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Post new topic May Bell Spanish/Hawaiian 1936 Guitar
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Author Topic:  May Bell Spanish/Hawaiian 1936 Guitar
Tony Oresteen


From:
Georgia, USA
Post Posted 10 May 2017 9:00 am     Reply with quote

I have a 1936 May Bell Spanish/Hawaiian guitar that I've used only as a lap steel guitar since I acquired it in 1968.

The guitar was my fathers' who when in the 6th grade took weekly Hawaiian guitar lessons. It was a music plan that the studio sold him the guitar & lessons as a package.

Since he was in 6th grade in 1936 that's how we have dated the guitar. It might be a bit older but for sure it's no younger than 1936.

My Dad grew up in Everett, MA a small town outside of Boston. After WWII he attended Northeastern University getting a degree in electrical engineering in 1946 or 1947. He then moved to the Midwest settling in central Illinois. He left the guitar at his mother's house and it stayed there until 1968.

I first saw the guitar in 1965 when we were on a home leave from overseas. I wanted to take it back overseas with us but due to weight limits the guitar remained in the USA.

We moved back to Illinois in 1967 and in 1968 my Dad made a trip back to Boston to get a lot of his things that had been in storage at my Grandmother's house. He brought me the May-Bell guitar and as a 15 year old I was excited when at last I had the guitar in my hands. I knew nothing about playing Hawaiian guitar so I tried using it as a Spanish guitar. Alas the neck had pulled loose and the action was very high making it unplayable as a Spanish guitar. But it was playable as a Hawaiian lap steel. I went to a local music store and bought a book on how to play Hawaiian guitar by Nick Lucas. I tuned it to Hawaiian A but did not understand it as I played regular guitar. I still have the book:



In high school I ended up playing it as a blues lap steel in OPEN E tuning:

E B E G# B E (low to high).

The case my Dad had was a very cheap chipboard case that was falling apart but it was better than nothing.

After high school I joined the Army in 1971. I got married in 1972 (still married to the same wonderful lady Smile ) and retrieved the May Bell from my parents house.

After 3 years in the Army I got out and went back to school at the university of Wisconsin-Madison, again taking the May Bell with me. By 1975 the original case was unusable to the point I could not take the May-Bell out of the house.

In 1975, I went to Patti Music on State street in Madison and bought a Martin hard shell case for the May Bell. IIRC the case cost me $65 which was a huge sum of money for a married college student on the GI Bill at the time. The case was just a bit too long so I put a baby cloth diaper in it to fill the end gap. Turns out that the Martin case was the best thing I did to keeping the May Bell safe. It still sleeps in the Martin case with the diaper padding its bottom.

Fast forward to 2006. I'm living in Orlando FL and I still have the May Bell. I decided to have it repaired so I took it to Lyrical Lumber in Maitland FL to have everything fixed.

https://www.facebook.com/lyricallumber/

The neck needed a reset (it was pulled when I first saw it in 1965). There were a couple of cracks in the top that needed glue & cleats. I also decided to have an internal pickup installed while the guitar was apart. I wanted the guitar to be playable as a lap steel and not as a Spanish guitar.

$400 later the May Bell was repaired and had a K&K Pure Western Steel transducer installed that works very, very well.

Here is my 1936ish May-Bell Hawaiian. I still play it in OPEN E. The scale length is 24.0"
















I'm not sure what the May-Bell is worth. Its sentimental value to me is immeasurable. I will never sell the guitar - it will go to my son when I'm gone.

I guess you could call this lap steel a survivor.


Last edited by Tony Oresteen on 9 Jul 2017 11:45 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Bill Sinclair


From:
Hagerstown, Maryland, USA
Post Posted 10 May 2017 9:31 am     Reply with quote

What a great story behind such an interesting guitar. Thanks for sharing!
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post Posted 10 May 2017 9:00 pm     Reply with quote

An interesting instrument with a great story. Thanks for sharing. Those screens may be unique. Is there anything under the coverplate, or is it just for show?
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Tony Oresteen


From:
Georgia, USA
Post Posted 11 May 2017 2:22 am     Reply with quote

Jack Hanson wrote:
An interesting instrument with a great story. Thanks for sharing. Those screens may be unique. Is there anything under the coverplate, or is it just for show?


The big round cover plate seems to be just for show but the luthier who repaired it in 2006 said that the tone changes when it's removed. Since it came with it, I've always left it on.

The screens cover two sound holes.
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Andrea Tazzini


From:
Massa, Italy
Post Posted 11 May 2017 5:51 am     Reply with quote

Beautiful story! thanks for sharing!
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Bill Creller


From:
Saginaw, Michigan, USA
Post Posted 12 May 2017 11:09 pm     Reply with quote

Wonderful guitar and the story of it's life !! Very Happy

I have a May Bell tenor banjo here for some repairs, for a friend. First guitar I've seen from May bell though...
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Bill Sinclair


From:
Hagerstown, Maryland, USA
Post Posted 13 May 2017 5:12 am     Reply with quote

The "face" on your guitar looks like a character from a Max Fleischer cartoon. It'd be hard to play any sad music on it. Smile
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