Roy Smeck was born in Reading, USA in 1900 and during a career in vaudeville became known as the "Wizard of the Strings."
Nowadays, celebrity endorsements of various guitar models are much more commonplace, but in the early part of the 20th century, the Gibson company in Kalamazoo, Michigan, sought the endorsement of only two musicians, jazz guitarist Nick Lucas in the 1920s and Roy Smeck in the 1930s, and named guitars after them.
It's hard for us today to recognize how huge Roy Smeck was in the 1930s.
According to Berks historian George M. Meiser IX, Smeck played at the 1933 inaugural celebration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and in a gala concert held at the London Palladium in honour of King George VI's coronation in 1937.
Smeck excelled during the height of the Hawaiian music craze, exhibiting astonishing dexterity with the guitar, ukulele, banjo and the slide guitar. He played guitar behind his head long before Jimi Hendrix.
The Gibson Roy Smeck guitar models were originally produced as Hawaiian guitars meant to be played across the lap using finger picks and a steel bar. The strings were set high off the fretboard with inlaid fret position markers instead of frets.
Later guitarists realised the superior tonal qualities of the Smeck guitars, with their relatively light bracing and necks joining the bodies of the guitars at the 12th fret instead of the 14th fret.
Because the Hawaiian craze came and went fairly quickly, the Smeck guitars were produced for only a few years, and many of them survived in good condition because they were stored in closets unplayed for decades.
And over the years, many luthiers have converted these Smeck guitars, including Jackson Browne's, to play in the "Spanish" style.
This is one of those.
Sunburst finished X-braced (not scalloped) solid spruce top
Dark finished mahogany back & sides
Large V-shaped 12-fret neck
Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with 19 inlaid fret lines, pearl dot inlays
16" lower bout
Rectangular Brazilian rosewood bridge
Firestripe tortoise plastic pickguard
Individual tuners with ivoroid buttons
Silkscreened script "Gibson" logo on headstock with
"ROY SMECK / STAGE / DE LUXE"
The Smeck Stage De Luxe was Gibson's first jumbo-bodied Hawaiian flat-top. It featured the same wide body as the 14 fret jumbo, but was fitted with a huge 12-fret neck. The bridge and soundhole were positioned lower on the top, which resulted in an x-bracing pattern with two, instead of three tone bars.
The Smeck Stage De Luxe has a nearly un-tapered body depth; the guitar measures 4.5" deep at the endpin, and 4.25" at the heel of the neck.
The guitar's neck is original to the guitar, but was professionally modified long ago to convert it to play Spanish style, not lap style.
One of the most famous aficionados of the Roy Smeck Stage De Luxe is renowned singer songwriter Jackson Browne, who says -
“There’s magic in old guitars – I got really up on Roy Smeck guitars, a Gibson guitar that was made in the 30s as a Hawaiian lap steel acoustic guitar. There were people doing conversions to those guitars, so they played like a Spanish guitar. And the sound of that guitar really changed my world, changed everything. Also, playing a really huge neck makes you play different things.”
This guitar was acquired by a client of PREMIER GUITARS when he bought from a reputable Sydney dealer way back in 1995. During his ownership it was refretted and worked on by respected Sydney luthier Piers Crocker.
It changed hands in 2006 and has been looked after with no alterations carried out since then by its current owner.
The thick neck, deep body and light construction make for a powerhouse 30s 12-fret Gibson Jumbo. It presents in fabulous condition. It has a repaired crack in the top running from the soundhole to the base. But it has been professionally reglued and is stable as a rock.
Apart from that it has some very light player wear and few minor dings & dents, but overall remains in excellent vintage condition. It is structurally solid with no bracing issues, and there's no top distortion.
This is a big guitar in every way. In keeping with its oversize construction specs, it has that bold bottom end, and a punchy aggressive midrange that we all love in these kind of guitars - lots of volume, with great definition.
From the 1935 Gibson catalogue -
"Roy Smeck Hawaiian Guitars -- There are many players who need exceptional guitars on which to display their talents -- guitars that will respond to their technique, no matter how fast or how soft, with a clear ringing tone.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Legend has it that this guitar was originally owned by a missionary who travelled the southern Pacific islands for decades, which explains the very cool and rather exotic shipping labels on what appears to be its original 1935 Gleib built hard shell case.
What a find !
Two video demos –
Jackson Browne performs "Something Fine" (recorded with his 1935 Roy Smeck Stage De Luxe in February 2011) - https://youtu.be/yufoq3T-z_w
And from Starr Guitars - https://youtu.be/nIZRWrYEfk8