The Amateur Luthier

Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars

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These are rare photos I have located that show the Kay guitar factory in addition to the incredible photos from the 1964 book Kay The Story...

These are rare photos I have located that show the Kay guitar factory in addition to the incredible photos from the 1964 book Kay The Story Of A Guitar


Image Credit: https://www.newspapers.com/image/71789588/?terms=%22kay%2Bmusical%22

Image Credit: https://www.newspapers.com/image/71789588/?terms=%22kay%2Bmusical%22

Kay The Story of a Guitar This is a very rare promotional booklet distributed by the Kay Musical Instrument Company which offers a glimpse i...

Kay

The Story of a Guitar

This is a very rare promotional booklet distributed by the Kay Musical Instrument Company which offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the factory and the manufacturing process from raw timber to a finished instrument. 





















 Please don't copy or reupload this booklet, thank you :)

 This is a scan from Set 42 of the Howard W. Sams & Co. Photofact series. It includes the schematic as well as a description of the part...

 This is a scan from Set 42 of the Howard W. Sams & Co. Photofact series. It includes the schematic as well as a description of the parts and values that go into making the amplifier. 

Enjoy





About Theodore (Theodor) August Gast was born October of 1874 in Germany and immigrated to the United States. He was married to Martha Schal...

About

Theodore (Theodor) August Gast was born October of 1874 in Germany and immigrated to the United States. He was married to Martha Schalk in the year 1900 [3]. In the 1910 census he was listed as a worker in a musical instrument factory [4]. By 1917 he was the shop foreman at the Harmony Company [1]. In 1940, he was listed as violin maker for an unnamed musical instrument company [2]. He died in 1955 [5].

Airplane Bridge (1928)

Gast designed the airplane bridge and X bracing that appears on the Harmony Johnny Marvin, Roy Smeck, and similar higher end models from the era. 


Tailpiece Connected To The Back (1931)

This is a unique patent for a tailpiece that connects to the back of the guitar because, as the patent states, the back isn't directly affected by the vibration of the strings compared to the top.

Sources

[1]
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L14N-99FR?i=2243&cc=1968530&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3A743Z-YHZM 
[2] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9MB-JKFH?i=12&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AK4M8-P2X
[3] https://www.newspapers.com/image/350275873/?terms=%22theodore%2Bgast%22
[4] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RV9-H92?i=36&cc=1727033&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMK8S-932
[5] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/184902346/theodore-august-gast

Handel tuners with plain buttons on a pre-1910 Flower & Groeshl "Mayflower" guitar Handel Tuners with inlaid buttons Image Cre...

Handel tuners with
plain buttons on a
pre-1910 Flower
& Groeshl "Mayflower"
guitar
Handel Tuners with inlaid buttons
Image Credit: VintageAmericanGuitar.com




Handel (meaning "trade" in German) tuning machines appeared on early Gibson mandolins until about 1918 (when they mysteriously disappeared) and included pearl and silver wire inlaid into an faux-ivory celluloid button [1]. These tuners also appeared on Vega cylinder-back mandolins and similarly inlaid buttons appeared on some Joseph Bohmann instruments from earlier in the century. The tuning machines with plain buttons also appeared on select other instruments from the era.

These tuning machines are incredibly difficult to find information about and a lot of the information out there relies on circular referencing without any solid paper trail to back any of the sources up. I am seeking to answer a few questions and put together a solid explanation as to the origin of these tuning machines.

I've found that genuine Handel tuners have two outer "nubs" and three smaller "teeth" that look like the teeth of a saw.

Does "Handel" refer to the designer of the buttons or the tuning machines as a whole?

Were Handel tuners actually made in Germany? Who made them?

Why did they disappear from Gibson instruments after 1918?


"Saxony" Theory

This particular origin story comes from a 2003 page by Vince Brennan on the now defunct OldMusicProject.com. It claims that there was a village in Saxony, Germany that was home to the Handelstein family that carved bone buttons by hand up until the Great War took most of their laborers and made it un-American for Gibson to import their materials

The first issue is that these buttons are not bone but are an early plastic made to resemble ivory or bone which would be the first, major, flaw in that theory. Secondly, I realize the limitations of searching for an obscure German village via English Google but even MandolinCafe.com commenters, as far back as 2006, seemed to realize that no references to such a village exist. Now, in 2020, the only references I can find are from commenters on MandolinCafe referring to the tuning machines. Thirdly, the tuning machines disappeared from Gibson instruments in 1918 (the end of WWI) and the war started four years earlier and I doubt Gibson had 4 years worth of buttons lying around. The timeline doesn't seem to make much sense
The tuners alone are worth $250.00 a set.  These were made in Germany in ONE little village in Saxony,  Handelstein.  The industrious Handelsteiners had done inlaying and carving of bone and ivory for at least 200 years,  thus the pegs are commonly referred to as "Handel Tuners" . Christian Martin made sure (another saxon, he) that he imported the ivory and bone tuners from there to fit his more expensive guitars (actual cost 1860 for a CF Martin top-of-the-line parlour guitar? $45.00!)
It was a cottage industry for someone to shape the bone thumb-pegs and then someone else would engrave the bone thumb-pegs and then someone else would inlay the flowers on the bone thumb-pegs  and someone else would..... you get the idea. 

