Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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ca. 1935 Nobility Archtop Tenor Guitar

I'm learning how to play tenor guitar.  I really like the sound of the tenor, and it helps that I'm in a group class right now.

One of my friends is also in the class.  She too plays guitar and ukulele and now, tenor guitar!  What a small universe.

If you're a tenor guitar player, you need a tenor guitar, right?  She procured this very cool Nobility archtop tenor from the 1930s.  It's a bit different from your standard tenor guitars (how funny is that to read?) in that it has a long scale.  Most tenors are in the range of 23 inches.  We measured this guitar's scale length at 24 3/4 inches. although it seems to play in tune best with the bridge set back a bit from that length.  Don't ask me why.

Anyway, the guitar has a typical-for-the-era laminate top.  Don't turn up your nose!  Gretsch and Gibson use laminate tops on a lot of their archtops.  It also has a nice brown sunburst nitro lacquer finish and a super cool tortoise pickguard.

Since the guitar has a long scale, your usual tenor string set doesn't fare well.  To back up a bit, the usual tenor tuning is in fifths: C, G, D, A, from low to high.  The low C is the same pitch as the C on the third fret of the fifth string on a standard guitar.  The high A is A 440 - fifth fret on the high E string on a standard guitar.  That high A is the real issue in terms of string gauge.

My friend had a local music store put it into playing shape - they installed some fabulous Waverly tuners in place of the originals.  And they strung it up.  I can't remember what they put on it, but they couldn't tune it up to the normal tuning.  She also tried an 008.5 high A to no avail.  She wanted to be able to use the normal tuning, which is where I came in.

Before I write about what I did, I wanted to share this picture of the headstock.  Very much a banjo shape, I think.  "Nobility" was a brand name for instruments distributed by "P'Mico" of New York.  P'Mico stood for the Progressive Musical Instrument Company.  Their instruments were made by Kay, Harmony, and possibly Oscar Schmidt.  Remember that in the 1920s though the 1950s there were a lot of "house" brand instruments - witness the Silvertone instruments sold by Sears but made by Kay.

The previous owner thought this guitar was made by Harmony, and that's certainly possible.  There aren't any labels other than the headstock decal to identify it for certain.

So back to the tuning.  After some thinking and research on the interwebs, I figured a set of .007 (A), .011 (D), .018w (G) and .027w (C) should work.

I procured a bunch of single strings from Just Strings.  The top two are D'Addario, and the bottom two are GHS.

That .007 is really thin.  Crazy.

Here's a shot of the bridge and the tailpiece.  I took the precaution of soldering the string wrap on the high A, and I also slipped a thin diameter piece of shrink tubing over the end wrap (see the arrow - it's not there yet but that's where it goes) to eliminate any rubbing of the string against the tailpiece.

I also set the intonation - just a little slant of the bridge on the treble side worked fine.

Bottom line:  the string set works great!  The neck is straight as an arrow (it's fairly hefty anyway) and it sounds terrific!

The guitar is super loud and has a classic cutting acoustic archtop tone.  We jammed on the classic "Angeline the Baker" afterwards.  (I played my 1927 Martin 5-17T).  The Nobility sounded great...you might say it sounds quite...princely!

Problem is, now I want one. 

 
 
 
 

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