Jump to content
Gibson Brands Forums
Sign in to follow this  
NickRguitar

The Michigan- 1930s-1960s guitar brand

Recommended Posts

I have seen many people asking about this brand while I have read much that is erroneous or plain wrong although a number of people have managed to get to the bottom of this enigma, it has not been publicised. Basically, the music dealer Beare & Son Ltd of London, with a branch in Toronto for many years, is an old-established instrument dealer-now over 150 years old and still going strong.

 

Back in the 1930s this company was a big Gibson dealer in London and Toronto- it is featured in Paul Fox's book "The Other Brands of Gibson". Like many retailers of that era- Selmer in London, which created the "Columbian" brand for US imports, Beare & Son Ltd or B & S L as it says on the badge created "The Michigan" as its own US import brand. There was a huge guitar boom in the UK in the 1930s and banjos were being tossed aside to be replaced by guitars- and American guitars had that extra appeal- that's where the music was coming from. In the 1930s from what I can deduce, these guitars were made in Chicago- Regal, Harmony and Kay. A little oval badge was nailed on the headstock and a sticky badge that was the same was also inside. The badge also stated "SOLE AGENTS" and "MADE IN USA." Now, a number of people have connected this brand with Beare & Son Ltd but plenty of people, it seems think that because it was The Michigan then there must be a Gibson connection. This is not the case- obviously, Michigan was the home of Gibson and the choice of that state as a brand name was redolent Big Time with a certain well-known instrument maker!

 

Beare & Son retailed Gibson brands in the UK and Canada but unlike Francis,Day & Hunter with its FDH Special, did not sell Gibson instruments under its own brand- or so it seems. I have seen a Harmony archtop from the late 1930s with a carved plastic headstock veneer that features the company's trade mark of the "cat and fiddle" a very impressive headstock, for sure and the cat & fiddle is still the company's logo. If you want to see him, there's a Beare & Son Gibson catalogue from 1936 that can be found via Google and he's on most pages with a big rendition towards the back. World War Two stopped this business and after the dust cleared and the pound sterling had sunk, guitar imports from the USA were a distant memory and the firm imported guitars from Europe- mostly the Eastern Bloc. The badge was the same but the MADE IN USA had gone.

 

Quite often, The Michigan branded guitars from the 1930s show up on ebay, and the sellers do not know what they have. Most of these guitars are clearly exactly the same as the Regal, Kay and Harmony originals but the name throws people. Attributing guitars to Gibson is not unusual when you do not know its origin and with a brand like The Michigan it is assumed that the guitars were made in that state- so, they are from Gibson. Now, if Beare & Son Ltd had called the brand The Illinois, this would not happen- or less often!Anyway, I hope this clears up matters and helps people to ascertain the true maker of these guitars and the odd mandolin, as well. To conclude, I have a date stamped Harmony H1265 Valencia sold as a Michigan- it's not a Gibson- it's a Harmony guitar, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot make it into a Gibson! I have seen someone turn a 1936 Regal into a Kalamazoo on ebay- but that's just plain wrong and should be stopped.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting this. Good information. [thumbup]

 

 

