Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Old Guitar Addiction

I didn't set out to do it, but somehow over the years I have become addicted to old guitars. It all began about 50 years ago when I blagged my dear old granny into buying me a four stringed plastic guitar from Exchange and Mart. It was about £7, and the advert said 'as played by Elvis Presley', so obviously I couldn't go wrong. The guitar had a moulded plastic fretboard and friction pegs, and was of course completely untunable, let alone playable.

Since that time, a number of guitars have passed through my hands, mostly (and nowadays exclusively) acoustic. They have included a Terada classical guitar, a Guild D40, a strange oriental thing with moveable frets, a Hayman electric, a Gibson LGO bought with my wife's tax rebate while she was away ('Is that it?' was her incredulous reaction when I nervously showed her what her pilfered windfall had been spent on), a Gibson 335 and a resonator guitar whose make I forget. I have also owned a Hofner Congress and a Senator. I have a soft spot for Hofners, and would dearly like a Committee or a President, but they fetch silly money now. A Fernandez 'Elephant Guitar' also lodged with me briefly. It was an amazing thing: a travel guitar, solid, with built-in amp and speaker. I liked it a lot, but it was so short scale that intonation was always a problem.

I was not and am not a good player, but I loved and was fascinated by the things, and if I had access to any funds, they would usually go on a guitar of some sort, only to be sold on again when times got hard. This situation still obtains, so I don't have a big collection, but I do have some rare and wonderful items and I love them all.

Here is what presently clutters my living room:

A Yamaha FG-411-12 twelve string, the most modern guitar in my possession. Typical Yamaha, good solid workhorse, with probably the easiest action of all my instruments.

A Martin Coletti - not one of the 50s junk jobs that he let his name be used on, but a sweet little thing made from good woods, which easily matches for tone and playability any thousand pound guitar I have tried.

A blond Radiotone archtop with some pen and ink drawing added, I guess, by some hippy in the sixties (it is signed Angie - if that is you, please get in touch). This has a rich sound and a slightly deformed neck which makes the action a little high down the fretboard.

Two anonymous archtops, one from the 50s or 60s, the other earlier. I suspect the upper one of being an EKO and the other of being a Coletti. The strangely shaped f hole on the right of the upper one I first took to be an original design feature, later to realise that it has a collapsed strut inside and the f hole has been modified to allow access without removing the top. Nice plinky-plonk plywood sound. The lower one is currently away having the neck straightened by Tony Revell, an excellent Geordie guitar fettler who lives in semi-retirement in Wales.

An Epiphone Zenith from the 30s, of which the Ultimate Guitar Book has this to say: As well as the superb Emperor and Deluxe . . . Epiphone made a number of other significant archtop acoustics, some of more humble manufacture. These included the Broadway, Triumph, Royal, Spartan, Blackstone, Devon and Zenith models. It is a lovely old jazzer. Carved top and recently fitted up with fat low frets which make sliding up and down the fingerboard very slick and easy. For some reason, it has a bridge from a Hofner President, which is a great thing as it allows for some intonation adjustment.

An Emile Grimshaw - a British made guitar of the thirties. Grimshaw started as a banjo maker, and this guitar features a wooden resonator back similar to those found on banjos, making it very loud. Not a subtle instrument, but great for busking outdoors. The fingerboard has been replaced so the original inlays have been lost. I should have liked to have seen them - apparently they were very clumsily proportioned and badly inlaid. Note the early adjustable intonation patented bridge.

I would like to hear about any old or unusual boxes out there. Please don't be put off if yours are not in pristine condition - I mostly only buy beat-up guitars myself because that way I a) can afford them and b) don't have to get paranoid about people playing them.

Other stringed things

Anyone who goes in for accumulating guitars is liable to acquire, through curiosity or the misguided generosity of friends, a number of other stringed instruments. I have had a zither, two autoharps (one of which I re-jigged to play blues chords) and a Victorian instrument which was similar to a zither, but featured keys attached to brass weights on spring steel, that when activated bounced up and down on the strings making a mandolin-like sound. Several mandolins and a bouzouki have crossed my path, and a couple of balalaikas have seen me coming. I have also shared premises with an Apalachian dulcimer which I bought for my wife (now by the way my ex-wife, but I don't think that is entirely down to my promiscuous guitar buying habits).

Currently on the wall I have a balalaika, an undistinguished pear drop mandolin, and a lovely 60s or 70s Hoya mandolin in the shape of an archtop (picture soon) and gathering dust on a landing is a fiddle which I thought I would learn to play when I was in a ceilidh band, but was too embarassed to practice when I realised how loud it was.

