by Adam Perlmutter
Though little known among American players and collectors, Levin was a leading Scandinavian manufacturer of guitars from 1900 to the mid Seventies, when the company was purchased by Martin Guitars. From the Fifties until the Seventies, Levin guitars were distributed in the U.S. under the brand name Goya.
The company was founded by Herman Carlson Levin, a Swedish luthier who apprenticed in the United States in the late 1880s with C.F. Martin. After opening his own workshop in New York City shortly thereafter, Levin paid a visit to his native country, where he found that demand had developed for guitars. He subsequently relocated to Gothenburg and began producing both nylon- and steel-string models, in addition to mandolins. Levin’s craftsmanship was so skilled that he beat out traditional Spanish makers at the 1907 Madrid Expo, where he won a gold medal and the grand prix.
Levin archtops are particularly curious. They are infrequently seen in the United States but surface regularly at the Stockholm store Vintage Guitars (www.vintage-guitars.se). These instruments borrow liberally from Gibson, Epiphone, and D’Angelico designs but also incorporate idiosyncratic flourishes, such as stylishly asymmetric headstocks with sharp-sign inlays.
The guitar shown here is one of Levin’s finest archtops—a late-Thirties De Luxe. Offered from 1937 to 1947, this fancy 18 1/2–inch jazz box is patterned after Gibson’s Super 400 and features a carved Romanian spruce top and flamed maple back, rims, and neck. The fingerboard is fashioned of ebony, and the instrument is embellished extensively with multi-ply binding and luxurious mother-of-pearl inlays.
Fred Guy, a banjo and guitar player in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1925 to 1949, scored this particular example on a 1939 tour of Sweden. About 40 years later, in Florida, Guy’s ex-wife, Dorothy Guy-Lynch, passed the guitar on to its current owner, her then teenaged neighbor Gary Petrin. Petrin has stowed the De Luxe, along with Guy’s plectrums and capos, in its extensively road-worn Geib case ever since, while tirelessly researching the guitar’s provenance and former owner. “I’m thrilled to have discovered a piece of jazz history right under my nose,” he says.