Swedish immigrant Charles Stromberg and his son Elmer built guitars together in a small workshop in Boston, Massachusetts from the early 1930s through 1955. (Elmer died only a few months after his father passed away.) Like D’Angelico, the Strombergs specialized in acoustic archtop guitars that were built-to-order for a clientele made up almost exclusively of professional musicians. Stromberg players of note include Irving Ashby with Nat King Cole, jazz guitarist Barry Galbraith, and Freddie Green of the Count Basie Orchestra. Although Stromberg serial numbers only go as high as 636, it is estimated that the Strombergs made about a total of about 1,100 guitars.
Another notable guitarist who played Stromberg instruments is Hank Garland. While Garland is best known for the Byrdland model that he and Billy Byrd designed for Gibson, Garland owned and played instruments from a wide variety of manufacturers, including Bigsby, D’Angelico, Del Pilar, Epiphone, and Stromberg in addition to the numerous Gibson models in his arsenal. One of the most sought-after studio guitarists in Nashville during the 1950s, Garland was likely one of the first to bring multiple guitars to sessions to provide the ideal sound for each recording.
Garland played on hundreds of recordings in Nashville during the 1950s until 1961, when he suffered serious injuries due to an automobile accident. Some of the records he played on include numerous singles with Elvis Presley (“Little Sister,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and many others), “I Fall to Pieces” with Patsy Cline, “The Hot Guitar” with Eddie Hill, various rockabilly sides with Eddie Bond, Patty Page’s “Just Because,” Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” and many memorable hits. Garland also released numerous instrumental recordings under his own name, bookended by his signature single “Sugarfoot Rag” recorded in 1949 and his visionary jazz breakthrough album Jazz Winds in a New Direction, released in 1961 just before his accident.
Garland was always a fan of jazz music, and during a trip to New York City for a recording session with Eddie Albert in the early 1950s he met jazz guitarist Barry Galbraith, who showed Garland his short scale Stromberg guitar. Garland loved the instruments playability, and he ordered a similar Stromberg for himself. The Stromberg’s short scale inspired him to include the same feature on his Gibson Byrdland model. When Garland acquired this Stromberg Master 400 is unknown, but it was likely after he ordered his short scale model.
The Master 400 is a mammoth archtop with a body measuring 19 inches across the bottom bout. This guitar has a Stromberg gold-plated tailpiece that was not so subtly inspired by that of the Gibson Super 400, featuring a similar Y-shaped center section with two additional cross pieces forming an arrow design. The tuners are the same ones found on an Epiphone Emperor and even are embossed with Epiphone’s trademark “E” letter logo. Garland’s signature is on the back of the lower bass bout as well as on this guitar’s case.
Serial number: 546
Top: Spruce, natural finish
Back and sides: Maple
Neck: Maple with two mahogany center strips
Bridge/tailpiece: Ebony, gold-plated Stromberg trapeze with Y and arrow center section
Tuners: Gold-plated Epiphone “E” with marbeloid buttons