Roy Smeck – Wizard Of The Strings

Roy Smeck (1900-94) was one of the great vaudeville artists, a master of many instruments, especially ukulele, banjo and both standard and Hawaiian-steel guitar.

I was given the following hard-to-find 1928 publication, “Blues For Plectrum Guitar”, by someone who studied with Roy. It contains four items, and I present the first two, which I also recorded on video. They are in the jaunty style popular in the late 20s and 30s, full of humour, and also with some Eddie Lang influence.


Here is a PDF of Itching Fingers and Rag Pickers Blues: SmeckBlues

And my video performance:

Recording King made a Roy Smeck archtop, the A104, which was based on a Gibson ES-150, but with some changes, as outlined by Tony Butler in this very good overview of a surviving instrument – and amp! Check out that non-Charlie-Christian pickup…


Roy Smeck was a down-stroke player 90% of the time – it’s a great technique for getting the most sound out of the instrument. Give it a try.


8 thoughts on “Roy Smeck – Wizard Of The Strings”

  1. Thanks for posting all that you have been doing , I’ve been playing a lot of them for a long time. I grew up in St. Louis, and I did know Mel Bay, I used to go down to his store in Kirkwood all the time, and I taught out of his eight course books plus the original chord book, You are a real good player, I hope you keep up the posting. I’m quite interested in your new Elferink. You’ve had it for a few months now. What do you think? I’ve got some old jazz guitar sheet music that you might be interested in. It seems you are a collector. I hope you respond; we have a lot of common ground.

    Mike Matthews


    1. Hi Mike. Good to hear from you. The Elferink is the best guitar I’ve ever had. It just has that sound, the perfect acoustic archtop old-school sound. Unfortunately I’ve started suffering from osteoarthritis in my hands these last few months, so have had to lower the string height and tension, going down from 14s to 11s, but the guitar still sounds great. Frans knows guitars!
      Yes, I like to explore old publications, and would be interested in what you have. My email address is if you want to continue this conversation.


  2. Hi, Rob. Been having fun with the two Roy Smeck blues you posted. Any chance you could copy the other two from the book and post them? Enjoying your videos. Hope you do more on the old plectrum style of playing.
    Al B


  3. Hi,

    This is great! My mom, though not a musician had a wealth of easy, popular scores from that period and just after (plus a “Troubadour” guitar that now has a very interestingly arched neck and top). I don’t really know what happened to the scores, sadly.

    Anyway, 2 questions:
    – don’t you have the piano accompaniment to the pieces you provide the score of?
    – do you happen to have similar (preferably easier) pieces for 2 or 3 guitars, or could you point me to some? Could be good material for my guitar ensemble (mixed level and age classical guitar students, most without any preexisting group-playing experience).



    1. Hi Remy. Sorry, I don’t have the piano parts. As for scores for 2 or 3 guitars, there must be some out there, but I can’t think of them. Looks like you’ll have to do some arranging!


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