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Slingerland May Bell Recording Master Model #12 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, c. 1931
Slingerland May Bell Recording Master Model #12 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, c. 1931, Chicago.
"An instrument pronounced incomparable by artists, both in tone and beauty" is how Slingerland introduced this guitar, the May Bell Recording Master #12. They were serious too...this was their top-of-the-line guitar right around the beginning of the 1930s. This is a concert-sized flat-top guitar with an X-braced top, distinguished by the outrageous green and white pearloid that covers every surface except the spruce top. Slingerland was not the only company that used this treatment on banjos, but they certainly went farther than anyone else in trying to apply this uber-flashy treatment to guitars in the pre-electric era!
This Model #12 listed at $50.00 in the early 1930s, with a $35 Model #10 being the same basic instrument with the back and sides left as natural wood. The headstock and fingerboard are white pearloid with engraved and filled designs while the back of the body and neck are completely swathed in green pearloid. Besides the pearloid-covered bridge and inlaid pickguard, the top was left with a natural lacquer finish, which allows it to vibrate properly at least. The outer edge and sound hole rim are bound and inlaid with colored wood marquetry. The tuners on the eccentrically shaped headstock are 2-tab Grover banjo pegs, something Slingerland probably had a large supply of in the early 1930s as the banjo market collapsed.
The top has a fairly stout X-bracing pattern and this is definitely a steel-string guitar, with a surprisingly powerful and sweet if slightly boxy sound. It makes an excellent fingerpicking blues or ragtime guitar and is no slouch as a straight rhythm machine with a pick as well. Slingerland went on to greater heights as the leader in modern drum equipment during the swing era, and this rare guitar was out of production well before the middle 1930s. While pearloid would persist in decorating electric guitars and drums through the decades, no acoustic guitar has ever topped the Recording Master for sheer plastic overload and pure eye appeal -- without sacrificing the sound somehow!
Overall length is 37 in. (94 cm.), 13 in. (33 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 in. (10.2 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 in. (610 mm.). Width of nut is 1 13/16 in. (46 mm.).
Overall this May Bell is in very nice playing condition and is actually a surprisingly fine-playing and sounding guitar...considering it is swathed in plastic! It has been fully restored with a recent neck set and refret to a very high standard. The bridge is original with a new saddle and has likely been reglued several times; there are a number of marks around the base attesting to that.
The only major wear to the guitar is on the top; there is a decent amount of wear with scratches, scrapes, and dings to the lacquer. There is noticeable pickwear around the lower sound hole rim and pickguard edge. The plastic back and sides show only some small marks and very slight shrinkage in spots. The edge of the headstock by the G-string tuner has a piece of plastic patched in that is not an exact match...otherwise, the celluloid coating is in excellent shape.
The guitar plays extremely well with a deeper sound than most 13" wide flat tops, especially considering its extra layer of plastic coating. An oddball for sure, but a real eye-catching looker of a guitar that is a surprisingly fine-sounding and playing instrument as well. The original case is included that is barely functional. Excellent - Condition.
Item # 8911
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