1950s United-made Fancy Dreadnought Guitar

United made instruments out of the old Oscar Schmidt factory in New Jersey since shortly after OS kicked the bucket. Strad-O-Lin mandolins are the most famous instruments they built. They made a ton of downmarket catalog guitars for various retailers and boat-loads of baritone ukes, too.

This is one of the few nice-grade (check out those big-block pearl inlays) United products (outside of fancy Strad-O-Lins) that I've come across and it's a fascinating guitar. Its closest relative is a Lee Gibbs jumbo I worked on a few years back. You can also see another iteration of the United-style "open book" headstock shape on a Premier Bantam -- one of my hugest-regret electric guitar sales over the years. DynaSonic love!

So, blathering aside, what makes this one interesting is its build. One assumes that it's a solid-wood guitar  due to the sound (save for the pressed, Guild-like back) at first, but then when you peer inside with a mirror you see birch on the insides where spruce or mahogany should be. During the neck reset work I made a small cut through the top wood near the neck block (hidden, folks) to investigate. It turns-out United built these out of 1/16" solid wood backed with two 1/32" layers of aircraft-grade birch ply.

See, this is my plan for how to build a modern guitar -- one of those ideas I've kept in my head for when I finally want to make "my own" acoustic -- so I was pretty excited to see that. I keep thinking that it's absurd that we don't build guitar tops from 1/16" to 3/32" layers of solid with a 1/32" layer of ply or veneer wood glued to the back. They sound like a solid top but don't crack -- or if they do somehow dryness-crack, the damage is irrelevant because it's backed.

The build is a little heavy in the braces, though, and so the sound is not as big as a Martin D-18 or Gibson J-45. Its tone falls between those two, though, and Guilds. My buddy Brandon said as much in a comment on the video clip -- yep, you're exactly right. It has a ton of clean forward punch but isn't wide-sounding like a '60s Gibson or velvety in the lower-mids and mids like a D-18. It sounds great on a mic, however, and the fast, Gibson-y, '50s neck feels really good.

Repairs included: neck reset, fret level/dress, binding repairs to the fretboard, saddle-slot fill and recut for proper location, new bone saddle, cleaning, and setup.

Made by: United

Made in: Jersey City, New Jersey, USA

Top wood: spruce (1/16" layer plus ply)

Back & sides wood: mahogany (1/16" layer plus ply)

Bracing type: x

Bridge: rosewood

Fretboard: rosewood

Neck wood: mahogany

Tone: clean, bright, woody, chunky, mids-forward, punchy

Suitable for: country, Americana, folk, old-time, rock-n-roll, rootsy

Action height at 12th fret: 3/32” bass 1/16” treble (fast, spot-on)
String gauges: 54w-12 lights

Neck shape: medium C

Board radius: ~14"

Truss rod: adjustable

Neck relief: straight

Fret style: medium-wide

Scale length: 25"

Nut width: 1 5/8"

String spacing at nut: 1 3/8"

String spacing at bridge: 2 1/16"

Body length: 20"

Body width: 15 3/4"

Body depth: 4 1/4"

Weight: 5 lb 9 oz

Condition notes: all-original save relocated and replaced saddle. No in-wood cracks, but lots of heavier finish weather-checking and finish-cracking throughout. There's an odd "V" of lighter finish on the lower bout that I actually thing has something to do with the grain and not the finish. Weird!


Brandon McCoy said…
This guitar is so killer. It mixes my love for all things weird and Gibson/Martin-ish with a bit of 50s Guild-style. Living in Savannah, the ply would come in handy during the summer months for sure when that humidity gets out of whack.
Rob Gardner said…
Boy, Jake, your blog is a never ending font of obscure stuff I did not know anything about. I never heard of this company, but looking back over your linked earlier blog posts, they cranked out all kinds of interesting guitars. It is always a bright spot when your updates show up in my email box. Keep cranking them out...