Well,  a complication arose....called WW1.  Being experts in engraving bone, most of Handelstein's young men went and started engraving French and Belgian skulls with lead, and the industry died.  When the US entered the war, it was now un-patriotic to use these and so Gibson sent all it's stock back to the importer and went to plain bone thumb-peg tuners from then on in.  Until then, these Handel tuners were a premium feature on not only mandolins, but guitars, mandolas, mandocellos, etc. 

http://www.oldmusicproject.com/23JAN2003.html [2]
 

"German Buttons" Theory

This theory originated from the famous Roger Siminoff in a 1981 issue of Frets and comes from a website that cites him. The website notes that after 1918, the buttons switched from the ornate style to a plain "ivory-colored" button and I believe the author also realizes that the buttons are not bone

 The 'Handel' machines featured bone knobs that were fancily inlaid with mother-of-pearl, abalone, and fine wire.... Because the knobs were cemented onto the shafts, they are very difficult to remove; so you have to think of the knobs and their attached gears as a unit.  It was originally believed that the gears and backstraps were made in this country, then sent to Germany for the Handel firm to install the inlaid knobs; but Handel actually did the entire job overseas....  They were quite beautiful, and the workmanship was excellent.

http://bellsouthpwp.net/r/d/rdevelli/Gibson%20F-4.htm


"Handel Lamp Co" Theory

The Handel Company from Connecticut existed from 1885 to 1936 and made glass lamps which are desirable [5]. MandolinCafe users attempted to draw a connection between the two but were unable to definitively say that the company produced such a product [3]. 

"Waverly" Theory

I also stumbled across a few references both on the internet and through communication with other vintage instrument repairman and specialists that attributed the tuning machines to the Waverly company. The Waverly company was established in 1918 which again would be post WWI and after Gibson had ceased to use the buttons. Perhaps Waverly produced copies later on? I do not know.

"Japanese Buttons" Theory

Paul Hostetter of MandolinCafe.com claimed to have seen a jar of new old stock Handel inlaid buttons by an anonymous New York music dealer. The dealer claimed they came from Japan. This was quickly debunked by user thistle3585 who said that Japan didn't become a big source for celluloid until the 1920s.
An instrument dealer from NYC, whose name shall not be uttered, once showed me a quart jar full of Händel buttons, new-old stock, so to speak - never used - and swore they came from Japan, and were pressed onto gears by various makers in the US. I'm not sure how he knew they were from Japan. This guy also loves to call rosewood Circassian walnut.

[3 p.4]

 

Louis Handel Company of New York

The Louis Handel Company was founded in 1911 according to New York business records. The company is fairly enigmatic and it was difficult to find references to it until I stumbled upon a case from the 1923 that came before the New York Supreme Court and thus was digitized by Google Books. The case involved some sort of payment dispute and business relation between Louis Handel and Ferdinand Suren (who also founded his own manufacturing company for musical instrument parts). 

I read the entire transcript (so you don't have to) and picked out any important details and mentions of the company's operations. The company was located at No. 138 Centre Street in Manhattan, New York and had been valued at $45,000 in the 1920s so they weren't a small operation. 

Louis (b.1853) was a little more difficult to track down as there were a number of folks sharing his name in New York during that time period including a duck farmer/innkeeper, and a grocer. But I was able to discern through his daughter's name, which appeared in both the court case and his obituary, that he died on July 3rd, 1933 [8]. I am not sure of to what extent the company continued after his death but his daughter, Anna C. Thomas (b.1883, d.1946), held stock in the company during its existence.


Transcript from the court case that definitively ties
the Handel company to making "patent heads" (tuning machines)
for guitars and banjos as well as other metal parts [7]

Court transcript noting the difficulty in
acquiring labor in August of 1918. Later mentions
desired wages of $100 per week [7]

Finally with a confirmation of a company and the name in my mind, I went searching for more information and found out that folks on the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum were familiar with the company and knew them as being pearl inlay manufacturers. Forum users were not convinced that Handel made the tuning machines themselves citing "no evidence" of metalworking but I believe my research confirms that the Louis Handel company produced all parts of the tuning machines

1972 Letter from C. F. Martin III to an anonymous researcher
that attributed pearl inlay production to the Louis Handel company [9]

Previous Questions

Does "Handel" refer to the designer of the buttons or the tuning machines as a whole?

