Claescaster

Tag: 1942

How to… carve a bridge

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Last weekend I decided to make a new bridge for my 1940’s Levin model 65. I actually did the same thing about a year ago but with less success, you can read about it here. This time I had more tools, better material and at least some knowledge of working with wood.

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942I started with a rosewood blank that I carved roughly to the right height with my trusty old Mora kniv, a cheap Swedish knife that solves most of my guitar related problems. Then I carved the shape of the edges, I just marked where to start and then carved it in to a rounded slope. I got the top in to a nice triangle shape with a narrow chisel and then cut out the arch in the bottom with a round file. I compared it to the old bridge to get the string spacing right and then just made little groves with a small triangle file. After a bit of lemon oil I was ready to try it out and it worked perfectly.  

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942The final result, a new bridge for not only the oldest Levin I own but the olderst guitar I’ve ever actually had in my hands.

Levin model 65

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Last weekend I decided to try to improve the playability a bit on my little parlour Levin model 65 from 1942. It doesn’t have an adjustable trussrod, few guitars did before the 1960’s, and would probably benefit from a neck reset but I thought I should start with the easy things first. Like making a new bridge that is a bit lower and that way get the action down and it worked really well. The easiest would have been to just file down the original bridge but I felt I rather make a new one than mess with the old one.

Update: July 31, 2014
I actually carved a new bridge from scratch, you can read about it here: How to… carve a bridge, that worked out ten times better.

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Levin Model 65
Body width: 315 mm
Spruce top, birch back and sides.
Unbound top, back and headstock.
Unbound walnut fingerboard with mother-of-pearl dot inlay
Rosewood bridge, brass tuners, nickel plated tailpiece
Dark brown finished neck, back & sides.
Sunburst finished top and one year warranty

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
Since the strings were off I thought I mights as well even out the fretboard a bit and polish the frets. I cleaned the edges of the frets with a toothbrush and then oiled up the fretboard with lemon oil. I managed to cut through the old glue with a razor blade and that way get the old bridge off.

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
I think this bridge has been re-glued a couple of times since 1942 and that’s why some of the nitro lacquer came off. It’s hard to tell, it might have looked like that for 60 years under the bridge, who knows. Either way there isn’t much to do about it so I will just try to ignore it for now. If I can’t stand it I can always put the original bridge back. I got a cheap replacement rosewood bridge from eBay, straight from China for 3.50€. Now I just had to get the angle right, Levin always has their floating bridges in an angle, maybe it’s the same for all floating bridges. I copied the old bridge to get the angle right and started to make it as low as possible. Of course I cut my thumb after about 12 sec and had to rethink my methods of getting the bridge lower. In the end it was a combination of knife, a Swedish Morakniv of course, and sandpaper before I oiled it up with lemon oil to get it dark and nice. I read on Swedish forum that a great trick to get this parlour guitars to sound less jangly or rattly is to mute the tail piece. Apparently the main reason why these small bodied guitars sound like they do is because of the rattling tail piece. I muted mine with half a black sock that I tucked in so you can’t see it and it really made wonders to the sound. It’s a lot warmer and more woody now.

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
I copied the string spacing from the old bridge, made a notch with a knife and then filed it down with folded fine sandpaper and a round file. I also realised that since I had to take so much off in the bottom on the high E side, the bridge looked really unbalanced so I cut of a chunk on the other side and rounded off all the edges to try to create a nice looking bridge.

 

Levin

Goya GG-172 (1970), Levin Model 13 (1950), Goya Model 163 (1968), Levin Model 174 (1972), Levin Royal (1951), Levin LM-26 (1959), Levin Model 65 (1942), Goya T-18 (1966), Levin LT-14 (1965), Levin LT-16 (1966) The Levin family back in the days, from left to right: Goya GG-172 (1970), Levin Model 13 (1950), Goya Model 163 (1968), Levin Model 174 (1972), Levin Royal (1951), Levin LM-26 (1959), Levin Model 65 (1942), Goya T-18 (1966),  Levin LT-14 (1965), Levin LT-16 (1966)

Last week I managed to become the proud owner of two new, or rather very old, Levin guitars. With some persistence, a huge dose of luck and some money changing hands I managed to get them both here safe and I already love them. I have always been a huge fan of Hagström, also built in Sweden, but didn’t know how much I loved Levin until I figured out that my dad’s old guitar was actually a Levin. It doesn’t have any markings on it but you can read about my Levin epiphany here. The problem with old guitars is that they quite often forgot to mention the model anywhere, so you have to do a lot of detective work. Luckily for me there is an awesome guitar shop, Vintage Guitars Stockholm, that has more or less everything Levin has ever made listed on their Levin information pages. They also have some info on Hagström and the brands built by Bjärton, and the rest of the brands built by Levin: C. F. Martin & Co, Clangiton, El-Goya, Goya, Kay-Tone, Klangola, Torres, Zandelin, Nivello, Rondo. I managed to track mine down to a Levin LT-16, Levin Model 65 and the amazing Levin Model 13 Ambassadör. These Levin guitars are a bit thin sounding compared to other guitars, well I don’t have any other guitars that are 70 years old, but still. Then again they aren’t full sized so no wonder that they lack a bit of bass compared to a dreadnought, but they are very light and extremely resonant in the higher register so they are perfect for finger picking. Either way I’m super happy to have found four so old and amazing guitars that have been built in the country where I grew up, Sweden.

