1830s Ornate Stauffer-style Parlor Guitar

Well, I know what I think this is -- but with guitars like these, absolute authentication is extremely difficult. What we know for sure is that this is almost certainly an instrument made in Vienna and very likely in the workshop (or one related to or nearby) C.F. Martin's teacher, Johann Stauffer. It has so many markers that close in on at least that vicinity, and what's even more interesting is that some of the detail construction features match-up nicely, like a "buttress" brace that comes off of the neck block under the fretboard extension area, the way the neck/neck decoration and its curving into the headstock relate, the heel cut and style, and general internal bracing.

I digress, though! What's important is that this is a nice, early-1800s (1820s/30s) guitar of the gut-strung extraction and a customer brought it in for a friend of his. It's been sitting here since late last year and I've finally gotten-around to fixing it up. When you work on something like this you generally need to take a little extra care -- and I did. There was much "old work" done on this, but I cleated some of the old crack repairs where I could, reglued a bit of the bridge, replaced sections of missing fretboard binding (point them out if you can see in the photos!), and gave it a fret level/dress and general setup.

Everything on the guitar is original to it except for the bridge pins, which are sometime-recent ebony ones that came with the guitar. A couple of screws are also replacements (from my parts-bin), but otherwise it's survived really, really intact as-made.

Build quality is, obviously, extremely high. The pearl is inlaid expertly and engraved all over, there's a ton of ivory and pearl inlay on the neck, and the workmanship is very fine and accurate. It's lived a bit of a rough life, but it's miraculously survived nearly 200 years of noncommittal (family, I'm told) owners.

It's built in the fashion of most "German-style" (well, Austrian) guitars of the time in that it's ladder-braced, lightweight, built for gut strings, has a thin, quick neck profile, and has a spruce top, flamed maple sides, and a laminated (spruce/maple veneer) back. The latter bit is very typical of Germanic guitars right through the early 1900s.

The body size specs-out at 11 3/4" on the lower bout, 9 1/4" on the upper bout, and with a 3 1/4" depth. It's got a short, 24" scale length and a 1 3/4" nut width, though as I stated before, the neck is quite thin and comfortable -- a lot like a modern Gibson electric neck (round, slim) in shape.

I set it up for standard 3/32" classical action at the 12th fret and it plays beautifully.

The "Stauffer-style" headstock is a beaut, with a lovely inlaid border and binding around its edges.

The flower, the flower!

The ivory nut appears to be original or at least quite old, though it needed some much-deeper slotting.

The fretboard is very lightly radiused, has bar frets, and is made of ebony. Longer sections of binding were missing and I attempted to age/mar the look of the replacement sections to help them blend in, though of course they're not perfect.

Isn't that jaw-dropping?

Please excuse the old strings, by the way -- they sounded fine when they came in, so I left them. I hate having to wait for classical strings to "settle." I did tune this to Eb rather than pitch, though, to give it that period, lower A pitch reference.

The amount of time it must've taken to inlay and engrave all of this stuff hurts my head.

The bridge is equally beautiful, with two-tone finishing and lovely sculpted wings.

The pearl inlay borders the pins and the saddle is a simple bar-fret material which I've reprofiled down a bit and dressed-up to set up the guitar accurately. Intonation is actually pretty darn good, though I noticed the fret spacing and saddle alignment wasn't quite on-the-dot.

The back is veneer over spruce, but it sure is pretty.

The engraved tuner backplate is even nicer!

There's a IV mark at the back of the headstock and check out those awesome hand-cut units! One gear was replaced with a hand-cut brass replacement (obviously made a long, long time ago) and it took some fussing and fudging on my part to get it (the A tuner) going again, as it wasn't turning correctly. Thankfully, it works just fine, now, and I didn't have to break out my scrap brass and contemplate cutting a new one.

Note the out-of-place screw on the tuner mounting plate -- I've replaced it with a standard-style screw of more period style.

This neck/headstock join area is very, very close to other Stauffer guitars I've seen on the net. That said, I'm sure it's close to other makes, too -- but I find that this is an area that's somewhat particular in styling to individual makers. They all have their own way of doing it.

The neck is, of course, maple at its core.

This decoration, however, which is straight out of Renaissance references -- is stunning.

Check out how beautifully the design transfers to the heel -- and note the clear repair marks from old neck-work jobs. Oh well!

Despite the photo, the action is a standard nylon-issue 3/32" at the 12th.

Even the endstrip is amazing.

Though the construction looks clunky, it's quite effective and very typical.

It comes with an original wooden case, too -- made entirely from figured maple. The big brass bars were added by the current owner to keep the case together.


daverepair said…
What a lovely, and stunning, piece of workmanship!
Ivan said…
By far the most beautiful guitar that I have ever encountered
Claude said…
What a beautiful instrument! Must have been a privilege to work on it.
Rob Gardner said…
Great Post, Jake, what a fascinating guitar. Astonishing that it would have held together with all that fragile decoration for so long. It must have been a treat to work on.
Tom Joad said…
I didn't realize parlor guitars were made before the late 1800s. This is about 50 years older than any I've ever heard of. And to come from the shop of Martin's teacher! That's quite a scoop! I am very impressed. It reminds me of those 10 stringed South American instruments. Charangos. Anyway, the huge headstock and small body, and the strange neck coloring pattern all remind me of those.
Unknown said…
All the post Columbian guitars had those small bodies going way way back. I don't know anyone who definitely has a Stauffer Guitar. They are all "probably Stauffer guitars".
rĂ©mi said…
the decorative inlay at the end of the fretboard is very similar to a Cristian-Friedrich Bauer guitar I own. He made those viennese-style guitars in Klingenthal (Germany) around 1840-50. If it's the case, it should have a iron-burned mark inside, on the neck-block. Try a look with a mirror or a flexible camera.

anyway, this guitar looks great!
Unknown said…
Oh my. I don't know when I last saw work of that quality on anything. To me, the back of the neck is almost art deco inspired. A true work of art.
Unknown said…
Amazing guitar! I have a similar (though not quite as ornate) parlor guitar that I would like to see restored. It has a similar fret-wire saddle. I am curious as to how you corrected the saddle on this instrument.
It was a beautiful 1830s ornate stauffer and you share good information. Thanks for sharing information on parlor guitars.
redir said…
This was wonderful to see, what a rare beauty that one is.