If you were interested in playing guitar in the 1930s and 1940s, you were probably a fan of singing cowboys. The old Western teleplays on the radio were vehicles for marketing all kinds of products, like toys, costumes, and, of course, guitars!
Today, we’re familiar with the names Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, but back then, any cowboy fan would have also known Carson Robison. Robison was born in 1890 to a champion-fiddler father and a dance-caller mother. In the 1920s, he was one of the first cowboy singers to become a radio performer, famous for his virtuosic whistling ability. He wrote over 300 songs in his career, including his 1948 hit, “Life Gets Tee-Jus, Don’t It,” featured in episode 123 of the original Muppet Show, which is how I first heard of him.
The Montgomery Ward catalog offered Carson Robison-model guitars from 1930 through 1941. The 6-string changed a little every couple of years, ultimately ending up with eight different variations. The subject of this month’s column is the rare eighth variation, also called Model 964, made only for a short time in the fall of 1941 by the Kay Musical Instrument Company. According to the original catalog, it has a “Selected Spruce Top” and mahogany back and sides, and the top is solid wood as far as we can tell. The back and sides, however, are made of a few disparate pieces. The body on this guitar was shrunk from the previous grand auditorium size (41 1/4 x 16 1/4) to a smaller grand concert size (39 1/2 x 14), and it has a distinctive oval-shaped soundhole. Like the other Carson Robison guitars, it has his signature painted on the body, below the bridge.
Also known as Model 964, this version of the Carson Robison is the eighth variation on the original.
Photo by Madison Thorn
This particular example has had a number of repairs over the years. The tuners are newer, and it’s had a bone saddle installed. Its amber sunburst finish has some overspray, likely covering a past repair. It’s also had a refret and a neck reset, and it’s playing better than ever. The neck has a chunky V-shape, which is typical for these early-20th century guitars that were made before truss rods. It’s got a bunch of dings, finish-checking, and evidence of past repairs, which I think adds character. I like to imagine this guitar had a dynamic early life, being played and loved by some rowdy siblings.
While researching this model, we at Fanny’s House of Music in Nashville came across a clipping of the 1941 Montgomery Ward catalog this guitar was listed in and found something curious cut off on the left side of the page. Featured right next to the Carson Robison guitar was a 6-string bearing the name of Louise Massey. Could it be that not all singing cowboys were boys? I found myself in the throes of a deep Google search when our old friend Frank Hall came to the rescue.
“I like to imagine this guitar had a dynamic early life, being played and loved by some rowdy siblings.”
Frank Hall was a fixture here in Nashville. He was a member of the Serendipity Singers, a folk group that performed at Woodstock. He was also a lifelong guitar collector and one of the world’s preeminent “catalog guitar” experts. He came into Fanny’s often to tell us stories about these old guitars, and when we were lucky, he’d play us a song. Frank passed away in early 2021, but he left us with a wealth of knowledge, and importantly, for our purposes today, a tome called Cowboy Guitars by Steve Evans and Ron Middlebrook.
Time and wear have given this guitar a character as craggy as the old West.
Photo by Madison Thorn
The owners of Fanny’s, Pamela Cole and Leigh Maples, plopped it open on our front desk to page 106, where I read the history of Louise Massey and the Kay-made Montgomery Ward guitar that bears her name. Louise was known for her hit song “My Adobe Hacienda,” a beautiful tune calling back to the real heroes of cowboy culture, Mexican vaqueros. Her signature guitar was only made for a few short months in the fall of 1941, at the same time as our Carson Robison. As far as we know, it is the only cowboy guitar to feature a woman artist. Not even the Queen of the West, Dale Evans, had that honor!
This wonderful Kay acoustic took us on quite a journey. We love the stories in these old guitars, and we especially love seeing them write new stories with new owners. Sometimes all it takes is a neck set, and a little flattop like this one is all ready to inspire a new generation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go scour eBay for a Louise Massey guitar.
Standard features include an alder body, 4A flamed maple top with matching headstock, and 5-piece maple/walnut neck with tung-oil finish.
