AudioVox, Model 436 Single Steel Guitar, 1937


Model 436 Single Steel Guitar
The Story Behind

This AudioVox 7-String Model 436 Single Steel Guitar, c. 1937, was made in Seattle, WA, featuring a natural mahogany finish, mahogany body and neck and the original hard shell case. 

Perhaps the great "lost" story in the history of electric guitars, the AudioVox brand has only recently emerged from obscurity as the legacy of one of the first pioneers of musical electrification, Paul Tutmarc. While not as well-remembered as the contemporary early Rickenbacher Electro, Vivi-Tone or National/Dobro electrics Tutmarc's AudioVox instruments were in production at the same time, and in some ways are more forward-looking than any. It has been recently proven that Tutmarc was the first to create a guitar-style electric bass, many years before Leo Fender. This early AudioVox steel was handmade by Tutmarc's tiny firm in the mid-1930's and is a wonderful piece of electric guitar history.

Tutmarc was a Seattle player and teacher of the Hawaiian guitar who became fascinated by the concept of amplifying his instrument around 1930. With the help of another Washington resident and electronics expert, Art Stimpson, Tutmarc designed a working magnetic guitar pickup based on contemporary telephone technology. With the help of local radio expert Bob Wisner an accompanying amplifier was also created. Tutmarc soon began hand-building solid-body steel guitars using his pickup, but Stimpson favoured selling the idea to an established company. Soon enough, without consulting his partner Stimpson took the design to Dobro in Los Angeles, where it was patented as part of a proprietary guitar and became the basis for the first National and Dobro electric instruments. Tutmarc was no doubt highly displeased by this development, but continued to refine and market his own electric instruments, albeit only on a small local scale. 

This is an early production AudioVox 7-string Steel guitar, built with the amazingly advanced-looking fluid sculptured body that superseded the octagonal shape first used in 1932-3. The earliest electric bass used this same body style. According to Tutmarc's son Bud the woodworking and finishing on these first production steels was done by another Seattle resident, Emerald Baumsgard. Tutmarc himself fitted the electronics. The body is mahogany, very nicely sculpted and finished, with a celluloid bound neck and edges and dot fret markers. The bridge and nut are metal, as is the cover-plate on the face. The bulky pickup coil is concealed underneath this, with only the blade pole-piece visible. A single volume pot with an octagonal radio-style knob is mounted on the treble side. This is a very fine sounding steel, and an extremely rare and important instrument in the early development of the electric guitar.

The guitar is complemented by an original 15W amp, the Model 236 (see TYS collection AudioVox, Model 236 Guitar Amplifier, 1937).

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