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rare Odell branded Vega 'D26' model archtop guitar
This is an auction for an extremely rare example of a Vega guitar (sold under their Odell name) that was made somewhere in the late 30's-early 50's. Getting a precise year on this model is difficult, as there are no accurate listings for Vega's guitar serial numbers (which seem to differ from ones they did for their banjo's) although this number appears to be an earlier one with a four digit number rather than the more common five digits. I have shown the serial number on the original label (that is the same as 30's ones I have seen). I have owned a couple of other Vega archtops in time including a lovely flamed C66 in blonde that I was a fool for selling. At the time I thought it was an old man's guitar. Now I guess I am an old man, because I really appreciate the quality that comes with a carved top archtop. Which was why I was excited to get a crack at this D26 model before you. It is a lovely guitar with a terrific sound. Would I not have just bought a higher end pre-War Gibson that I can hardly afford, this guitar would not be coming up for sale.
While the solid mahogany neck was clearly made by Vega, the carved spruce and solid maple body was made by Harmony in Chicago. It is one of the most deluxe offerings of theirs I have seen in recent years and is reminiscent what they offered with their high end Cremona lines. It has the body factory model stamp visible in it (a H1456 number which seem to correspond to a Monterey model, but this guitar is different from that in many ways). It has a 30's circular date stamp that is difficult to make out, but looks like '37' something to my eyes. Check the photos. And that circular style stamp is what they used in the 30's (and in the 50's it would be a square stamp like this one). That would put the body manufacturing to 1937 roughly. Which makes a lot of sense, as Harmony did not seem to do very much with deluxe carved top archtops after WWII as they did before.
As I said, this body shares more in common with Pre-War carved Cremona models more than any other Harmony I have seen (and not much at all with the Monterey model whose number it shares). It is an amazing piece of work. It is possible this body sat around the Harmony factory or at the Vega factory during WWII and were used up afterwards. I am not sure. It is true that most 50's Vega guitars with Harmony made bodies did not have a carved top (to my knowledge) and had a lighter colored sunburst than this one has. The dark black sunburst is a lot like the ones on 30's Harmony made Vogue and Orpheum branded models that also had a carved top. The unbranded Kluson 'single' tuners are tuners used in the 30's to 50's, so they are not a great help in pinning down the date, unfortunately. Making matters worse, it appears as though Vega made this model from the late 30's through to early 60's! If anyone has more info on this I would love to hear it. Some of the mysteries are hard to solve with total certainty, but I always try to put forward the best evidence I can find on it all. I think I have done my best presenting the case on it, and I hope that it finds a good home with someone.
Very little is known or recorded about this 'Odell' brand name (or specific Vega guitar history, really!), but it seems to be a sort of secondary brand name they used to get their product into more places. For example, there would be a Vega dealer on one side of the street and an Odell on the other. Gibson had Kalamzoo and others, and later Epiphone and employed this tactic to great success. It seems that Odell models do not vary much from the Vega branded versions. Or at all. The D26 model appears to have had been supplied with and without a pickup. I am not sure what this one landed with, it seems to be rigged up so that it COULD have a pickup (with the hole near the tailpiece for the wiring that would have been there and a spot at the end of the fingerboard without binding...), but it also appears to have once had a Dearmond floating Rhythm Chief at one point in its life! Talk about maximum confusion. It is possible its original tailpiece and pickup were removed in favor of the Dearmond (or the original died). Who knows for sure. It has a metal tailpiece similar to what Kay and Harmony used around the WWII era. So I do not know. Here is a video from a Japanese Youtube website of a guitar without a pickup, and here is a small entry on the Harmony website I love showing one with it! It seems that the D designation was for Duo Tron pickups...usually...not always?
