1932 Gene Autry "Roundup" Guitar

Written by Steve Evans, originally published in Nightflying Magazine, March 2013, and in The Antiquie Trader, July 10, 2013

Sears' 1932 fall catalog heralds the introduction of the Gene Autry “Roundup” guitar. The “Roundup” was the very first stencil-painted cowboy guitar produced and led to Sears' competitors (Montgomery Ward, Spiegel, and others) to come out with their own cowboy guitar models.

Sears, Roebuck & Company introduced the Gene Autry “Roundup” guitar in the autumn of 1932. At the time, households across America were fond of listening to the radio and this guitar was named after the up-and-coming radio performer, Gene Autry. Gene could be heard singing his cowboy songs live on radio station WLS out of Chicago, a station owned by Sears (call letters W.L.S. stood for “World’s Largest Store”). Sears also owned the Harmony Guitar Factory where the Gene Autry guitars were built.
The Gene Autry guitar was fairly small in size, but was a perfect fit for the younger fans of cowboy lore. The front of the guitar was stencil-painted with artwork showing a cowboy riding in a cattle roundup while swinging a lariat above his head. The “Gene Autry” signature was painted at the bottom of the scene, and the model name “Round-up” was painted up on the peghead. Sears was using the house brand name of “Supertone” on all of its guitars, and inside the sound hole was a Supertone label which read: “This instrument is guaranteed to be free from defects and flaws and to comprise the best materials and workmanship and tone that is possible for the price.” The 1932 Roundup was in fact a high quality guitar made with a solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides, and at a price of only $9.75.
Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy,” went on to become hugely popular and had an unprecedented career in entertainment spanning three decades. He recorded more than three hundred records and was on radio and television, but is best remembered for being a movie star.

This Gene Autry “Roundup” guitar was made in the fall of 1932. It has a solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides, and seems similar in quality to a small Martin.

Gene Autry (The Singing Cowboy) starred in 93 movies and was an excellent role model for his young fans.
Gene starred in ninety-three movies. Of course, he sang and played guitar in these “picture shows,” but more importantly was how each movie contained a good moral to the story. Gene Autry always made a stand for what was right and morally correct, and his fans were well aware of his cowboy code of ethics:
1. The cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
10. The cowboy is a patriot.
Gene Autry was an excellent role model for our “Greatest Generation.” While Gene’s young fans were absorbing his cowboy code, they were formulating their own code of ethics. If these youngsters were to be like their hero, they too would fight for what is right. Tens of thousands of those same fans became young men in the early 1940's and went on to be real-life heroes as soldiers fighting in WWII, many giving their lives to protect America and the folks back home.
The Gene Autry guitar was produced from 1932 through 1955 and went through several changes in specifications such as measurements, types of wood, and color of finishes. These changes were described in the Sears catalogs every year or two and may have occurred to make the prospective buyer feel like the model was new and improved over the previous year. When you find a Gene Autry guitar today, it will definitely have a few wood cracks, and will need luthier work to bring the string action back down for comfortable playing, but this is typical for any 70-year-old acoustic guitar. Most guitar collectors won’t go to the trouble or expense of restoring old cowboy guitars, but instead keep them as they find them, rusty strings and all, and hang them on the wall as art.
To see this Gene Autry “Roundup” guitar along with a large collection of other cowboy guitars, visit the Jacksonville Guitar Museum at 1105 Burman Drive in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

The stencil-painted artwork of the Gene Autry guitar shows a cowboy riding in a cattle roundup while swinging a lariat above his head. Note the Gene Autry signature at the bottom of the scene.

To see this guitar in person, drop by the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, 1105 Burman Drive, Jacksonville, Arkansas, 501-982-4933.

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Copyright 2016 Steve Evans