The Bluesbox Collection

1936 McKinney Hawaiian Style Guitar

I am basing the dating of this instrument on the bill of sale that came with it, which is dated in January of 1937. Like a lot of my lower end small guitars, the body and everything else on this one is made of birch. It has a nice sunburst on the face. The "binding" and position markers are painted on.

McKinney was the name of what was very likely a "fly-by-night" music school based in Peorea, Illinois, so this was probably manufactured by Harmony or Kay (in Chicago). The back, and the rest of the guitar is painted black with a slight sunburst on the back of the Hawaiian style square neck. The peg head also continues the sunburst on black theme. All in all, this instrument is in remarkable condition for a guitar that is more than 65 years old. The finish is unmarked and there is not a crack or break anywhere on the guitar.

This guitar has an interesting history, probably not unlike a lot of instruments that were manufactured during the Hawaiian music craze that swept the nation from just before WWI until well into the 1930's. This particular one was sold, as part of a package with guitar lessons, to a lady (or possibly a teenage girl) named Eunice Hamilton, in Madison, Wisconsin in January of 1937. The paperwork that came with the guitar tells us that Eunice purchased a 52 week course of instructions for playing the guitar from the McKinney School of Hawaiian Music for the sum of $1.00 per week - and the guitar was part of the deal. The next piece of paper is a postcard, signed by "A. McKinney" and postmarked March 25, 1937, informing Miss Hamilton that her guitar teacher, a "Mr. Beebe", can no longer travel to Madison every week, and so her lessons would be suspended until further notice. In July she received another card from "R.A. Thomlinson", telling her to come for her lessons on Saturdays at a local hotel. The final piece of paper is a typewritten letter from Eunice to Mr. McKinney, dated November 15, 1937, stating that she went to the hotel for her lesson as instructed, but that the teacher never showed up and she has heard nothing from him since. One can only speculate at how much this all cost the poor girl in the end. If she continued sending her $1 per week throughout the entire period, it would have been in excess of $40...for a guitar that probably cost the seller $5.00 (or less). I would assume that the initial lessons lasted at least long enough to pay the retail cost of the guitar - then whatever else these crooks could milk from her would have been gravy. My speculation is that, having only learned the rudiments of playing in the Hawaiian style - not any easy thing to master - Eunice probably put the guitar away in a closet and never played it again - which would account for the pristine condition in which I received it.

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