The World War II inspired "G.I. Guitar" by Jason Z. Schroeder
THIS GUITAR IS OFFICIALLY AVAILABLE FOR SALE!
Please find more HERE.
Please take a minute to view the following mini-movie talking about the new GI Guitar by Schroeder Guitars. If you are interested in some history watch the first few minutes. To hear the GI Guitar in action, fast forward to about 3:00 minutes where you will hear Jason Schroeder and Seth Carlson play some leads.
While acoustic guitar manufactures in the early 1900s began making larger and larger bodied guitars to increase volume, new appraoches to achieve volume electrically was happening in parallel. The race to build and market the first electric guitar began in the early 20th Century with visionaries like Les Paul experimenting with microphones attached to guitars, and culminating with National Guitar Corporation building the “Frying Pan” guitar in the early 1930s. Rickenbacker, Epiphone and Gibson were close behind. The solid body electric guitar was the next conquest as of the mid-1930s with Vivi-Tone (a company founded by Lloyd Loar after he left Gibson in 1933), Rickenbacker, Dobro, and the Slingerland Company producing versions of the solid body electric guitar by 1936.
The groundwork for the modern solid body electric guitar was largely in place by the mid-1930s. First sold in 1934, Gibson’s Super 400 would come to be known as a benchmark in guitar history, defining the switching and tone control standards for a huge portion of guitars that followed. By 1938, Leo Fender had opened a radio repair shop and soon began building, renting and selling PA systems. He met inventor and lap steel player Doc Kauffman during WWII and they began building and selling lap steel kits that included an amp built by Leo Fender. Fender’s innovative amplifiers were poised to become the electric guitar’s counterpart. But a global crisis would put this marriage of the electric guitar and amplifier on hold. At least in the mainstream.
By 1937, notable players like Les Paul, who was playing regularly with Fred Waring, were opting for electrified guitar in big band settings so that they could finally be heard. The unique thing about Les Paul is that his ideas were iterative so he was constantly modifying and refining his guitars and inventions. And what confirmed his tweaks and guided him was his use of the audiences response at his gigs. Both aural and visual aspects of his guitars were modified based on how favorably an audience responded. For example, he would play two sets in a night, one with an acoustic guitar and one with an electric guitar and then ask for feedback. He commited to playing electric after fan letters confirmed that they preferred his electric sound. Similarly, during the process of experiment with his “Log” guitar (the noteworthy guitar he built with a 4x4 running down the center of the body) Les Paul played the guitar without its traditional looking wings but attached the sides of an old Epiphone archtop only to receive a more positive response to the more traditional looking instrument. This product testing by Les Paul helped guide the development of the guitar.
In December 1941, the United States formally engaged in World War II. It was a time of national unity and sacrifice. More than 16 million young Americans served in the war, with nearly 300,000 losing their lives to fight for our freedom. At home, Americans went to work and men and women manufactured the vehicles, weapons, and electronics required to make the war effort a success.
The upshot to the shift in manufacturing was that production of musical instruments all but ceased during WWII, with most manufacturing companies being mobilized by the government to produce goods for the war effort. Musical instrument makers faced shortages of raw materials (leather, copper, lumber, etc.) due to curtailment by the US government via Restrictive Measure L-37 and L-37a. In fact, no manufacturer could produce pianos in the US after July 31, 1942 (until after the war), replacing production of pianos with plywood parts for airplanes, boat propellers, shipping crates and electronic components for military ordnance. Gibson contributed to the war effort manufacturing electrical and mechanical radar assemblies, glider skids, and precision machine-gun rods.
The war effectively placed on hold for nearly a decade, the development and evolution of the electric solid body guitar. It was not until years after WWII was over in mid-1945, that the guitar industry resumed where it had pause in 1941. But with the introduction of Fender’s Esquire in 1950 and Gibson’s Les Paul Model in 1952, the solid body electric guitar industry had officially arrived.
It was not just young men who were asked to serve during WWII. Men aged between the ages of 21 and 45 had to register for possible conscription. Leo Fender avoided conscription because he had lost an eye as a child. But Don Randall, an early colleague of Leo Fender’s who also built PA systems and had interest in radios, was conscripted and Leo and him lost touch. Clayton “Doc” Kauffman, partner of Leo’s in K&F Manufacturing Corporation was also conscripted and began working at Douglas aircraft factory in Los Angeles. No doubt working in the aircraft manufacturing influenced the assembly line approach to instrument and amplifiers at K&F.
The "G.I." Guitar
What if... This GI Guitar build was an excercise in putting myself in the position of someone, perhaps an industrious serviceman, who was not content letting the progress of the electrified guitar stop. In the era of conservation, austerity, and sacrifice, what resources would he have? And what changes would he make after the initial build? How would it be finished? What would it look like? How would it sound? How would it have aged?
Here is a discussion of the materials used in the build.
Sapele mahogany body. Rumors abound that Sapele may have been used on some of the great Les Pauls of the 50s because it was stiff and hard and so plentiful. Martin had been using it for years on necks and bodies on acoustics. It had been imported as early as the 1930s from Africa, being made popular in Germany for use in architecture and furniture. It is very possible that a 7” wide plank of 8/4 Sapele got into the hands of a rogue guitar maker in the 40s.
Walnut neck. Domestic walnut use was very common in the 1930s and 1940s for gunstocks. A curly piece of walnut was rare on a GI M1 Carbine or Garand, however they do exist and just as with any figured boards, they can show up in a pallet of otherwise plane lumber, albeit rare.
GRC Radio Knobs. Bar knobs from military radios would have been plentiful for use on a guitar. They were cast iron and painted olive drab with a white marker in the center. These would have been used on GRC coded radio units through the Vietnam era.
