Friday, August 21, 2015

Crucianelli Guitars

Crucianelli Guitar under the Elite brand name
The 1950’s were boom years for accordion makers. In 1951 The Lawrence Welk Show started airing in Los Angeles and by 1955 the ABC TV network picked it up and aired it across the country.

Accordion salesmen started going door to door in the late 1940’s selling student instruments on credit and convincing parents to sign up their children for weekly lessons.

There were even accordion conservatories” in major cities. But then Rock n’ Roll took charge and the accordion sat in the closet.

By the early 1960’s, the guitar was THE instrument.

Many of the accordion manufacturers were based in Italy and Germany. And in the 1960’s they all saw their sales slump so they decided to use the same skills to manufacture and apply them to manufacturing guitars. That is how the Crucianelli Company handled business.

The Crucianelli company was founded in 1888 in Castelfidardo by Sante Crucianelli. Crucianelli, was a former partner of Paolo Soprani and both men were pioneers of the regional accordion industry. Interestingly, Oliviero Pigini worked for Soprani before Pigini started his own business, the Eko Company.

Sante Crucianelli set up his shop in an area of Italy known as Castelfidardo. The first instruments were inexpensive button accordions that were fairly easy to play. This region of Italy still remains a center of accordion production today.

Though it took a while, Sante Crucianelli’s business became very successful by 1921. In fact he was awarded some of Italy’s top honors of the day, including the Cross of the Cavalier of the Italian Crown. His sons and families remained in this business through 1971.

As previously stated, both Crucianelli Accordions and the Eko Accordion company, run by Pigini, saw the writing on the wall during the early 1960’s and made the business decision to diversify into manufacturing guitars.

Vox - all but the first made by Crucianelli
It was odd that during the guitar boom that started around 1963 and started a decline in late 1965 Crucianelli and Eko were vying for competition. However when Vox Musical Instruments made a move to offer guitars under the Vox brand, both companies were utilized by Vox as subcontractors.

Eko specialized in building acoustic and solidbody guitars and Crucianelli specializing in acoustic hollowbody instruments.

Olivero Pigini of Eko
Sadly Oliviero Pigini passed away in 1967. He had envisioned an eventual merger of the two companies.

For us to understand the Italian guitar market of that era, one has to look at the accordion design of the day. The accordions that once came in standard black wood or plastic housing were now covered with glittery brightly colored celluloid plastic to stand out under stage lights.

These squeezeboxes also came with buttons to switch the instruments sound. Some models were electrified with built in microphones.

Crucianelli and Eko both utilized these similar features on their electric guitars. Crucianelli applied these principals to the guitars they built, especially the electric models.

If not for the label it is not easy to distinguish a Crucianelli guitar from an Eko, as some models closely resembled each other. What further confuses identification is the fact Crucianelli marketed their guitars under different brand names, such as Elite, Elli-Sound, Imperial, and Custom Built.

PANaramic guitar by Crucianelli
And then to make matters even more confusing American brand names were added to the mix such as España, Ardsley, FH, Imperial, the quarter moon-shaped Spazial, the Vox Challenger and the Vox Escort, the Vox Teardrop hollowbodies (aka Elite Teardrops) PANaramic guitars, the Vox Astro bass and the Vox Harlem.

Possibly the most unusual Crucianelli was The Spazial. It looked like a quarter moon on its side.

Vox Astro & Crucianelli
The Vox Astro bass was produced by Crucianelli before Vox contracted with the company. All that was changed was the headstock.

These instruments were also offered under other brand names for jobbers to sell to retailers and catalog companies.

Crucianelli made some very nice guitars in the ES-335 style and also produced most all of the semi-acoustic guitars for Baldwin when they were in the guitar business.

During the 1960’s Crucianelli offered some violin shaped guitars and basses that resembled those produced by the Hofner Company.

Elite and Vox brand names
Crucianelli’s Florentine electric guitar is reminiscent of a similar Kay guitar. Both guitars resemble the current Gibson Johnny A Model.

Crucianelli produced a good number of guitars that were made with celluloid plastic bodies, such as this 1962 "mother-of-toilet-seat" Tonemaster.

This Crucianelli guitar appears to be made of wood, but it is plastic designed to look like wood.

Here are a variety of Crucianelli models from a jobber's catalog.

Crucianelli also produced many wooden guitars that were generally hollow body style instruments. This Elite model has a very interesting vibrato bar.

Here is another 1965/66 model Crucianelli in the style of a 335 but with 3 pickups. They were sold under the brand names Tonemaster, Espana and Crucianelli.

Here is an example of a wooden solid-body Crucianelli that was sold under the Elit-Sound brand name.

Crucianelli also marketed a line of acoustic guitars such as this Crucianelli C100. Some were sold in the USA under the PANaramic brand, while other sold under the Crucianelli brand and the C. Renella brand.

It is not known if these were made by Crucianelli in Italy or subcontracted for distribution.

Here is a page from a 1966 Vox catalog. All of these guitars were made for Vox by Crucianelli.

Elka X-605 organ
As the years progressed one of the family members, Pietro Crucianelli branched out into manufacturing combo organs under the Elka brand.

Elka Panther 100

Products manufactured by the Elka company were distributed by Unicord, another major music manufacturer/distributor, that is responsible for many instruments and amplifiers. At the time these included the Elka Panther Organ. The Elka company was sold to GEM (General Music).

Crumar Organizer
In 1971, another of the family members, Mario Crucianelli, who was employed by Elka left the company as the result of family disputes.

