1890s Cole 1898 Model 00-Size 12-Fret Guitar

I'm lucky to have folks bringing-in guitars like this in for repair so often. It's a gorgeous, late-1890s/early 1900s Cole-branded affair (it's stamped 1898 Model at the neckblock) and, outwardly, seems to be like a Martin 00-21 clone in that it's almost the same size as a 00 Martin 12-fretter and has Brazilian rosewood back and sides. It's also x-braced on the top, but in a lightweight manner similar to Martin at the time (and due to the lightness, intended for gut strings -- the modern equivalent being most-typically nylon like on a classical guitar).

Old work was done on this guitar in the past which included a bridge reglue and some seam and hairline crack repairs, but my work was more major -- a neck reset (with bolt reinforcement), fret level/dress, new saddle, general cleaning, and a proper setup. The owner decided to go with Thomastik KR116 strings which are a flatwound, rope-core steel set that tensions-up and intonates like classical/nylon strings. They give you a more steel-like tone and feel without hurting an old guitar intended for nylon-style tension. You can hear in the soundclip that this thing adores fingerpicking and the KR116 set is ideal for fingerpicking.

Specs are: 25" scale, 1 7/8" nut width, 1 5/8" string spacing at the nut, 2 1/4" spacing at the bridge, 14" lower bout width, 9 7/8" upper bout, and 3 7/8" side depth at the endblock. The neck is straight and action is spot-on at hair-over 1/16" across the neck at the 12th fret. The board has a flat profile and the back of the neck has a medium, soft-V cut. The top is solid spruce with x-bracing (and only one "tone bar" below the main x-brace), the back and sides are Brazilian rosewood, the neck is mahogany, and the board and bridge are both ebony. There's some nice, engraved pearl inlay in the board, too.

The neck joint on this guitar is tenon-style like most Boston-made guitars (Haynes/Bay State and Vega being the big boys). That little detail makes me wonder if banjo-maker Cole actually made this instrument or just bought it from another maker. When I see engraving in the pearl inlay and quality of this level coming out of Boston, I immediately suspect Vega as the builder, as they're the only ones I know of who built to this style and spec at the time and with as good attention to detail. The binding style and bridge cut are pretty close, too, to Vega specs.

It's lovely to see so much color left in the rosette's center ring, isn't it?

During setup, I made a taller bone saddle. The compensation is just a hair off as-is (and we didn't want to have to recut the ssaddle slot) but you can't hear it when playing the instrument. Classical-style strings are very forgiving.

I also filled and redrilled the pinholes as they were very worn when this came in.

The back/sides finish is a little cloudy here and there, but one can still appreciate the nice rosewood on this.

The "arrows" backstrip is a nice touch.

The original tuners are still going strong.

Here you can see the scalloped, lightweight x-bracing. It's set at a more acute angle than most Martins.

The endpin is original, too.


Brad Smith said…
Coles are fantastic guitars. Cole, Fairbanks and Vega were all closely connected in Boston as were the workers and the engravers. I have what I am almost certain is a Cole of the same size and you can read about various people's opinions and some good history over here https://r.tapatalk.com/shareLink?url=https://umgf.com/help-id-this-vintage-beauty-t188598.html&share_tid=188598&share_fid=1915289&share_type=t Unfortunately my guitar is unmarked except for some hand-written letters and numbers on one of the braces.
Robert Gardner said…
Beautiful little guitar. I'll bet it is as light as a feather.