c.1928 Regal Octofone

Ah, the Octofone, one of those musical peculiarities you're bound to stumble upon when you're interested in vintage mandolin-esque instruments. This particular one happened to be brought in on a trade for a tiple, and ironically enough, the Octofone was intended to reproduce (in a fashion) a tiple sort of sound (and when strung for it, tuning) itself.

Marketed by Regal in the late 1920s as "eight instruments in one" the Octofone has a scale length around 21" and is traditionally seen these days as a double-strung tenor guitar. Despite that, it's really an instrument that deserves to be judged on its own merits. This one has super lightweight construction, a spruce top, and birch back, sides, and neck. I have it tuned like an octave mandolin but with octave stringing and this thing sings with lots of warmth, resonance, and sustain. Listen to it here in this video while I play it on "Careless Love" --

Though alternate tuning applications are limitless for this scale length, the fashion today is to tune these like an octave mandolin or tenor guitar. It would be really exciting to see this instrument strung like a tiple or uke or in a lower tuning of GCEA, too.

Both these ads I pulled off of Popular Mechanics on Google Books dating to 1928/1929.

Top, lovingly worn-in.

Snakehead-headstock gives it a snappy attack.


This body style is incredibly comfortable. It's big enough to give a lot of depth to the sound yet the double-cutaway top gives you great access to upper frets.

MOP dots on a (probably pearwood) board.

Fun rosette.

Someone's ebony bridge, cut for correct intonation. I've fit it to the top -- before it had a rather crude fit.


Side -- finish is in great shape for one of these guys.


Nice sunburst & double-bound back.

Tuners function perfectly and are originals.

Tailpiece end.

Yep -- it's a fun one. Definitely something to hold onto (I wish I could!).


Anonymous said…
I think I read in the Roy Smeck biography that he played an octofone and I had no idea what that was. Now I know. Thanks.
Dave W. said…
If memory serves me, the instrument that Roy played was an octochorda. It's a totally different beast, played with a steel, I believe. You can see him playing it in the video collection of movie shorts called "Smeck Shorts" that the Ukulele Hall of Fame produced. It's available through Elderly Instruments.
dbassd said…
Nice performance very, depression style. sounded authentic especially the vocals. Good Job!
Anonymous said…
I have an Octofone that my mother owned. It has the original case and the instruction books as well. Took it to a shop to get it tuned up and restrung. According to the Instruction book the tuning is A D F# B with the A and D strings in octaves. I have a package from the original strings, but the gauge is not given, does anyone know what it should be?