Regal Harp Guitars

by Gregg Miner
July, 2012
Updated April 2016

Dear reader

Are you, like me, completely lost regarding the "Regal" brand name and/or company/companies?  Well, you are not alone!  Unfortunately, this page is dedicated only to the harp guitars, but there is hope!  In early 2012, energetic researcher Bob Carlin published his brand new book, Regal Musical Instruments: 1895-1955, and you can see the Timeline there, and many other new details of the company, and hopefully begin to wrap your head around the puzzle!

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Emil Wulschner & Son building, shown in The Music Trade Review, Sept 10, 1898.

 

The Regal Manufacturing Company in The Music Trade Review, April 6, 1901.  At the same time (as of April, 1900), the separate "Wulschner & Son" had become "Wulschner Music Company."  The story behind all this is complicated...best buy the book! Postcard showing the Wulschner-Stewart company building sometime in or after late 1903.

I think I've already said about all I know about this subject in my blog of January 26, 2011, but I thought it would be good to also archive in one place all the specimens - surviving or historical - that come to light.  Besides the inherent historical and entertainment value, perhaps these images will help the ongoing discussion on which - if any - of the early 1900's Regal harp guitars may have been built by the Larson brothers.  My understanding is that this has been - and continues to be - a volatile topic.

A quick note about the design of the original Regal harp guitar.  With those ridiculously short sub-bass strings - meant to be tuned to standard harp guitar pitch (descending from D below the neck's E string, diatonically to F) - attached to the decorative slab of wood inserted into the crook of the upper bass bout, this is an immediately recognizable harp guitar.  And there's nothing else like it, right?  Well, that's what we've all long thought.  Then a couple of years ago, an image or two (and finally, three) have cropped up that show a Harwood harp guitar with a very similar design, introduced before 1895.  This was almost certainly the inspiration (source) of the curious Regal.

It would seem odd that the new Regal factory - shown here in 1901 (from TMTR), with a Regal harp guitar prominently displayed - was incapable of building their own instrument...unless the instrument capture in the woodcut is a "ringer"? - a Larson-built instrument brought in to spice up the scene?!  

Or were the possible Larson-built instruments only prior to this period?  Irregardless, it is especially strange that no Regal harp guitars with labels pointing to the 1901-1904 period have ever surfaced.

In the current thinking of Bob Hartman, the builders of the first two pre- or early-1900 instruments below are "believed to be Robert Maurer or the Larsons," while the same-era "sunburst" specimen is up for grabs.  Curiously, while the first two were built under the tension, the "sunburst" was not.  The third "lost Marc Silber" instrument (my term) clearly has a label, but no one seems to know what it is.

Bob further ties the 10th fret - as opposed to 9th fret - marker to a possible Larson-built provenance (first two specimens compared to second two).

I have again scoured the web, my files, and those of Bob Hartman, and it seems we have located today just four surviving specimens.

Note that, despite seemingly identical bodies, wood and trim, each has completely different inlays on the headstock and fingerboard.  Also interesting is the non-standard inlay position of the 9th/10th fret.  Yet, interestingly, despite the harp guitar in the above factory image from April, 1901, 3 of the 4 (and possibly even the 4th) surviving specimens have the exact same Regal paper label and  "Wulschner & Son leather medallion (at right), indicating that they would have been (theoretically) built before April, 1900, when the firm re-incorporated as the "Wulschner Music Company."  How much earlier?  So far, the oldest provenance depicting one of these harp guitars is an image in the May/June, 1899 issue of Cadenza (courtesy of the new Regal book).  

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The best documented specimen, long posted on Frank Ford's frets.com site.
We believe it is the same instrument seen in this early 1980s photo of Mark Cummings from Bob Hartman's files.  Gryphon Instruments sold it some 30 years ago to a still-proud (anonymous) owner.  Note that it differs from the other three in having zither pin sub-bass tuners, rather than Gibson-style friction tuners.
Label

This specimen has long hung on the wall at Intermountain Guitar & Banjo, part of the owners' collection.

Label

(photos courtesy of Leo Coulson)

This, the latest discovered extant specimen, sold in a local auction in November, 2013.

It appears to have simple binding, rather than the multi-colored herringbone or marquetry of most of the others.

