Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

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United "Elitone" headstock Image Credit: Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Co The Fretted Instrument Manufactur...

Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co. & The United Guitar Co.

United "Elitone" headstock
Image Credit:

Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Co

The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Jersey based manufacturer of musical instruments from November 1935 to April of 1939. They were located at 45 Corneilson Ave in Jersey City, New Jersey. The company's executives were John Carner, President, and Morris Brooks, Vice President [1]. Jules Cherof was the sales manager [7]. 

1942 FTC Report [1]


The Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co also originated the Stella, La Scala, and Sovereign brands that would become famous. They made guitars, banjos, mandolins, tiples, and electric guitars. They also made tuners (including being the sole licensee to manufacture "SafeTi-String" tuners), tailpieces, bridges, guitar steels, hawaiian nuts, and other accessories [7].

1937 Advertisement for Stella, La Scala, and
Sovereign amplifiers and Hawaiian or Spanish guitars [7]

After FIMC ceased production in 1939, Carner formed another company:

United Guitar Corporation

The United Guitar Corporation was founded in 1939 by John Carner, Frank Colonese, and headed by Frank Solvino, secretary, and treasurer, Frank Masiello [1]. According to Bernard Forcillo, general manager from 1959 until the mid 1970s, these men were former employees of Oscar Schmidt and brought tooling and machinery from the recently shuttered guitar division of Oscar Schmidt [8]. In 1940 they employed 24 males and 3 females at their factory at 45 Cornelison Avenue in Jersey City [6]. By 1952, they had relocated the factory to 278 Johnston Avenue in Jersey City [9].

Frank Forcillo

One of the most famous employees of United was Frank Forcillo, a luthier who worked with John D'Angelico prior to joining the company and also in 1948 patented the unique headstock truss rod used in later D'Angelico instruments. I spoke with his son, Bernard Forcillo, who also worked as the general manager of United for about 15 years and he shared a lot of great information on the company. Frank was an Italian cabinet maker who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, worked with John for a number of years, and left to pursue the manufacture of instruments on a greater scale. 

The Company

United is relatively mysterious due to the nature of their business, they distributed instruments almost exclusively through wholesalers like the David Wexler company and never mailed a full line catalog [8]. Few of their instruments actually brandished the United brand name.

Here is an excerpt of the information that I learned from Bernard Forcillo. You can read my full notes here: Interview with Bernard Forcillo

The United Guitar Company was a union shop that employed around 40 to 50 employees. Bernard was proud to explain that they primarily hired immigrants and people just entering the workforce. Employees made around 65 cents an hour. The instruments were assembled with animal glue that was heated on 'gas stoves' and one could glue twenty instruments and by the time they finished the first would be ready for the next step. Some employees would trace the neck template onto a blank and cut it on the bandsaw while others would install hardware and string the guitars. John, a former Steinway employee, polished finished guitars on a stand buffer.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, United had no problems with sales and actually struggled with getting supplies to fulfill the orders they received. United produced 200 guitars per day and about 120 of those were 'beginner type' as that is where the most money was. Most of those were intended for steel strings but some had slotted headstocks and nylon strings. The rest of the instruments were archtops, electric guitars, mandolins, and mahogany baritone ukuleles. Saturdays were a half day at the company and they built 60-80 instruments. 


I asked Bernard about the stencil guitars and he told me that they did have Old West and patriotic stencils that were sprayed through on top of the guitars. He said those didn't sell that well. 

In a February of 1973 issue of Boys Life, United produced an advertisement to "Build your own full size guitar" with pre-bent wood, sandpaper, glue, hardware, and instruments included. A 1973 issue of "The Purchasers Guide to the Music Industries" lists United as "manufacturers of quality guitars, mandolins, and ukes" with Bernard A. Forcillo as the general manager.

