Stella performance – Vintage expert Paul Brett on the original Blues guitars

If you are a fan of early Blues then you will be familiar with the name Stella Guitars. These were the guitars made by the Oscar Schmidt Company in New Jersey, USA. Their most prolific period was the late teens to the late 1930’s. Just about every Bluesman of those times played one. The most famous and sought after of the Stella range has to be the big jumbo 12 string of the 30’s. Made famous of course by the king of the 12 string, Huddie Leadbetter, more widely known as Leadbelly. The first guitar I am featuring is in fact my 1930’s Stella 12 string. As did Leadbelly, I have strung it with 70’s on the bottom end ! Not my usual choice of stringings, which are medium gauge, but I thought I’d put the ‘heavies’ on to demonstrate how Leadbelly strung his,

Schmidt also made Sovereigns, which used higher-end woods. The next guitar up is a double neck featuring a 6 string bass neck from the 1920s, which is fretless, and a normal 6 string neck, a unique combination of sound in anybody’s eyes and one which perfectly compliments the tonal blend between the twin necks. I love the addition of a fretless bass neck and it shows the innovation at the time that guitar makers were experimenting with. Also worth noting are the twin headstocks, does the later electric headstock design spring to mind?

My final offering is the very sought after 1930’s Stella ‘Tree of Life ‘ 6 string. This is a parlour size guitar that has a ‘Tree of Life ‘ inlay the full length of the fretboard. Played by Blues legends such as Son House, these are beautiful sounding little guitars that really deserve their place in history. As with all Schmidt instruments, they were inexpensive to buy and coined the nickname of “The Working Man’s Guitars’. Sought after by both players and collectors alike, these guitars are the true sound of the Blues, prior to any electric idioms that were later developed. Some of them still carry the original paper label inside which is something to look out for when buying. Not all will have them of course, as time takes its toll on most materials,  but they are a bonus if they still have them.