1940s Vega Triumphal Tenor Guitar
A common trend in the early days of electrification was to lump together instruments at the same price point under one model name. Thus, you could acquire a National New Yorker lap steel, Spanish electric guitar, electric mandolin or electric banjo for the same price. The same instrument types were all offered as the Epiphone Electar Zephyr line. In many cases, the product lines were often narrowed as time went by – the electric mandolins and banjos, in particular, tended not to last – but sometimes one member of a group went on to greater success. The New Yorker lap steel and the Zephyr Deluxe Regent, for example, are both regarded as classic models and highlights of their respective brands’ history.
Another grouping of instruments was the Vega Triumphal series. Exactly which instruments were catalogued under the Triumphal name is hazy, since Vega documentation is generally thin on the ground. Certainly there was a Triumphal [Electric] Hawaiian Guitar introduced around 1939 and a Triumphal [Electric] Spanish Guitar introduced not long thereafter, plus an accompanying Triumphal Amplifier. The name even extended to Vega’s brass section, as there was a Triumphal model Trumpet. Mandolins that resemble the Triumphal Spanish Guitars are known to exist, though it’s unclear whether they were given the Triumphal name due to lack of available documentation. The same holds true of this tenor guitar.
The Triumphal line’s origins lie in the eloquently named Spanish Guitar model of the late 1930s. With the matching Electric Mandolin and Electric Banjo models, this was Vega’s first attempt at a coordinated electric line. There was also an upscale alternative to the Spanish Guitar called the Supertron; introduced by 1939, it featured a 17” body of laminated maple capped all over with a highly-flamed veneer. The Supertron featured a single-coil pickup in the bridge position, a departure from the humbucking “Dual-Tone” pickups found on the Spanish Guitar model. By the early 1940s, the Supertron idea had been expanded into the Triumphal series, which replaced the earlier electric models. (Incidentally, both the Supertron and the Triumphal models are frequently referred to as “Electrovox” guitars; however, I can find no use of this term in any Vega catalog or advertisement.) The new Triumphal Spanish Guitar had the same flamed, laminated body but with a smaller 16” lower bout. It underwent similar changes to Vega’s carved-top acoustics during the 1940s, changing fret markers and knob placements and gaining an adjustable truss rod.
I do not have any record of a Triumphal tenor guitar being catalogued, but that does not mean that it was not a regular offering at some point during the 1940s. However, Vega is known to have built tenor guitars on special order during this period. Generally, this example conforms to the specifications of a late ‘40s Triumphal Spanish: the 16” flamed maple body, sound posts under the bridge, single-coil pickup, and the volume and tone controls located on the treble side of the tailpiece. The lack of a truss rod was normal for Vega tenors; only the Spanish guitars were fitted with them. This guitar is entirely original, including the Waverly tuners and 6-string tailpiece. Aside from considerable finish wear on the back of the neck and a few miscellaneous dings, it’s in unusually clean condition for its age and still resides in its original case.
Two things lead me to believe that this guitar was a custom order, regardless of whether the Triumphal Tenor was ever catalogued. First, the inspection card simply lists the model as a tenor guitar; there is no mention of the Triumphal name. Second, there is a redundant brace behind the bridge that was carved to meet sound posts. The bridge of this tenor guitar is about ¾” forward of where the Spanish model’s bridge sits, and it appears that they built the body for a Spanish guitar before adding an extra brace to accommodate the bridge placement.