Vega Style B Cylinder Guitar | From the Top Shelf | Scott Freilich

Vega Style B Cyclinder Guitar | 1930’s | SN:unknown

Vega Style B Cylinder Guitar

Luthier Scott Freilich has been owner of Top Shelf Music since its inception. Scott currently authors the monthly “Oddballs” column for 20th Century Guitar magazine and is a past member of the price guide staff for “Vintage Guitar “magazine. He has contributed to such books Epiphone, The House of Stathopoulo, Washburn, 100 Years of Fine Stringed Instruments and ‘Burst 1958-’60 Sunburst Les Paul. Scott trained at Gibson’s old Kalamazoo plant, and his clients have included the Goo Goo Dolls, The Black Crows, Ani Di Franco, 10,000 Maniacs and Melissa Ethridge. He is also a member of The Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame and an active bassist currently performing with the jazzabilly group The Headers.Scott is now a regular contributor to guitarbench and will be authoring a monthly column on pawn shop finds.

Vega Style B Cylinder Guitaras

H i folks. Welcome to this months From the Top Shelf. Here we have a Vega Style B Cylinder Guitar. It’s hard to date it exactly, but almost every one of these that I’ve seen had a typewritten tag on the inside dating the instrument between 1932-34.

Vega originally used the cylinder design for the backs of their upper line mandolin family of instruments that included everything from standard mandolins all the way up to mando basses. The design was meant to increase the internal and acoustic volume of the instruments, and it was quite a success. The mandolin family instruments employed this design feature for the back only. The tops were a traditional bent design seen on most standard Neapolitan and non carved flat back instrument.

By 1932, Gibson and Epiphone were producing carved archtops, and Vega needed something to compete. They introduced the cylinder concept on a line of guitars. Unlike the mandolin family instruments, the guitars incorporated this feature on both the top and the back.Vega Style B Cylinder Guitar

” Cylinder guitars are quite rare. I’ve owned 3 in the last 30 years and have maybe heard of another 2 or 3 available”

Cylinder guitars came in 4 styles that advanced in cosmetic details. Style A was the simplest, style B was moderate with minor cosmetic upgrades, Style C featured a flame maple rather than mahogany body, and the top of the line Cremona pulled out all of the stops with a highly figured flame maple body and a bound ebony fingerboard extensively inlaid with engraved mother of pearl designs. I’ve never seen a Style A and this is the first Style B I’ve seen.

I’ve owned 2 Cremonas that were somewhat different from each other. One had a round sound hole, a neck that joined the body at the 12 fret, and a 14.5” wide body, while the other had a neck that joined the body at the 14th fret, a 16” wide body, and “F” shaped sound holes located closer to the waist of the instrument than one would expect. I’m guessing that the changes in design followed the same chronology with these as was seen with Gibson and Epiphone, where smaller body styles and round sound holes preceded larger bodies with “F” holes.

The Cylinder guitars are quite rare. I’ve owned 3 in the last 30 years and have maybe heard of another 2 or 3 available. By comparison, Martin made 91 D-45 dreadnoughts prior to 1945, and I know of at least a dozen of them. By 1935, Vega gave up on following their own muse and discontinued the line in favor of the ever more popular traditional archtop.

So how does this thing work as an instrument? The 2 Vega Cremons and the Style C that I’ve owned were among the best instruments I’ve ever played. This one…..well, it’s ok. It plays well and has that archtop meets flattop sound that I love in a guitar, but I must say it pales in comparison to the maple body versions. I’m not sure if it’s the mahogany back and sides or this particular instrument. I’ve owned plenty of great mahogany archtops. I think I just may be spoiled.

Vega Style B Cylinder GuitarVega Style B Cylinder Guitar

That’s about all for this month’s From the Top Shelf. I welcome any questions or comments.

Scott Freilich guitars@topshelfmusic.com
©2009pac

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Photos ©2009 Scott Freilich.

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