The infamous "sunburst" Regal, at left from the book of the Chinery Collection, and at right, in its current state (June, 2012) for sale at Intermountain Guitar & Banjo.  Though the Chinery/Bacon book amusingly gives "c.1930" as a date, this was probably built in the same short period as the others. The non-period finish was done some time ago by persons unknown (personal testimony). The color correction (and clean-up?) of the book photo is curious.
Label
The source of this photo currently eludes me.  It comes from Andy Wahlberg's site who long ago scanned it from some guitar book. Can anyone locate this? Click to see additional images taken long ago by Marc Silber, submitted by Bob Hartman.  We are pretty certain this is one and the same instrument.  The label (which sure looks like the double rectangle and oval Wulschner & Son set like those at left), and its whereabouts, are unknown.

Note that the above two instruments have the marker at the 10th fret.

Note that the above two instruments have the marker at the 9th fret.

Next are some enhanced images of specimens from some of the clearer historical photos (see further below for the full images).

At right is the personal instrument of well-known recording artist Roy Butin.

It has the neck inlay of specimen #2 (Intermountain) above (though may have no 3rd fret inlay), but appears to have the headstock inlay of specimen #4 - indicating a new (8th) specimen.  

Note the two labels visible.

It actually could be a duplicate of the following instrument(s) below:

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Left image is from the Pomeroy group, at right the specimen from the two Kuhn sheet music copies.

To my eye, the inlays of both specimens could be exactly the same.

The fact that Pomeroy's guitarist's instrument was photographed (and played) in 1900, and the Kuhn's in 1912 & 1913 allows for the possibility that they procured the very Pomeroy instrument twelve years later...

Note that it has some specific stain or wear above the bridge, and that in the left (earlier, 1912) image, there is some strange additional bridge insert or something.

This Regal appears to match specimen #2 (Intermountain).  

From the May/June, 1899 issue of Cadenza.

This is a 7th specimen (its inlays are different from all others) from the September, 1909 Cadenza magazine.

Before leaving "Specimens," we of course need to acknowledge the fact that the Regal brand name survived...here are later instruments from the 1920's and '30s.

This image is from the c.1930 Tonk Brothers catalog and shows a completely different harp guitar from the later Regal Company. Two (?) specimens are known.  At left, as purchased by Tony Marcus around 2005, at right, listed in 2015 at Schoenburg Guitars. Stutzman's Guitar Center owns this later Regal harp mandolin.

And finally, all historical photos I have managed to acquire or access:

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From the May/June, 1899 issue of Cadenza. This is the most recent image I have discovered, and perhaps the most important, as it establishes the earliest date (so far) for the Regal harp guitar. The accompanying text does not mention a harp guitar, only that the trio had been performing together for "a little less than a year." Of course, the Regal could have been a "new purchase" just before this photo was taken. (Image courtesy of Lynn Wheelwright) My notes say that this ad was from McClures magazine sometime in 1900 (it would have to be post April, as we can see from the new company name).
It features the same trio at left, with a different mandolin player (the harp guitarist looks the same).
Update, April, 2016: I received these two pages from a dated 1899 catalog from Wulschner & Son.  The first page states that they are making the "Contra Bass" a regular offering, so this is undoubtedly the first introduction of it.  However, they mention making special custom instruments previously (perhaps one of these was for the group pictured - the Tuxedo Trio, who provide a testimonial).  Whether this moves the design back into 1898 or even further is of course hard to say.


(Images courtesy of Rick Meyers)

This ad is from Wulschner & Son, and is dated c.1900 by Michael Holmes.  He is correct in that it would have to be pre-Aprill,1900, when they became incorporated as the "Wulschner Music Company." This ad appeared in the September, 1900 issue of "Munsey's Magazine."  The photo is of the Deseret Mandolin Club, Salt Lake City, Utah.  In the same year (1900), this piece of music by C.E. Pomeroy (center) was published by F.O. Gutman. This image provides much better detail, not only of the Regal harp guitar, but of the alleged Regal mandolins.
Here's a great c.1900s postcard (unfortunately heavily hand-tinted and inked) that shows the above Regal harp guitar, along with a half-size guitar, and a huge guitar!  The latter seems to have 8 tuners.  Could it be a double-course mandobass?! 

Roy H. Butin, in stage costume with his Regal, believed to be c.1909.
See Roy Butin, Revealed!

From the September, 1909 Cadenza magazine.
The Apollo Concert Company, which played the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits in the 1910's included a fellow on trombone, saxophone and Regal harp guitar.
(images courtesy of the Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries)
Two different ensembles with the unusual model.

 

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1912 Sheet Music featuring the Regal shown under "Specimens" above 1913 Sheet Music featuring the same Regal shown at left

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