Sweden is not the first place you’d think of as a source for fine archtop guitars. But in the 1940s and ’50s, some of the best examples in Europe were produced in the Levin factory. Levin instruments have been played by many of the finest European guitarists, from Pete Townshend (early in his career) to Anders Färdal, as well as an American musician of note, Fred Guy, who was with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for many years. (There’s a famous photo of Django Reinhardt playing Guy’s non-cutaway Levin De Luxe during a 1947 US tour.)
The Levin company was founded in 1900 by Herman Carlson Levin (né Herman Carlson), a cabinet maker by trade, who learned to make guitars in New York City in the late 1880s before moving back to Sweden to set up shop. Starting as a modest two-man operation, Levin rapidly expanded. By 1948, the company had turned out 200,000 instruments, the bulk of them flattop guitars. (To put that number in perspective, C. F. Martin & Company made 108,269 guitars between its founding, in 1833, and 1948.)
The 1948 Model 1 De Luxe archtop shown here sat at the very top of the Levin line. With a lower bout of over 18 inches, this formidable instrument is as big as the Gibson Super 400 and the Epiphone Emperor, the largest factory-made guitars in the United States. The De Luxe’s build quality and ornamentation are also on a par with top-of-the-line Gibson and Epiphone archtops, though its inlays are pearloid celluloid, rather than mother-of-pearl. As with some prewar Epiphones, the sides and back of this example are walnut, rather than the customary maple.
This De Luxe is in fine condition and is 100 percent original, save for a missing pickguard and a single replacement peghead inlay. The profile of its mahogany neck (with a non-adjustable dura-luminum truss rod) is quite comfortable—something that cannot be said for many European guitars. In terms of sound, the guitar rivals some of its best American-made counterparts. It’s loud and with cutting power for big band use, but capable of considerable subtlety as well.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.