Rondo, built by Levin in Gothenburg Sweden in 1960
Today is wife’s birthday so tried to be a good husband and got here an old guitar. I found her a little Rondo, a mail order guitar built by Levin in the late 1950’s. I have actually never seen one of these before so I was quite exited when it arrived. It surely feels, plays, smells and sounds like a Levin. Rondo was made by Levin for Musik AB Westin & Co, a music store and publishing company in Stockholm with a large mail order business. It looks pretty similar to a Levin 119 and was made for both steel and nylon strings, this was pretty common on smaller Levin guitars in the 1950-60’s. It’s a very nice little guitar to play and it has more volume and sounds sweeter than I expected, perhaps because it’s fan braced instead of ladder braced. My wife seemed very happy with it too when she got it this morning.
Non-cutaway. Body width: 320 mm, body length: 455 mm
Body depth: 95 mm, scale length: 595 mm
Spruce top, maple back and sides, fan braced
Single-bound top, unbound back, unbound headstock
Unbound rosewood fingerboard with pearl dot inlay
Mahogany neck with non-adjustable T-shaped duraluminum truss rod, rosewood bridge, stainless tuners
Natural finish, one year warranty
It was in pretty good shape when it arrived. I had to glue a couple of small cracks, polish the frets, oil fretboard and machine heads and give her a good clean but that was it. The only problem was that this had to be done when my wife wasn’t around so I’ve been a guitar repairing ninja for the last week.
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
I really love my Swedish made Levin LT-16 from 1966, it’s without any doubt the most comfortable acoustic I have ever played. I tend to keep an eye out for another Levin guitars on eBay but they always go for stupid amounts of money, around £400-1000 depending on the model. Yesterday I came across one of the more famous Levin guitars, Fred Guy of the Duke Ellington band’s 1938 Levin De Luxe which is up for sale on eBay for $200,000. Here is the story how he originally got it. Taken from Vintage Guitars Stockholm, they have more photos as well. While visiting Göteborg during a tour of Sweden in April, 1939, Fred Guy, guitarist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra purchased a Levin De Luxe at Waidele. This is the guitar that Django Reinhardt is playing in the famous William Gottlieb photos. They were taken backstage at the Aquarium in New York City when Django was on tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1946.
Fred Guy with his 1938 Levin De Luxe
Here is the background info from the eBay listing. Recently returned from France – as it was being shown in a Django Reinhardt Exhibition for 3 months (see picture above). Also seen in the 2011 issue of the July / Aug / Sept edition of Guitar Aficionado magazine (Find section). This is the Levin Guitar previously owned by Fred Guy of the Duke Ellington band – during the 1940’s era. This is also the same guitar that Django Reinhardt is holding in the picture above when he was in New York City, backstage with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1946, and on the cover of Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Feb 1996 edition. The guitar was given to me by Fred Guy’s ex-wife Dorothy Guy Lynch about 30 years ago. The Levin guitar is in its original case, and the guitar itself has some small cracks in it. If you love Jazz, and want to own a piece of jazz history, this is a rare opportunity for the serious guitar collector. This is the real deal. Serious inquiries only… If you want to view the guitar, I will be glad to set up a time to do so (the guitar is being stored off premises in a secured site so arrangements will need to be made in advance). I have relisted this guitar over and over because I received many responses that provided me with additional information about the guitar, and a trip to France to show it at the Cite de la Musique for their Django Reinhardt Exhibition this past year (see picture above). So I am thankful for the opportunities! You can check out the article in the 2011 edition of Guitar Aficionado magazine.