Here’s a unique fretted artifact -- a wonderfully fancy and extremely large flat-top built long before such things were common.
This Weymann Jumbo is the only one like it we’ve ever seen -- a treat for the eyes and ears, and a very unusual guitar. While fancy, expensive, pearl-spangled guitars were not unusual around 1900, they were normally nowhere near this size!
Generally, well up into the 1930s, all guitars were small by modern standards. The average “parlor” guitar around 1900 was under 14 inches wide. This giant measures over 18 inches at the lower bout with a very wide waist, making the body feel even larger.
The instrument was almost certainly custom ordered, likely by someone playing in a mandolin orchestra. Around 1910 this amateur pastime was the hot market for fretted instruments. Before Gibson sold mando-cellos and mando-basses, these groups generally used guitars for low-pitched accompaniment. Several makers, notably Lyon & Healy, produced similar oversized guitars for this purpose, but they are usually rather plain.
This Weymann is an extremely high-grade instrument. The binding is ivory, and the inlaid pickguard is real tortoise shell. The huge body uses enough high-grade Brazilian rosewood to make several parlor guitars and the ebony fingerboard is very heavily inlaid. These shaped pearl pieces would have been on hand for banjo fingerboards-in this case it looks like the builders simply pulled out big handfuls and filled all the space they could!
Philadelphia-based Weymann & Son was a fairly big name in the music trade before WWII. The company sold all sorts of musical goods and manufactured their own fretted instruments up into the Depression. They are best remembered for beautiful, elaborate 1920s tenor banjos, and a custom guitar built for primal country star Jimmie Rodgers in 1928. This guitar dates to between 1900 and 1910, and carries the same “Keystone State” brand decal as their period banjos.
The initials “R M” are inlaid into the headstock-likely the original owner’s name tag.
Although few guitarists work with mandolin orchestras 100 years on, this is still a wonderful guitar to play. The large body gives a superb bass response, but the high notes carry over it perfectly. For the fingerstyle player who likes to tune down to D or lower, this is a magical instrument. Probably not what it was intended to do, but like most great guitars this jumbo Weymann can adapt to different musical situations -- even 100 years on!
Retrofret Vintage Guitars of Brooklyn, New York, has been selling and servicing rare and vintage instruments since 1983 under the expertise of owner Steve Uhrik, associates Peter Kohman and George Aslaender and head technician Mamie Minch. For more info, visit retrofret.com