George La Foley Hawaiian Guitar  

by Gregg Miner, as part of

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(all images copyright John Lathey)



A fellow named John Lathey submitted information and photos on this interesting Weissenborn-shaped Hawaiian Guitar from London, probably circa 1920s. The clues at first seemed to point to a date of 1900(!) but were clearly a false lead. England's first glimpse of a Hawaiian guitar (and not this style) is believed to have been 1919, when Joseph Kekuku toured there. 
Note the European headstock shape and the unusual bridge and trapeze tailpiece. The soundhole seems to be positioned quite low also.
Presented below are comments by those helping John with his research.

John Lathey (the instrument's owner): "I came across a faint rubber stamp mark inside this guitar - it says L A Foley maker London. I found it at a car boot sale, it's back had fallen off, there were no machine heads, & the finish had deteriorated over time. The holes for the machine heads were large diameter when I bought it as though it was supposed to have bone rollers like a classical guitar. I have the impression someone modified it as the illustration in the catalogue looks like it had regular machine heads. I've temporarily bushed the machine head drillings so I can use regular machine heads. I've refinished it in shellac which I guess is right for the period.
Scale length 24 7/8"
Lower bout 14 7/8"
Upper bout 9 7/8"
Neck depth 3 5/8"
End pin depth 3 3/4"

Bruce Perrin (of Barnes & Mullins, still in business!): "Unfortunately the catalogue is not dated but there is a copy of a letter inside informing customers of the impending relocation of Barnes & Mullins from Bournemouth to London." (This is was in 1900. See below - GM)

John Croft, ukulele collector: "All I know about the La Foley company is that they produced beautiful sounding and beautifully made musical instruments (including guitars, ukuleles, and mandolins) in London up until about 1930. Jack Abbott senior who founded his own company in 1890 making instruments in Charing Cross Road in London, and whose banjo ukes were played by the late George Formby, always rated George La Foley's instruments as the best he had ever heard."

From "British Makers Ancient" from the The Banjo Story by A.P.Sharpe serialised in the B.M.G.Magazine 1971-1973. Posted online at

"Samuel Bowley Barnes and Edward Mullins were boyhood friends in their home town of Bournemouth. As young men they decide to join forces to become dealers in musical instruments; mainly selling, and mandolins in which they were particularly interested. Being- players of no mean ability. their public appearances helped them to sell their goods and soon they were dispatching instruments all over the country because of their advertising and the launching (in February 1894) of their monthly fretted Instrument magazine called "The 'Jo"(*) They started to sell their "own" make of banjo but these were made for them by J. G. Abbott, W, E. Temlett. Windsor, Matthews, etc. - the usual makers "to the trade" at that time. It was in 1897 they patented their "mute attachment" which was fitted to B. & M. zither-banjos and worked from under the vellum. At the end of 1900 they moved to London and established themselves at Rathbone Place, off London's Oxford Street, as a wholesale house in all musical instruments and merchandise and, soon after, started their own workshops at Harrow, Middx. which at first were under the supervision of John G Abbott. During the dance-band boom they marketed- their "Lyratone" banjos plectrum banjos and tenor-banjo which enjoyed considerable popularity. A feature of these instruments was the all-metal construction of the hoops. They ceased making banjos soon after the outbreak of World War 11. the instruments branded "B. & M". sold from about 1965, have been made for them in Germany. "The (*) "The 'Jo" title was changed to "The Troubadour" after a couple of years."

John King, Hawaiian music historian: "About the La Foley guitar I can only make some general observations, the work of Weissenborn, Knutsen, et. al., not being my specialty. I couldn't
find any info on La Foley in Lutgendorff, Vannes, Bone or Prat. Similar guitars, Hilo brand, were catalogued by Sherman, Clay & Co., as early as 1922, selling for $27.50 to $75.00, a similar price range to your catalogue
listing. So, inconclusive. The all hardwood body, including top, seems to be an offshoot of the Hawaiian music craze and related to the construction of  'ukulele and made in Hawai'i guitars. Sears' first "Hawaiian guitars" were catalogued in Fall 1918, though there is little to distinguish them from the other guitars, besides their hardwood tops. The La Foley has a headstock similar to a Stroh guitar attributed to George Evans, ca. 1920 in the book Dangerous Curves. That particular headstock design dates at least to the
first half of the 19th century and can be found on the guitars of Louis Panormo. So there is some English precedence for that. The decoration on the fretboard is also similar to the Evans guitar. The tailpiece style bridge is interesting but again, not really dateable. According to Kanahaele, Hawaiian music became popular in England in the late teens and twenties through recordings and performances by Joseph Kekuku in a traveling show of "Bird of Paradise" and subsequent performances at London supper clubs. Very
similar to mainland US history, with the exception of the West Coast which is where everything got started a decade ahead of everywhere else. My guess is that the La Foley is not early in the sense it is from the first two decades of the century, likely mid-twenties to thirties, they could have made them for a period of many years."

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