Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - 48
Column The (Way) Back Beat
they were listed as made to order only, requiring
"four weeks time" to build!
The 1912 Lakeside Jumbo Model G-2740
represented a more-rational attempt from Lyon
& Healy to market a large-body guitar. Sometimes hailed as "the first dreadnought," it did
beat Martin and Ditson to the punch, but has
a wider and more conventionally tight-waisted
body than Harry Hunt's idiomatic design. It was
nowhere near as cumbersome as the Monster
Bass, with the dimensions listed as 161/4" wide
and 51/4" deep - noticeably larger than the Martin
dread. Compared to previous oversized L&H
offerings, this was a lower-grade instrument
with a spruce top, faux rosewood back and
sides, and cheaper fittings, priced at a modest
$18.75 on introduction (up to $25.88 in 1919).
While it was listed in catalogs for several years,
it was seldom given a proper illustration - in one
instance a mislabeled concert-size guitar was
once shown in its place. The instrument was
cataloged as late as 1925 as the Model 4955 under
the American Conservatory brand at $35 with
the description little changed, but accurately
illustrated. Any iteration of this model is seriously rare today, making it appear to have been
yet another commercial non-starter despite a
seemingly fairly long production history and
relatively affordable status.
Even larger instruments were blossoming
in this era, though no longer guitars in a strict
sense. If you think the Fender bass was a new
idea in 1951, take a look at H.F. Meyers' Contra
Bass Guitar of 1914, which goes a lot further than
Washburn in the "Honey, I grew the guitar"
mode. This is one of the earliest iterations of the
true "bass guitar" concept; tuned as a bass fiddle
though the claim "easy for any guitar player to
play" infers the fingerboard was fretted. This
format was more commonly applied to mandolins (mando-basses) made most famously by
Gibson, but several others, as well, including
Vega and the Larson Brothers. The Larsons also
built individual custom guitars echoing Lyon
& Healy with occasional monster six-strings
as large as 21" wide. Extant supersized Larsons
(not in the harp mode) appear to date more to
the 1930s than the teens, but the brothers may
have been building some all along. Being in
Chicago, it is even possible they did some work
on contract for Lyon & Healy, as well.
More early Chicago-made examples came
from Joseph Bohmann, an individualistic
luthier active from the 1880s well into the 20th
century and firmly at the forefront of creative
thinking. He built single- and double-necked
guitars up to 19" wide, which possibly influenced
Lyon & Healy to go bigger.
Another oddity is an enormous Weymann
guitar with a lower bout 18" wide and a depth of
A solitary Weymann Jumbo.
The Harwood B-1081.
nearly 51/2". It's slightly less unbalanced-looking
than the L&H Monster, but still an armful. Built
by the venerable firm of H.A. Weymann & Sons,
Philadelphia, this obese, fancy guitar appears to
date from the early 20th century, and was likely
a custom order, as no similar instrument was
cataloged. The expansive, ladder-braced top
carries an inlaid tortoiseshell pickguard (like
period mandolins) and colored wood marquetry
trim. The elaborate fingerboard ornamentation
seems to be a collection of nearly every piece of
pearl banjo inlay available in the shop, inlaid
rather randomly down the length of the ebony
board. The headstock carries the letters "RM"
in pearl - presumably the initials of the person
who ordered it.
Another similarly interesting (if not quite
as imposing) period piece was the B-1081 Auditorium Special, which carried the Harwood
brand and was built and sold by J.W. Jenkins
& Sons in Kansas City in the mid 1910s. It was
cataloged by Jenkins for several years and had
a 161/2" mahogany body that was 51/4" deep and
carried a fairly short (for this sort of guitar)
243/8"-scale neck. Echoing Lyon & Healy, Jenkins' catalog gives a description of the guitar's
intended purpose: "It is made especially for
accompaniment work," they proffer, going
on to note the fingerboard joining the body at
the 11th fret instead of the 12th means "it can
be used for solo work, but not as well as the
smaller sizes." Still, "this slight objection is
soon forgotten after one has tested its quality
of tone and noted its exceptional volume and
great ease of playing. It is one of the grandest
guitars ever made."
The Harwood is plainer and smaller than
L&H's Monster, but still a bundle to hold in the
lap. It packs a sonic punch, as well; despite its
short scale, it sounds rather like a parlor guitar
on steroids and listed in 1915 at $50, which
included "a good canvas case free of charge"
and a lesson certificate.
The above examples are by no means exclu-