New Additions to the Collection: Charles Brasher Resonator Guitars

January 04, 2017

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Take a walk through one of NMC’s many exhibition stages, and you might think to yourself, “Where did all this stuff come from? How did these historical artifacts end up in a place like Calgary?”

Well the answer might actually come as a surprise—we get our stuff from people like you!

Without an acquisition budget, NMC relies on the generosity of fellow music lovers to loan us artifacts for display, or donate instruments to the permanent collection.

In the case of certain items—such as TONTO—the deciding factor for the donor (Malcolm Cecil, one of TONTO’s original creators) was the opportunity of a second chance at life these instruments have as part of the living collection at NMC. Rather than sit behind glass, these artifacts are carefully restored back to functioning condition and used for educational, and interpretive programs.

TONTO, the first and largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world, was donated to NMC in 2013 by its owner and creator, Malcom Cecil. Cecil ultimately chose NMC as the TONTO’s final resting place because it would be restored and used. Credit: Hayley Robb

TONTO, the first and largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world, was donated to NMC in 2013 by its owner and creator, Malcom Cecil. Cecil ultimately chose NMC as the TONTO’s final resting place because it would be restored and used. Credit: Hayley Robb

Recently, NMC was lucky enough to receive a generous donation of 1930s-era resonator guitars from local collector, David J. Glass.

Credit: Don Kennedy

The Maui, the Reliance, and the Artist—three models of resonator guitars made by Canadian luthier Charles Brasher, now part of the permanent collection at NMC. Credit: Don Kennedy

Originally developed in the early 1920s, resonator guitars came about during the big band era as a way to boost sound levels in acoustic guitars before the invention of electronic amplification.

Instead of a regular soundboard, these instruments were equipped with one or more spun metal cones—resulting in a louder, tinnier sound than an acoustic guitar.


Video above dissects a single-cone resonator guitar, showing a spun metal cone underneath the metal plate used to amplify the sound produced by an acoustic guitar.

Though a favourite instrument of blues and bluegrass musicians, in Canada, the resonator guitar was commonly used by Hawaiian-style guitarists as a lap instrument. Charles Brasher, a Toronto luthier and metalworker, was able to corner this niche in the Canadian market in 1935, when he patented his own version of the resonator cone.


Hawaiian-style guitarist uses resonator guitar similar to Brasher’s models as a lap guitar.

Brasher produced six styles of resonator guitars throughout the 1930s—the Maui, the Aloha, the Artist, the Supertone, the Reliance, and the Silvatone. Each model has its own unique design, with some of the metal-bodied guitars featuring hand-etched floral or island-themed patterns.

Close-up of hula girl etching on back of Brasher's metal-bodied Silvatone guitar. Credit: Don Kennedy

Close-up of hula girl etching on back of Brasher’s metal-bodied Silvatone guitar. Credit: Don Kennedy

Thanks to Mr. Glass’s donation, NMC is now the proud caretaker of all six models of the Brasher Resonator Guitar—one of which is currently on display in the “Made In Canada” stage.

Come check out this unique Canadian instrument, now on exhibit at Studio Bell.

Do you have a unique instrument with a Canadian connection that we might be interested in? Check out our artifact donation form.

 

– Hayley Robb

Questions or Comments?  Email me at hayley.robb@nmc.ca.

 

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About the Author

Hayley Robb

Hayley is an objects conservator, specializing in the care and treatment of decorative art and historical objects. At NMC, she is responsible for the recovery and reorganization of the electronic parts collection damaged in the flood. Born and raised in Calgary, she is happy to be back in her hometown after 6 years in Ontario.


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