Much later

I haven't done anything on the blog for a good while, but two events have prompted me into action. One is my recent acquisition of a (gasp) brand new shiny guitar complete with case and warranty and all. The other was an equally unexpected event - somebody has actually looked at the blog, and sent me a comment.

Well, my new box is a hand-built in Ireland jobbie - an Avalon L32. I happened to see it on eBay when I had no intention of buying another guitar (as I firmly told myself when I logged in). But it looked so lovely, and I had read so many favourable comments about them on the net, and it was just down the road, and the seller said come and try before you buy, and it was half list price; in short, fate was saying, 'forget your stern resolution to leave guitar buying alone for a bit, and check it out'. What can I say? I saw it, I played it, I had to have it. I won't put a picture of it up, because there are lots on the net, but my advice is if you get a chance - grab one.

The correspondent whose email helped stir me into life, and possibly the only person other than myself who will ever see this blog, is somebody who has bought a Radiotone similar to mine, and wants to compare notes. I am always happy to chat guitars, so if by chance anyone else is reading this, please post a comment.

I have not forgotten my promise to post a pic of my Hoya mandolin, but I keep forgetting to photograph it. More later. . .

This Landola is your Landola

If you know what that heading is about, you are probably a) old enough to remember Woodie Guthrie, and b) well advanced in guitar addiction yourself. The Landola range of hand-built Finnish guitars has not been very well known in this country, but recently a spattering has appeared on eBay, including several 12-strings. I came upon one of their jumbos a few days ago, and since it was at a low opening bid with no reserve I thought I would have a go. However, as I am now a reformed character, I was only going up to £250, and when it passed that my mate Nick took over. He won it at £338, and we arranged to meet the seller at a service station on the M5. We got a lift with our friend Colin who is an ace guitar doctor, and drove up to meet the seller. He turned out to be a nice chap, not a player himself though, and looked slightly alarmed as Colin opened his bag and set about the guitar with fret guages, straight edges, truss rod crankers and the like instruments of the guitar fettler's art; which he buys like some people buy guitars. The box being beautiful and basically sound, we trundled off whith it, Nick happily, and I thinking bugger - I should have gone to £350 for that. Ah me, at least I am now feeling virtuous to have resisted temptation, and feel entitled to get back to just looking on the net.

Well, who'd have thought it . . .

Here is what you get for innocently just looking looking on eBay.

There you are, flitting happily about with no intention of spending any money, when all at once - Kazanga! (as you might say) a gorgeous big-bottomed blonde from way back when is suddenly flaunting her irresistible curves and an outrageously inlaid pick guard at you, right there on your screen. In vain do you try to shut out the blandishments of the Guitar Goblin who sits on your shoulder pouring his poison in your ear. 'Go on!' he says, 'This is no time to be counting money - after all doesn't a vintage guitar get you through times with no money better than etc etc?' It is futile to resist. You already have many guitars? But what if the tree outside your flat came over in a big wind, and fell through your window crushing everything but the stand where you already picture your Antoria sitting? Guess you'd feel pretty silly then, eh? You can't deny it makes sense. You'll just make an offer - it probably won't be accepted anyway. . . .

Dear reader, not only did the seller accept my offer, but my friend of ages Graham, who works in London where the seller hangs out, kindly agreed to pick it up for me. I was helpless. The guitar arrived, and I restrung it with Newtone twelves. From that moment, it has scarcely left my hands. Plays like silk and has a voice like Bessie Smith. Excuse me, I just have to go and, erm, practice some scales. More anon.


Paco said...

Hi Jack, I just bought a Radiotone archtop guitar. It looks the same model you have. I'd like to share comments and impressions about these guitars.

gav said...

Hey Jack, nice collection. I have an old Martin Coletti (I think from the 20s/30s) which has been in the family for over 40 years. Do you have any information on these guitars?


ivan alias lordbizarre said...

about the unknown blonde : this is for sure an Egmond(the Netherlands )and not Eko , and the extra cutt-out on the right f-hole is to allow the electrics on the pickguard to enter the body ( s.a. pot's and jack )
ivan alias lordbizarre

Mike said...

Hello Jack. I just bought a Radiotone similar to your Martin Colletti.Its a sunburst archtop.
Not being a jazzer myself I am thinking of either selling it (as needs must) or exchanging for a v. good classical (which is my preferred style atm.)
Yours Mike.

Stormer said...

