You're quite right. The set of the neck looks quite iffy to me. There seems to be far more upper bout on the treble side exposed compared to the bass side. Looking at the fingerboard extension lie on the rosette is another example.
Have not put on new strings but the neck is clearly not set correctly. It has come separated from the body a little bit over the years.
If the strings have tension, loosen them off..it will only worsen the situation.
Before I comment I must stress my questions are as a novice guitar repairer with almost no knowledge of U.S. antiques - but I do have 30 yrs with antiques & fine woodcraft in Australia & New Zealand.. The answer to my questions might simply lie in the photography. Try not to use flash or direct sunlight on subjects as these can give a rather new appearance.
My "observations" - the "plastic" parts - binding & tuning knobs show no sign of yellowing/cracking.
- no wear under the sound hole or on back of neck or on back of instrument - no scratches from belt buckles etc.
- when looking inside at the label I can not see any grain in the wood on back. - appears in photo like a composite board which was only developed about 40 yrs ago.
Restored? - if it is a cheap student guitar the cost would hardly be worth it.
As it belonged to a family member how much accurate info do you have on it's provenance(history)?
Perhaps it has spent 99 of it's 100 yrs in a cupboard.
I have a 32inch television as my computer monitor so can see quite clearly.
Perhaps local experts like Doc can help explain my observations.
Hi Dean ... I agree with you regarding flash images, although sunlight images can show nice grain detail etc.
I, like some others here, have been around old guitars for decades, and have handled literally thousands of them (antiques, too). I'll address some of your questions to the best of my experience.
Plastic ( i.e. celluloid, ivory) parts on guitars can often remain bright and clean. It will often take on patina, but not always.
No wear: believe it or not, this is not uncommon on many old guitars. Many retain the sparkle from the day they were made.
Wood grain: without having clearer images, my educated guess is that this is a guitar with a slab birch back and sides and you won't 'see' the grain because of the way it was sawn, so it looks clear like some plywood.
Provenance: We can accept the OPs word at face value, but in the bigger picture, and in regard to this guitar on the 'market', provenance is not an issue. It's clear that it's a turn-of-the-twentieth-century parlor guitar. If the said relative were a 'famous' person, provenance can come into play.
In my opinion, based on my experience and study of vintage catalogs, combined with the provided images, this guitar is 100% a parlor guitar from the earlier stated time period, in original, excellent condition (barring some unforeseen damage/cracks etc).
Earlier in the thread I'd guessed this could be a Haynes guitar, but in consultation with a very knowledgeable friend, we agree that it was likely made by the Lyon & Healy company, and marketed by Ditson (hence, the Ditson label inside).
Hope that helps to answer some of your questions .. Tom
Firstly to Ian I hope I didn't sound too critical. I am simply trying to gain knowledge here.The 40 yr old instrument I am currently working on has about 100 yrs of wear & tear on it & bindings had quite simply dissolved already. It seams that early plastics outlast more modern ones - old finishes certainly do. I have restored shellac finishes 100 yrs old & if looked after can last even longer. Thanks for the info from Tom & Frank.
Here's a link to some high res photos http://imgur.com/a/F4ZT5
Indeed, it is an inexpensive model guitar made by one of the great contract factories, and distributed through Ditson. Oscar Schmidt was such a factory in NY, so that might be a possible choice in guessing the maker.
"Faux" wood grain painting was used on generic solid wood instruments in those days the way we use photo laminate or plywood construction today, and I presume this is one of the instruments made in that manner. It does appear to be in excellent original finish condition.
As to "value," well it was your grandpa's so it has that family attachment and value - don't underestimate its importance in that regard. Cash value is quite low, really, so I wouldn't consider that as a factor in considering its disposition. If you'd like to have it restored to good playability, do so with the understanding that the cost of the work is not recoverable by selling it.
Don't sell it.
You can never recover that kind of family artifact.
Frank, for sure not a Schmidt (Schmidt was in Jersey City, NJ ..., almost NY) ;-)
I don't know that I'd say "for sure" not a Schmidt. Here is a link to a Lyra Brand, C. Bruno made by Schmidt & Co. circa 1920 that is very similar to the Ditson.
Doc, that Lyra looks similar (I've owned a few Lyras) to this Ditson, but I can find many similar examples from other makers catalogs, too, it's just so hard to tell. But, I know enough to never say never when IDing old guitars from internet photos, and sometimes even in-hand! Looking inside would answer the OS or not question, I believe. OS guitars are always less than Martin-esque in the fit and finish. Lyon & Healy, Haynes, Washburn etc, were all neat as a pin, like a Martin.
Without having the OP guitar in hand, there are two things I see in the photos provided that differentiate it from the Lyra linked above. First, the slots on the OPs guitar cut a bit different than any OS I've seen, and second, the neck carve where the neck meets the back of the headstock looks a bit more pronounced that most OS guitars I see. So, my gut tells me Lyon & Healy or Haynes, and not OS, but, who knows?
Regardless, it's certainly a student-grade guitar from the very early 1900s. And the workmanship on these is usually pretty clean with decent materials, and, when set up well, are fun to play. But, like Frank said, these are often $600 guitars needing $800 dollars worth of work.
Ian, the OP, also asked about value. Guitars like this can retail (asking prices), set up in excellent condition, in the $700-$900 range. If it needs a neck set, set up, braces glued and so on, maybe in the $3-500 range. The biggest detriment can be a neck with too much relief caused by too heavy strings over time. With a fresh neck set, they'll often buzz above the 6th or 7th fret. I've often inlaid carbon fiber rods under the board to ensure a solid neck. Then they're really great guitars with a unique sound, but not many people pay attention to them...alway fun to discuss. Tom