Sovereign Standard Size Koa Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, made by Oscar Schmidt , c. 1930

Sovereign Standard Size Koa Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, made by Oscar Schmidt ,  c. 1930
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Item # 10288
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Sovereign Standard Size Koa Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, made by Oscar Schmidt, c. 1930, made in Jersey City, NJ, serial # 05463, natural lacquer finish, koa body, mahogany neck with pearloid fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

This guitar is a very interesting and quite playable example of a rare original koa wood standard size flat-top made by the Oscar Schmidt Company, creators of the signature instruments prized by fingerstyle blues pickers everywhere. It is branded "Sovereign", one of the classic names familiar to pre-war blues fans, but was originally intended for a different audience: Hawaiian musicians. It is made of genuine Hawaiian koa wood and has a very flashy look compared with actual guitars made in the islands with its faux-pearl trim and engraved celluloid fingerboard and headstock. The "Sovereign" brand was generally used on higher-grade instruments than the "Stella" marque, and this is a good example of that.

This is a fairly fancy-looking piece but also a good quality guitar for this maker. The body has lovely grained solid Hawaiian koa on the back, sides, and top. The top and back edges and sound hole ring are decorated with a unique faux pearl which is actually fairly convincing, at first glance anyway. This is bordered with several layers of wood and a celluloid outer edge. The neck is genuine mahogany (many Schmidts are poplar) with pearl celluloid covering the fingerboard and headstock. The decorative elements appear to be engraved but were actually hot-stamped into the plastic, especially noticeable on this one as the stamper appears to have struck twice!

Internally the original ladder top bracing is intact and unaltered; it has not been converted to X-bracing as was once a common treatment. Under the sound hole is a stamped serial number, something rarely seen on Schmidt factory instruments. The guitar has other typical Schmidt characteristics including the position marker at the 10th fret, a slightly canted heelcap, and a particular design of wide-ended pyramid bridge. The mahogany neck has a softer "V" profile than many older Stella guitars. The typically angled slotted headstock is faced in pearloid with the "Sovereign" and gleaming crown logo, fitted with typical period openback strip tuners.

This guitar is a nice playing instrument, though obviously not up to period Martin or Gibson standards. It remains nearly all original and has a nice punchy sound, with a tighter response than some birch or poplar guitars and a lot of detailed high end. The koa adds a brightness without diminishing a rich and fairly even response to the tone. This guitar remains in far better and more original condition than many Jersey City instruments from the period, a lovely playable piece of Oscar Schmidt history and a cool guitar for period blues, hillbilly or Hawaiian styles or just general use.
 
Overall length is 36 3/4 in. (93.3 cm.), 12 5/8 in. (32.1 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 9/16 in. (9 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 13/16 in. (46 mm.).

Oscar Schmidt guitars, in particular early koa examples like this, have rarely survived the nearly 100 years since their construction without some issues creeping in. This guitar shows some relatively minor wear and repair but remains in better and more original condition than most period Schmidt instruments. The finish has dings, dents and scrapes overall, most notably on the back. The top finish has been polished out to more of a matte patina, but not oversprayed. There was a pickguard screwed (but not glued) to the top long ago, leaving two small filled holes behind.

The guitar has had the neck reset, a solid job but leaving minor scarring at the heel. There is a small area of impact damage on the side below the heel, with several short lateral cracks sealed up without any added finish. Apart from this the koa body shows no other cracks, which is little short of miraculous. There is some minor shrinking to the compound binding, but no deterioration.

The pyramid bridge is the original and does not appear to have been cut down; it has been re-attached at least once. The saddle and even the composite bridgepins appear original as well. The original openback strip tuners are still intact and functional. The original frets show hardly any wear, we would guess the guitar was most likely played Hawaiian style when new.

This lovely if slight kitschy guitar has a punchy sound and is quite playable, although the unaltered original flat-radius celluloid fingerboard may take some adjustment for the player accustomed to more modern setups. This old Koa guitar would still make a wonderful Hawaiian style instrument (with a nut raiser) as it was likely intended and is a fine fingerpicking and blues machine as well. Overall Excellent - Condition.