Reproduction 19th Century Tack Head Fretless Banjos

The Banjo Factory

Romantic Period Guitars

I owned the  beautiful antique guitar pictured below for a couple of years before I sold it.  It was made in Austria near the turn of the 19th Century. Even so, it is done in early 19th Century romantic style. This guitar had a floating finger board. It also has a unique feature in the Stauffer tradition. The neck is adjustable by inserting a key to turn a pin at the joint of the neck with the guitar body.  The guitar on the right is a parlor guitar of the late 19th or early 20th Century.

Antique Guitars
Beyond my interest in fretless banjos and because of my living history performances and interest in early music, I have collected a few 19th Century guitars and some information that I thought I would share on this site.   I am not a guitar dealer nor am I a luthier qualified to appraise these old instruments.  I share this  primarily for the benefit of re-enactors and others interested in the appearance of authentic instruments.

19th Century Guitars: A Brief History

The classical six string acoustic guitar of the 19th Century resembles several fretted zithers from the ancient Mediterranean world. The word "guitar" comes from, "qitara", an Arabic name. The baroque guitar of Spain and the Vihuela generally had five string courses. Treble strings were paired. These earlier musical  instruments are closer to the lute in both tuning and construction. The "Spanish" guitar comes to Spain by way of France, Italy and Austrian makers early in the 19th Century.

At present the earliest unaltered classic guitar, datable with certainty, is an Italian instrument in Stockholm, Musikhistoriska Museet annex, with the label "Gio. Battista Fabricatore fecit An 1791 in S.M. del Ajuto, Napoli." (Thomas Heck, 1972) Harvey Turnbull tells us in, The Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present Day (New York, 1974), that the guitar with six single strings is probably of French or Italian origin, [but] definitely not of Spanish origin (p. 64).

Whether it was the French or the Italians who made the first classical six string guitars, 1790-1830 displayed a strong consistency in design. Because of the abundance of fakes using similar labels at the time, it is difficult to attribute surviving guitars to their makers. From what does survive, the first classic guitars were probably made in Naples in the 1770s or 80s. Such instruments can readily be found dating from the 1790s with such labels as Gagliano, Fabricatore, Valenzano, Trotto, and Vinaccia. The original classic guitars, were soon being faithfully copied in Vienna and elsewhere in the early 19th century. Johann Georg Stauffer is one of the more innovative and documented Austrian makers. 

Harp Guitar

This is a Hubert Heerbeck instrument from Austria circa 1950s.  It has the Stauffer style peg head and a floating fretboard. The removable neck is held to the body by two pins which are adjusted by a clock key.

This instrument was hand built by Hubert Heerbeck and has a fretless 9-string neck on the bass-side with Staufer-style headstock and floating fretboard. The right neck is a regular classic neck, both feature a rosewood fretboard.  It has a spruce top and beautiful flamed sides and back. The peghead of the 9-string neck has a beautiful engraved aluminum headstock overlay.
Similar to musical instruments which existed in Europe from the early 1800s, present documented evidence of harp guitars in America begins in the 1890s. I became especially interested in Harp Guitars because of the Tacoma, WA connection to the history of their making. Just a few miles from the Banjo Factory, a little over a century ago, Chris Knudsen was making his innovative Harp Guitars right here in Tacoma. For more information about Harp Guitars, I recommend that you visit