Honors the Singing Cowboy — plays 1930s hokum & swing
© 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved
|c. 1940 Gene Autry Round-up guitar made by Harmony|
Company and sold in Sears, Roebuck catalogs at $9.95
This Gene Autry Round-up is one of a limited number of cowboy guitars made between 1939 and 1941 by the Harmony Company of Chicago and sold through Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs of the day.
It cost $9.95 and included two Gene Autry books on writing songs and playing guitar, a collection of cowboy songs and mountain ballads, set of guitar strings, pick and capo. An artificial leather case cost $3.00 more.
Built like a poor man’s J-185, it has a small jumbo body with maple back, sides and neck that are finished in a painted flame-pattern sunburst. It has a spruce top in a dark reddish-brown sunburst, firestripe pickguard and D-shaped neck with 14 frets to the body.
Recently acquired for $1,000 at the summer Philadelphia Guitar Show from Allegheny Valley Guitars of North Huntingdon PA, the instrument is in good condition. It has numerous dings, scratches and finish cracks. The body, top, fretboard and headstock have an overall dull finish from 75 years of dust, dirt, smoke and what-have-you.
Burkett also opened the back of the Round-up to remove the the top's original ladder-style bracing and replace it with a traditional X brace. He also installed two scalloped tone bars, maple bridge plate, small braces astride the sound hole and a popsicle brace under the fingerboard tongue.
In my view, this Gene Autry Round-up doesn't sound like a ladder-braced guitar or an x-braced guitar. Instead, it is graced with an original sound and feel — a well-made, played-in older guitar without hairy aroma or stiff demeanor. Here, I use words to describe sounds, an effort burdened by vanity and limitations.
Nevertheless, this Round-up has been restored to offer musical enjoyment for another 75 years. So performing with this instrument in Vintage Music Concerts will safeguard the legend of America’s singing cowboy — Gene Autry — as it preserves the 1930s hokum and 1940s swing music it was born to play.
Offered through the Sears, Roebuck catalog, these musical instruments were not toys, as in later years. They were built with solid wood tops and bodies and priced just under $10. They sold like hot cakes to young fans of radio personality and movie star Gene Autry.
|1932 Sears catalog listing for the first Gene Autry Roundup guitar|
Roundup — The earliest iteration was a 12¾-inch wide flat-top with mahogany body, spruce top and 12-fret mahogany neck. Made from fall of 1932 to fall of 1933, the first Roundup (different spelling than 1939 – 1941 model) was a decent instrument that sold for $9.75 (without case). According to the catalog copy, the spruce top was graced with a “striking western ranch scene” and “a reproduction of Gene Autry’s signature."
In 1939 Harmony introduced its grand concert-sized version of the Gene Autry Round-up (different spelling than 1932 - 1933 model) guitar. It featured a maple back and sides, maple neck and selected spruce top. Named after "the famous cowboy of radio and pictures." It was the largest catalog guitar to bear Autry’s name, yet it cost a modest $9.95.
|1939 Sears catalog listing for Gene Autry Round-up grand concert guitar|
Old Santa Fe — A 14-fret archtop with figured maple body, spruce top with lustrous sunburst finish and steel-reinforced neck. Produced from fall of 1935 to spring of 1936, it was discreetly decorated with just a Gene Autry signature in the lower bass bout beneath the f hole and the image of a white church steeple in the peghead.
Melody Ranch — Except for the darkest days of WWII, these low-cost flat-tops were produced from fall of 1941 to spring of 1955. The peghead displayed a stenciled sign post design and the words Melody Ranch.
Indeed, to some it is no different than the sale of cheap imported goods (tee shirts, hoodies, perfume, leather bracelets, sneakers, scarfs, gloves, stationery, iPhone hardcases, posters, etc.) emblazoned with some airhead arena rocker's name.
Ed Hyp, guitar dealer, North Huntingdon PA alleghenyvalleyguitars @ aol.com