1948 Regal / Oahu / Bronson – Style 50K Squareneck Hawaiian

This guitar was given to me by a very good friend. I really didn’t get around to playing it because the intonation was a bit off… but this turned out the be only caused by the nut raiser.  There are no brand indications whatsoever, but the might have worn off or may have been painted over.

It was imported straight from the US together with its little sister:

Hawaiian music hype

It is not a blues-guitar. It is an Hawaiian guitar and a response to early 20th century hype of Hawaiian music. It was the very same hype that put the ukulele in our collective memory. Remember that during depression days of the late 30s, even the Martin guitar factory only survived thanks to ukes.

Following the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Hawaiian music became very fashionable in the United States, leading to two predominant Hawaiian-music correspondence schools in the ’20s and ’30s: Oahu and Bronson. Oahu was headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, while Bronson’s office was in Detroit, Michigan. (It is unlikely that either city was a hotbed of Hawaiian culture at the time.) Each of these outfits sold lessons by mail (often attempting to enlist advanced students as teachers and representatives) and featured its own line of guitars.

Oahu-labeled guitars were made for the Oahu Publishing Co. of Cleveland, which called itself “The World’s Largest Guitar Dealer” in 1935.

The Honolulu Conservatory of Music was established in Flint, Michigan in the late ’20s by Harry Stanley and his half-brother, George Bronson. Stanley founded Oahu in 1933; Bronson started the Bronson Music & Sales Co. in Detroit about the same time.

Harry Stanley around 1938.

Oahu offered a variety of squareneck and roundneck acoustic guitars — most were made in Chicago by Kay and Harmony. The most common are inexpensive ($22.50 in 1935) birch guitars with a dark brown finish. More expensive models were available; I used to own an all-mahogany small-bodied squareneck with black-and-white “rope” style binding ($65 in 1935). The top of the line was a rosewood/spruce jumbo with “pearl” inlay, soundhole ring and top trim. These were $158 in 1935 — more than $2100 in 2004 dollars.

But is it an Oahu guitar?

Oahu did not manufacture these guitars themselves. In fact they were mainly a publishing company focusing on sheet music and instruction books. They branched out into instruments, but had them build by other companies.

In the 30’s the company name was consistently stamped inside the sound hole. Our guitar does not have that however, although it looks very similar. As stated earlier, Oahu did not build guitars, they were built by either Kay or Harmony.

The Harmony company, founded at the end of the 19th century, was bought by mail order company Sears-Roebuck & Co in 1916, simply to corner the ukulele market. In the late 1930s, Harmony “also bought brand names from the bankrupt Oscar Schmidt Co.—La Scala, Stella, and Sovereign. They sold not only Harmony products, but instruments under the Sears name, Silvertone, and a variety of trade names—Vogue, Valencia, Johnny Marvin, Monterey, Stella, and others.”

Note the rounded off headstock, which is almost never found on Oahu-branded guitars:

1948 Oahu slotted headstock

But then again, have a look at this one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a headstock from the Bronson Guitar Company: not very different, but note the upside-down tuners. Which are actually the correct way around when playing lap slide.

There seem to be Oahu’s without the brand stamped in the soundhole. On Jake Wildwood’s blog I found this very similar 50k model without the Oahu brand stamp. It does have the logo on the headstock:

It has the fake binding painted on the soundhole like mine, but also around the edges of the guitar. The most surprising thing, which is why it caught my eye, is that this guitar has the exact same bridge as mine. Jake writes:

 

 

 

 

 

The standard metal bridge is very recognizable because it has pyramid ornamentation. I was suprised to find this Youtube video of another squareneck Oahu with that same Regal/Oscar Schmidt bridge:



But it has more:

  • painted binding only around the soundhole
  • only light in the sunburst is around the bridge

Oahu guitars usually came with a very strange metal molded bridge, which was bolted down as you cannot glue metal to wood. So maybe the bridge was replaced. The original looks like this:

Original Oahu metal casted bolt-on bridge — source: youtube

Most distinctive feature of our guitar are the diamond fret markers:

All the material I could find is pointing to the the 1940s:

Stamp on the back

There is no manufacturer or company referenced inside the guitar. There is only this:

Then I found this Oahu for sale: http://www.thunderroadguitars.com/1948-oahu-square-neck/

Inside the guitar, there is this:

If this is really a ’48 Oahu, then the quest has ended. By 1948, they seem to have give up stamping the name inside the guitar.