Hi Jack, I have an inherited Martin Coletti on which I am seeking some information but am having difficulty as there isn't much information on the net. I notice that you mention 50's guitars weren't all that great and wonder where you got this information - I have no idea of the era of my guitar and so would be grateful if you could point me in the right direction.
Thanks a lot


Anonymous said...

Hi Jack,I have a radiotone like yours but it is sunburst.I have had it since about 1950.It was owned before then by a family friend who had it some years and played it superbly.It had a fantastic tone then. It has lost some of its tone over the years possibly due to the same problem as yours. I was told these guitars were made by gibson for the european market in the early 40s, and were as good as the more expensive ones with the gibson name on them.One like mine was sold on ebay earlier this year. Mine is not cutaway. Mike.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, Radiotones are not made by Gibson for sure. they have too many aspects in them that clearly point to german or czech make. Probably in Egerland and before the WWII.

Are you selling your Radiotone, Mike? If interested in selling contact me. asacopaco- AT terra DOT es

Anonymous said...

Sorry no I do not intend selling my Radiotone but thanks for your comments, they tie in with other comments I have heard. I have not played it for some years and I looked closely at it recently and found about 75mm of the top has separated from the side, about 50mm from where the neck joins.Probably glue chrystalised.I have cleared out the old glue and reglued the join. I am hoping this will bring the tone back. It now has the correct clearance above the strings.

Rob said...

I have a Sunburst Radiotone guitar which was made in the mid 30's so the previous owner told me. He gave me an ad from that time showing the models and the costs, but i have lost it whilst moving house!
I would consider selling it but am not sure what they go for and need to do some research.
Anyone have any ideas on value?
Rob (in England) ..

Email 57rob@live.co.uk

andrew_m said...

hi jack i have a lovly landola j85 for sale its the love of my life but i got to sell it to pay the bills its 10 years old and in great shape and needs a home id hate for it to go to cash converters if ur intrested

PAUL said...

Hi Jack, funny you should mention Landola and eBay in the same sentance.My Landola 12 string semi is on at the moment. A real rare bird and still looking good,take a look.Paul

Jeffrey said...

Those are some beautiful guitar pictures. Thank you for the post.

r.s. said...

Gentlemen, should there be any doubt about where Radio Tone guitars came from, please look...


r.s. said...


Anonymous said...

at my dad brought in WW2. I have been
laid off from my job and need to sell
it. I don't want to but I have to. It is a Slingerland, NITE HAWK. In
very great shape. I have pictures.
Please let me know if you are interesed or if you know someone who
is. Thanks, Sunshine my email is

Anonymous said...

yo jack see " dek on the telly" you tube hes playing a"CHEAP"MARTIN COLETTI ....PILLOCK

Anonymous said...

"-Gentlemen, should there be any doubt about where Radio Tone guitars came from, please look..."

r. s. I'm afraid you are confusing the Radio-Tone Bendaway series made by Regal in Chicago with the Dallas owned British import brand Radiotone. The Dallas distributed Radiotones are undoubtably Czech makes.

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Max Wurr, UK said...

I also have a blond 1930s Czech built Radiotone with all the original fittings. They are lovely guitars (if somewhat tough under the fingers as you would expect for a guitar of that vintage) but they never seem to go for much over £250 (UK money!) on ebay (they come up fairly regularly) despite sellers banging on about how rare and collectible they are!

tp said...

Just a comment on Radiotone. I have two Radiotone resonator squareneck guitars. Not the Weissenborn style with the tuna can cover resonators, but real reso cones. From what I've been able to find out, they have resonator systems designed by someone named Schireson, who apparently was sued by the Doperya brothers, although his system incorporates elements of both biscuit and spider style resonators. There is quite a high wooden post from the center of the cone(ala biscuit)that supports the bridge, but the cone is inverted like on a spider reso. What a cool bluesy tone. These are very loud parlor size guitars, I believe made by regal and labelled "Hawaiian Radiotone Teacher's Edition" and have paper over the fretboards with the noting for open "E" tuning. They also have very good quality spun cones. I've not heard anything else that sounds quite like them. They also have "Lightning bolt sound holes. One like them can be seen at fret-dancer.com.

Anonymous said...