Handel refers to the entire tuning machine assembly including the buttons. The buttons were not made by "Handel" and installed on domestic tuners, rather they were all made by a single company.

Were Handel tuners actually made in Germany? Who made them?

No, from my research it is likely that Louis Handel came from an Austrian immigrant family but his company was based solely in the United States.

The tuners were made by The Louis Handel Company of New York which constructed parts for musical instruments. We can confirm that they were involved with the production of pearl inlays as well as metal working and fabrication which would set them up to construct tuning machines from scratch. I would also say with certainty that they would've had the tooling to produce celluloid buttons 

Why did they disappear from Gibson instruments after 1918?

Given evidence from the court case above, I would say that a shortage of skilled workers and an increase in product costs would've driven Gibson away from the inlaid buttons (assuming Handel was continuing to produce them). 

Harry J. Flower & The MayFlower Music Company Harry J. Flower was born in 1862 in Poland to Solomon and Rosa Flower and immigrated to th...

Harry J. Flower & The MayFlower Music Company

Harry J. Flower was born in 1862 in Poland to Solomon and Rosa Flower and immigrated to the United States in 1868. He later married his wife Minnie who was three years his younger. They had two children, Edgar H. Flower (b. 1890, d.?) and May Flower (b.1895, d.?). The latter child would become the namesake of his company. In the 1900 census, Harry was listed as a "music dealer" [2].

The history of his company is difficult to understand due to their relatively small presence in a city dominated by musical instrument manufacturing giants. One of the big questions is whether May Flower was a distributor of instruments built by other manufacturers or if they actually build their own. Gregg Miner of HarpGuitars.net has the most in-depth research on the company, with a focus on their harp instruments, and the purpose of my article is to expand on what he has discovered.

The name appears as MayFlower, Mayflower, and May Flower in various documents which makes research confusing. 

Andrew Groeshl

Early instruments include "Flower & Groeshl, manufacturers" which is a key clue. Groeshl more than likely refers to Andrew Groeshl (also written as Groeshel and Groeschel, confusingly) (b. 1860, d.?) who is more well known for founding his own instrument company that became Stromberg-Voisinet and later the Kay Musical Instrument Company.

Information about Groeshl is, unfortunately, sparse and I'm unable to discern where his company was located and where an early factory would've been.

Label from an early Mayflower Guitar (#10614)
Image Credit: Instagram - Chuck Sanzone

Larson Brothers

The Larson Brothers apparently built some Mayflower mandolins and possibly a few guitars for the brand. I'm not knowledgeable enough on their instruments to say which ones were and were not but they are worth mentioning.

  Measuring a mandolin top in thousandths of an inch Image Credit: Popular Mechanics Vol 42 c.1924 In the above illustration, a man can be s...

 

Measuring a mandolin top in thousandths of an inch
Image Credit: Popular Mechanics Vol 42 c.1924

In the above illustration, a man can be seen using a deep measuring gauge to ensure that a given mandolin top fits the desired specifications. The factory or make for these instruments are unknown 

Repairing a mandolin brace
Image Credit: Popular Mechanics Vol 35 c.1921

This is a reader submitted article on how to repair a broken brace on a bowlback mandolin using common materials

 "Mike" Guitar Pickups There are a variety of guitar pickups that have the word "Mike" in them (referencing the word mic...

 "Mike" Guitar Pickups

There are a variety of guitar pickups that have the word "Mike" in them (referencing the word microphone) so I'm putting together this resource to help document some of the existing pickups I have found.

There does exist a DeArmond FHC "Guitar Mike" pickup but that is unrelated to these pickups and so I won't discuss it.

Melody Mike 


  • Manufacturer: Unknown
  • Date of Production: Unknown
I acquired this pickup installed on a 1950s Kay flat top guitar that was set up to play Hawaiian style music and was immediately curious. I contacted a very reputable DeArmond collector at https://www.musicpickups.com and he told me that this unit did not appear to be from DeArmond-Rowe. Later as I started working with more real DeArmonds I realized that the units are, in fact, totally different

The pickup was an unpotted single coil pickup with a plastic bobbin and brown cellophane tape protecting the bobbin. The black plastic cover was glued on and has "Melody Mike" engraved very lightly into it. It mounts with two tabs and a spring steel tensioner that bears against the bottom of the guitar soundboard. The control unit was a single volume with a Dakaware knob and a CTS pot that was soldered to the baseplate so the date code was obscured. The control unit has brown felt to prevent marring on the instrument.

