Stromberg-Voisinet Hawaiian Themed Parlor Guitar
This is a great example for a late 1920 to early 1930’s Stromberg-Voisinet Parlor Guitar in an original case. This is no wall hanger as it features a nice solid top, back and sides of made from some great quality Mahogany wood. Made in the USA by Stromberg-Voisinet that later became Kay Musical Instruments in Chicago. These are definitely of a higher quality than most of the inexpensive parlor guitars from the 20’s and 30’s. Its no Gibson or Martin, but a very cool little guitar and fun to play.
The neck features a Mother of Pearl (MOP) that some may call the “Mother of Toilet Seat” fretboard. Very cool closed back “gumby” headstock, The guitar is Hawaiian themed as Hawaiian music was sweeping the nation in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This survivor from this era has an incredible Hawaiian scene decal applied to the body that is in fantastic condition. Rare to see this decal in such nice condition. I think this was Stromberg-Voisinet’s second variation with these parlor guitar appointments as it has pyramid bridge and wood marquetry perfling and the “small Island” decal. You will come across these occasionally with a different decal and some different appointments. These small parlor guitars where probably made for only a few years before the company became Kay.
This guitar is in amazing condition for a guitar from the 1920s. Almost no fret wear on original frets. The original tuners work fantastic. Structurally solid and sturdy. No Cracks or repairs. Quality built. Sounds excellent. It has a strong V shape neck is straight and very comfortable to play. It works great for finger-style and since it is all solid mahogany and uses ladder bracing, it has that strong mid-range response for thumb-style mid ’20s blues as well! I was happy to have picked this nice little guitar with some much history up.
When I received the guitar it needed to have the nut repaired and one of the bridge pins was in poor condition. Had a luthier shim and repair the original nut and replace and match one bridge pin. Guitar is quite a looker.
Parlor guitars have become are popular again. When most of us think of a flat-top acoustic guitar we picture a large bodied Dreadnaught. But years ago guitars were much smaller… Your grandparents played them in the parlor… You know the room as your living room!
It is suddenly OK to make music in your living room again! Many guitar makers are producing small bodied “parlor” guitars again.
The dimensions for the Stromberg-Voisinet is about the same as my Larrivee P-03 Parlor.
- Scale Length: 24-inch
- Upper Bout: 9.5-inch
- Waist: 7.75-inch
- Lower Bout: 13.25-inch
- Body Depth: 3.5-inch
- Nut Width: 1-3/4-inch
Extremely light at 2-lbs 9.5-ozs.
Some History of Stromberg-Voisinet and Kay Musical Instrument Company
The Groeshel Mandolin Company was established in Chicago in 1890. In 1921, the company was renamed to Stromberg-Voisinet. Stromberg-Voisinet was the Chicago company that became Kay around 1931. Stromberg-Voisinet was one of numerous companies that built musical instruments in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century. Like Regal, Harmony and most of their other competitors, Stromberg-Voisinet made relatively inexpensive instruments that were designed to be sold through catalogs. The 1920s Stromberg-Voisinet instruments were very well made, given their inexpensive prices, and they generally had a unique designs to attract buyers.
In 1923, Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer joined the company. He later became president. In 1928, with help of an investor, bought the company. The new company, “Kay Musical Instruments” was formally established in 1931 from the assets of Stromberg-Voisinet. Henry Kuhrmeyer, with no musical background, but was financially successful in the musical instrument business.
Stromberg-Voisinet had primarily manufactured mandolins, tenor guitars, tenor banjos and 6-string guitars under its own brand as well as a large number of other brands, as Stromberg-Voisinet was an OEM supplier to many other manufacturers. Kay Musical Instruments continued this practice; however, Kay did sell many instruments under its own brand, “KayKraft.”
Stromberg-Voisinet has a special place in guitar history. Stromberg-Voisinet produced the first commercial electric guitar, the Stromberg Electro, in 1928.
Stromberg-Voisinet is particulary well-known among serious students of stringed instrument design for its unique “Venetian” body shape, which was used for its mandolins, tenor guitars and 6-string guitars.
In 1934 Kay, in response to National’s resonator guitars introduced the “Wood Amplifying Guitar.” It was a faux resonator that used wooden coverplate under which is a “wooden” resonating chamber with a trough that ‘feeds’ the sound upward to the dual grille holes. Only a few were made and they are quite rare today.
Henry Kuhrmeyer started planning his retirement in 1953. Sidney M. Katz, who had excellent financial backing from family members including Albert Pick, of Picks Hotels, was interested in purchasing the company. After having worked for Harmony Instruments, Katz knew the musical instrument business, but came to work in the accounting department of Kay Musical Instruments for some time before taking over full and complete leadership. In 1955, Kuhrmeyer retired allowing Katz full ownership and responsibility. Kuhrmeyer died March 18, 1956.
Katz made few changes in the first couple of years, but as profits demanded the majority of the Kay line strengthened its shift toward electric instruments. He did allow the bass and cello line to operate nearly unaffected. Katz tried to develop a stronger marketing plan by obtaining Barney Kessel, a noted guitarist, as an endorser.
In 1964, Kay Musical Instruments moved to a new factory in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The move to the new building attracted a buyer, and in 1965 Katz sold the company to Seeburg, a company already famous for their juke boxes. Katz became the head of Seeburg’s musical instrument division. Bob Keyworth, a long time Kay employee, headed up the Kay instrument division.
In 1967, Valco Company who had been responsible for the National and Supro brands, descendants of the Dopyera brothers and Dobro, bought Kay from Seeburg. With Robert Engelhardt as president and Al Link as vice-president of Valco, Kay products were unchanged. During Valco’s ownership, Kay’s catalog was simply reprinted with Valco’s name at the head. Japanese competition, debt accumulation and inventory excesses were difficult for Kay/Valco to handle and a decision was made to dissolve the company.
The assets of Kay/Valco were auctioned off in October of 1969. W.M.I., Weiss Musical Instruments, founded by Jack Westheimer, operated by Sil Weindling and Barry Hornstein, bought the Kay name. Tony Blair, who had been working for W.M.I since 1973 bought the Kay name in 1980 after he heard Fred Gretsch, Jr. was interested in a brand name. By 1982 Blair began using the Kay name on instruments and in 1984 the Kay Guitar Company began manufacturing and importing instruments for beginners. More info on Kay Musical Instrument Company can be found here.