San Diego, CA (May 18, 2015) -- Kiesel Guitars and the Carvin Guitars Custom Shop is excited to team up with noted bassist Roy Vogt to offer the Roy Vogt RV69K 6-string signature bass, part of the Vanquish Series bolt-neck basses. Roy has been playing Custom Shop basses for a number of years, and has worked with an amazing list of artists, including Larry Coryell, Victor Wooten, Tom Scott and the LA Express, Chester Thompson, Glenn Campbell, BJ Thomas, Chet Atkins, Englebert Humperdink, Dickey Betts, Charlie Daniels, Jerry Reed and many others, and we are excited to work with him on the development of his new signature instrument.
Like all Custom Shop guitars and basses, the RV69K is made in the USA, and is loaded with features generally only found in high-end instruments. Standard features include an alder body, 4A flamed maple top with matching headstock, 5-piece maple/walnut neck with tung-oil finish, and dual SCP split-coil pickups. New 18V active/passive electronics include a master volume/push-pull active switch, pickup blend, stacked concentric bass/treble, and stacked concentric mid with sweep. The new pickup blend circuitry eliminates volume drop-off when the pickups are blended for more consistent sound when playing.
The Roy Vogt Signature RV69K is our first bass to carry the Kiesel badge. It's a boutique instrument, however, because we sell direct to you, you don't have to pay a boutique price for your new Custom Shop bass. With hundreds of options available, you can build your V69K exactly the way you want it, and be the proud owner of an instrument that will last you a lifetime.
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The seven basses in the series includes 4-, 5-, and 6-string variations with several different wood options.
Germany (May 5, 2015) -- As of this summer Warwick now offers the all new German Pro Series which consists of excellent "Teambuilt & Made in Germany" instruments, at an affordable price. The complete know-how, which the Warwick Custom Shop has built up over 30 years in Markneukirchen embodies this exciting new series of electric basses. All of these instruments are produced in Germany from the finest materials and with the best possible production methods. Only the very best machines in the world are used to carve these extraordinaire bass guitars.
The development of the Warwick German Pro Series goes back to the year 2009, at that time the decision was made to produce only the Masterbuilt Custom Shop basses at the Markneukirchen production facility, But now - due to popular demand, after almost two years of planning and development, a regional partner has been found to realize in cooperation with Warwick the new German Pro Series. The result is the highest quality Pro Seres basses to date, and at a price which offers players the possibility to own a 100% genuine German built Warwick bass for far less than the Masterbuilt Custom Shop instruments.
The tone woods for the German Pro Series are naturally air dried, hand selected, and glued at Warwick in Markneukirchen, also the necks, and the complete fret work is manufactured there too. Then all instruments are finished and assembled by partner nearby in the region. After completion, all Warwick German Pro Series instruments are carefully inspected, flawlessly set up and shipped out from the Markneukirchen production facility.
The new Warwick German Pro Series consists of the following models:
- Corvette Standard, 4-,5- and 6-string with US swamp ash or bubinga body, ovangkol neck and wenge fretboard
- Corvette $$, 4- and 5-string with US swamp ash body, ovangkol neck and wenge fretboard
- Streamer LX, 4-,5- and 6-string with US cherry body, ovangkol neck and wenge fretboard
- Thumb Bolt On, 4-,5- and 6-string with ovangkol body, ovangkol neck and wenge fretboard
- Streamer CV, 4- and 5-string with US swamp-ash body, maple neck and rosewood fretboard
- Streamer stage I, 4- and 5-string with US cherry body, maple neck and wenge fretboard
- StarBass 4- and 5-string with maple body, maple neck and wenge fretboard
Warwick German Pro Series specifications
- High-quality and seasoned wood from the German Warwick Manufactory at Markneukirchen
- Warwick Invisible Fret Technology
- Warwick Bronze Frets
- Fluorescent Fretboard Side Dots
- Just a Nut III Tedur
- Warwick easy access Trussrod-Cover
- MEC pickups and electronics
- Warwick hardware
- Warwick electronic compartment
- Warwick Black Label bass strings
- Available in various finishes and colors (depending on model)
- Lefthand model available at no additional charge
- Teambuilt & Made in Germany
All Warwick German Pro Series models are shipped from June 2015 including a high-quality Rockbass Starline bag.
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