In many ways, the 1930s was the decade that defined and shaped the modern acoustic guitar. On the heels of Maybelle Carter, more and more players began to use guitars as lead instruments in string bands. Relative to other instruments, guitars were also more affordable—and more portable! Not only did guitars fit depression-era budgets, but guitars were the perfect companion for thumbing a ride out on the dust-bowl or hopping in a boxcar to get to the next Juke Joint.
In today's market, '30s models often come with exorbitantly high price tags, and because of their historical significance, they mostly deserve to. Nevertheless, there were many low-cost, workingman's guitars built in the '30s, too, and perhaps these more accurately embody the era. While these guitars might not demonstrate the same level of impact on the future of the guitar industry, they can still be inspiring guitars, more than capable of capturing the sound, feel, and mojo of yesteryear.
Here's an interesting relic from the 1930s—a round-soundhole archtop guitar from Harmony! In the mid-'30s, Harmony produced a line of archtop guitars under the name "Valencia." Because of its concert-size body and round soundhole, this archtop looks most similar to the Harmony Valencia H1265, but that model was made out of Birch (or some other suitable hardwood), and this one appears to be Mahogany. It also has an interesting diamond inlay on the headstock and a stamped metal tailpiece that is different from the crude bent wire tailpiece found on H1265s. Because of that, this archtop is a bit of a mystery.
One thing we know for sure, though, is that someone put a ton of work into this one to make it sound right and play in tune. There are clear signs of a neck reset, and it looks like the "ebonized" Maple fingerboard was re-planed and refretted. Also, it sports a new rosewood bridge that was meticulously carved to allow precise intonation. The bridge was also carefully shaped to fit the peculiar shape of the top, which has distorted over time from the tension of the strings. Beyond that, it has a repaired back crack, and its original tuners hold tune as they should.
All-in-all, this guitar plays and sounds way better than it should. While comparable examples may be relegated to "wall hanger" status, this Valencia has tons of songs left in the tank! Thanks to all of the restoration work, it plays clean and true all over the fingerboard, and its tone is rich and warm. It includes a way-cool vintage chipboard case.