The Del Mack Mystery Guitar

Del Mack was born in Salt Lake City in 1912 and shortly thereafter moved with his family to Bellflower, California, where he grew up listening to the popular music of the day — Hawaiian music. He was particularly attracted to the sounds of the steel guitar and the recordings of Hawaiian transplant Dixon Ka‘aihue McIntire, a.k.a. Dick McIntire. McIntire and his Harmony Hawaiians recorded more than 300 sides, backing Bing Crosby and many other stars of the 1930s.

Del Mack took lessons from Dick McIntire — and even Sol Hoopii for a bit — and by the late 1930s was an accomplished player himself. Del played lap steel with his Hawaiianaires at private parties and weekend luaus all over the L.A. basin while keeping his day job at the gas company.

Now here’s where the story gets really interesting. Del’s instrument collection began with a 1934 Rickenbacher (old spelling) Electro A-22 “Frying Pan” lap steel and went on to include a Magnatone seven-string and a Dobro eight-string, but his favorite guitar was the one you see here. Its origin remains a total mystery. Del told me he “made” it, but I regret not pressing him for details, as it is certainly not some backyard project. Careful craftsmanship abounds, its tone and sustain still gorgeous. It is surely patterned after Rickenbacker’s 1935 Electro Spanish Model B, but it’s made entirely of metal — not Bakelite — and the pickup looks exactly like ones found on both the Frying Pan and Spanish models.

Could this have been an Electro Spanish prototype built by a Rickenbacker employee on the side, but abandoned due to the effect of hot stage lights on the metal instrument’s tuning? Was Del the “R&D” man? I have sent photos to the foremost experts — from George Gruhn to Rickenbacker HQ — but have so far come up empty-handed. Perhaps a Fretboard Journal reader can help shed some light.

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Tailpiece section of our Summer 2010 issue. We decided to run additional photos of the instrument below for your entertainment. Scott can be reached at [email protected] if anyone wants to shed light on this mysterious guitar.

Last and best of all, to listen to a few recordings by Del Mack & the Hawaiianaires, simply go here.]