Unique and Interesting Early Guitar Patents There is no particular rhyme or reason to these, they are just patents I found interesting among...

Unique and Interesting Early Guitar Patents


1898

 

1912

Alois Streicher Mandolin Tuning Machines 1900s Alois Streicher mandolin tuning machines About I found this set on an old maple/mahogany bowl...

Alois Streicher Mandolin Tuning Machines

1900s Alois Streicher mandolin tuning machines

About

I found this set on an old maple/mahogany bowl-back mandolin that had been heavily oversprayed and damaged. The tuning machines are in remarkable shape for their age and are almost entirely free of corrosion. The only identifying stamp on the tuning machines is PAT. OCT. 22 '95 which would refer to October 22nd of 1895. Bowl-back mandolins haven't been mass produced in America for a hundred years so 1995 was out of the question. 

I am not as knowledgeable on pre-1930s tuning machines as I would like to be. These stood out as being uniquely constructed compared to any other tuner I had seen prior and I was curious to see who made them. The fleur-de-lis shape on the end of the plates and the solid brass construction helped distinguish these tuners. Maybe this could help out someone else

Finding the Patent Number With Only the Issue Date

If you have used the search engine of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you'll know that you can only search patents filed prior to 1975 by the Patent Number, Classification, or Issue Date. These patents have been photographed (probably by some poor interns) but not truly "digitized" so you cannot search them for phrases or keywords.

I first conducted an Issue Date search for 10-22-1895 and found nearly 500 patents. The USPTO website isn't the most friendly for doing repetitive tasks quickly so I wasn't about to search them all. I then explored the Patent Classification route but was unable to determine which classifications existed at the time. The current "musical instrument" classifications did not exist then.

So I turned to one of my main resources for research, Google Books. The have a huge repository of digitized literature that is searchable by text and has been incredibly helpful in my work.

Annual Report of Patents 

I searched "october 20 1895 patent" and the first result was Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1895. This book contains all of the patents filed in 1895 and would contain the information I desired. I then searched the book for the term "musical instrument" and page 596 contained two dozen entries for musical instruments. I walked down the Issue Date column until I found "Oct. 22" and before me was the row for Patent 548,475, filed by A. Streicher, described as "musical-instrument string-peg device".

Excerpt from the Annual Report for 1895
[Source]

Alois Streicher's Tuning Machines

Aloysius (Alois) Streicher, the inventor, filed the patent as the assignor to the The John Church Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Alois was born in 1851, immigrated to the United States in either 1868 or 1871, was a "model maker" in the year 1900 and was listed as a "manufacturer" of "instruments" in the 1910 census. He died in December of that year. His son, also named Alois, was listed as a toolmaker in the 1900 census [2]. 

Patent Images from USPTO [1]



The worm gear brackets are actually stamped out of the base plate via die punches and are then bent at a right angle. The base plate is brass but the patent mentions a copper alloy as being an option as well. The gears are brass with slotted, steel screws fastening them to the post. The screws stick slightly proud of the gear which is curious but not a negative. The buttons are faux-ivory and melted on. They are secured by the peened end of the shaft which is very common from this era.

Backside of the machines showing the die punched plate

Sources

[1] https://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?docid=00548475&SectionNum=3&IDKey=D031DE1EEBCC&HomeUrl=http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2%2526Sect2=HITOFF%2526p=1%2526u=%25252Fnetahtml%25252FPTO%25252Fsearch-bool.html%2526r=1%2526f=G%2526l=50%2526co1=AND%2526d=PALL%2526s1=0548475.PN.%2526OS=PN/0548475%2526RS=PN/0548475
[2] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DKY3-M8C?i=7&cc=1325221&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMM8W-83Q

Harmony and Japanese Parlor Guitars These instruments are similar to each other and can be difficult to distinguish between 1960s Harmony H-...

Harmony and Japanese Parlor Guitars

These instruments are similar to each other and can be difficult to distinguish between

1960s Harmony H-150

Image Credit: Reverb - BW Guitars


Japanese-made

Image Credit: Pinterest - Ebay


1960s Harmony H-929
"Stella"

Image Credit: Shop Goodwill

Japanese-made

Image Credit: Reverb - Evolution Music

1960s Harmony H-929

Image Credit: Reverb - Mun Dane Guitar Lode

Japanese Guitar

Image Credit: ShopGoodwill