Sunday, February 2, 2014

Memory Lane: 1950s Silvertone N2 Acoustic Guitar Review


From 1915 to 1972, Sears Roebuck & Company sold a line of musical equipment under its own Silvertone brand, making the musical arts accessible and affordable for the unwashed masses. Some of their guitars were surprisingly good, and they were made by many different manufacturers, including Danelectro, National, Harmony, Kay and Teisco. Many great musicians got their start on these instruments, and some kept using them even after they became famous. These days they have developed a cult following, with musicians such as Beck and Jack White still carrying the flag for them.

I recently had the chance to try out a 1950’s Silvertone N2 archtop acoustic guitar, and did not come away terribly impressed. I believe this guitar was made by Kay in Chicago, and there is no headstock logo remaining, and the only markings are “N2” and the serial number (L4XXX) which are both stamped inside.

The N2 is an archtop with F-holes and no pickup, so you cannot expect to get much volume out of it. It has birch plywood back, sides and top, and it has white binding and a tasteful tobacco burst finish. This is not a huge guitar, measuring about 16 inches across the lower bout.

The 26-inch scale neck is an imposing chunk of wood (maple, maybe?) with a rosewood fretboard and 19 frets that look like they are made of brass or bronze. There is no truss rod adjustment, though I am told that these are steel-reinforced. Either way, the neck is still straight, probably because it is so darned thick.

All of the original hardware is present and accounted for, and this includes a hinged trapeze tailpiece and adjustable floating rosewood bridge, and the cheapest tuners known to man. The white pickguard matches the binding, and also appears to be original.

Despite a reasonably low action and little wear to the original frets, this Silvertone N2 is pure misery to play. The neck is comically huge and it is very hard to navigate. It has a tinny sound, with little volume and no presence. There is nothing this guitar does well besides looking good, and that is probably why there is so little wear to the frets.

So, no matter how cool these guitars are, if you are looking for a serious instrument for not a lot of money, there are plenty of better guitars to choose from. If you do insist on buying a Silvertone, I suggest that you try it out before you buy it, and avoid online sales unless there is a great return policy.


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