Maybe I should add a little disclaimer here, this was originally posted back in August 2013, the Levin collection and my appreciation and understanding of the brand has grown a bit since then.

Levin Model 2 Parlour Made in Sweden 1914Levin Model 2 Made in Sweden 1914

Levin Goya F-11 Made in Sweden by Levin 1963Goya F-11 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1963

Rondo Model 29 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1960Rondo Model 29 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1960

Levin LT-14 / Goya T-14 Made in Sweden 1965Levin LT-14 Made in Sweden 1965

Levin LT-16 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-16 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin Goya T-16 Made in Sweden 1965
Goya T-16 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1965

Goya T-16, made in Sweden by Levin in 1966
Goya T-16 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1966

Levin LS-16 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LS-16 Made in Sweden in 1963

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968

Levin Goya T-18 Made in Sweden 1966Goya T-18 Made in Sweden by Levin 1966

Levin Goya T-23 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin Goya T-23 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LM-26 1959Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959

Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959

Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin Goya 172 Made in Sweden 1970Goya GG-172 Made in Sweden by Levin 1970

Goya Model 163 Made in Sweden 1968Goya Model 163 Made in Sweden by Levin 1968

Levin Model 174 Made in Sweden 1972Levin Model 174 Made in Sweden 1972

Levin Model 3 Royal Made in Sweden 1951Levin Model 3 Royal made in Sweden 1951

Levin Model 32 Made in Sweden 1946Levin Model 32 made in Sweden in 1946

These two Levin guitars used to be a part of my collection but I had to sell them to make space for other Levin guitars:

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Levin Model 13 Ambassadör Made in Sweden 1950Levin Model 13 Ambassadör Made in Sweden 1950

Herman Carlson Levin was a young furniture maker that moved from Gothenburg to America and got a job at a guitar manufacturer in 1888. He soon started his own company in New York building instruments and while he was back visiting Sweden he realised that the demand was even higher there. He moved back home and in 1895 started Herman Carlssons Instrumentfabrik in Gothenburg. They were only five instruments makers in 1903 when they built their 1000th guitar but they soon grew bigger and bigger. The factory was one of the best in Europe and between 1904 and 1912 Levin received many awards including the gold medal in Madrid in 1907 for best guitar as well as the exhibition’s Grand Prix price. By 1936 the 100,000th instrument had left the plant and Levin was marketing a successful line of archtop guitars, like the world famous Levin De Luxe 1938. Shortly before 1940 Levin employed a crew of 45 in facility of a 1000 m². In the 1950s, Levin launched a line of inexpensive guitars intended for schools and novice guitar players. These guitars were of lower quality than the rest of the Levin line up. In 1952 Jerome Hershman a guitar distributor from America noticed Levin guitars at a trade show in Germany and convinced the Levin company to let him market their guitars in America under the name Goya, Levin apparently sounded too Jewish. He also got Hagström to make some fine electric guitars for the US market as well. These nylon stringed Levin / Goya guitars got quite popular in the late 1950’s and especially with the folk singers in the 1960’s when they started to produce steel stringed guitars on a typical nylon stringed body. When Goya was sold in 1968 the Goya export was approximately 70% of Levin’s total production. They had a huge contract with Goya that they lost in this sale, something that took really hard on Levin and they had to close down the second factory they opened in Lessebo and let half of its work force go. A lot of companies got bought and sold over the next few years, Kustom bought Goya, Dude bought Kustom and in the end C. F. Martin & Co bought them all. In 1973 when Martin bought Levin, it became the headquarters for Martin Guitars and their Japan import brand Sigma Guitars in Europe, as well as actually producing a run of some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled “LD-18 – Made In Gothenburg, Sweden. These are quite rare and expensive today. The last “real” Levin built in Sweden left the factory in 1979, they are still building nylon stringed Levin guitar in Sweden to this day. In 1982 Svensk Musik AB bought the name Levin and the remaining stock from C. F. Martin & Co and in 2000 they changed their name to Svenska Levin AB. They are now producing steel stringed guitars in the far east and have a small batch of nylon stringed guitars being built in Sweden. Here is the whole story about Levin together with some amazing photos, Levin History.

Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium, New York City, 1946
Django Reinhardt is playing Fred Guy’s Levin De Luxe backstage at the Aquarium in New York City 1946. © William Gottlieb

Nick Drake playing a Levin guitar
Nick Drake playing a Levin guitar

Hootenanny Singers
Hootenanny Singers sure liked their Levin guitars. Björn Ulvaeus, the guy on the far right got a bit famous later on with his next band, ABBA.

Levin was pretty much the main brand for acoustic instruments in Sweden back in the days. We also had Bjärton but they mainly made nylon stringed guitars and of course Hagström but they were more famous for their electric instruments, even though they built some really nice acoustic guitars together with Bjärton like the legendary Hagström J-45.

Levin guitar factory
I’m not sure if it was the handsome chap to the left that built my Levin Model 13 Ambassadör. The Levin guitar factory on Kvillegatan 9 in Gothenburg in the late 1940’s.

Levin catalogue 1968
Taken from the Levin catalogue 1968

In 1972 negotiations between the C. F. Martin & Co. and Levin results in that C. F. Martin & Co. purchases Levin in June 1973.
In 1972 negotiations between the C. F. Martin & Co. and Levin results in that C. F. Martin & Co. purchases Levin in June 1973 and Levin got to make some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled “LD-18 – Made In Gothenburg