1973 United Guitar Corp Ad for guitar kits
Image Source: Google Books - Boys Life 

According to Bernard, United was reabsorbed by Oscar Schmidt in the late 1970s and then, by my own research, Oscar Schmidt was purchased by Fretted Industries Inc

Other Ties

United provided the bodies for D'Angelico's budget line of guitars.
When John D'Angelico finally caved into pressure to make "electric" guitars he chose not to make the bodies, but rather purchased laminate-top bodies from Forcillo's United company. John would then make the neck and complete the guitars - again using Franz pickups for the most part. [4]
There are also references to a company named "Code" (pronounced ko-day) that appear when people mention D'Angelico and United. 
According to Hans Moust's excellent and highly recommended The Guild Guitar Book, in the early years Guild used craftsmen from Code Guitars in New Jersey to finish their instruments. Many references to United Guitars make reference to Code in the same breath. The connection has yet to be fully explained but it is worth mentioning here. [4]
My discussion with Bernard Forcillo finally, in my opinion, nailed down the origins of Code. Bernard explains that in the 1970s, United was struggling with Japanese imports and former United president Frank Colonese and general manager Leonard Defilippis split off to create their own firm. It only lasted a few years before they merged back with United [8].


  • Oscar Schmidt Inc [1871-1939]
  • Fretted Instrument Mfg Co [1935-1939]
  • United Guitar Co [1939-1977]

Additional Notes

  • Lardy's Ukulele Database is a fantastic resource for the ukulele models produced by United and other companies. I would highly recommend it for anybody researching a ukulele or similar instrument
  • There are also "United" guitars that were distributed in Canada by the United Conservatory of Music. They have no relation to the New Jersey company


United Guitar Co. is probably best known for their budget parlor guitars which could be stenciled with cowboy scenes in the 1950s or have geometric painted inlays. These instruments are often incorrectly attributed to the Chicago manufacturers like Regal, Harmony, and Kay due to their similar designs, styling, and the fact that the Chicago companies are much more well known. I have more experience with the low-tier acoustics so that is primarily what this guide will focus on. Hopefully it helps shed light on these instruments

Cowboy guitar with the "buckeye" stencil
Image Credit: Reverb - Lawman Guitars
The Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co. distributed faux-resonator guitars during the 1930s which are identified by silver paint on the top where a metal cone should be. Read my write up on their legal trouble here:


Their high end models have an open-book headstock profile that resembles an exaggerated version of a Gibson headstock. 
Image Credit:
Their budget models often have a single point that very closely resembles the Kay headstock profile and likely leads to a lot of confusion about the two.
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique
There is also this third design that has a "swoop" to it that gets longer as it reaches the bass side. It reminds me of the Greco headstock shapes from the 70s. It appears to be less common.
Image Credit:


  • Budget
    • Acoustics have wide Gibson-esque heels (even on the parlor guitars)
    • The necks are maple or poplar with painted (not dyed or ebonized) maple fretboards
    • The bodies are domestic woods like maple or birch
      • I've seen them as solid and laminate woods with no clear rhyme or reason
    • Brass frets are almost always the standard
    • Stamped metal tailpieces and painted wood bridges


  • Budget
    • Nails instead of screws are used to mount the tuners and tailpieces
      • This is the best trait, in my opinion, to distinguish these guitars
    • Tuners are Waverly with the bell end plates


  • Budget
    • Sharp geometric shapes for the stenciled fretboard markers like circles and triangles
  • There is also a stamp that says USA and is surrounded by a shield outline
MADE IN U.S.A stamp
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique

As seen in some of the headstock pictures above, some United guitars have a "Steel Reinforced Neck" stamp which is identical to the one appearing on equivalent Harmony guitars from the era. I entertained the idea that Harmony could've built this guitar but the construction lead me away from that conclusion. Nail-mounted hardware and a thick heel positively identify this guitar as being built by United and not Harmony. I cannot provide an explanation other than my theory that one company was copying another or ordered their silk screens through the same provider who just reused their assets.


[7] The Purchasers Guide to the Music Industries issue 1937

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