1930s Vega C-70

I have a few preferences when it comes to acoustic archtops: I like guitars built by Vega, I prefer small bodies, and, to be honest, I like fancy trim. Sometimes everything just comes together brilliantly, as in the guitar pictured above.

It's a model C-70 from somewhere between 1934 and 1938. Vega was one of the premier acoustic archtop builders at the time, the equal of anything Epiphone or Gibson was building in terms of sound, playability, and overall quality. This was the next-to-top of the line model, selling at $200 plus $16.50 for the case; it was certainly stunning enough to feature in advertisements of the day. Some deluxe features are cosmetic, such as the large inlays, gold-plated hardware and checkerboard binding, but some are functional as well: this guitar has a back carved out of solid, bookmatched Brazilian rosewood. It’s an indication of material prices at the time that the deluxe C-80 actually reverted to figured maple like Vega’s mid-priced archtop guitar models.

A number of the cosmetic features are borrowed from Vega's banjo line (Vega is primarily remembered for their banjos, which are among the most collectable ever made). The "Vegaphone" name on the headstock was previously a line of banjos; I don't know why they decided to inlay it on a guitar, but by 1938 the guitars sensibly bore the "Vega" name instead. The fret markers are inlayed plastic blocks that have been scratched deeply, with ink filling the grooves. Not surprisingly, the ink has worn away in a few areas. The idea was actually borrowed from the banjo line (see my 1932 Vega Moderne, for example).

The guitar's most surprising feature has to be its tailpiece, a Kauffman "Vib-Rola" vibrato. The vibrato in general was a fairly new invention when the guitar was built; the patent was applied for in 1929 and granted in 1932, though this one still says "pat. pend". It did not come as stock hardware, but was probably added shortly after the guitar was first purchased. It was the first vibrato unit ever to be mass-produced, and the mechanism operates 90 degrees from what we're used to (the arm moves parallel to the top of the body, not up and down). It has a reputation for throwing guitars out of tune, but mine doesn't seem to cause any problems. It's a subtle effect, with a smaller range than even a Bigsby, but it works. These were the days when electric guitars were a new phenomenon, so nobody felt that vibratos had to be confined to electrics.

The guitar is quite easy to play after all these years. The neck has a chunky, round profile and has only a small amount of relief; Vega’s non-adjustable reinforcing rods were not always so effective. The original bridge base was replaced to allow the saddle to be lowered far enough, but aside from this and the tailpiece there are no replacement parts. Even the original case is in remarkably clean condition. The sound is superb: individual notes are clear and bright, but when you strum a chord the bass frequencies seem to multiply. It has lot of projection, particularly on the treble strings; I have taken to using a mixed gauge (12-56) to accentuate the bass strings and improve the overall balance.