Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 52

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat

YOUR NAME HERE

(LEFT TO RIGHT) Russell Smith in 1930 with an
L-5, truss engraving just visible. The headstock on
J.R. Wilson's '29 L-5. An Mono-Plak incongruously
screwed to the peghead on a Martin.

A Potpourri of Personalization
By Peter Stuart Kohman

W

e take for granted that most guitars
come labeled with the maker's name.
A century ago, Gibson led the way
putting the company logo on the headstock,
showing the world this wasn't any mandolin
or guitar, but "The Gibson." By the '20s, some
performers had instruments personalized with
their names, forging a minor tradition.
As a result, it's common to find a fancy banjo
from the '20s carrying the owner's name or
initials as part of its decoration. Here, we offer
a brief survey of the history of self-branded
guitars.
Gibsons from the later '20s - mostly highend banjos and the $275 L-5 - sometimes have
the original owner's name neatly engraved
on the truss cover, a factory service ordered
through the dealer. Most were the work of
an engraver recently identified as William
C. Schrier, who worked days at HendersonAmesbut then moonlighted for Gibson from
the basement of his home. The personalization was discreet; less something intended to
be visible to an audieHoucnce than a mark
of pride of ownership. Maybelle Carter's L-5
had a pearloid truss cover engraved "Mae
Belle Carter" in crude letters, suggesting a
different engraver (who also misspelled her
name!). At any rate the service seems to have
faded in the '30s.

The idea was revived in the '50s with an
accessory called the Mono-Plak, an engraved
metal plate sized to replace the standard
Gibson truss rod cover. Made not by Gibson,
but Owen Crew & Sons, the Mono-Plak was
designed to fit Gibsons but could theoretically
be screwed to any headstock. The dealer would
send the name to be engraved and Owen Crew
would airmail the plate the next day. True to
intent, it's generally Gibsons that are equipped
with Mono-Plaks, but they occasionally turn
up on others.
Long before this, pride of ownership
started to shade into self-promotion and
more elaborate personalizations began
to appear. A number of '20s and '30s
National Silver instruments are known
with the owners name engraved; Tampa
Red's Style 4 is one, though its letters
are so small an audience likely wouldn't
notice. Certain venturesome spirits of the
'30s autographed their pickguards or tops
boldly enough for the audience to read.
NBC radio entertainer Jack Foy also added
"Gibson" to his early-'30s L-5, thereby
promoting the company as well as himself.
In 1937, St. Louis radio performer Eddie
Wilson left Gravois Music with an Excel made
in New York by John D'Angelico with "The
Vagabond Drifter" neatly engraved on the

VINTAGE GUITAR

52

March 2018

pickguard. This was Wilson's stage moniker
in a career that must have had him earning
enough to afford such an expensive guitar
despite the down-and-out name. There are
other D'Angelicos with the original owner's
name engraved on a pearl block on the fingerboard or inlaid on the headstock, but the

A Mono-Plak dealer ad from 1961.


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