Ca. 1930 Vega Tenor Guitar

The original Vega company is primarily remembered for its banjos and mandolins, but it made some fine guitars as well. Its model naming system was highly inconsistent until the debut of the carved-top series: guitars were assigned letters, numbers or words, seemingly at the whim of whoever wrote the catalog. The 1931 guitar line included the Cremona, 03 Special, and the highly imaginative Rosewood Guitar and Mahogany Guitar (both available in several sizes). The tenor model was given an uninspired name, but this is somewhat more reasonable since there was only one of its kind listed: it was called, simply, the Tenor Guitar.

This model was probably introduced around the same time as Vega’s tenor lute line, which as announced in 1926. A couple of late 1920s booklets feature the Tenor-Guitar and Tenor-Lute [written with hyphens] as a logical pair, two sides of the same coin. They do indeed share the same fretboard, though the timbres of each are quite distinct. The Tenor Guitar has a sweeter, milder tone with slightly less volume, while the Tenor Lute is relatively brash and can be heard several counties away. Both were advertised as a way for banjo players to double on an instrument with more sustain and a rounder sound.

The Tenor Guitar was initially built with the neck joint at the 12th fret in keeping with the norm for 6-string guitars at the time. However, 14-fret guitars were becoming increasingly popular, and tenor banjo players were used to playing all 17 or 19 frets on their instruments. The neck was extended and the soundhole and bridge moved to enable access to higher frets. This guitar sports a 14-fret neck joint, while the 1931 catalog shows an Odell Tenor Guitar (Odell was Vega’s budget brand at the time) with a 15-fret neck. Plectrum guitars appear to have been similarly adjusted. Both versions have the same 12 5/8” lower bout (somewhat misleadingly called a “full standard size body” in the catalog), giving them roughly the same silhouette as a Martin size 1.

While I have not found any catalog pictures showing tenor or plectrum guitars bearing pickguards, at least one Vega plectrum guitar out there has a factory-original guard inlaid into its top. My tenor’s pickguard appears to be original as well. Most surviving Vega tenor and plectrum flat-tops have the earlier 12-fret neck joint. Most likely, Vega only built the newer versions for a short time before replacing them with the custom-order tenor and plectrum variations on their carved-top guitar line. The compensated bridge saddle seems to have been introduced toward the end as well, which is further evidence that this is one of the last Vega flat-top tenors. Vega definitely made at least one more as a custom order with a jumbo body around 1950, but the only tenors mentioned in catalogs after the early 1930s were archtops.

 

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