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1930s AudioVox 7-String "Frying Pan" Vintage Lap Steel w/ Case, Seattle-Made, Paul Tutmarc


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Up for sale, a 1930s AudioVox 7-string lap steel in excellent condition and in perfect working order, complete with the original case. The brainchild of Seattle resident and Hawaiian steel guitar teacher Paul Tutmarc, the AudioVox brand is a little known pioneer of electrified instruments, with Tutmarc creating the first fretted electric bass well before Leo Fender's Precision (Tutmarc called his the "Electric Bass Fiddle"). With Tutmarc's electric pickup invention potentially pre-dating Rickenbacker's "Frying Pan" steel, the AudioVox brand is an important progenitor of electrified sound.

This 7-string lap steel was one of very few hand-made in the mid-1930s by Tutmarc's seedling of a company, and this example has been freshly serviced with a new carved dyed maple bridge with fretwire saddle, new pot (original included), and new heavy-duty fixed 1/4" cable. With its shaded gloss lacquer finish on an octagonal black walnut body, etched polished nickel control plate, AudioVox badge, and blade pickup, this lap steel was certainly pioneering in its day both in function and design. The pickup delivers a clear, sweet bell-like tone with an excellent noise floor and a very even, balanced sound, strung with fresh 13-55 roundwound strings.

The steel has a bound fretboard with a 22 3/8" scale length and 2 1/8" wide brass nut. The AudioVox metal badge on the headstock also boasts of the instrument's Seattle, WA construction, and the headstock retains the original open-gear strip tuners furnished by Waverly and repurposed from a mandolin, with the 8th tuner post left without a gear from the factory. String spacing at the bridge is 2 1/2", and the new dyed maple bridge is screwed to the walnut body using the two original outside bridge mounting holes. The etched nickel control plate shows some greening and oxidation on the treble side, and the plate retains the original octagonal pointer knob for the Volume control. While the large original non-functional potentiometer is included in the case, a new pot has been installed for trouble-free performance.

The octagonal body is constructed of four pieces of walnut comprising the wings, the central third, and a separate thin piece of walnut joining the treble-side wing. The original dark shaded gloss lacquer finish shows prominent lacquer checking and various dings and scuffs consistent with age. There is minor finish loss on the treble side corner adjacent to the high string ferrule, and also on the fingerboard, predominantly between frets 8 and 15.

The original hardshell case is included with rusty, yet functional outer latches, and the original handle is still attached on one end. A vintage buckled strap was long ago added around the center of the case.