Museum: Gibson Guitars

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1932 Gibson HG-20

FON 302. Introduced in 1929, the "Hawaiian Gibson" models were designed specifically for Hawaiian style playing, with raised nuts and slacked tunings. Appearing only in the 1932 catalog, the HG-20, 22 and 24 were produced for roughly 5 years, until slow sales resigned them to the pages of flat-top history.

The defining characteristics of the HG models are the top's extra F holes and inner rim, suspended from the top about 1-1/2" away from the instrument's sides and separated from the back by about an inch. Gibson had designed this inner "baffle" to provide extra stability to the top, increase the instrument's resonating properties and volume, and tame the flat-top's tendency toward overpowering bass response. And while the company was successful in its design, these early HG guitars created a powerful, yet difficult to categorize tone that players of the time just never got used to. The instrument wasn't as loud as a single-cone National, as fluid as a tri-cone, or as round as a Dobro. It also wasn't typically set up to be played in the Spanish-style, which helped relegate these models to the sidelines in short order.

That being said, simply because this guitar sounds like nothing that has ever entered our shop, we love it! Its warm woody mids, and even balance of treble and bass are significantly amplified by way of the baffle and extra sound holes. But the top's scaled-in-size X bracing is all Gibson, and although it's not as loud as a National Duolian, it does seem to share some of that instrument's genealogy. For lack of better words, this HG-20 sounds like a cross between an L-00 and a steel-bodied National, if you can wrap your head around that one. It grabs the best of each of these instruments, and offers up a tone that is both clangy and calm, brash and subtle, and lazy and quick. It's a strange and enchanting instrument, but one with incredible usability, and a uniquely mesmerizing tone.

Built with a very normally-sized round neck, a 1-3/4" nut width, and radiused fingerboard, the 'Hawaiian Guitar' HG-20 is pretty-much anything but. With the high-nut swapped out, the instrument sets-up perfectly for Spanish style (AKA Normal) playing. Even the bridge features an intonation-compensated saddle angle! In classic Gibson form, they designed an instrument for one thing, but it was better suited for something else. We have the guitar set up with standard action and strings, and feel that it's true worth becomes obvious when your steel bar and riser nut are tucked away in the case.

Save for replacement bridge pins, the guitar is all original and in remarkably fine condition. Its only cracks are on the top's lower treble bout, stemming off of two of the F holes near the edges of the guitar. The back braces are all tightly glued (a miraculous thing on a 1930's Gibson), and the top's braces, bridge, and bridgeplate are all tight as well. The top shows the deflection that is typical of these models, but isn't something we're overly concerned about; the neck angle is excellent, and the frets and fingerboard are in perfect shape. There are minor finish touch-ups associated with the top cracks, but the finish is otherwise original. There might be some light overspray in sections, but it's truly hard to tell for certain, and black-light doesn't reveal any inconsistencies.

Small Dreadnought-shaped body, about 14-1/4" wide, with laminate maple back and sides, bound red spruce top, and a uniform dark brown finish. Mahogany neck with short-scale rosewood fingerboard and matching bridge. Silk-screened headstock logo, original tuners, nut, and saddle.

With period chipboard case

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