Recording King Model 681 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, made by Gibson (1934)
Recording King Model 681 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, made by Gibson (1934), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, sunburst top, dark back and sides finish, mahogany back, sides and neck, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, black chipboard case. Item # 7842
This is one of the more unusual -- and certainly rarest -- of Gibson's budget brand instruments of the early 1930s, made exclusively for the Montgomery Ward catalog company in 1934-5. Ward sold a number of different styles of Gibson-made instruments in the 1930s, along with many made by Harmony, Kay, and the like. The Gibson models are of course the best quality of Ward's fretted offerings, and many of these "Recording King"-branded instruments are quite rare today and considered rather collectable by pre-war Gibson aficionados.
The Recording King Model 681 is a seemingly odd hybrid, a guitar with an L-00 flat-top body, an arch-top trapeze tailpiece, and a non-adjustable ebony floating bridge carved in the style of the company's maple banjo, like guitar bridges of the late 1910s. While this seems like a bad idea in theory (and was almost certainly designed thusly for economy reasons), the resulting guitar really surprised us with its powerful and more rounded-than-expected tone.
The top is ladder-braced but thinner than the average Kalamazoo, and the level of build and finish are certainly up to Gibson standards. The top and back are bound, as is the dot-inlaid fingerboard. The top is finished in a very dark sunburst with almost no "sun" with a triple-ply soundhole ring, and originally mounted the same floating pickguard found on many period Gibson flat-tops.
The model 681 listed in 1934 for $18.95, which in that year was not especially cheap for a mail-order guitar. The flat-topped headstock carried a jaunty "Recording King" logo, but of course there was no mention of Gibson being the builder. The V-profile neck is quite comfortable, and this guitar is certainly one of the best-sounding "non-pin-bridge" flat-tops we have encountered. The tone is richer than we might have expected when fingerpicked, and shades into a "mini-archtop" mode if played vigorously with a pick. Certainly one of Gibson's more unusual guitars of the period, a neat period piece and a much better guitar than it really ought to be!
Overall length is 39 1/2 in. (100.3 cm.), 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 7/16 in. (11.3 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 3/4 in. (44 mm.).
This guitar is fairly well-used, showing some wear to the finish overall and typical repairs. The neck has been reset -- structurally fine, but with some cosmetic imperfections -- and the fingerboard neatly refretted, in the period correct style. The original bridge has been cut down a bit, and there are small pin marks where someone once secured it to the top. The top shows some old light touch up and overspray, which has lent an odd look to some areas of the soundhole ring. The original floating pickguard is missing, but otherwise the instrument is complete and original. It remains a solid player, an interesting variation on the Gibson budget concept with a sound all its own. Very Good + Condition.
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