Carl and August Larson of Chicago made
superb instruments from the turn of the
century through the early 1940s. Their two-man operation produced an estimated 2500
instruments under such brand names as Stahl,
Maurer, Euphonon, Prairie State, Wack, and
Dyer, but we’ve never encountered an instrument with Larson on it. They were among
the first to produce flat top guitars designed
strictly for steel strings. Their instruments are
distinctive in construction, appearance and
sound, and in my opinion these are some of
the most collectible pre-World War II flat tops
other than Martin and Gibson.
National metalbody resonator guitars, late
1920s to late 1930s
National’s concept of a resonator guitar was
an evolutionary dead end in the quest for a
louder guitar, but the metalbody models are
still highly sought for blues-oriented music.
The woodbody Nationals do not have the
same Golden Era status as the metal models.
What makes a Golden Era instrument?
apparent that these instruments are not only
superbly made, but they are not copies of
instruments that came before them. They
introduced innovative design concepts so that
they were effectively not competing with any
used instruments of the day. Moreover, these
innovations brought their designs to perfection. One element of the safety of an investment in a Golden Era instrument is the fact
that it is not likely to be replaced by a new
design. Virtually all of the significant acoustic
guitar designs that are popular today have
been in place since the mid-1930s. While I
certainly do not rule out the possibility that a
modern maker could come up with a major,
innovative new design, with the possible
exception of a truly great sounding acoustic-electric, there is no obvious need to be filled,
such as the need for a louder guitar in the
days of the big bands.
Golden Era guitars are also considered to be
of higher quality than even the most accurate
new reissues. While the level of craftsmanship may be better today in some cases, the
materials – in particular old-growth, air-dried
wood – are not available. In addition, few-makers today use hide glue, and the lacquer
Early 1930s National Style 4
formulas available today are quite different
from those of the 1920s through the 1960s.
Consequently, in the years since Martin’s
Golden Era, hundreds of companies and individual luthiers have made guitars modeled
on a 1937 D- 28, but no copy or reissue of a
Martin has ever been viewed as being truly
equal to the originals of the 1930s.
As with any investment, there are no guarantees, but the Golden Era instruments have
proven over the past three-plus decades to be
the “blue chips” of the vintage guitar market,
with steadier growth and fewer “corrections”
than the stock market.
has been dealing vintage guitars since the 1960s. Gruhn’s
Guide to Vintage Guitars (co-written with Walter Carter)
is the “bible” for vintage collectors. Visit gruhn.com or