Levin (guitar company)

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Levin Guitars
Industry Musical instruments
Founded 1900
Founder(s) Herman Carlson Levin
Headquarters Gothenburg
Area served Global
Key people Herman Carlson Levin
Products Guitars, mandolins, lutes, banjos, drums
Website LevinGuitars.eu (archived on 2009-02-21)

Levin is a Swedish manufacturer of musical instruments founded by Herman Carlson Levin, that was active between 1900 and 1978. The company produced over half a million instruments in the 80 years that it was active, mostly guitars but also mandolines, banjos and lutes, which made Levin into the biggest instrument manufacturer in Scandinavia for many years.

The founding of Levin Instruments[edit]

Levin OrkesterGitarr De Luxe played by Fred Guy in 1946
Levin Royal archtop (1949)
Levin guitar (steel string) played by blues singer, Jenny Bohman in 2009

Herman Carlson Levin was born and raised in Åsaka Sweden; at age 18 he attended carpentry school and later got an apprenticeship at a furniture maker in Gothenburg. In August 1887 Levin moved to America and worked briefly as a carpenter before getting a job in 1888 at guitar manufacturer. Three years later he and two partners started a small production of instruments in New York. After a visit back in Sweden 1895 Levin realized the demand for instruments back home was high and that manufacturing of instruments back in Sweden could be profitable. So with 4,000 kroners Levin opened up "Herman Carlssons Instrumentfabrik" at Norra Larmgatan in Gothenburg.

With a workshop of 70 m² and a crew of two, Levin started manufacturing guitars and mandolins. By the end of 1901 473 instruments had been made and in 1903, with a crew of five, Levin's 1000th instrument was made. The factory was one of the best in Europe and between 1904 and 1912 Levin received many awards including the gold medal in Madrid for best guitar as well as the exhibition's Grand Prix price. In the mid-1920s the plant had made over 50,000 instruments and in 1925 production of a line of banjos were launched. By 1936 the 100,000th instrument had left the plant and Levin was marketing a successful line of archtop guitars. Shortly before 1940 Levin employed a crew of 45 in facility of a 1000 m². In the 1950s, Levin launched a line of inexpensive guitars intended for schools and novice guitar players. These guitars were of lower quality than the rest of the Levin line up.

Launching Goya guitars[edit]

In 1952 Jerome Hershman a guitar distributor from America noticed a Levin guitar at a trade show in Germany and convinced the Levin company to let him market their guitars in America. However Hershman knew that the brandname Levin would be hard to market in America and suggested the name Goya. Inspired by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who was well known for the guitars that he showed in his paintings. The Goya line up proved to be successful due to its high quality finish. The use of nylon strings also gave the guitar a different tone than most other guitars that used steel strings, making it popular among folk musicians. In the late 1950s, a line of steel-stringed flat-tops were launched, with adjustable trussrods and bolted necks.

In the early 1960s, a line of "folk-guitars" were launched with wide flat fretboards similar to those on nylon strung guitars, but fitted with steelstrings. These were developed partly in cooperation with American folk-singer Oscar Brandt. Two 12-stringed flattops were launched during the same period. In 1967 a contract was signed between the Levin company and Goya Music (former Hershman Music) for no less than 120.000 instruments over a period of 10 years. At this time the Goya export was approximately 70% of the companies total production which was + 30,000 instruments, mostly guitars.

The contract was broken by Goya Music in 1968, following the acquisition of Goya Music by Avnet Inc, who already at that time owned Guild Guitars. The Goya distribution rights were sold in 1970 to amplifier manufacturer Kustom Electric of Chanute Kansas. In 1972 Kustom went bankrupt and The distribution was taken over by another Chanute company, Dude Inc. It is unclear if Levin ever delivered any instruments to Dude, the sales made by Dude may have been the remaining stock from the Kustom bankruptcy, which were relabelled.

Goya guitar (left), exhibited at CF Martin Guitar Museum
Goya guitar used by Julie Andrews "Maria" on The Sound of Music

In 1976 Dude sold the Goya brand to CF Martin who already purchased the majority of the Levin Company a few years earlier. CF Martin started import of Japanese and Korean instruments under the Goya name and both the Goya and Levin brands reputation diminished. CF Martin stopped offering Goya instruments during the 1990s and sold the brand name in 1999 to Goya Foods.

In 1973 when Martin bought Levin, it became the headquarters for Martin Guitars and their Japan import brand Sigma Guitars in Europe, as well as actually producing a run of some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled "LD-18 - Made In Gothenburg, Sweden". In fact, some LD 28 Martins, stamped "Made In Gothenburg" have surfaced. In 1981 the last guitar was built in the Gothenburg facility and parts of the inventory and the brand were bought by Svensk Musik AB, who started producing Levin classical guitars in a factory owned by former guitar neck supplier Hans Persson. Hans's son Lennart is still producing guitars for "Svenska Levin AB" in his fathers workshop outside Mariestad Sweden.

Svenska Levin offers also steel string flattops and a line of archtop jazz guitars based on old Levin models, made in Korea.

In 2014 Anakronfilm released the documentary film "Levin - ett namn med musik" ("Levin - a name with music in it"). The film tells the story of the Levin company from rise to fall.

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