My latest acquisition, a 1972 Levin Model 174. The story how I got this guitar is pretty amazing. I wrote a post about Levin guitars back in August 2013 when I had just started to collect them. In the end of the post I mentioned that I would love to find a Levin Model 174, it’s basically a Levin LT-18 but with a massive head. There is something about that huge head that I find very appealing, I guess it reminds me of old an archtop guitar from 1930-40’s and it’s almost a bit Art Deco. Three months later, in the end of November, I got a comment from a Danish guy called Orla saying that he had one for sale. We started to email each other and he told that a few days earlier he had seen a guy about to throw a guitar case in a skip so he had gone up to him and asked if he could have it instead. Orla took the case home, opened it and found a 1972 Levin Model 174 in pretty good shape inside. He Googled the name and model and pretty soon found my blog post saying that I was looking for one. Since Orla doesn’t play guitar himself, he just wanted to save it from a certain death, he contacted me and offered me to buy it and I’m very grateful that he did. It was a bit scary to buy a guitar from a guy I didn’t know who had contacted me through my blog, it felt a bit fishy somehow. A part of me thought it was a Nigerian email scam in disguise and another part said that I should trust the good in people, especially a Northern neighbour like Orla. In the end I decided that it was an offer I really couldn’t turn down, especially since most of the 174’s I had seen for sale were all Goya labelled and made later in the 1970’s. It took some time to get the guitar down to Spain, we had some logistic issues but finally it arrived about two weeks ago and I was stunned. Since Orla doesn’t play he couldn’t give me any info about what state the guitar was in, he had sent me some pictures but it’s pretty hard to get an idea if it’s even playable from just that. Luckily it was in a really good state and it both sounds and feels great.
Levin Model 174 /Goya Model 174 Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound headstock with mother-of-pearl inlay
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlays
Rosewood bridge with individual height adjustable plastic saddles
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Natural finish and ten year warranty
I didn’t have to do much to it, the action was really good as it was. Which was very lucky because this 174 doesn’t have the Levin bolt-on neck system, they stopped with that in the early Seventies. The original Van Gent machine heads had been changed at some point, probably in the 1970’s, to Schaller’s and I really don’t like these type of buttons so I changed them for Wilkinson WJ-309 in gold, to make it look even more Art Deco. I also installed an endpin jack so I can use it live with my LR Baggs M1. I had to clean it a bit, polish the frets and oil the fretboard but overall it was pretty good from the start. There was a note hidden under the trussrod cover saying, Her blev sedlen lagt 4th of February 1995. I assume that’s referring to that the nut was raised a bit 19 years ago, something I need to redo at some point because they seem to have used some paper like material instead of bone.
I was back in Sweden over the weekend and I was really hoping to extend my Levin collection. I had seen a couple of guitars that I wanted to go and try but in the end I didn’t have time to do anything more than just visit my family, which was the reason why I went back in the first place. I really don’t need any more guitars but since I’m so happy with my Goya T-18 I can’t stop looking for other Levin’s. I actually did manage to extend my collection but not while in Sweden, I won a Levin LM-26 from 1959 on eBay the night before I left Barcelona. It needs quite a bit of work so as soon as it arrives here and I’ll start to fix it up I will post some pictures and write more about it. What I have gathered so far by talking to Levin owners on Swedish forums is that the Sixties ones sound more like old Gibson’s and the Seventies Levin’s are closer to Martin, which makes sense since C.F. Martin & Co bought Levin in 1973. It might all be in my head but I think there is a bit of Gibson sound over my Goya T-18. The three Levin models that I’ve been dreaming of, after the Levin LM-26 but that’s already sorted now, is the stupidly beautiful Levin/Goya M-50, the awesome Levin/Goya 174 and the less impressive looking but supposedly amazing sounding Levin W 32 J. To find a Levin/Goya 174 shouldn’t be too hard, I might actually have already found one that I like. It would be a lot harder to come across a Levin/Goya M-50, I think it will be almost impossible so maybe that’s more of a lifelong Holy Grail project. They were too expensive to produce with all the extra bling, gold machine heads and mother of pearl cloud shaped inlays all over the fretboard so they stopped making them in the early Sixties. The Levin W 32 J is not that rare, they actually produced quite a few but people doesn’t seem to be too inclined to sell them and when they do, they are quite expensive. I have seen one, that I actually wanted to go and try, in Jam a guitar shop in Stockholm for 9500 SEK, around 1100€, which felt a bit much. It’s actually not that overvalued since The Fellowship of Acoustics in the Netherlands are selling their Levin’s on eBay for 1400-1600€. These are top end models we are talking about but since normal people that have inherited an old Levin or want to sell their old guitar see those guitar prices they of course think that their guitar is worth over 1000€ too, which isn’t always the case. I guess this over valuation makes my guitars worth more but at the same time it’s extremely annoying when you want to buy a new one and people wants an arm and a leg for them, or 1000€.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and Levin got to make some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled “LD-18 – Made In Gothenburg“