Patent 3,691,285

vitar-patent-1b Well after a bit of digging I managed to find the original patent for the Vitar.  The eventual production model has a very similar shape and a lot of the design elements, but also differs in some respects.

What it got.

The angled neck, separate volume controls and molded body were all listed as unique claims to the instrument and were carried over into the production model. The angled neck was added for player comfort and as far as I’ve ever seen, the first time it was done. The most famous use of it nowadays is the Lace Helix guitar, the patent for which does refer back to Larrison’s Vitar patent, but also goes all the way back to patent #554,828 from 1896 for an angled mandolin neck. Interestingly, the Vitar patent doesn’t refer to it.

The reasoning for the molded body it claims was that it could be “manufactured easily, quickly and yet accurately, and which is less delicate than known acoustic resonant chamber instruments”.  It could definitely be manufactured more quickly and consistently, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I could hammer a nail in with the thing if I were ever stuck on a desert island with a Vitar, a box of nails and a stack of lumber.

The separate volume controls are a nice touch. I find the output on my Vitar is fairly low though, so I just crank them all to 10, and have the high E rolled back slightly.  If I don’t run them on full I get a lot of noise and hum. Not sure if something’s wrong with mine or they are just generally have low output.

The pickups built into the fingerboard are also a unique feature. I’ve seen it done that way on some older acoustic guitars, but never on any other instruments.  Providing a separate volume control for each string is a great idea, but putting them in the fingerboard introduces a few problems, mainly in getting the string height just right. As you play further up the fingerboard, the string gets closer and the volume goes up. Also, on my Vitar the bridge was cut so high that I had very low output and had to make a new bridge to get it as low as possible. I think a design like Zeta or Barbera uses with the individual pickups in the bridge makes it easier to set up.

What it didn’t get.

The patent suggests “One or more cavities … for containing batteries …”. I do wish this had been carried through. I can only assume the batteries were moved outside the instrument to try and save some weight, but the clunky battery box and oddball cable seem like they cause more problems than an extra few ounces of battery.

At any rate, it’s neat to see the original patent and a glimpse into the thought process that went into the design. Enjoy!

View the patent here.

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