Late 1950s United-made Electrified Parlor Guitar

This is a late 1950s unmarked parlor guitar made by United Guitar Company of New Jersey for the Carleton Stewart Music Company in Mason City, Iowa.

United Guitar on a bench

The guitar has a laminate top and back, but solid birch sides. Its trademark painted-on triangular fret markers and classic pre-war shape are the telltale signs of a United-made guitar. The neck on this guitar is extremely comfortable to play, a nice C-shape, and it intonates up and down the neck. It has a new set of Ernie Ball Beefy electric guitar strings (although I swapped out the .022 solid G string for a wound .024 from a set of STLs.) I installed a magnetic pickup in the guitar, so it sounds great electrified or acoustic. The wear on the finish gives this cool guitar an even better appearance.

This guitar has a cracked side on the treble bout, just an inch past the neck joint. The crack started to go around the curve, but I glued it up tight and didn’t need to cleat it – it’s not going anywhere. It also had a small crack on the back that I repaired, although that didn’t go all the way through the laminate. I carefully scraped some glue residue off the top, maybe from an old DIY pickguard? After scraping I rubbed some lemon oil in to blend those spots in with the rest of the finish.

I ran two bolts in to the neck heel from inside the sound hole to stabilize the neck – these older parlor guitars frequently need neck resets, but this guitar was pretty good. The bolts will help keep the neck joint from flexing in the future. Action is a hair over 3/32″ at the 12th fret.

Since the end pin was missing, I decided to swap it out for a combination 1/4″ mono jack/strap button and add a pickup. Rather than a piezo, I opted for an electric guitar’s magnetic pickup, hence the electric guitar strings. The video demo below has the guitar in both acoustic and electric mode.

The bridge was missing when I got the guitar, so I made a new one from walnut and a medium guitar fret. I then painted it to match the satin/matte finish of the painted fretboard, and secured it with archival double-sided tape. I also secured the tailpiece to the top with a bolt to help improve the break angle of the strings.

Close up of new bridge and tailpiece on United guitar

I leveled and dressed the frets, and carefully cleaned the fretboard so as to not lose the painted-on fret markers.

The nitro lacquer on this guitar has a lot of checking, which doesn’t affect the quality of the finish or sound, but looks pretty cool on this old guitar. The checking did make it tricky to buff out, since the nitro could smooth out a bit when warmed up during buffing, so I hand buffed the whole top carefully.

Image showing body and lacquer checking on United guitar

The tailpiece and tuners were held on with little nails, rather than screws, but I swapped out the all three nails on the tailpiece for screws and replaced half the tuner nails with screws.

The guitar also comes with the original bottom-loading vinyl (unpadded) gig-bag. The bag has a few small tears, but is in otherwise decent condition.

Original price tag

Once great original feature of this guitar (and a clue to its age) is the original price tag on the back of the headstock for Carleton Stewart’s House of Music in Mason City, Iowa. The store opened in 1959, and based on the retail price of this guitar written in pen, $21.00, I’d say this guitar was made right around the time that the store opened, or maybe in the early 1960s.

Here’s a sound demo:

It’s for sale right now on Reverb. If you’re local, it’s also on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

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