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Rocking the art guitars of the 1930s-’50s

Before pickin’ and grinnin’ truly captivated the eyes and ears of the American public, the art guitars of the 1930s and ’40s supplied enticing sights and sounds to the masses, as Steve Evans explains in his latest Collector Feature.

All of these guitars were made in the United States with the exception of the

Western Scene art guitar

Late 1930s “Western Scene” shows a cowboy showing-off to a cowgirl. The silk-screened art includes plenty of detail with the cowboy wearing chaps, vest and neckerchief, and the girl with lace-up boots, lasso of her own, and holstered pistol. (Photo courtesy Steve Evans)

German-made Fasan brand guitar, which features a fascinating “Waterskiing Scene.”

Most were produced in the 1930s and 1940s, and all came from the manufacturer painted with attractive artwork. The art was applied either by stencil-painting or silk-screening.

The Harmony Guitar Company preferred “stencil-painted” scenes, and their models typically have a slight over-spray.

Kay and Regal used the “silk-screen” method, which gave more detail and sharper edges to the art.

The “Amateur Hour” and the “Big Band” scene guitars both have pick-shaped decals near the artwork. This gives a hint of the original owner’s name because these decals show the initials of the owner, an option available when ordering a guitar from the Montgomery Ward or Spiegel catalogs (circa 1934 through 1942). If the original owner was a teenager when receiving the guitar, that person is now 90 to 95 years old.

In the 1930s and ’40s, these guitars were referred to as “standard size,” but today are considered more of a three-quarters size when compared to the modern, big dreadnought guitars.

To see a short video featuring these guitars, go to and use search words “Antique Trader Art Guitars.”

The guitars shown in this article are on display at the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, 1105 Burman Drive, in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

About our contributor: 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 and 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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