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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles

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georgiacdt - Posted - 09/13/2009:  09:35:00

I uploaded pictures of my Stella . Don't really know the age . I guess around 1900-1920? What do you think?

Bill Rogers - Posted - 09/13/2009:  11:21:35

Per Mugwumps, that's a brand name of Oscar Schmidt. Your guess on when is probably pretty good. Could be early 20s too. Looks like a usable intrument, especially if you put geared tuners on it. Is that an original Kerschner tailpiece?


tfaux - Posted - 09/13/2009:  11:50:13

My first guitar and second daughter were/are both Stellas. Couldn't do any better.
(I've got a picture posted too.)


georgiacdt - Posted - 09/13/2009:  12:44:11

It's a Waverly tailpiece I installed probably 15to20 years old. I also installed tunners.

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 09/13/2009:  20:28:11

From the shape of the heel I would say the neck was made by Harmony - which did own Stella at one time. he hardware (going by the shoes) is Slingerlands which sold a lot of hardware to other Chicago companies. Stella might have been owned by Schmidt at one time or another too, but those things get pretty interwound after a while.

I remember the day the original Stella 12 string guitar came into the shop where I worked. It was huge, and just BOOMED. I think that instrument was made in Texas but I might be dis-remembering. It has been close to 50 years and the construction style seemed related to the Mexican guitars I sold in those days.
Rocket Science Banjo - Advanced Clawhammer Techniques for beginners and long time players alike. Plus videos and 25-40 EZ Clawhammer Tunes.
& check out "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" at:
banjo brad's great banjo site

Chris Berry - Posted - 09/14/2009:  00:55:39

Neil Harpe's the fellow to ask about these:

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 09/14/2009:  15:23:44

Well, I guess that is close enough to Texas in the mind of a 19 year old working in Boston.
I probably got the Stella confused with some of the Guitarones and Baja Sextos we had float in and out.

Thanks for the link.
Rocket Science Banjo - Advanced Clawhammer Techniques for beginners and long time players alike. Plus videos and 25-40 EZ Clawhammer Tunes.
& check out "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" at:
banjo brad's great banjo site

neilharpe - Posted - 10/02/2009:  05:45:53

Until the company went belly-up in 1939, Stella instruments were made in Jersey City, NJ by the Oscar Schmidt Company. Your Stella banjo was probably made before 1925. The 1921 catalog lists fifteen different 5-string banjos with prices ranging from $3.00 to $18.00. By 1925, Oscar Schmidt's 5-string models had dwindled - surpassed by a steadily increasing number of tenor banjo models. During the latter half of the "Roaring Twenties, Schmidt sold more inexpensive entry-level tenors than any other manufacturer.

Your banjo is a mid-level instrument. It fits the catalog description for Model No. 926, which sold for $5.40. Judging by catalog prices, The O. Schmidt Company's motto must've been "The more brackets the better". One model was described as having a whopping 50 brackets! I thought this had to be a misprint until I had an example of that model in my hands!

Neil Harpe

Edited by - neilharpe on 10/02/2009 10:43:36

mwc9725e - Posted - 10/02/2009:  08:36:34

Originally posted by georgiacdt

I uploaded pictures of my Stella . Don't really know the age . I guess around 1900-1920? What do you think?

I can't tell for sure from the pictures, but it looks a lot like a supertone to me. If so, your gues for the age is probably pretty close.

majikgator - Posted - 10/03/2009:  16:15:15

hi Georgaicdt - nice old banjo, i noticed the Young Harris, yes and i guess Chip is around Blairsville, one of my favorite areas in the world up that way, i miss it down in flat Floida, but i love it here too. i wonder is this the same Oscar Schmidt company that's still around today and is there any relation to Stella guitars?


Edited by - majikgator on 10/03/2009 16:16:41

neilharpe - Posted - 10/04/2009:  05:18:01

As a manufacturer of musical instruments, the "Oscar Schmidt" name has been around since before 1900. At one time, the company was reputed to have been the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the world. They made a great many types of instruments from the most modest to some very fancily appointed instruments. The O. Schmidt Company made literally hundreds of different instruments: guitars of every discription as well as loads of banjos, mandolins, tiples, ukuleles, zithers, ukelins, autoharps, accordions and more!

However, they did not survive the Great Depression and in 1939, their fretted instrument business was sold to the Harmony Company. And so ended more than fifty years of fretted instrument building in Jersey City, NJ. The company continued well into the postwar era as a much smaller concern, making their popular "Autoharp" line.

Under Harmony ownership, much of the former company's instrument line was dropped. But Harmony continued using the "Stella" name for their cheapest line of guitars and mandolins. They also acquired the "Sovereign" name from Schmidt, which was applied to some of their banjos as well as their better grade of guitars.

A third Schmidt brand was "La Scala". That name had been used by Schmidt primarily for their fanciest instruments, most notably a line of deluxe tenor banjos. I have yet to see any clues that Harmony ever used the "La Scala" name for any of their products.

The Oscar Schmidt name is still around today (but in name only - so to speak). The name now belongs to a company that markets instruments mainly made in Asia. These latter day O. S. instruments have nothing in common with the Schmidt instruments of old, save the name.

Neil Harpe

Edited by - neilharpe on 10/05/2009 04:25:05

tfaux - Posted - 10/04/2009:  05:54:45

Nice history Neil. When did Harmony sell the name?

neilharpe - Posted - 10/04/2009:  06:57:13

The Chicago based Harmony Company sailed into the sunset some time in the mid 1970s. I don't have a date for the occassion. Howver, the name "Harmony" still lives on, apparently now based in Asia. In fact, a few years ago, they "reissued" some Asian-made "copies" of the lowly Harmony "Stella" insruments. The resulting instruments were not near as good as the (argueably pretty awful) instruments they were attempting to revive! Fortunately the guitar buying public yawned and pretty much ignored their effort.

It is a shame that so many American companies have fallen by the wayside. At least the names "Stella" and "Harmony" and a few others live on. Not so true of other products. Think: Packard, Duesenberg, DeSoto, Hudson, Studebaker, Rambler, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, etc!

Neil Harpe

Edited by - neilharpe on 10/04/2009 10:28:24

brokenstrings - Posted - 10/04/2009:  20:25:50

Stella Banjos?? No kidding!


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

neilharpe - Posted - 10/05/2009:  06:16:56

No Kidding, Jessy! Stella banjos came in a great many styles. Some of the better grade Stella 5-strings have a great "plunky" tone ideal for clawhammer playing. Especially those with heavier (approx. 5/8") maple pots. I've never seen a Stella banjo with a "tone ring", but some Sovereign banjos came equipped with a ring similar to that of a Vega "little Wonder".

Stella tenors are frequently seen on Ebay. Most are the "el Cheapo" model with very thin, unclad shell and a one-piece resonator turned on a lathe. They are recognizable by the decal on headstock that depicts theatrical "comedy/tragedy" masks. I can imagine scores of scantily clad flappers and fratboys in raccoon coats, all drinking "bootleg hooch" and strumming their Stella banjos back in the Roaring Twenties.

"Frailaway Ladies"...Isn't that the song that warns about doing drywall work outdoors? "Don't sheet rock the patio".

Neil Harpe

Banjowik - Posted - 10/05/2009:  15:40:58

Just for interest sake I got some photos of a 50 hook Lyon and Healy on my homepage.

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