Instruments /Accessories / Ordering / Tips / Friends

ca. 1936 Orpheum Imperator Model "C"

Price and Status: For pricing and hold status of this instrument, please check here. If this instrument does not appear on the Instruments page it has been sold. To be notified of examples of this or any other model in the future, please email your specific requests to [email protected].

Body width at lower bout: 15 3/4" Depth: 3 1/2". Scale length: 25 1/2" Nut Width: 1 3/4"

SN#: 670

Finish: Original sunburst finish, nitrocellulose type

Materials: Solid bookmatched handcarved flame maple back and sides; handcarved bookmatched solid spruce top; 9-ply mahogany neck; bound Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with variegated engraved pearl inlay; 6 ply top binding; pearl peghead inlay.

Hardware: Original gold hardware includes Grover G-98 Sta-Tite tuners; wrap-around trapeze tailpiece; adjustable ebony bridge. Vintage correct bound tortoise pickguard.

Notes: Orpheus was a legendary Greek musician, poet and prophet. An Imperator was a commander in the Roman Republic. The Orpheum Imperator is a premium quality prewar American archtop guitar of unusual rarity. And there you have it.

The Orpheum brand was introduced in 1908 for the ornate banjos built by Rettberg and Lange in New York City, who also produced the celebrated Paramount line. The first guitars bearing the Orpheum name debuted in 1933, and were built by the custom shop at Regal in Chicago for the Manhattan wholesaler Harry Stadlmair & Co. Inspired by the Gibson L-5, the Model C was Orpheum's top-line 16" guitar, and like its counterpart was carved of all solid tonewoods, and fitted with premium gold hardware. With sales sharply limited by the Great Depression however, only a few of these upscale models were produced, and fewer still survive to this day. Indeed, this is the only example of this model we have seen apart from catalog engravings.

The resemblance to the Loar-era L-5 is more than coincidental. The fine grained spruce soundboard is carved to exceptionally fine tolerances, with graceful narrow Cremona style soundholes. The back and sides are carved of solid, highly figured fiddleback maple, and the multi-bound body is finished in a lustrous spirit varnish, like Gibsons of the 20's. The gold Grover G-98 tuners and wrap-around tailpiece are identical to those used on the 16" L-5 as well. And of special note is the unique finish pattern, a horizontal sunburst spanning the entire lower bout of the soundboard, and masterfully shaded.

While similar to the Loar L-5 in many respects, the Model C incorporates features seen only in Gibson's later models. The soundboard is X-braced for greater sustain and warmth, as featured on Gibson's 17" Advanced Model guitars of the mid-to-late 30's. The longer 25 1/2" scale increases projection and punch, and is not seen on the L-5 until just before WWII. And most remarkably, the neck of the Model C is built with no less than 9 individual plies of mahogany, for enhanced torsional stability, and a light Brazilian rosewood fingerboard inlaid in a variegated pattern with solid mother-of-pearl.

At barely 5lb in weight, the instrument is feather light, highly responsive, and notably well balanced. This rare example has been well maintained, with all-original finish and hardware, and a vintage correct bound tortoise pickguard, crafted from an original catalog image. The top centerseam has been splinted and resealed under the tailpiece, and a fine grainline crack from the neck to the bridge reglued as well. The neck has a soft V profile, with smooth low action over a fresh high-precision setup. Playwear is moderate, and confined mostly to the soundboard, with some thumbwear as a clue to its well played-in tone. The voice is particularly clear and open, with notable transparency, brilliance and detail: an amazingly vibrant acoustic archtop of the Golden Era.

A unique and finely crafted instrument, the Orpheum Imperator Model C is a remarkable discovery, from a nearly forgotten chapter of fine American luthiery. One only: call now.

Setup: The frets have been precision leveled, recrowned and polished as necessary; bridge height adjusted; bridge compensation set; string slots at nut and bridge inspected and recut as necessary; bridge foot contour inspected and fit to top as necessary; bridge radius inspected and recurved as necessary; bridgewheels and tuners lubricated; fingerboard and bridge oiled; body and neck cleaned and hand polished.

This instrument is strung with medium gauge bronze strings (.013-.057). The guitar will accommodate lighter or heavier gauge strings, according to preference. String action is set at 5/64" to 6/64" at the 12th fret, with moderate relief for acoustic playing with medium strings. The action may be lowered or raised to your requirements with the adjustable bridge.

Case: Deluxe arched black plush-lined hardshell case.




































































Instruments /Accessories / Ordering / Tips / Friends