VTG LIVE & READY TO GO!
A very interesting & appealing guitar, made by Bjärton, the renowned Guitar & other musical instrument manufacturer in Sweden for Buegeleisen & Jacobson, Inc. in New York, to be distributed in North America. Information is based on the Bjärton Information Pages of the Vintage Guitars, Stockholm, Sweden Website, which can be found on the first additional link I have included below.
I am very grateful for illuminating correspondence from Rickard Magnevill, Vintage Guitars, Sweden, acknowledged expert on Bjärton & Espana guitars....helpful extracts as follows.........
"I really enjoyed reading your very detailed and interesting description of your Espana guitar. Despite the 45 mm nut and ladder bracing, I believe that this is a SL-1 model. Also, it is the earliest currently known example. I would like to ask for your permission to add your photos to my site and I would also like to document the nut width and bracing to show that they differ from the catalog description. If you could send me photo proof of the nut measurement and bracing I would be very grateful.
I see two possibilities here: Either the catalog description is incorrect, or they changed the specifications during production. Bear in mind that the earliest Espana catalog we have seen is from around 1964, and this is a 1961 guitar. It is possible that the original SL-1 model specifications was for a 45mm ladder braced guitar that later got changed to 50mm/fan bracing. But, I have a nagging feeling that the catalogs are incorrect. I haven't had a chance to personally inspect any real examples so your help would be much appreciated.
Vintage Guitars, Sweden
"I have asked another owner to check his guitar too. I’m pretty sure it’s a SL-1 you have. I can’t see what other model it could be. I believe that the catalog specs might be wrong, or they changed the specs. I just would like to get that confirmed with more examples before I put it on my site."
"I just received confirmation from a owner of a 1964 Espana SL-1 that his guitar has a 50 mm wide fingerboard. I also checked a 1966 Bjarton Senorita (which is the Bjarton version of the Espana SL-1): 50 mm wide and fan bracing. This leads me to believe that the early Espana SL-1 guitars (like yours) had different specs. The 1965 Espana catalog is probably correct."
"Yes, until an earlier Espana catalog turns up showing additional models, I will call this a SL-1."
Of course, I have supplied Rikard with the photos & other details he requested, but I don't think that he has yet updated his website.
Stock Number: VTG1325.
Sharing many of the detailing characteristics, and the overall looks of the guitars produced by the other iconic Swedish guitar maker, Levin. The Vintage Guitars, Sweden Website confirms that the production of the España range of guitars was switched to Finland with Landola only later, in 1967, supported by my own familiarity with various Landola guitars, which have an entirely different look & detailing to those of the Swedish makers, Bjärton and Levin.
I knew that this guitar would be a 1960s model, but checking the serial number impressed in the top of the headstock, of 25397, with the Serial Number in the "España Serial Numbers" in the Bjärton Information Pages surprised me, even so, to find that it dates as early as 1961...and the inside label says "Made in Sweden"!
I have had quite a good rummage through the various model & serial number database pages, catalogues, etc. in the Bjärton/España Information Pages available in the Vintage Guitars, Sweden Website but, in the absence of an actual model number on the label or elsewhere on the guitar, I have not been able to tie it down to a model identification which fully fits the guitar.
The 24.9"/632mm. scale is close to the 24 7/8"/630mm. scale of some models from the same year catalogue, including the SL-1, but the 45mm. nut width is much slimmer than all the possible models, all listed as 50mm. width. The Sapele back & sides may well not be an issue, as Sapele is often referred to as Mahogany.
There are many detailing features on the guitar which are the same as those described in Catalogues, but the regular reference there to fan-braced construction does not apply to this guitar, which has a simple 3-brace ladder system. There will undoubtedly be someone out there who knows exactly what model this is, and I will let you know if he/she emerges, but without that detail, what I can say is that this is a most appealing & characterful guitar.
Like many of it's compatriot Levin guitars, it is a light & responsive guitar, with a deep tone, that I'm sure will appeal to many players looking for a different approach to blues or other finger-picking styles on a Nylon-strung guitar, or to players keen to find a Nylon-strung guitar which does not take them too far away from known territory in terms of the 45mm. nut width of the Rosewood fingerboard!
The suggestion above that Hybrid suitability also for Silk & Steel stringing is an additional option, catered for not only by the slimmer fingerboard/nut width, but also the chrome roller steel string type tuning machines & dot inlay fingerboard position markers.
The original catalogue details do not clarify the question of solid or laminate timbers. My impression is that many Bjärton guitars would, if not all solid timber, be at least solid top. From popping out the endpin I can see that the sides at least are Sapale laminate. Having taken the trouble to bend laminate sides, I guess we can assume the back to be the same material. The Levin-style bound edge to the soundhole means that there is absolutely no way of confirming a solid Spruce top, without dismantling something, but I'd be prepared to risk a few bob on the prospect!
The other minor detail which makes this guitar so easily identified as Swedish, along with the Levins I love & keep referring to, is the characteristically aged, brown-coloured, original Bone Nut & Saddle, Cream soundhole binding has a subtle Green outer ring, with matching 4-ply Cream/Green top binding, and a substantial Cream back binding. Cream heal-cap & Endpin also look original. The España name logo is very discreetly embossed on the Rosewood faced headstock.
The overall condition is really excellent for a 55 year old guitar! There are a few minor nicks/scratches to to top finish, which also shows a light degree of aged finish crazing, typical of many Scandinavian-made guitars from this era. The back, sides & neck are generally in beautiful condition, with just small nicks again to the headstock.
The original classical-style string through bridge, with original bone saddle is all in good order & appears securely seated. The original Cream-buttoned tuning machines are clean & bright, with very little age-related discolouration. One key shaft shows a very slight bend, but they work fine.
The top shows a very small degree of "shaping"....the guitar has been inspected in conjunction with the highly-respected professional luthier I work with. Laying a straight-edge along the top, front to rear the maximum gap visible is around only 2mm. Like many so-called flattop guitars, I'm sure that this guitar would have been made with a slight "doming" to the top, which over time has reduced in the centre....we consider this to be an inevitable result of the simple ladder-bracing to the top. As mentioned the guitar is light in weight, but the 3 top braces are quite substantial, and the shaping reflects their positioning, front & rear of the soundhole & just in front/under the bridge.
There is very little play wear to the frets or fingerboard but, and I have now lightly stoned & re-profiled the frets, having dressed the slightly raised/sharp fret ends, and dressed/cleaned/lemon oiled the fingerboard.
It plays nicely with a reasonably shallow "C" profile rounded neck and an action of around 2.5mm./3mm. at the 12th. fret, on the low side generally for a Nylon-strung guitar, but which would no doubt be welcomed by many players, who are not out & out classical players, and again suited to the option of switching to Silk & Steel strings.
It currently retains aged ball-ended Nylon strings, but sounds very good even so. The option is available for the buyer to choose for to be strung with a new set of Classical/Nylon strings, which would be properly tied strings, not ball-ended, possibly La Bella Classical strings, probably 850-B, with Golden Alloy Basses and Black Nylon Trebles, or to be strung with Martin Silk & Steel 11.5-47 strings, or similar.
The final special feature of this guitar that I love, is the original case it comes with....'gator pattern to finish all 'gator patterns & with a plush red lined interior! Case is in serviceable vintage condition, with some degree of wear & tear, including a broken leather strap between the lid & side, but the two metal hinges & three catches are intact, along with the immense period character of the case! Cool, or what?