Striking a nostalgic chord with vintage cowboy guitars

By Steve Evans

There was a time when youngsters dreamed of being a cowboy or cowgirl. Their desires were fueled by the action-packed cowboy movies and fascinating radio shows of the 1930s through the 1950s.

During that era, big mail- order catalogs offered “cowboy guitars.” Sears & Roebuck

“Pioneer Days” guitar, 1951; artwork shows a wagon train with mountains, clouds and a distant sunset. This shaded brown finish guitar was made of birch, a wood often used for making cowboy guitars. (Photo courtesy Steve Evans)

“Pioneer Days” guitar, 1951; artwork shows a wagon train with mountains, clouds and a distant sunset. This shaded brown finish guitar was made of birch, a wood often used for making cowboy guitars. (Photo courtesy Steve Evans)

guitars were made by the Harmony Company and came with stencil painted art, while models sold by Montgomery Ward and Spiegel were made by multiple manufacturers (Kay, Regal or Richter) and featured vivid silk-screen painted artwork.

The attractiveness of cowboy guitar art often has to do with the smallest of details. Look inside the trailing wagon of the “Pioneer Days” scene. This portion of the art shows the silhouette of a woman wearing a bonnet and reading (her Bible?). Maybe she is praying for protection and courage for their trip West.

Take a look at the art of the “Singing Cowboys” guitar. It shows a bright red campfire with the rest of the scene stenciled in cream-colored paint. This two-color scene appears to be illuminated by the fire during the night. It’s really beautiful!
The guitars shown in this article were made in America, but cowboy guitars were also produced in Canada, Australia, Germany, Holland and South Africa.

Interest in cowboy guitars declined around 1955 when Elvis Presley and rock & roll music hit the stage. Some people actually painted over the artwork of their cowboy guitars or simply discarded them. Today, cowboy guitars are usually un-playable because of their advanced age, but some nostalgic folks choose to hang them on their walls to artfully remember the good old days. To view these guitars in person, visit the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, 1105 Burman Drive in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

Steve Evans About our columnist:
Steve Evans entered the retailing business in 1975 at the age of 18 by opening the Jacksonville Guitar Center in Jacksonville, Ark. He has been collecting vintage guitars since then, and has co-authored “Cowboy Guitars” (Centerstream Publishing, 2002; available online through Booksamillion.com and Amazon.com). Evans has dedicated one end of his retail building to the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, displaying his vintage guitar collection, which, in addition to vintage Fender, Martin and Gibson guitars, includes more than 150 circa 1930s-1950s Cowboy Guitars with Western artwork and a few hundred plastic toy guitars. Evans can be reached at the Jacksonville Guitar Center, 1105 Burman Dr., Jacksonville, AR 72076; 501-982-4933. Shop/museum hours are Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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