I have a 1936 Martin Colletti which my father bought in 1944. It is beautifully made though odd. My guitar tech. the unsurpassable Bill Puplett from Harrow Weald nr. London UK tells me that Martin Colletti was an agency name based in London. They would import guitars from Europe & put their own label on. He believes mine was made by an unemployed German violin maker as the bracing is violin pattern & all wrong for a guitar. BUT..it works! It's brilliant for percussive fingerwork eg flamenco or in my case Kerry slides & polkas. The marquetry is exquisite, really fine. I guess the point is there is no such thing as a Martin Colletti guitar & we'll nevr know who actually made them. Simon.

davekinda2000 said...

I own a coletti aswell, and know nothing about it , if you could help me please do

davekinda2000 said...

I own a coletti aswell, and know nothing about it , if you could help me please do

Tony said...

I have a 30's radiotone archtop stripped back to its beautiful bare wood. No bridge and the neck has been adjusted to bring it back into line. Everything seems original and would make an easy restoration project for someone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony, I am really interested in buing your (or any other) Radiotone guitar for restauration. You can write on dvorak@amedis.cz

Anonymous said...

I also have an old Radiotone dark tobaco burst. Anyone know where i can get it restored??? neilallso@hotmail.co.uk

TONY said...

Me too I have the old guitar goblin on my shoulder and with ebay it is terrible..

Eddie said...

Hi Jack. I just came across your website when I decided to punch in "Radiotone" on Google. I too have an old tobacco sunburst model. Bought it in the 50's in Essex from an old guy who told me it was a Hawaiian guitar. It came complete with an add-on steel neck, steel slider and finger picks. It had never been used. Now it is really old and looking the worse for wear....like me. Because they don't seem to have much monetary value I think I'll go ahead and try to bring it back to its original beauty. If you want photos I'll send them. At this time I'm renovating the case which was in bad shape with all the felt falling off. Envy you living in Malvern. I'm in Vancouver. Take care Jack and all you other Radiotone guys.

r.s. said...

Gentlemen, should there be any doubt about where Radio Tone guitars came from, please look...

http:// Regal/regal_headstock_front.jpg
http:// Regal/regal_label.jpg Regal/regal_longview2.jpg
April 29, 2009 4:49 AM
r.s. said... Regal/regal_headstock_front.jpg Regal/regal_label.jpg Regal/regal_longview2.jpg Regal/theregal_refin_01.JPG Regal/theregal_refin_03.JPG
I had forgotten to show the refinished top, pictures.
I also moved servers, so here is the new set of links

r.s. said...

Gentlemen, should there be any doubt about where Radio Tone guitars came from, please look...

April 29, 2009 4:49 AM
r.s. said...
I had forgotten to show the refinished top, pictures.
I also moved servers, so here is the new set of links

r.s. said...

Gentlemen, should there be any doubt about where Radio Tone guitars came from, please look...
April 29, 2009 4:49 AM
r.s. said... Regal/regal_longview2.jpg
I had forgotten to show the refinished top, pictures.
I also moved servers, so here is the new set of links
I sure screwed up the first 2, so here is the last try. If I knew how to delete the others I would.

Stevan R. Grimes said...

I tripped over your blog because I just bought a FG411s-12 and wanted to get an Idea of it's year and value. I find them to be discontinued by Yamaha. I paid $100.00 at a pawn shop. Steve in Fort Worth Texas

dodo1946 said...

Hi Jack, a great read and a common complaint...collecting that is...23 at the moment and certain to rise...like you I don't play really well but i enjoy it to much to let that stop me...I'm new to computers and as yet don't know how to put photos on this space,when I do I will...good hunting, mick

WIZZY'S BLOG said...

Hi Mike if I send you a photo could you try and determine the vintage of this Martin Coletti I bought it in Melbourne and I think you are the only person that will know how much it is worth
Thankyou Louise

Arjen Ehlers said...

only want to mention that the guitar on top , (the two unknown) is an Egmond (in this uk case propably Rosetti ,
brown jazzer must be germanish ,
Arjen Ehlers

David Ash said...

Hi Jack
I have, among others, a Gibson L10 jazzer, (1935), a 60's hand-built Moridaira D28 copy, a Froggy Bottom jumbo flat-top (the best of the lot), an Ovation 1995 special edition, a 60s steel Dobro, an Italian 10-string double soundboard mandolin, a Grimshaw 5-string banjo (1935) and a Latvian Kuchli which was given to me by Ottilie Patterson.
I should be capable of posting pics soon. Love any kind of chat about stringed instruments and think your collection is stunning.
David Ash

johnnyb said...

My first guitar was a Martin Coletti archtop, bought in Dublin Ireland in 1966, after 40 years of different guitars, I wish I had that one again for sentimental reasons, If anyone sees one for sale...