Joseph Bohmann / Steele String / 1893 / Brown / Guitar
Joseph Bohmann was a Czechoslovakian stringed instrument maker, born in 1848 who emigrated to America, forming Bohmann's American Musical Industry in Chicago in 1878. He continued to build many kinds of stringed instruments until around 1930. A relentless and egotistical self-publicist, he called himself The Worlds Greatest Musical Instrument Manufacturer, this stylization, alongside depictions of the numerous awards he received, appearing on the labels affixed to his instruments. Nevertheless, despite his efforts not a great deal is actually known about him and the vintage guitar market isnt awash with Bohmann pieces. Joseph Bohmann made all grades of guitars. The market was very competitive and the sturdier built Bohmanns, with their imaginative and incredibly strong internal bracing, were able to cope with the extra stresses needed for the increasingly popular steel strings without breaking. The bracing design found on his later models was used as far back as the 1880s. Strung with light gauge steel, the sound of his parlor models has been said to equal, and possibly better, that of bigger Martins of the same era. He had offered an audacious challenge to other makers to build better sounding instruments, staking $125,000 of his money as the prize. It was never claimed so maybe his confidence was justified. Bohmann was also a continual innovator and submitted dozens of patents, from inset tuners to hand rests. He also applied some of the knowledge gained from making violin family stringed instruments to his guitars, most notably with his fretboard and string path designs. On some models, the fretboard tilts toward the hand in the higher registers and the fingerboard radius is lower and thinner for the treble strings. When combined with the asymmetrical bridge, playability is substantially improved. The best known of Bohmanns guitars are probably his various harp guitars. While such harp guitars were not uncommon around the turn of the 20th century, Bohmanns ingenuity fervently embraced this new outlet. His first, and simplest, model was produced under license from an Arling Schaefer patent of 1890. It featured two extra courses of strings across the body. Joseph Bohmann produced his own designs, custom built as well as stock, from around 1895 featuring extra courses of as many 12 sub-bass strings. His most famous models, produced sometime between 1910 and 1915, were known as sympathetic string instruments. The sympathetic strings were effectively metal rods, each one a different metal chosen for its tonal properties, mounted inside the body and tuned from the outside. The largest of these guitars featured a ten string fretted neck, a further 12 sub bass strings mounted on a second neck and seven internal rods. Nobody is quite sure when he died or when the factory stopped producing instruments. What is known is that the factory was mothballed for several decades until being re-opened sometime in the 70s or 80s. It apparently contained many finished and unfinished models wrapped in World War II newspapers. Some of these guitars are now appearing on the vintage guitar market, beautifully restored or, in some cases, finished with modern tuners to replace the originals which can no longer be sourced.