Vega has a wonderful (and still under appreciated) history of making premier American archtops, flat tops, mandolins, early electric guitars, lap steels, and of course banjos. Their forward looking designs of the 30's and 40's were unique and memorable, and were certainly as well regarded as much in the professional musician circle as Gibson and Epiphone guitars were. They were a Boston based company who were in the forefront of production on the East Coast in this period, and their instruments show up on many stages of the Big Band greats. They began getting guitar bodies from the Chicago Harmony factory some time around WWII (or shortly after), and it seems they were completely from Harmony by the 60's. I had trouble finding a lot of reliable information on some of these details of their guitar making as it seems most of the focus of collectors lands on their banjos, which is understandable as they made some great banjos! It seems like a lot of once great brands like Supro, Harmony, Kay, and others they were shuttered by the time the 70's rolled around. Martin purchased their name and used it for a line of strings and import instruments, but they really share absolutely nothing with original classic offerings out of the Boston factory. I encourage anyone interested in a general history of Vega's origins to read more about them here.
The construction of this guitar is top notch. It has a solid Adirondack Spruce top that has been hand carved. You can stick a finger into any spot around the soundholes and feel the rough edge left from shaving the top down. It is very lovely in terms of grain, also. It has loads of 'bear claw' figuring to it near the bridge area on both sides as you can see in the photos. This unusual grain pattern is highly prized among players of all kinds of guitars as a sign of age and quality of the top. I used to be skeptical, but after having played some of the best sounding guitars I have seen and realizing so many of them have this pattern to the wood, I believe there is something to this phenomenon. This top has more of that pattern than I have ever seen on any other archtop guitar! The back and sides are a solid maple. The fingerboard is a dark grained Brazilian with cool white abalone pearl inlays. The neck is made out of a solid mahogany and has a nice shape. It is more slender than your average Harmony of this era, but it is a profile I found myself enjoying quite a bit. It reminds me a lot of 40's Epiphone necks I have owned for sure. Check the photos below for a measurement on the nut width. The top has multiple layers of binding to it, and the back and neck both have a thick white celluloid common in this era. It has some cracks in the bindings in places from shrinkage, but all of that has been addressed (more on that later). The finish it has is a high gloss original nitro cellulose finish that looks great. The old style 'black sunburst' on it rules the roost, and it has the right amount of patina and wear like it should to get any collector weak in the knees. This has been well played as you can see in the finish, and the tone is killer as a result.
This guitar has a wonderful setup on it as it is. The neck is straight and true, and the truss rod works well. The action is low enough to get going really fast up the neck, but not so low that it looses acoustic volume or sustain. It is sitting in the 'sweet spot' so to say. In fact, the sustain on it is sick! Hit a chord, make a sandwich, watch the evening news, and come back and that chord is still ringing. It is amazing feature you can hear on the sound files below. I have shown a photo of the action at the 12th fret for anyone curious. The action is really even all the way up. The frets have a lot of life in it and appear to be the original medium high ones with a flat crown like 40's Gibsons had. It is really a joy to play and does not have so much as a single dead spot to speak of. Its setup has obviously had a lot of attention paid to it. The intonation is perfect all the way up the neck which is in part thanks to the beefy compensated original Brazilian bridge. It looks as though the bridge was glued down at one point (as you can see in the photos) and has some loss of finish and so forth below it. No big deal, though. The original bone nut is in good shape, as are the original Kluson 'single' tuners you see. They work great at keeping it in tune. It seems that everything on this guitar has been attended to in pursuit of getting it to sound and play the best it possibly can.
