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United "Elitone" headstock Image Credit:  JediStar.com About The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Je...

Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co. & The United Guitar Co.

United "Elitone" headstock
Image Credit: JediStar.com

About

The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Jersey based manufacturer of musical instruments from November 1935 to April of 1939. They were located at 45 Corneilson Ave in Jersey City, New Jersey. The company's executives were John Carner, President, and Morris Brooks, Vice President. This company had a brief history and I cannot find any instruments that can be positively attributed back to them but they have a place in this timeline and so it is important to include them.

After FIMC ceased production in 1939, Carner formed another company:
The United Guitar Corporation. In 1942, their executives were Frank Solvino, secretary, and Frank Masiello, treasurer [1]. The United Guitar Corporation supposedly took over the manufacturing of the recently-defunct Oscar Schmidt Corporation in New Jersey [2]. I've seen this claim many times over during my research and while the timeline definitely lines up, I cannot find any evidence (such as an address change) to back it up.

The company's exact fate remains unknown but it is likely that they did not survive the surge in Japanese import instruments and the decline in demand for guitars that began in the late 60s and 70s.

1942 FTC Report [1]

Other Ties

United provided the bodies for D'Angelico's budget line of guitars.
When John D'Angelico finally caved into pressure to make "electric" guitars he chose not to make the bodies, but rather purchased laminate-top bodies from Forcillo's United company. John would then make the neck and complete the guitars - again using Franz pickups for the most part. [4]
There are also references to a company named "Code" (pronounced ko-day) that appear when people mention D'Angelico and United. I have yet to find any documentation of it's existence.
According to Hans Moust's excellent and highly recommended The Guild Guitar Book, in the early years Guild used craftsmen from Code Guitars in New Jersey to finish their instruments. Many references to United Guitars make reference to Code in the same breath. The connection has yet to be fully explained but it is worth mentioning here. [4]


Timeline

  • Oscar Schmidt Inc [1871-1939]
  • Fretted Instrument Mfg Co [1935-1939]
  • United Guitar Co [1939-?]
  • Code Guitars [?-?]

Additional Notes

  • Lardy's Ukulele Database is a fantastic resource for the ukulele models produced by United and other companies. I would highly recommend it for anybody researching a ukulele or similar instrument
  • There are also "United" guitars that were distributed in Canada by the United Conservatory of Music. They have no relation to the New Jersey company

Identification

United Guitar Co. is probably best known for their budget parlor guitars which could be stenciled with cowboy scenes in the 1950s or have geometric painted inlays. These instruments are often incorrectly attributed to the Chicago manufacturers like Regal, Harmony, and Kay due to their similar designs, styling, and the fact that the Chicago companies are much more well known. I have more experience with the low-tier acoustics so that is primarily what this guide will focus on. Hopefully it helps shed light on these instruments

Cowboy guitar with the "buckeye" stencil
Image Credit: Reverb - Lawman Guitars
The Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co. distributed faux-resonator guitars during the 1930s which are identified by silver paint on the top where a metal cone should be. Read my write up on their legal trouble here: https://www.stlamateurluthier.com/2019/11/1930s-fake-resonators-and-ftc.html

Headstock 

Their high end models have an open-book headstock profile that resembles an exaggerated version of a Gibson headstock. 
Image Credit: OldFrets.com
Their budget models often have a single point that very closely resembles the Kay headstock profile and likely leads to a lot of confusion about the two.
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique
There is also this third design that has a "swoop" to it that gets longer as it reaches the bass side. It reminds me of the Greco headstock shapes from the 70s. It appears to be less common.
Image Credit: JediStar.com

Construction

  • Budget
    • Acoustics have wide Gibson-esque heels (even on the parlor guitars)
    • The necks are maple or poplar with painted (not dyed or ebonized) maple fretboards
    • The bodies are domestic woods like maple or birch
      • I've seen them as solid and laminate woods with no clear rhyme or reason
    • Brass frets are almost always the standard
    • Stamped metal tailpieces and painted wood bridges

Hardware

  • Budget
    • Nails instead of screws are used to mount the tuners and tailpieces
      • This is the best trait, in my opinion, to distinguish these guitars
    • Tuners are Waverly with the bell end plates

Markings

  • Budget
    • Sharp geometric shapes for the stenciled fretboard markers like circles and triangles
  • There is also a stamp that says USA and is surrounded by a shield outline
MADE IN U.S.A stamp
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique
As seen in some of the headstock pictures above, some United guitars have a "Steel Reinforced Neck" stamp which is identical to the one appearing on equivalent Harmony guitars from the era. I entertained the idea that Harmony could've built this guitar but the construction lead me away from that conclusion. Nail-mounted hardware and a thick heel positively identify this guitar as being built by United and not Harmony. I cannot provide an explanation other than my theory that one company was copying another or ordered their silk screens through the same provider who just reused their assets.

Sources

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Be excellent to each other dudes