looked like very thin rosewood veneer. I had never seen that on any guitar before. In one spot, the veneer was starting to chip off, so I made the decision to remove the veneer and just expose the mahogany fingerboard underneath. I was surprised to discover that the veneer is one piece of some kind of plastic - and the frets are attached to it - and they are made out of plastic as well!! Notice in this shot that the frets don't actually penetrate the fingerboard. That is because they are just laying on top of the plastic veneer. This is the clue that finally solved the mystery. The plastic fretboard overlay was obviously a mass-produced item. This evidence points to a "do it yourself" kit for the home hobbyist. The kit would have come with all of the wooden parts already cut to size. The sides would be pre-bent (actually they are all one piece). The neck roughly finished, with the tuner holes pre-drilled. The hobbyist would follow the directions supplied with the kit, glue the pieces together, and then finish the wood him or herself. It is quite possible that such a kit would have been imported from Europe. With this evidence in mind, I re-examined the manufacturer's stamp under the sound hole. I could clearly make out an "M" at the beginning and toward the other end, what could be a "W".

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