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"Melofonic" Branded Faux-Resonator Image Credit:  Ebay - Clark's Music The Complaint During the boom of American-built...

1930s Fake Resonators and The FTC

"Melofonic" Branded Faux-Resonator
Image Credit: Ebay - Clark's Music

The Complaint

During the boom of American-built guitars sold through mail order catalogs and department stores, there was a desire to build more guitars as cheap as possible. Shortcuts were taken which sometimes resulted in deceptive marketing practices such as the very common "faux-flame" that was painted onto of thousands of budget guitars.
112  FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION DECISIONS  Complaint 85 F. T. C.  IN THE MATTER OF JOHN CARNER, AS OFFICER OF FRETTED INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, ETC., ET AL. • COMPLAINT, FINDINGS, AND ORDER IN REGARD TO THE ALLEGED VIOLATION OF SEC. 6 OF AN ACT OF CONGRESS APPROVED SEPT. 26, 1914  Docket 4444. Complaint, Jan. 7. 1941-Deciaion, July 9, 1942  Where four officers of a corporation and its successor, engaged in the manu-facture and interstate sale and distribution of stringed musical instruments such as guitars and mandolins, which depended upon the wood for their resonance or amplification—Simulated the cone amplifying device with which amplifying or resonating types of guitars and mandolins are equipped, and which produces a sound from 50 to 85 percent louder than that of an instrument made entirely from wood, through affixing to the top of the body portion of their guitars and mandolins a polished perforated metal disk or plate (and, at one time, through painting the interior of their instruments with aluminum paint which, when seen through the perforations in the disk, had the appearance of the amplifying eine), result of which was to give their instruments a metallic ring, but not to increase the volume or resonance of the tone, as does the cone; With the result that the average person, on viewing the instrument, could not distinguish between a genuine resonating or simplifying one and one of their said products decorated with a polished perforated metal disk or plate; and with consequence that a number of dealer-customers, by means of advertisements in musical magazines of general circulation, represented that their products were so equipped: Held. That such acts and practices, under the circumstances set forth, were all to the prejudice and injury of the public, and constituted unfair and deceptive acts and practices in commerce.
Excerpt from the complaint [1]

The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation (1935-April 1939) and United Guitar Company (June 1939-?) were targets of a 1941 complaint that that claimed both New Jersey manufacturers were involved in the production and distribution of fake resonator guitars [1]. 
FINDINGS AS TO THE FACTS  PARAGRAPH 1. Respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing  Corporation, is a corporation organized under the laws of the State  of New Jersey, with its office and principal place of business in New- ark, N. J.  Respondent, United Guitar Corporation, is a corporation organ- ized under the laws of the State of New Jersey, with its office and  principal place of business in Jersey City, N. J.  Respondent, John Carner, is lin individual, and is president of  respondent corporations.  Respondent, Morris Brooks, is an individual, and. is vice president  and treasurer of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing.  Corporation.  Respondent, Frank Solvino, is an individual, and is secretary of  respondent, United Guitar Corporation.  Respondent, Frank Masiello, is an individual, and is treasurer of  United Guitar Corporation.  Respondents, John earner and Morris Brooks, directed and con- trolled the policies of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufactur- ing Corporation, and respondents, John Cartier, Frank Solvino, and  Frank Masiello, directed and controlled and now direct and control  the policies of respondent, United Guitar Corporation. The indi-
Persons involved from both companies [1]

A resonator, for those who don't know, is a guitar that has a circular hole cut into the top of the instrument to fit a metal cone, which acts like a speaker, and a metal cover to protect the thin cone from damage. There are also a number of structural changes inside the guitar to support this construction but I won't dive too far into those. The popular resonator guitars from the era were the National guitars which were build with all metal bodies and are associated with swamp blues. The FTC report claims that a "true" resonator results is "50 to 80 percent" louder than a regular flat top guitar.

Cutaway Schematic of a True Resonator
Image Credit:

These guitars did not contain metal cones but instead had the metal cover bolted onto a solid wood top with a silver circle painted underneath it to give the illusion of a cone.  The silver paint would only be visible through thin slots in the metal cover making it unapparent to the uninformed consumer that the instrument is simply an imitation. To further the FTC's case against these manufacturers, they had also engaged in advertising claiming that the instruments were indeed true resonating guitars. The complaint outlined that the "purchasing public" would have no way of differentiating between these fake instruments and the true ones.

A number of dealers to whom respondents have sold their products have, by means of advertisements placed in musical magazines of general circulation, represented directly or indirectly that respondents' products are equipped with a resonating or amplifying device. Typi-cal of such advertisements are the following: No. 248. The Guitar which has created an all-time sales record. It has outsold all other guitars and continued a "best seller." Nickel-plated "Resonator" orna-ment adds resonance to its deep tone and richness to its appearance. Nickel-plated "Resonator" ornament adds resonance to the tone of this Man-dolin and "pep" to its appearance. Nickel-plated "Resonator" ornament adds resonance to its deep tone. The melofonic tone disk built on the top of the Guitar is heavily nickel-plated and polished, and produces a tone of greater volume and remarkable quality. The melofonic Mandolin you see pictured at the right has a sparkling tone of tremendous power • • lc The nickel-plated tone cover helps to produce a brilliant tone. The melofonic tone disk built on the top of the Guitar is heavily nickel-plated and polished and produces a tone of greater volume and remarkable quality. A personal memorandum book carried by one of the salesmen of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, concern-ing one of its guitars, contained among others, the following entry : New metal 9" resonator top only • • • imitation of amplifying guitar.
Incriminating evidence of intentional false advertising [1]

Any knowledgeable player would be able to strum one of these instruments and immediately know that something was amiss but the layperson might not have such experience. A player would note the lack of distinct "twang" in the tone and the volume that a resonator might have while a consumer might not know the difference.

PAR. 4. Respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corpora-tion, about the year 1936, equipped its musical instruments with a genuine cone amplifying device, pursuant to a license granted it by the Schireson Company for the use of its patent; but because of threatened infringement litigation, ceased using the device in the early part of 1987. Respondents, for the purpose of increasing their sales, simulated the genuine amplifying device described in paragraph 8 hereof by affixing to the top of the body portion of their guitars and mandolins a polished, perforated metal disc or plate, and at one time, to further simulate said device, painted the interior of the body of their instruments with aluminum paint., which when seen through the perforations in the disc, had the appearance of the amplifying
Findings [1]

It later goes on to say that Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Co started using the real resonator design from the Schireson Brothers in 1936 but ceased using it in 1937 due to threats of infringement. The manufacturers, not wanting to lose out on sales, continued to build lookalike instruments without the trademarked cone and sell them as if they were authentic instruments. The report says that "This latter practice was discontinued about the time the complaint herein was issued and has not been resumed."

Both companies were ordered to cease and desist such practices and file a report after 60 days outlining how they complied with the order. The Fretted Instrument Mfg Co was already defunct by that point and it appears the United Guitar Co ceased production of such instruments.



  1. Good article - however National and Dobro were 2 separate companies - National produced mainly metal bodied with either 3 concave cones and a spider or a single concave cone driven by a central 'biscuit' bridge.

    Dobro built more wood bodied instruments with a convex cone driven by a spider which drove the cone from the edges.

    Both these comments are generalisations.

    Dobro has become a general name for a resonator guitar like hoover is for a vacuum cleaner.

    I call my 3 resonator or resophonic guitars as none is a National or a Dobro.

    Sorry to be pdeantic!

  2. Thank you for this information. My son retrieved a guitar case from the curb last night, inside was a Melofonic guitar in rough shape along with sheet music dating from the 20's and 30's.

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