Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly played a Stella 12 string, possibly because it was the only guitar he could afford.
As I have mentioned before, Brit Rockers from back in the mid 1960’s and the Folkies from the 1950’s loved the songs and style of the old Black blues players and tried their best to emulate them. Often a guitarist would go as far as to seek out a similar instrument, thus the interest in the Stella guitars.
Oscar Schmidt did not start out as a guitar manufacture. He had emigrated to the U.S. from Saxony. He was a skilled bookbinder and he eventually started publishing books, some of which were music books. In 1890 he began manufacturing musical instruments to go along with the music books he was publishing. At this time Schmidt began using the Stella and Sovereign trade names for his guitars.
Around 1910 he opened a musical instrument factory in New Jersey to fullfill the demand. He was already supplying Sears & Roebuck with the better quality guitars they sold through their catalogue.
Most of the Oscar Schmidt guitars sold through Sears featured spruce tops and rosewood or mahogany bodies. One unique and consistant feature was the use of ladder bracing rather than the fan bracing that was favored by Martin and Gibson at the time. The more upscale Schmidt guitars were trademarked as Sovereign. These guitars featured pearl inlay and marquetry trim. The bridge was a pyramid style that was similar to the ones on Martin guitars of that era. Oscar Schmidt guitars also placed a position marker at the tenth fret rather than the ninth fret. This is true also of some older Harmony guitars.
Stella was the trademark name associated with the downscale product that Oscar Schmidt was producing. These instruments were made entirely of birch and had faux wood grain . Instead of marquetry these guitars used decals, which at the time were referred to as decal mania.
Early in the twentieth century, Oscar Schmidt was the largest manufacture of musical instruments in the world and encompassed factories in the US and Europe.
How does the Stella 12 string guitar sound? It has a thin sound with a lot of high range. This is primarily due to the use of birch. A second factor would be the ladder bracing. This is not the sound most of us would be seeking from an acoustic instrument in this day and age. The scale was it was 26.5 inches from bridge saddle to the nut. This is longer than most steel string instrument, but similar to a classical guitar scale.
The asking price for this guitar is $12,000
Due to the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Depression, Oscar Schmidt shut down. It was eventually purchased by the Harmony Company which revived both trademarked names and built very similar instrument.