Little Brother Blues Story of a Stella
1920's Stella Gambler
This is a guitar made by Oscar Schmidt in the 1920s and sold under the Stella brand name. It was displayed in the 1920s catalog as the Gambler and sold for $9.50. It's made of poplar, cherry and other common hardwoods and decorated with playing card decals. Although this guitar has always had great tone it really came to life after a long restoration. I bought it from what I thought was a dealer specializing in vintage National resonators and vintage guitars but they turned out to be completely unqualified to repair or evaluate vintage guitars. Instead of getting a Stella with a neck reset and a back-off restoration I received a guitar covered in shoddy amateur repairs and a boat load of back peddling excuses from the dealer. In the end I just moved forward but learned a valuable lesson about so called vintage experts. The repair costs doubled my investment in the guitar but I figure on making the best of it.
The guitar is finished in black lacquer and still has most of it's original components. It has some back and top crack repairs but they are solid now and nothing to worry about. The neck has been removed so the dovetail joint could be completely rebuilt with new hardwood and reset back in at not only the correct angle but distance from the bridge plate. That was an amazing amount of work. My friend and luthier Ralph Luttrell of Luttrell Guitars did a truly amazing job while I mostly helped and did all the small work. I've attached some photos describing most of the work performed and explanations. I hope you enjoy.
SOUND CLIPS - These are of the Gambler BEFORE RESTORATION
You can see this Gambler model in the original Stella catalog as shown in Neil Harpe's Stella Guitar Book. That publication is priceless for Stella lovers and a must buy for anyone interested in these wonderful guitars. It also comes with an audio cdrom of Neil playing most of the guitars in the book. I highly recommend this purchase for anyone and it covers 12 strings and all the other brand names Oscar Schmidt built and sold as. These guitars are gaining in value and rivaling Gibson and Martin collectables. It wont be long before you will not be able to find these guitars anywhere and even on Ebay people are bidding extremely high on these models compared to only a few years ago. While a parlor or concert 12-13" model of these guitars can often be purchased for under 1000.00 the ones in great condition can go as high as 1700.00. Just be aware the 13.5" and larger models are worth even more. If you find a long scale Grand Concert 12 string such as the one Leadbelly played the prices leap up to as much as 10,000 dollars. So it's very easy to pay the wrong amount and I know Neil Harpe's email box has to be full of people asking for buyers consultations. Please don't email me with constant appraisals. That can be a full time job. Neil sells used ones on his site and that's always a good bench mark for market values. I bought my Stella 12 string from him and it's magnificent and was a great deal.
Just be aware that most of these will still require some restoration and they all come with flat fretboards, thin frets and sometimes even sunken fretboards, tops and cracks that require major repair skills to fix. Also beware of the people that sell every guitar of this era as a Stella or raise that question. One thing about 1920s Stellas. They have dot markers on frets 10-12 and they also dont have brass frets and several other small features they sank into throughout the 30s and 40s during the depression and war years. Bottom line is buy this book if you love Stellas. And tell Neil we sent you. He's a real treasure. www.StellaGuitars.com