Switch tip. The switch tip is from a Remington 550 rifle, produced from 1941-1970. The Remington factory originated in Ilion Gulch, New York and later Bridgeport, CT. During WWII, with the help of the US Government (and the DuPont Corporation who had purchased a large amount of stock in the company during the Great Depression), Remington expanded operations primarily to produce ammunition. Additional factories were built in Lake City, Denver and Salt Lake City ,UT. The bolt from the Remington 550 rifle with some slight modification, fits perfectly as a 3-way switch tip.
Ebony fingerboard. Several American instrument manufacturers were making upright basses in the early part of the 20th century including Gibson. The fingerboard was made a thick piece of African ebony. Additionally, clarinet makers used ebony almost exclusively until the advent of plastics and metals in the 30s and 40s. The material for fingerboards of upright basses, cellos, and clarinets as well as left over parts from guitar manufacturing (Martin used ebony fingerboards almost exclusively) make the ebony fingerboard an easily sourced piece of the guitar.
Bakelite pickup material. Bakelite was developed by a Belgian born chemist named Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907. Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic materials and was used widely in the electronics industry due to its electrical nonconductivity and heat resistant properties. It was also widely used in gun manufacture for pistol grips. During 1943, Bakelite was even tested for useage as a penny due to shortages of metals. Bakelite in such small quantities could easily have been taken from a broken clock radio, which were commonly made of Bakelite.
Aluminum pickguard, plates. Aluminum was a staple of the aircraft industry and still is today. It is prevalent in nature but in its refined form was scarce due to high production during wartime. There were even “Aluminum for defense” drives under Mayor LaGuardia where the government would ask for donations of old aluminum items such as pots, pans, hair curlers, and jewelry to be used for military items. Several small pieces such as those on this guitar would have been readily available as scrap in a machine shop. Some of the largest manufactures of aluminum aircraft in the US during WWII were Lockheed, Boeing, Martin, Douglas, Curtiss-Wright, Consolidated and Bell. The waffle pattern on the backplates are an ordnance detail, indicating that this portion of the build would likely have been performed at an armory. Though custom shaped and designed for this project, the larger electronics plate strongly resembles a butt plate from a rifle and could pass for “found art.” The truss rod cover is intended to be reminiscent of a dog tag or equipment label common to the era. The rivet screws for the pickguard were selected to resemble aircraft rivets while still being functional, removable if necessary.
Bridge. Aircraft aluminum was used for the main body of the bridge. The pickup ring for the bridge pickup and the jack plate are also made from aluminum.
Binding. A double take will reveal that the binding around the top perimeter of the guitar is actually weathered brass and secured via stainless steel screws to the body. Brass is also used for the saddles and for the studs/caps/bushings in the bridge assembly. Brass was in high demand for use in artillery shells, weaponry, equipment, and machinery. Similar to aluminum drives mentioned above, brass and copper were also collected in scrap drives. Again, such small amounts would have been readily available as scrap in a machine shop or factory.
Canvas top. The canvas top is from the body of an actual WWII tent. The canvas is completed with the stenciled last name “SCHROEDER”.
Open back Tuners. Tuners for the project reflect the simplicity and functionality of the WWII military goods. The tuners used on this guitar are modified reproductions of 1920s Gibson tuners that were used on guitars such as the L-1 in a “3-on-a-plate” configuration. The simplicity of the rectangular, unadorned individual plates seems very fitting for the WWII era as well as for a made-for-military endeavor.
Finish. Linseed oil. The M1 Carbine and M1 Garand rifles were of the era were finished with Linseed Oil and then waxed for water protection. The finish on these rifles is commonly in need of re-application and, except for die-hard period-correct restorations, the standard now is to use Boiled Linseed Oil which is a refined version of the sealant that tends to dry more quickly and not “sweat” when heated. Raw linseed oil is notorious for very long drying times. The back and neck of the GI guitar were finished with Boiled Linseed Oil and then topped with Birchwood Casey gun stock wax.
Frets. Frets are stainless steel.
Strap. The strap used for the project is a repurposed cargo and troop safety strap from a Dodge M37. The strap originally had massive heavy duty clips on each end which were secured to eye bolts on the side rails to keep people and cargo from falling out of the vehicle. The Dodge M37 was produced from about 1950 on and was used in the Korean War. The strap is heavy due to being double thick and due to the iron hardware. Although an original WWII era strap from an M1 Carbine rifle was acquired for the project, this strap was a bit flimsy. The M1 Carbine was designed as a light rifle (around 5 pounds) and could therefore be carried with a light strap. The guitar being nearly twice the weight of the M1 Carbine, it seemed prudent to upgrade the strap.
Case. During the war, ammunition was shipped overseas in somewhat crudely made crates that were usually stenciled with critical identifiers: type of ammo, place of origin, size, weight, and date. The case for the GI guitar was constructed in a similar fashion. The lid is secured with six wing nuts attached to bolts that protrude from the case body. The blue and yellow stripes on the outside of the case would have signified armor piercing ammunition. The interior of the case is lined with wool similar to the blanket material of a standard issue GI blanket. "U.S." was stenciled onto the wool for an authentic look. A leather neck rest and .30 Caliber genuine WWII ammo can (for use as a case pocket) complete the case.
Personal Effects. Numerous personal effects are included in the case such as a vintage photo of perhaps a girl back home, a Lucky Strike cigarette tin, a bottle opener, an antique lock and skeleton key, an oil can for spare Linseed Oil, and a Tung Sol fuse tin that holds custom made picks.