My first encounter with the work of JG Schroeder, New York City guitar and violin maker ca. 1900, was in the 1970s with a most unusual guitar with his hand signed label in it. The body looked like an oddly-proportioned later 14-fret Martin 00-size, but with a very short 12-fret neck. Who designed it or for whom it was made I have no idea, but the extreme precise quality of every line, every curve, every fitting, was nothing short of eye-opening in a very refined way, Other than from two other men of German extraction who had earlier worked for Martin and then gone out on their own, I had seen this precision and understated perfection nowhere else in American guitar making. Over the ensuing 30-40 years I was fortunate enough to come across several examples of Schroeder’s guitars and a few mandolins, all of more traditional shape and size, some relatively plain and a few quite fancy, and all with the unmistakable touch in the same vein as Martin's had always been, and seen nowhere else in my experience except for those from Louis Schmidt and George Maul, the two men who had started in America by working for Martin in the 1840s.
Even though few others ever achieved quite this level in American guitar making (though there was also, with about 90% of it, Henry Schatz of Boston, another former Martin associate), its importance cannot be overlooked. The high commitment to and success in combining clean lines and perfectly fit parts, both aesthetically and structurally, both outside and inside of a creation, is rare indeed. Martin has carried it out to this day, and testimony to this is that literally every steel-string guitar made anywhere in the world has as its structural basis designs Martin worked out in the late-1850s. Interestingly, of all of the 19th-century American guitar makers whose work survives, Martin, Schmidt and Maul, and Schroeder are practically the only ones in whose instruments we can see the mark of a name-branding iron. Here is JG Schroeder pictured in his shop in the only known photo of him. Note the mandolin necks on a shelf in the upper right corner. I would welcome anyone finding for me one of his signed violins.
Click here for a first-hand account of how Matt acquired this picture of J.G. Schroeder as well as his name branding iron.