Crumar Elan
He founded the Crumar F. Marchetti Company along with a partner. The name Crumar is an amalgam of Crucianelli and Marchetti. The company built combo organs, electric pianos. small home organs and early synthesizers. This company remained in business until 1986.

Vox Jaguar Organ
A company called LEM, owned by GEM (General Music) acquired rights for production of the company’s products. GEM is of interest because they too were building organs for Vox/Jennings.

The combo organs they built for Vox were a cheaper version of the Vox Continental organ and were called Vox Jaguar organ

Friday, August 7, 2015

Harmony Guitars

Harmony, the musical instrument company, was trade name of a company established in 1892 by Wilhelm Schultz.

1920 Harmony Uke
During the early part of the 20th Century the ukulele craze hit college campuses. Young men with bulky raccoon coats and ukuleles could be seen serenading girls. It was during this era that Sears, Roebuck and Company purchased Harmony so that they could corner the ukulele market.

Of course Sears was one of the nation’s largest retail merchandise stores, especially in their catalog sales and they sold many musical instruments especially guitars.

The company was based in Chicago, as was Sears. The man leading Harmony was Joseph Kraus.

Sears retained him as chairman of the company through 1940.

Harmony Factory
By 1915 Harmony was the largest producer of ukuleles and banjos in the United States. During these early years Harmony produced violins and other “folk” instruments. In fact Harmony was the largest manufacturer of violins in the United States. They quit making them for a long time and then started building violins again in the late 1930’s.

Harmony was possibly the first company to build a long neck Pete Seeger style banjo, before Pete made his version.

By 1923 Sears sold over a quarter of a million instruments. Seven years later this figure had doubled.

 In 1928 the company introduced Roy Smeck models of ukuleles and guitars. This multi-instrumental string player was very popular at the time.

Harmony was producing guitars, banjos, and mandolins. Sears, Roebuck and Company sold Harmony instruments under their own Silvertone brand name. However Harmony produced musical instruments under at least 57 brand names for other wholesale and retail organizations.

Harmony Monterey

Some of the brands that are actually Harmony instruments include Holiday, Vogue, Valencia, Johnny Marvin, Monterey, Stella and others.

Sears bought brand names owned by the bankrupt Oscar Schmidt Company, which included La Scala, Stella and Sovereign.

Harmony Co exhibit - Lillibridge Gallery
It was in 1940 when Joseph Kraus had a conflict with company management and left. However he had acquired enough stock to have controlling interest and restarted the Harmony Company independently.

Like many other guitar companies, Harmony sales peaked in 1964 to 1965 selling 350,000 instruments annually. However foreign competition crept in and sales declined.

Harmony electrics took their queue from Gretsch and Gibson. The pickups were manufactured by Rowe Industries Inc. also known as Rowe DeArmond, which was based in Toledo, Ohio.

Vintage guitar magazine price guide puts the current value of a Harmony H76 at between $1100 and $1200 USD. It sold for $200 to $300 new.

Sound Project aka Lectrolab
Many of the amplifiers were made by Sound Projects of Cicero, Illinois.

Harmony Guitar Company shuttered its doors in 1975. By these years the manufacturing had ceased and the company was mainly importing and relabeling Asian manufactured instruments.

The Harmony trade name was sold to the Westheimer Corporation which briefly continued to market imported “reissue” Harmony guitars.

During the 1940’s through the 1960’s Harmony produced a line of archtop guitars But unlike the more expensive instruments made by Gibson, Guild and Epiphone which carved the tops and back of their guitars, Harmony “pressed” the tops and backs to give them the arched shape.

The early Harmony’s had a more painted look on the headstocks, but as the company became busier, the headstock graphics were stenciled, as were the rosettes on their flat top guitars.

Some of their guitars, especially the cheaper models had the binding painted on. Instead of inlaid fret markers, the markers were merely painted in the appropriate places. The tailpieces on some of the models were made of cheap pressed metal. Some low end instruments had the tailpieces or pick guards screwed into the wood.

Harmony Patrician
However many Harmonys that survived from the 1940’s, although made of pressed wood, were very nice instruments that were made of solid spruce or mahogany. The lower end models were usually made of birch.

The necks on Harmony guitars did not have adjustable truss rods. Neither did D’Angelico guitars. Instead the graphics on the head stock announce, “Steel Reinforced Neck.” Surprisingly many Harmony guitars have retained a straight neck.

1967 Sovereign
Probably the most collectible of all the Harmony guitars is the Sovereign. These were made for serious players and Harmony sought endorsements.

Harmony electric guitars had a wide range of styles and quality.

The solid body electrics were mainly aimed at the beginner market with names such as Stratotone and BobKat. The better instruments were the thin line hollow body electric guitars such as the Harmony Rocket. Some models even had up to three DeArmond pickups each with individual volume and tone controls.

Harmony's line  resembled Gretsch and Gibson guitars, but did not have the complicated switching of a Gretsch, nor did the Harmony versions have the quality of Gretsch and Gibson. For the money these were quite nice instrument.

Ironically when Fender was trying to break into the acoustic guitar market, the first guitar line they offered in their catalog was made by Harmony guitars with the Fender brand on the head stock.

When Baldwin purchased Burns and Gretsch guitars, they did not have a classical model, so they had Harmony manufacture “Baldwin” classical guitars. The funny thing is that Baldwin wanted a classic electric model, and one was designed to fit the bill.

Guitarist Jerry Reed loved it, because it came with a Prismatone Pickup. Reed purchased three of these instruments and took them to a Nashville music store to have a luthier install cutaways on each of them.