1920's Stella Gambler

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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. I'll try to post some audio and video demo clips too.


To the left 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. I also often have guitars for sale on my 4sale page.

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

PHOTO GALLERY with Descriptions

PHOTO BELOW: Ralph is setting the newly rebuilt dovetail into place and calculating the neck angle before gluing it back it. It's so tight here that he doesn't even have to use glue to hold it strong enough to string up and play. That's just how tight and wonderful a good dovetail is. Tell me that does not help the tone? Also notice all the original finish and inlay was sanded off the fretboard but the good news is it's been refretted and now has a beautiful slight radius or curvature on the fretboard making it a dream to play.

PHOTO BELOW: This photo was after it was complete except for this original bridge failed and I had to replace it too. Notice we refinished the fretboard black and I made playing card shaped inlays and aged the fretboard to look old again then sealed it all in satin clear coat for protection. It looks 80 years old but plays like a brand new guitar if not better. This was one happy day and Ralph just adores this guitar. I knew he was putting serious LOVE into his work on this one. He's very proud of this work and should be.


















PHOTO BELOW: After I got the guitar home for a week the new neck reset and all the forces at work broke the front edge of the old bridge. So I made this new replica out after searching high and low for the right wood to replace it with. I learned how to make the pyramids but with the little round scoops on the inside just like old Stellas. We also waited until the bridge was glued into place and then slotted it with the router while measuring from the nut and 12th fret. We angled it slightly for tuning compensation and set it back farther to a calculated distance. The bridge pin holes were drilled and I'm using the original pins right now which are a little non uniform but I just like them better than having new ones. Compare the new bridge with it's aging to the old one in the photo above. Pretty good match eh?

PHOTO BELOW: The original inlays that were painted onto the ebonized fretboard were a traditional diamond based pattern that came on many of the OS Stellas in that era. Frankly I dont like them and they did not match the theme of this guitar so I made playing yard templates and painted them on which matches this guitar perfectly and sets the whole Gambler theme off. Notice how I even wore the fretboard to look original. The nut has also been aged to blend in.

PHOTO BELOW: Here you can see the dovetail Ralph rebuilt and I just had to install some dot markers. Notice I used fret 9-12 instead of the original 10-12 which does depart from the way they marked them in the 1920s. But I just dont care. It's more important that this guitar is used to make music and not for a collectors item. Plus these features could be reversed if someone ever got anal about it.