1920s Lyra Brand guitar by Bruno

This guitar is like a little piece of history. The Lyra Brand was distributed by C. Bruno & Son of New York, but the guitar was actually manufactured by the Oscar Schmidt Co. of Jersey City, New Jersey. It is a parlour guitar which has a nice solid spruce top and what appears to be (from the outside) solid rosewood back and sides. In fact, the back and sides are not rosewood, but are what Schmidt called "imitation rosewood" - birch, painted and stained to look like rosewood. The neck also appears to be birch - painted and stained to look like mahogany. The fingerboard is something else (walnut, maybe) made to resemble rosewood. Only the bridge is actual rosewood. The guitar is a strange amalgam of expert constuction and cheap materials. The top is fully bound and, despite the obvious attempts to save money in its construction, there is real inlaid wood marquetry (imported from Europe) around the soundhole and the edge of the face. This is another, of numerous examples I have seen, of a guitar where all the time, attention, and fine materials were lavished on the face. Overall, the instrument is very well made, and like my Washburn, it is a very loud guitar.

Now here is where the history comes in. Although this guitar was sold under a different brand name, it is identical to another brand of guitar, called "Stella". In fact, this is the same as a 1921 Stella Concert Model #503. Most people nowadays associate the Stella brand name with the Harmony Company of Chicago, but before Harmony acquired the brand, along with other assets in 1940, Stella was manufactured and distributed by the Schmidt Company.

These Oscar Schmidt Stella guitars were the preferred instruments of Delta bluesmen like Blind Lemon Jefferson (shown here in the only known photo of him, playing a Stella Model #503), Charley Patton, Blind Blake, Willie Brown, and Blind Willie McTell. Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's Stella 12-string guitar is considered to be the most valuable "cheap" guitar ever produced and is legendary in blues circles. Stellas were sold in local dry goods and furniture stores in rural areas, which made them both cheap and available to country blues players. But they were also preferred because of their tone and volume. Charley Patton always said he preferred his Stella to a Gibson, because the Stella was louder.

Thanks to Neil Harp at Stellaguitars.com for much of the information in this article.

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