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Author Topic: stella guitars  (Read 1148 times)

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Offline tinpanallygurl

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stella guitars
« on: December 01, 2014, 11:59:42 AM »
I have been playing guitar for a few  years now and have played mostly Gibson's, Fenders, and a few others.  I have a chance to buy an older Stella.  Now how hard is it to play on these things?  Though I am a gurl I can play with most of the boys but all of them say Stella's suck.  I really would love to play an instrument from the same era and style of the people I rip off on an hourly basis, if it is possible.  Not in the station of life to be buying for simply a wall piece but I don't expect it to fret like a martin either.  My CBG's are awesome and if they are that playable I am willing to go in.  I just have never even seen one much less played them. 

Offline nobocaster

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2014, 12:21:48 PM »
I have a chance to buy an older Stella.  Now how hard is it to play on these things? 

  Anywhere in the range from "like butter" to "like a two by four with baling twine".  It all depends on what guitar, and who worked on it and set it up.  There are lots of older Stellas out there.  I'll assume we're talking pre-war, Oscar Schmidt made Stella.  I'm also assuming that the guitar is being sold online somewhere and you don't have the chance to play it first.  I'd advise hunting down some older guitars in your area that you can play first, just to get a feel for what you're after.  For a OS Stella being sold online.. if it is cheap, then it probably needs work and may be practically unplayable, or may need serious structural work.  It's hard to rely on seller's descriptions, unless they are reputable vintage instrument dealers, not just antique and collectible sellers. 

  Harmony made Stellas from the 50's, 60's are usually cheap, pretty cool, and often need serious set-up (neck reset, fret work...) to be nice on the hands.  But they are not at all the same thing or era as the old guitars that you hear on old 78's.  They are what you often hear on stuff like George Mitchell's recordings.

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2014, 12:52:43 PM »
Its worth pointing out that the necks tend to be chunky by modern standards too.  I much prefer that myself, and don't have huge hands, but it is something to bear in mind.

Offline Rivers

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2014, 02:25:50 PM »
Quote
I have a chance to buy an older Stella

How old? It's important to know. Just the general era would give us a better shot at opining, since the later stuff bears little resemblance to the early.

Offline Bed Bug Bill

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2014, 02:53:24 PM »
You should definately play some first.They are not everyone's cup of tea.If you're hell bent on getting a 20's Stella,you can go to a specialist dealer,but you'll pay double.The 50's/60s ones,you see on ebay,have nothing to do with country blues, but can be transformed with ebony fingerboards/bridges and bone nut's/saddles into reasonable guitars.They are what they are.If you play slide,almost anything will do,if you mainly fingerpick,you would probably like a 20's Harmony or mahogany Regal or Supertone better.Just as authentic,they didn't all play Stellas.
It's a personal thing,for instance,I don't like Martins or Nationals,......play everything and you'll soon see what you like.Hope this helps.

Offline Pan

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2014, 05:03:35 PM »
I have an old Stella from the 30's and I like it. I wouldn't want it to be my only guitar, but for some stuff they are fun to play.
The big necks were already mentioned, the fretboards are also straight, not with a radius, as in most modern guitars.
If you can get one in a decent condition and with a fair price , I suppose you should be able to sell it, if you don't like it.

Cheers

Pan

Offline frailer24

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2014, 11:23:42 PM »
The few "golden era" Stellas I have encountered had as mentioned: 1. Large necks, although the "deep V" style was easier on me. 2. Fretboards flat as a pancake. 3. Very narrow frets. Had to keep concious of finger pressure and placement. 4. Varying degrees of playability, from excellent to cheese grater. When setup well, intonation could be hit or miss, mostly spot on. 5. String spacing at the bridge was either wider or narrower compared to a modern box. 6. Very nice tone all the way around. If it is in good condition, snap it up! I regret letting a concert size Galiano stay at a fiddler's festival when it was only $250! Best one I had played yet. Ah well, live and learn!
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline onewent

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2014, 10:49:29 AM »
All good advice here, with the two most important considerations being, be sure it's a pre-WWII era Stella, and not the 'Made in USA' marked Stellas from the 50s/60s..totally different guitar and sound. 

Second, be very wary of the guitars condition/playing set up.  You can easily sink many hundreds of dollars into getting a 'cheap' old Stella into great playing shape.  Most almost always need a neck set $300+, braces reglued $100+, crack repair $100+, fret work $100+ and if the neck if bowed, it will fret out (buzz) at about the 8th fret, voiding all the other work put into it.

That said, they are fun to play and have a sound all their own, and I agree, there is something to be said about playing the music on an instrument of the era. 

I've owned, played and repaired dozens and dozens of these over the past ten years, and appreciate them for what they are .. most being cheap catalog guitars made in the 30s.  However, the oak or mahogany back and side/spruce top instruments, often with fancy fb inlay, and fancy inlaid purfling,  (made in the first quarter of the 20th century), are really wonderful guitars .. well made from quality materials, cool looking and great sounding.

Tom


Offline frailer24

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2014, 03:42:31 PM »
Excellent advice, Tom!
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline waxwing

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2014, 12:39:58 AM »
You might be wondering, "What is it about the sound of a pre-war Stella that somehow makes it more "appropriate" for playing pre-war country blues?"

Answer: Mid-range!

X-braced guitars give a strong bass and treble but are often a little weaker in the mid-range. This is described as "good separation" (and is sometimes known as "the Gibson scoop"), and is just great for strumming, or for bass run/treble run blue grassy stuff, or even for bass and treble pattern picking behind folk songs. But many pre-war players created arrangements with lots of licks and runs in the mid-range area, i.e. played on the 3rd and 4th string, and this is a reflection of the fact that they played ladder-braced guitars and took advantage of the instrument's strengths. In general their bass is a little weak, and many pre-war artists damped the bass strings to get a distinct thump instead of the open tone, and/or used a thumb pick. It's also easier to compensate for a weak bass by striking harder with the thumb than it is to compensate for a weak mid-range by playing strong, with fingers or thumb, only on the middle strings. But it's doable. Also, swapping in a lighter gauge (.018") plain string, as most pre-war blues players did, has somewhat less loss of tone and volume on a ladder-braced guitar than an X-er.

And then there's the tone of a ladder-braced guitar that Todd Cambio once nicely described on this board as "a sinewy punch." Oh, yeah. And that quick decay characteristic, with fewer overtones, provides clarity to the complex licks and intricacies of this music.

Of course, these are generalities, and individual guitars will vary. Modern luthiers work to overcome these issues on X-braced guitars, and accomplished players can also compensate for these differences in their playing. But pre-war blues players did primarily use ladder-braced guitars and their arrangements do seem to utilize the strengths of these guitars well.

BTW, another style of guitar that has a strong mid-range and not quite so much bass: biscuit cone resonators. Who'd a thunk it?

Wax
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Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2014, 03:14:07 AM »
Stella family photo!

Offline onewent

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2014, 10:09:33 AM »
Prof, good lookin' group there .. do I smell koa?

Hi Wax, how's the little Steller doin'?

Tom
« Last Edit: December 03, 2014, 02:25:32 PM by onewent »

Offline Pan

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2014, 10:56:20 AM »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2014, 11:17:23 AM »
Yes indeed, onewent! Koa Sovereign third from left! Well sniffed!

Offline uncle bud

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Re: stella guitars
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2014, 12:48:59 PM »

Stella family photo!

Party at the perfesser's!

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