The Bluesbox Collection

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

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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