1951 Vega Triumphal

While documentation of Vega products is sometimes sketchy, it’s clear that a number of their electric models survived from the late 1930s into the early 1950s. The changes were often minimal – perhaps an updated headstock logo – so that it can be difficult to date Vega’s electric guitars with precision. The single-coil pickups used on their guitars and lap steels remained essentially unchanged for around 15 years; apparently, they were only abandoned when Vega began to outsource pickup production to the Franz company in the mid 1950s.

The mainstays of Vega’s lap steel line during this period were the Triumphal and Commander models, both of which remained structurally unchanged for a very long time. The Commander’s appearance remained consistent with a gleaming black finish, while the more expensive Triumphal appeared under several different finishes. Early examples were black, while later ones had a natural finish over a flamed maple veneer. At some point (probably the late 1940s), a striking sunburst finish was offered on the Triumphal as well.

This is an example of the last iteration of the Triumphal, which was discontinued by 1954 at the latest (the pot codes on mine date to 1951). It was updated with a new blonde finish – actually two shades of blonde, with a lighter one near the edges of the fretboard and on the front of the headstock. This opaque color may have been introduced to eliminate the need for flamed veneers as well as update the Triumphal for the “plastic” look of the early 1950s. Along those same lines, the metal hand rest was replaced by a plastic cover that fit over the bridge and pickup. This one is black and white, but I have seen gold ones as well. These covers would be used on Vega’s solidbody electric guitars later in the 1950s.

The most significant change, though, was the addition of a second tone control. It affects a higher frequency range than the other knob and its effect is subtle at best, but it still represents an attempt to increase the versitility of the instrument. Almost as notable was a change in the pickup: the introduction of adjustable poles. In fact, I have seen an otherwise identical Triumphal with the old non-adjustable poles, so all these changes may not have occurred at the same time. The only questionable aspect of this instrument’s design is that the poles do not line up with the strings; I suspect that this pickup was originally intended for a Spanish-style guitar rather than the wider string spacing of a lap steel.

Vega discontinued the Triumphal model not long after this version was introduced. The company may have seen the first indications that the steel market was retreating in favor of Spanish-style electric guitars, since Vega introduced their first solidbody model in 1954. The Commander model remained in catalogs, but it too was probably gone by the end of the decade.