A Successful Joint Venture: The Lundberg-Gryphon-Martello
Stella 12-String Clone
© Frank Ford, 1999; Photos by FF
Long about 1972, Jon Lundberg asked my partner, Richard Johnston, and me to join him in a project to reproduce the famous 1920s Leadbelly style Stella 12-String guitar. It immediately sounded interesting to us, so we jumped right in. Joined later by Mario Martello, we eventually made eight of these guitars. Robert Armstrong made up the labels in the original Stella style.
Gryphon made the bodies, and also contracted to have the special purfling reproduced in Germany. Mario made the necks and finished the guitars. Jon directed the project, and somehow managed to come up with four original salvage tailpieces. Because originals were made either with tailpieces or with pin bridges, we made four of each style.
The neck, back and sides are mahogany, and the top is spruce. The bridge is Brazilian rosewood and the fingerboard is ebony.
As part of the project, Jon gave me a restoration job on a 1920s Stella of the same size and style. With the back off, I examined and measured all the interior, and reproduced the bracing, even to the extent of cutting all the top and back braces on a table saw so they would have similar saw marks as the original guitar. We used hide glue throughout, and stayed with original specs in every regard.
I must admit that I tried to persuade Jon to let us "improve" the top bracing, but he stood fast. We were not allowed to change anything at all. Now that these guitars have been around a while and I've "matured" as well, I realize how perfectly correct Jon was. Guess that's why it's good to have the right project manager!
Here are some words from its owner about his acquisition of this
By Kevin Doherty
I had been looking unsuccessfully for the rare and elusive pre-war
Stella 12 string guitar for years. In 1988 I saw a photo of Stephan
Grossman with one and on a whim decided to telephone him back East. He
kindly suggested Jon Lundberg as the person most knowledgable about
esoteric American guitars and so I paid him a visit at his old guitar
shop on Dwight Way in Berkely. I sat down in one of the old metal stools
at the dusty counter,introduced myself with a hand shake and noticed a
big 12 string in the rack just behind him. I asked him if he had or knew
about any Stella's for sale and he said he had none. I asked him to show
me the guitar in the rack and he oblidged me but cautioned that it was
NOT for sale. It was, indeed, a big Oscar Schmidt type 12 string with
beautiful marquetry and a familiar label that said Lundberg Guitar in
fancy script letters. It was virtually unplayed and tuned down a couple
of steps in typical blues fashion. I strummed an E chord and fell in
love. He told me the story of how he had contracted with Frank Ford at
Gryphon and another distinguished bay area luthier, Mario Martello in a
labor of love to make a run of eight Stella replicas some years back .
"This tail piece model,he said, was # 8 and it's my favorite".
Over the next year I called him often asking him to reconsider parting
with it. The following April I telephoned him again and to my surprise
he agreed to a visit. While in the shop he told me of his desire to take
the Orient Express that summer and that since he needed money to make
the trip he might consider selling the guitar... at a price. I spent
hours in his shop while he pondered the matter. "I'm still not sure,
come back tomorrow" he'd say,and I ended up doing just that for the next
three days. On the forth day he finally named his price,low by today's
standards and I paid unflinchingly.
He did a beautiful left handed set up for me that Easter and sent me
happily on my way . Over the last ten years that piano-like guitar has
accompanied me to every performance and these days it radiates with a
rich patina of age. To this day and forever it will remain the guitar of
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|If his name doesn't sound familiar, then you were not part of the 1960s Northern California folk scene. Jon's shop was the premier clearinghouse for high quality fretted instruments and the finest restoration services, at a time when modern lutherie was in its infancy. Most of us "old timers" credit Jon as being the strongest single influence helping to create a special climate in the San Francisco Bay Area for quality instrument dealing and repair He's long retired from the instrument business and now operates a vintage haberdashery in Kensington, CA.|