Hermann Weissenborn (Texts by Tom Noe)

Hermann Christof Weissenborn was born in Hanover, Germany, on June 30, 1863, to Joseph Weissenborn and Gebeke Hanischen.  Very little is known about his early life; however, it is known that he was involved in instrument building  or repair as early as the late 1870s.  He was listed in the 1898 Hanover city directory as an instrument maker, located at Ihmebruckstrasse 2.  He was a widower when he arrived in New York in 1902.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1910, listing himself as a piano repairman.  In 1912, he briefly partnered with one Fritz Pulpaneck to make violins in a short-lived partnership styled Weissenborn & Pulpaneck.   In 1914 he placed an advertisement in the Los Angeles city directory touting over 35 years of experience in instrument building and repair.  Fritz Pulpaneck continued to make violins in Pomona CA into the 1950s.

Steel  guitar maker Chris J. Knutsen arrived in Los Angeles in 1914 to make instruments for music publisher and teacher Charles S. DeLano, but could not keep up with the demand for DeLano-branded Kona Hawaiian guitars, particularly with the growing Hawaiian music craze and the impending Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.  DeLano turned to other stringed instrument makers in the Los Angeles area, including Hermann Weissenborn to build steel guitars.  Weissenborn’s earliest Los Angeles addresses were located within the garment district near DeLano’s studio, and in 1914, about the time he began making steel guitars, he met a young sewing machine operator named Concepcion Ybarra, who had immigrated from Mexico in 1912.  On October 2, 1915, the then 52-year-old Hermann Weissenborn married the  25-year-old Concepcion.   About this time, he began placing into his guitars a picture label of himself holding a steel guitar.  Also, about 1915, Hermann met one Albert A. Kolb in a nearby lumber yard, who was able to provide Hermann with koa wood, beginning a long-term relationship.  In 1921, Hermann’s then 31-year-old son Hermann Friederich August Weissenborn immigrated from Germany to work with his father.

Betrween 1921 and 1923, Weissenborn built a small number of steel guitars for Christophe’s Dept. Store in San Francisco under the “Italian Madonna” and “Maui” labels.


In 1923, together with his son, bookkeeper August Mayer  and  woodworker/furniture maker Albert A. Kolb, Weissenborn established Weissenborn Company, Limited and set up a factory at 1196 S. San Pedro Street to build instruments.   As is common in the furniture industry, a brand featuring “H. WEISSENBORN LOS ANGELES, CAL.” inside a shield was created  to be burned into the backstrips of factory production instruments.  Since the same brand was used throughout production, progressive signs of wear and tear of the brand can be seen in the branded instruments.  Hermann’s son, Hermann F.A., died July 21, 1926, and Rudolph Dopyera was hired as shop foreman for a brief period of time before returning to the National Dobro Co. by 1930.  In 1926, Hermann and Concepcion resided at 937 E. 21st Street, just a few blocks south of the factory.   Steel guitars were offered in four styles from plain to fancy ornamentation.  The factory also turned out Spanish guitars in four styles that paralleled the steel guitars, as well as a limited number of ukuleles, mandolins, pectrum guitars, and perhaps even violins, although none of the violins ever surfaced.  He also continued to make Kona guitars for DeLano.  East coast distribution was handled by Henry Stadlmaier until 1928 when Tonk Brothers of Chicago took over national distribution.  By 1930 the demand for steel guitars was ebbing, and Weissenborn’s production declined.  Some of the rarest of Weissenborn’s steel guitars include ones with solid square necks built during the 1916-1922 period, and so-called teardrop models built in 1926 and continuing into the 1930s.      Also by 1930 Hermann and Concepcion separated, although they did not divorce.  They had no children.  Hermann briefly  claimed the factory at 1196 S. Pedro as his residence, and in 1930 changed his residence to 311 E.25th Street.  In 1935, he moved his factory to 2434 S. Hoover Street.  Hermann Weissenborn, heavy in debt, died of heart failure at 4:40 a.m. on January 30, 1937 at the age of 73.   Concepcion continued to reside at 937 E. 21st Street, and moved to 1444 W. 22nd Street some time in 1937.  In 1940, Concepcion was caretaker for Hermann’s business partner, 87-year-old Albert Kolb, who lived in her home.  She died in Ventura CA in 1961 at the age of 71.