Virtually all guitars sold in the UK in the 1930s were made overseas- the USA, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Italy- very few in the UK- banjos were different- but guitars were made in very small numbers. The big British dealers sold US made guitars but many of the less expensive guitars were branded by these firms, themselves. J E Dallas of London- a very big name in music history had at least six brands and four of its brands had instruments made in Schonbach, Czecholovakia- second only, back then in stringed instrument manufacture, to Chicago. One was called Martin Coletti and this name lasted over 30 years. However, in the 1930s, these Martin Coletti guitars were entitled "American Model Guitars." Basically, the workshops in Schonbach were contracted to make a relatively close copy of an American guitar but in the case of this brand- they had an art deco headstock. The label was actually signed by "Martin Coletti"- presumably some employee of J E Dallas in London. However, I have seen it stated out in the internet that this was two families- one being C F Martin's family and the other being "Coletti" and they had contributed to these designs. This is pure moonshine- but it is out there and will not go away. There was an European Guitar site that was hacked to death and one contributor had a Coletti branded guitar that was an exact copy of a 13 fret Nick Lucas Special! However, I have a 1935 Martin Coletti Lyric G80- the top-of-the-range guitar sold by J E Dallas under this brand and this conforms to most of the Nick Lucas features and is an amazing guitar. However, it does not look like a copy- unlike that other guitar. I think that J E Dallas toyed with a close copy and decided not to upset Gibson and they came up with the over-the-top deco headstock instead! There is a Schonbach Guitar Gallery and you can go to where the Dallas brands are featured. The collector does not have a Lyric G80- and I have never seen another- mine was owned by fingerpicker maestro Martin Simpson and I bought it off a friend of his for a very low price. I have a copy of the page in the Dallas catalogue and this guitar retailed for nearly double the price of the Martin Coletti hand-carved archtop. I have no idea why it is so much more expensive as a flat top but it certainly sounds amazing! The 1930s were a very interesting time in the UK for guitar retailing- it is commonly thought that rock 'n' roll and skiffle led to the guitar boom but it was underway in the 1930s despite the Depression. Having a US made guitar was a badge of honour back then. However, an American Model Guitar was not bad either! My guitar maker friend who repaired my Lyric G80 has a high regard for these Schonbach instruments. His father-in-law- the late **** Knight was active in the 1930s and he knew the business really well. Sadly, when **** was alive, I did not have this interest so never asked him about that time. One of the Dallas brands- their Radiotone brand was the first guitar Pete Townshend touched his uncle's Radiotone archtop- which sold for silly money a few years back. It had a cutaway scooped from the body- but Pete had touched it! World War Two was catastrophic for Schonbach where the instrument makes were nearly all ethnic Germans. Most were expelled and some- Hofner, Framus and Hoyer started again in Germany. The remaining workshops were taken over by the state and a few decent instruments were made. However, most were mass produced cheap instruments, so the wonderful pre-1939 Martin Coletti guitars were replaced by very poor cheap guitars using the same brand but were less than impressive. Just across the border in East Germany at Markneukirchen where C F Martin had come from, some reasonable guitars were made and many were imported into the UK. Of course, by the late 1950s, exchange control and import restrictions were lifted and American brands came back to the UK and some people paid small fortunes for Gibson and Gretsch then Fender guitars! However, you could buy Czech made electric guitars- the Futurama- like George Harrison had and I have seen a Martin Coletti electric although I have no idea where it was made!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah.

You know Gordon then.

Then you must also know he was very ill sometime ago and has now more or less retired, and passed nearly all the business to his son.

I visited last year, and the year before for some work to be done - always such a pleasure.

I own 3 Knights; 2 archtops and a mahogany jumbo. Late 70s and 80s.

 

 

Best wishes.

Edited by jdgm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah.

You know Gordon then.

Then you must also know he was very ill sometime ago and has now more or less retired, and passed nearly all the business to his son.

I visited last year, and the year before for some work to be done - always such a pleasure.

I own 3 Knights; 2 archtops and a mahogany jumbo. Late 70s and 80s.

 

Also am fortunate enough to own a De Vekey ukelele (yes it's the rare one) which belonged to my late father; there is a Keith Prowse sticker over the label inside the soundhole.

I took this and Dad's other uke to Gordon some years ago and he said I should have shown them to D*ck, as he really knew a lot about them.

 

Best wishes.

 

Indeed, I know Gordon and he was terribly ill but appears fine now- he's put some weight back on. He still does quite a lot- he has a mandolin of mine at the moment and I am hoping to hear his cheery voice on the phone very soon asking me to remove my junk from his house! It's a poor state of affairs when a website commenting system forces you to censor a name- but if I wrote S C Knight, I would be met by blank stares, I am sure! In fact, Gordon was taken ill just after he finished gluing down the bridge of my Lyric G80. He was on good form and appeared well- I called back a couple of weeks later and Beryl told me he had had received over a three day period, emergency abdominal/intestinal surgery and was in intensive care. Luckily, he is made of stern stuff and he's his old self cracking jokes and winding one up again- like he always did! I have a Knight mandolin- his last one, which he made in 1982- which is when I met him first. As I wrote, back in those days my sphere of knowledge was limited. He told me how he had met Dave Apollon at the Palladium in 1930 and photocopied a page about him for me from Frets magazine. Of course, now you can see Dave on YouTube and learn so much that was just not available a few short years ago. There was a Knight flat top on ebay recently- maple body and really beautiful- if a bit scuffed. It was made by D*ck in 1973 for Mike Oldfield it seems- or very likely. I nearly phoned Gordon to ask him but decided to let it go- but I am sure it was wonderful. I would like to try out a Knight flat top. I played one of his archtops, that he had just made in 1983 but I don't think I did it justice! Visiting Gordon and Beryl is great fun as Gordon is such a mine of information. Of course, Beryl has been surrounded by this her whole life and she's managed to keep sane- despite it all. The last time I saw D*ck, he told me a little anecdote about the church over the road and a wedding with a Lagonda bridal car, and losing his fingers while making the framework for the body of one back in 1935. He made me laugh, but he said the chauffeur went as white as a sheet when he asked- after telling him about the car "Can I look in the boot?" and "I lost my fingers in the boot of one of these back in 1935- I wonder if they are still there?" With that, he held up his left hand. His other trick was putting two stumps directly under his nose! What a fantastic man, he was. Gordon says I need to get out a bit more!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...