Which is nice for it to be so comfortable to play, because it sounds fantastic. I found this one lingering on the B wall of a high end vintage store in town, and it wholeheartedly smoked the two Gibson guitars I picked up before it. It is was interesting that no one there seemed to notice it even had a carved top. My heart leaped when I realized this fact and saw its meager price tag. It seems it had been overlooked to a large degree, but its sound spoke loud to me the instant I strummed it. It has a refined and highly detailed delivery. And as you can hear from the soundfiles, its dynamic and flexible character is clear to come across with a pick or bare fingers. It seemed to rise to greet every aggressive strum I laid into it with, and float lazily with every fingerpicking riff I put it to. The top end is clear and tight and overly aggressive. It is clean and punchy and not brash. The low end is lovely on it! The piano like bass is great for so many rhythmic change ups, and I demonstrate how it will do a wicked Gypsy jazz or rockabilly type voice with ease. It has been a while since I have played a Harmony made guitar with such 'high end' characteristics. It is very much in league with some of the most sought after guitars of its era in terms of tone. It would be a great jazz box or wonderful for a soulful blues fingerpicking guitar. It would excel as a country or old time music type of strummer, too. And is perfectly suited for an intimate solo singer songwriter thing as well. It is versatile in its voice and well suited to have in even the most seasoned players arsenal. It would also be a nice upgrade for someone wanting to move into a more serious guitar from something like a birch top Harmony or Godin 5th Avenue archtop.
Issues? Well, I will say that this guitar has had a ton of professional work done to it in terms of crack repair (check out the photo of the inside shot showing a cleat installed in the back). It has more than a couple of cracks on it, but they have all been fixed. And fixed better than most I have seen. This was a local guitar and the work looks like the work of Hoffman in Minneapolis (who are the best there is in town). It gets really dry in our cold Minnesota winters, and this guitar is all solid, so it is an easy victim if it was tucked away in a closet and forgotten about. The worst one seems to be a small Y shaped one on the bass side of the tailpiece. But, as I said, they have all been healed. And with that there is some binding repair where it has shrunk. Not unusual either. What else? The G tuner's post is bent slightly. I cannot think of much else to say about it. I included a ton of pictures. Check them out. Ask any questions you have!
Here I am strumming it from about three feet away with a medium pick in a mellow jazzy way...
Here are some more sound files to click on and hear streaming audio, it was fun recording these...
...a killer sound with just open chords...
...some single notes with a nice punch on the low end...
...an absolutely top notch fingerstyle sound...
...some killer sounding uptempo swing era chords...
...a bit of bluesy fingerstyle with a serious low end and then a pick comes along...
...listen to how lovely it sounds here with a heavy pick a little closer...
...nice sparkle on this one...
...a bit of a 60's vibe here...
...some soloing with a jazz pick...
...open chords fingerstyle with a huge tone...
...some more jazz flavored solo picking...
...a rapid fire scale closer to the guitar...
...nice 'stop on a dime' attack on this one...
...with an old time Americana/Bluegrass feel...
...some minor Gypsy/Jazz strumming and picking with a heavy pick...
...a long one in an open tuning...
...finally, a long and mellow jazzy blues solo...
This vintage Vega comes without a case, but I have a ton of them if you want one. Probably would add $20-30 to the auction after it ends, depending on the case. I did not include one because I did not get one with it. It is a pretty cool guitar, though. Did I mention it is starting at 99 cents? Did I forget to take my brain medicine again??
This guitar is not warrantied in any way due to its condition and age. Bidders be warned. Auction is as is, no returns whatsoever. UPS Ground or Expedited US Postal Service in the USA. I prefer a certified cashiers check from bidders in the US, but take I Paypal as well. Paypal only on international bidders, please email me for your shipping rates oustide the 48 contiental states. Payments must be made or confirmed within 48 hours (unless otherwise stated by me personally) or I move to the next bidder on the list. I hope this goes to a happy home! Please do not bid unless you have the money to buy it and plan on following through with your bid. Don't blame me if you grow warts on your face when you don't pay. Its the spirirts' will, not mine. I know this is not of the majority, so thanks for bearing with me. All sounds, songs, and images are copyrighted material, so pirate them at your own peril. Seriously, I have a team of trained rabid attack dogs that do nothing but cruise the internet looking for interlopers to feed upon. You probably aren't even reading this, but if you are...beware their wrath. Anyways...feel free to ask questions! I am going to be doing some remodeling this week in my home, so there may be a day or two in there that my internet connection is down, but never fear...I will answer your questions as fast as I can. Email me if you want to see any more pictures, I have tons of them that probably did not make it into the massive picture show below because I am nuts about this guitar! Thanks!
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