1930s Dobro "Serenade" Fiddle-Edge Resonator Tenor Guitar

This tenor guitar is simply something else in a very good way. Tone, feel, volume, looks -- it's all there. It sounds good in the CGDA tuning I have it strung with at the moment and also in GDAE octave mandolin tuning as well.

The owner thinks the history of it is linked to the Akira Tsumura Collection -- a fateful group of banjos, guitars, and whatnot collected decades ago -- and in which resided some truly outstanding examples of over-the-top tenor banjos, as I recall. I remember browsing a copy of the book featuring his banjo collection when we lived in Providence, RI as a copy was in the library system down there. It was fascinating and overwhelming.

At any rate, this appears to be a somewhat-cobbled (all period parts save the resonator) instrument but I'm not entirely sure how cobbled it is. It has an original Dobro "fiddle edge" resonator body with a scene I hadn't seen before sandblasted into it. I found a few more online -- at Marc Shoenberger's site and in a page from Mark Makin's "Palm Trees, Senoritas..." book where he identifies it as a "Dobro Model 62 - Serenader?" Model 62s usually have a floral sandblast pattern but now that I've seen a few more examples of this one, I'm at least not confused about it anymore. Mr. Schoenberger calls it a "Romeo and Juliet" scene -- which it sort-of is, if Romeo happened to be serenading Juliet from a gondola!

The confusing part of this instrument is that when opened-up, the only thing that looks wrong about it is the fact that it has an '80s or '90s-era National-style biscuit-bridge cone installed rather than a Dobro-style spider-bridge cone. Apparently (thank you fellow guitar-nerds), these bodies were meant to accept either type of cone when made (which makes sense because of the way it's built from the factory). I've only handled ones with the Dobro cones, though, so that was a bit of a head-scratcher to me.

The neck's cut and age, the headstock veneer (with its rhinestones and engraving in the celluloid), the period-style inlay in the board, the fact that it matches-up nicely with the body, the friggin original 4-string Dobro fiddle-edge tailpiece -- these are all details that scream "this could be original."

The cleaner-looking metal outline of a wider fretboard and heel at the neck joint and penciled-in alignment notes on the inside of the body suggest, however, that this was probably a renecked 6-string guitar. The tailpiece fasincates me, though -- where did they find that to use with it?

I have no idea who made the neck. The owner suggested that it might be Gibson-related because of the headstock cut -- it does rather look like some of the very earliest Gibson "trap door" tenor banjo headstocks. That would mean that it would have had to have a headstock veneer cut down fit on it, the neck shortened, and an expert touch-up done to the finish to conceal the work. There are two angled lines where the headstock meets the neck that suggest the neck might have been cut at some point or was instead built from two pieces (head + neck) in the fashion seen mostly in Europe and on 1800s instruments. That last detail is interesting because it sports European Selmer-style tuning machines that look rather original to the back of the headstock. Curious, no?

In any case, the neck looks like it was made in the same period as the guitar -- mid-late 1930s -- but was mated to it by someone very skilled a few decades ago. If the celluloid headstock veneer is a "forgery" of sorts, it's an extremely good one and in keeping with the style of the instrument. The age on everything looks entirely correct. It does have newer modern fretwire and a newer nut, though.

The replacement cone's biscuit bridge is all-aluminum and cut in a way that suggests it's old and original, though I'm certain it was made when the instrument was converted. I like the idea and I modified it for better intonation and "grab" of the strings.

Because the cone itself is a later replacement, I didn't feel bad about manhandling (crimping, flexing, bending) its lower edge a lot to both seat it better and also allow me to place the saddle in the correct location for good intonation. I would have had to do that anyway to, you know -- turn this into an instrument instead of an art statement. The cone was seated very poorly when it arrived "as-is" and though my crimping of the edges looks a mess if you pull the cover off and look at its bottom edge when removed, the guitar sounds three times as loud as it did when it arrived because it's now seated nicely and does not rattle or fuss.

The important part of a cone to not muck-up is the part (ie, the "sounding-board" part of the cone) that actually flexes beyond the rebounded "drip edge" just before the outside crease of the cone that turns into the part that sits in the soundwell. This is more detail than is necessary for the casual reader or even the buyer/player to know, but much fuss is made over irrelevant details by people who don't actually work or service resonator instruments... and I've worked on enough resonator instruments of all sorts and eras to know what actually does work and does not work to get these to sound their best. If I do something, it's for a reason.

Was that long-winded? Suffice to say, everything is buttoned-up and this thing is purring beautifully. It's loud, saucy, full, and warm. I've always liked the feel and "sound" of the fiddle-edge bodies and this curious instrument definitely makes me desirous. It's a stunner.

Repairs included: a fret level/dress, cone adjustment and seating, and setup.

Body: metal "fiddle edge" with sandblasted nickel-plated finish

Cone type: single-cone biscuit-bridge

Bridge: aluminum/wood biscuit bridge (custom)

Fretboard: ebony

Neck wood: mahogany

Action height at 12th fret:
1/16" overall (fast!)
String gauges: 32w, 22w, 13, 9 for CGDA tuning

Neck shape: medium C/soft V

Board radius: flat

Neck relief: straight

Fret style: medium-modern

Scale length: 23 1/4"

Nut width: 1 3/16"

Body width: 14 1/4"

Body depth: 3 1/2"

Weight: 7 lbs 4 oz

Condition notes: please read the above description carefully. Aside from modifications mentioned there (cobbling job), the instrument is actually in really good order. The sandblasted finish is still crisp and obvious in its details and it only has middling playwear/handling-wear throughout. This means that there are lots of light scratches throughout but that's pretty average for a metal-body instrument from the time. It does not have big areas of discoloration or tarnish as most do. The neck is nice and clean and may have been oversprayed on the back a long time ago.

It comes with: a gigbag.


daverepair said…
That is beyond cool!!
Rob Gardner said…
Boy, if that headstock is a forgery, they sure went all out on it. It sure looks original to me. What a fabulous little instrument.
tony klassen said…
Very cool and sounds great as a tenor. Headstock looks like Stromberg.