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Stella Guitars - An Essential Ingredient For Playing Blues Music

Stella Guitar - Birth Of The BluesStella was a brand of guitars owned and operated by the Oscar Schmidt Company and was founded around 1899. The company produced low to mid level stringed instruments. The Stella guitar was great for playing blues music, and were played by several notable artists including Leadbelly and Charlie Patton. Doc Watson began playing on a Stella guitar.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana played an acoustic Stella guitar on the recording of the song Polly from the Nevermind album. Stella was acquired by the Harmony Company in nineteen thirty nine, and the brand was dissolved in the 70s. It has since been reintroduced by M.B.T. International, which now owns the Harmony company.

The example below features an MP3 of a pre-war Stella played in the open tuning slide style:

Stella Harmony Blues Guitar Slide.mp3

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Article I found about Stella instruments:

We all have had them and we all love them. The number of baby boomers who started guitar lessons on a Harmony student guitar was great. They were affordable and quite playable. The student guitars made by the Harmony Guitar Co. of Chicago were readily available to the masses. Most music stores carried them along with a whole assortment of mail order catalogues. Sears, who owned the Harmony Company, made these guitars available to their customers under the Silvertone Label.

Sears Catalog With Stella Range Of Guitars and PricesMost of the guitars I see appear to be from the sixties. Mainly because of the guitar boom during the Beatles generation, there were a large number of guitars sold at this time. Harmony made more than one half of all the guitars made in this county, more than all the other manufactures together. Most of these were the flat top acoustics. Many a beginner started with a sunburst Stella by Harmony. Harmony bought the Stella name in 1939 and continued to make them as a low-end student guitar. Using the Stella registered trademark, they marketed these student guitars for the masses. These small body guitars still show up from time to time. Most have a floating wood bridge with the pressed metal tailpiece. Some of the older ones have a piece of metal fret like material for a saddle. I have seen some student guitars with a wood tailpiece from the 40's when metal was a scarce commodity. 

Many Harmonys I've seen incorporate an Hxxx in the serial number. Dating them seems to be a little more complicated. Some seem to have an F-66, FW-59 or similar number stamped inside the guitar, along with "Made in the USA." This number appears to indicate the year of manufacture, but doesn't appear all the time. It confirmed the dating of some guitars I have, with what I surmised to be their date of production. 

Most of the model numbers in the later 60's have this Hxxx. These H929 Stella models have been seen with both 3 x 3 tuners along with a H933 that had 6 on side headstocks. These guitars were most commonly sunburst. There was natural model, an H927 during the 60's, along with a tenor HTCG929 and a smaller size H9293/4. I have seen some "bananaburst" or Ivory grained finish on some Stellas from the 40's and 50's, which seem to be a No.928 model of the early 60's. Other models from the early 60's were a No. 1141 and No, 930. 

These earlier models don't seem to have the "H" in the model number. The model number didn't matter because they marketed an assortment of 6 guitars for $ 144 in 1962. At $ 24 a guitar it gave the young student an affordable option. In the late 60's there was a better quality Stella offered by Harmony. This H942 natural (H943 Sunburst) grand concert size guitar offered "time-tested Stella features of construction and finish," and sold for $ 37.50. With its " Steel Reinforced neck" and "Simulated marquetry ring at soundhole, it was an attractive upgrade to the H929 Stella, with the added feature of a screwed down bridge. 

Some of the other budget small guitars have a screwed down rectangular bridge, with many of the older ones being made with solid wood. (You can usually tell by the cracks when they dry out.) Some of the H150's and the classical H937s were called the Harmony Studio Specials. These were noted as being "Best for the beginners or 'loaner' Guitar. " They had a short 3/4 scale with less space between the frets that made finger placement and chord formation easier for little fingers. 

"Perfection," was Harmonys goal, through out its history. Its claim to have sold "more stringed instruments than all other makers in America Combined- and thus created thousands of friends for Harmony all over the world," held true. They found their way into more American Homes than any other guitar company. They made themselves available to the masses so the student had an affordable option. They are still available today as one of the more affordable American Vintage Guitars. Start collecting today!! 

Article Source:

Article PDF Stella Guitar Range.pdf

An Original Stella Blues Guitar From The Oscar Schmidt Company Of Chicago

Sovereign Stella Guitar

Stella was one of several musical instrument brands made in Jersey City, New Jersey by the Oscar Schmidt Company. Other Schmidt brands include Sovereign and La Scala. The Oscar Schmidt Company also produced low quality level stringed instruments such as guitars, mandolins, banjos and auto harps.

The company thrived during the first quarter of the 20th century, producing many thousands of Stella guitars, mandolins and banjos. In nineteen twenty, the Oscar Schmidt Company was said to be the largest manufacturer of stringed instruments in the world. Stella guitars were noted for both their good tone and their relatively low price.

The fanciest Stella and Sovereign guitars

carried a price tag that was just a fraction of the price of even the cheapest Gibson or Martin instrument. It was an excellent blues guitar for a much smaller price.
Stella Guitar Headstock

Although they continued making auto harps, after struggling through the Great Depression, the Oscar Schmidt Company finally had to sell off their fretted instruments division in the late 30s.

Schmidt's Stella, Sovereign and La Scala brands were acquired by the Harmony Company of Chicago, Illinois in nineteen thirty nine, who went on to produce student grade Stella guitars as well as mid-level Sovereign guitars and banjos. 

Stella Guitars & The Blues

Quite a few of the pre-war blues guys used Stellas, basically because they were cheap and well-built to stand the rigors of taking to the road after each gig. They were cheap as chips and could be bought at a distance thanks to the Sears catalog - well before 'race records' brought some money their way, the original blues men didn't have money to throw around on expensive guitars.

Pink Anderson played a Stella when he traveled around with a medicine show playing for a couple of dollars and food here and there. Later on in his career when he was much older he can be seen with a top end Martin D28.
It's interesting to note that many old players opted for Gibsons and Martins after they were re-discovered, further evidence to suggest that they didn't used Stellas because they 'were great for the blues' but because they couldn't afford anything else.

Ordering by mail meant that you were never quite sure what you were getting, although the general build quality was pretty standard across the board. They had little sustain compared to acoustic guitar we can find today, because they were so robustly built. The very early guitars had not truss rod for neck adjustment, so if the neck warped, the guitar was finished.

Here's a list of the blues men who played Stella Guitars:

  1. Pink Anderson
  2. Barbecue Bob (12 string)
  3. Jim Baxter
  4. Ed Bell
  5. Blind Blake
  6. Willie Brown
  7. Joe Callicut
  8. Sam Chatmon
  9. Ollie Crenshawe
  10. Ford "Snooks" Eaglin
  11. Dave "Honeyboy" Edwards
  12. Sleep John Estes
  13. Jesse Fuller
  14. Buddy Boy Hawkins
  15. Peg Leg Howell
  16. Mississippi John Hurt
  17. James "Boll Weavil" Jackson
  18. Jim Jackson
  19. Lulu Jackson
  20. Homesick James
  21. Skip James
  22. Tommy Johnson
  23. Dennis "Little Hat" Jones
  24. Furry Lewis
  25. Leadbelly
  26. Carl Martin
  27. Blind Willie McTell
  28. Memphis Minnie
  29. Robert Nighthawk
  30. Charlie Patton
  31. Tom Shaw
  32. Johnny Shines
  33. Rambling Thomas
  34. Muddy Waters

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