I’ve finally received my Artec MHFC93-CR from EY Guitar, the order got lost and took 3 months to arrive. Last weekend I got around to install it on my 1946 Levin Model 32 and I’m pretty impressed with how good it sounds for being so inexpensive.
Unfortunately I had to remove the pickguard, well it was actually quite annoying and always in the way when I played so it was more of an aesthetic loss. I also installed an old vintage strap button while I fitted the pickup so now the guitar is ready to be gigged.
The installation was pretty straight forward in the end but it took a bit of figuring things out so I completely forgot to take more pictures. First I made a small hole under the fretboard extension on the right side, where the cable from the pickup could enter the body without being visible. Then I drilled a hole for the endpin jack, just like a do when I install the endpin jacks for my LR Baggs, with a 1/2 inch or 13 mm flat spade drill bit straight through the end block. I measured two cables from the endpin to the f hole, fished them up before I cut them and then soldered them to the endpin while taped to the top for not disappearing inside. Once the cable from the pickup was fished up I checked which was which and then soldered them together and stuck them to the top on the inside with a little clip on the bottom side of the f hole so they can’t be seen.
Artec is perhaps not the worlds fanciest brand, especially not if you judge them by their website, but I like them and they sound very good for being so cheap.
I recently got this old 1946 Levin Model 32 from an eBay seller in Vienna. The guitar has clearly seen better days but I felt she deserved a second chance in life so I got her home, dolled her up and now she is playable again. I had no idea what model it was when I got it and I was actually hoping that it would be a Model 30 from the late 1930’s, they look very similar but it turned out to be a Model 32 from the mid 1940’s instead, which isn’t bad. I guess I just wanted to have a Levin that was older than my 1942 Levin Model 65. It’s pretty close to my 1951 Levin Royal in sound and feel but with a more casual appearance. I guess there was a shortage of tonewoods all over Europe during the war so they used what they got. This one has a hand carved 3-piece Romanian spruce top and you can even see a couple of knots around the f-holes. I don’t really mind, together with all the cracks it’s just adding to that old worn archtop look and feel. The back is really beautiful though and the neck feels great, really fat and chunky as I like. It also has a quite different sunburst compared to what Levin normally used in 1940-50’s. Levin used to copy Gibson’s tobacco sunburst but this one has more of a cherry sunburst.
Levin Model 32
Non-cutaway. Body width: 420 mm, body length: 510 mm
Hand carved Romanian spruce top, mahogany back and sides
Single-bound top with unbound f-holes
Single-bound back, unbound pickguard and unbound headstock
Mahogany neck with non-adjustable T-shaped duraluminum truss rod
Single-bound rosewood fingerboard with mother-of-pearl dot inlay
Nickel plated hardware, sunburst finish and ten years warranty
Available between 1940 – 1947
Levin Model 32, here between the model above, the beautiful Model 27 and the slightly cheaper Model 35. I love that the case option offered in the bottom of each ad is a plain textile bag with a zip, really, textile? The list price for the guitar in 1946 was 285 SEK, around 30 Euro. The Royal listed that year at 575 SEK an the top of the line, the Deluxe at 1000 SEK. Taken from a 1946 Levin archtops catalog, thanks to Vintage Guitars Sweden
She looked a bit sad when she arrived, but there was nothing that couldn’t be fixed
First I had to deal with the crack that was running along the whole bottom side, from the upper bout to the endpin. There was also another crack, or hole, that the previous owner had glued in perhaps not the most discrete fashion.
I have never attempted to glue anything this big before but there is a first time for everything. I noticed that there was a piece of wood missing so I started with making the hole square and then I fitted a little piece of wood in the exact same size. The main problem I had was that the guitar had been cracked for so long, with the tension of the strings I think, so the whole side had kind of warped. In parts the crack was overlapping in one way then suddenly changed to go the other way. Which meant that when I was trying to close the crack it didn’t line up, at all. I did my best and with a bit of force and a lot a clamps I managed to get it to close at least, even if it didn’t line up perfectly. I know that the correct way of doing this would have been to glue cleats on the inside and perhaps a string coming trough that you can tighten from the outside or even better, magnets, but unfortunately the crack was just over the kerfing which would have made it hard to glue any cleats on top of the kerfing. I also couldn’t figure out a way of getting any magnets inside an archtop, there wasn’t really any way of getting my hands in there.
It went ok for being my first time and it seems to be very solid after letting the fish glue cure for 48 hours, I added some extra glue over the old crack too just to be on the safe side. I sanded everything smooth and then lacquered with shellac, I was trying to match the original lacquer but it turned out to be impossible to copy the sunburst. Maybe I can figure out a way and redo this part but at least now the guitar is playable. I buffed up the old lacquer and made it blend with the new shellac by polishing it with metal polish, that always works great on old guitars. It’s the same technique I use for the back of the necks, filling the dents with nitro lacquer and then sand it smooth and buff it up with metal polish. The original machine heads are pretty wonky but they work fine and cleaned up nicely, just like the tail piece, so I decided to keep the guitar all original.
I’m so excited about my new gal, last week I received a 1951 Levin Model 3 Royal. I got it fairly cheap from Jam, a guitar shop in Stockholm and managed to get it to Spain in one piece in less than a week, very impressive. This is my 9th Levin, number 8th was a Goya GG-172 that I received back in June but haven’t had time to fix up yet. I tried one of these Levin orchestra guitars when I was back in Sweden in May and felt both confused and intrigued by it, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to play it like an acoustic or electric guitar. Now I know that you can play pretty much anything on it, it sounds as full and rich as my other acoustic Levin’s but with the playability and feel of an hollow bodied electric guitar. I was actually really surprised how good the bass response was, perhaps because of the hand carved Rumanian spruce top and walnut back, it’s my first guitar with walnut and I really like it. Levin Royal is the 3rd fanciest orchestra guitar that Levin made during the 1930-50’s, with the De Luxe and Solist above it. The De Luxe is massive so I was worried that the Royal would be really big too, Levin Model 1 De Luxe (Body width: 475 mm), Levin Model 2 Solist (Body width: 445 mm) and Levin Model 3 Royal (Body width: 420 mm), but it’s just 2 cm wider than my Levin 174 and the other Goliath sized acoustic Levin’s I have. I’m really happy with it and will definitely look in to the possibilities of electrifying it, without ruining it, so I can use it live with Chest Fever.
It’s in pretty good state for it’s age and almost all original, the pickguard is missing and one of the pearloid block inlays on the fretboard has been replaced with a plastic one. The only thing I had to do when I got it was to raise the action, it was way too low for me, polish the frets and even out the ebony fretboard a bit, some of the inlays was sticking up. The neck is pretty straight, it does have a T-shaped duraluminum truss rod inside but it’s non-adjustable so there isn’t much you can do without heating and reshaping the neck but that’s not needed yet.
Levin Model 3 Royal
Body width: 420 mm, body length: 510 mm
Hand carved Romanian spruce top with mahogany or walnut back and sides
4-ply bound top with double-bound f-holes, 4-ply bound back, triple-bound pickguard
Mahogany neck with non-adjustable T-shaped duraluminum truss rod
Triple-bound headstock with perloid music sharp sign inlay
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with pearloid block inlay
Grover Sta-Tite style tuners, gold plated hardware
Sunburst or natural finish and ten year warranty
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“