"Inside Story" on Goya Guitars

Goya guitars were first made by the Levin company in Gothenburg (Goteborg), Sweden sometime in the early 1950s. I have received a Goya G-15 serial number dating to 1955. Levin guitars began in 1900 and were well known for their quality workmanship. Their guitars were exported under the "Goya" brand to America through the Hershman Musical Instrument Company in New York under an exclusive distribution agreement. Goya and Levin guitars models are essentially identical. The distribution of Goya guitars then went to Kustom Electronics Inc. and then to Dude Inc. sometime in the early 1970s. The Martin Guitar Company took over the Levin company by 1975 (see the last page of the "Levin 75th Anniversary Brochure"). By the late 1970s Martin Guitars started making the Goya guitars in Japan then moved manufacturing to Korea during the 1980s and finally to Taiwan during the 1990s. Martin stopped making the Goya brand guitars in 1996. Goya electric guitars have been made in Sweden, Italy, Japan, Korea and possibly other countries by various guitars makers.

The following Goya/Levin guitar information was provided by Eva Lundin who is related to the Levin family through her grandparents. She talked by phone with Hans Levin, the son of Hartwig Levin and grandson of Herman Carlson Levin the original founder of the Levin company. Eva asked Hans some questions I had sent her. Eva has also communicated by mail with Jerome Hershman, a member of the original Hershman family who first distributed the Goya brand guitars in America. Vintage Goya Guitars wishes to thank Hans Levin, Jerome Hershman and Eva Lundin for providing this important historical information.

"Hans Levin"

Q: Eva, how are you related to Herman Carlson Levin?
A: He was the grandfather of Hans Levin and his maternal grandparents are my great grandparents.
Q: Eva, what country are you from?
A: Sweden but living in Ireland for the past twenty years.
Q: What year did the first Goya guitar come out?
A: Hans Levin thinks 1960.
Q: Do you know what models were made that first year?
A: Many, but what models he could not remember.
Q: Why did they use the Goya brand name instead of Levin for their US exports?
A: Hershman Musical Instrument Company owned the Goya name and Levin produced the guitars. The name was inspired from the Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
Q: What year did they sell the Goya brand name to the Martin Guitar Company?
A: They never did since the name belonged to Hershman Musical Instrument Company.
Q: Did Martin buy up the entire Levin company?
A: Yes, they did buy up the whole company. Some of the Levins then worked for Martin in Sweden still using the Levin name and continued until 1982.
Q: Is Levin still in business?
A: No, not with guitars.
Q: When did they go out of business?
A: 1982
Q: Do you know how Hagstrom of Sweden came about making Goya electric guitars in the late 1950s?
A: They never did Goya but they did electrical guitars.
Q: How about the Italian Goya guitars in the mid 60s - do you know who made the Goya Rangemasters?
A: That had nothing to do with the original, simply an Italian company that stole the name Goya.
Q: I was told that Galanti made the Goya Panther models.
A: Copies from the same Italian company.
Q: What about the Goya guitars made in Japan?
A: At that time industries in Korea, Japan, etc., could produce electrical guitars to a fraction of the normal cost and consequently more or less ended the Swedish production.
Q: Do you know who made the Japanese Goya guitars?
A: No sorry! LOL

"Jerome Hershman"

Our family was in the musical instrument wholesale business distributing various instruments to the American retailer that we bought in many places around the world. In 1952, while attending the industry's biggest trade show in Frankfurt, Germany I saw a display of classic guitars made in Gothenburg [Sweden] by the Levin family with the name Levin on the headpiece. They were looking for more distribution of their guitars world-wide. American friends of ours helped us convince the Levin reps to give us the American distribution which they did (1952). We tried to explain to them that the name Levin was not a suitable brand name for a classic guitar and we came up with the name "Goya" which we took from the painter Goya who many times showed a guitar in his paintings. Well, it worked and was a big success from the beginning for two main reasons. First, the guitars were of extremely high quality with a wonderful shiny finish far superior to any other guitars on the market. Secondly, these were acoustic classic guitars with nylon strings and they were being used by the folk singers instead of the harder sounding acoustic steel string guitars all the others were making.

The following account comes from Ted Laroussini of Florida, USA. Ted wrote me on January 2003 asking for information on where to find a tuning peg for his 1957 vintage Levin classical guitar (I suggested "Vintage Guitars" of Sweden). He then told me an interesting story about his 1963 visit to the Levin guitar factory in Sweden. I appreciate him taking the time to share his experience. It adds to our knowledge and enjoyment of Goya guitars. Thank you very much Ted.

"Ted Laroussini"

"I own a classical Levin Model 111 guitar with a serial number 366213 which dates to 1957 vintage. I purchased it in Oslo, Norway in 1963 and carried it throughout Europe and played it often. In 1966 a friend dropped it and cracked the face. I took the guitar to the A.B. Herman Carlson Levin factory in Goteborg, Sweden for repair."

"The story of my visit to the Levin factory might interest you. I walked in and was helped by a pleasant man who spoke perfect English. He examined my guitar and said that since it was still under warranty (in 1966) they would fix it free. I said that wouldn't be fair because it had been dropped. He said in that case they would give me the professional rate of $45. I asked what made him think I was a professional. He pointed out how the face was slightly darker than the back and sides and said the only thing that does that to our varnish is spotlights (he had no idea that I had been touring with U.S. Army Special Services for 2 years). He told me that it would take about 6 months to do the job and asked what I would play during that time. I had no idea so he took me to a room that had dozens of guitars hanging from an overhead rack and invited me to pick any one I liked to use until my was refinished. I selected one similar to mine and went on my way. Six months later I returned. I walked in the door and encountered the same man in the hall. "Hello Ted!," he said. "We have your guitar all ready for you." As I held my refinished guitar, admiring its brand new appearance I noticed that the neck had not been refinished (it was the only way I could tell that it was my guitar). I was not concerned at all since the neck was in fine shape and there had been no discussion about refinishing the neck. "What?" he exclaimed. "They did not refinish the neck?" "I apologize!" "They SHOULD have done it!" "Please leave the guitar with me and I'll have it done for you, no charge." I told him it was not a problem. I was very well satisfied. And besides, I was leaving for the States in a few weeks and did not have another 6 months to let him keep it. "Well," he said. "You come back any time at all and we will do the job over correctly, no charge." Too bad I never had a chance to go back. You seldom find customer service like that."

"About 20 years ago, another friend dropped it and broke off one of the tuning pegs. I rarely play anymore so I did not repair it at the time. Now I find that it seems to be impossible to find a replacement peg of the same style. The pegs are six individual tuning machines with a dull gold style finish. Levin\Goya was bought out by Martin and they told me politely that they have no old replacement parts."

Vintage Goya Guitars

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