Guitar Highlight: Jack Penewell’s 1932 Gibson Twin-Six

We’re honored to have such an incredible piece of history – this remarkable guitar is a 1932 Gibson “Twin-Six” Double Neck, custom-made for guitarist Jack Penewell.

Born in 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin, Penewell began learning lap-steel guitar in high school, and it wasn’t much longer until he was performing in Vaudeville acts throughout the country. Penewell was an incredibly popular guitarist throughout the 1920s, appearing on numerous radio stations and recordings. These live radio performances marked his big break and expanded his audience greatly. In turn, Penewell became one of, if not the most popular guitarist in America during his time. His biggest hits include “Hello Aloha” and “Hen House Blues,” which both exhibit Penewell’s mastery and creativity on guitar. In the earlier 1920s, he placed a custom order with Oscar Schmidt Stella for a fretted ‘double six’ guitar, or as Penewell dubbed it, the “Twin Six.” Penewell explained his desire for a double-necked instrument as follows: 

“My main reason for inventing the Double-Neck guitar was to get a wider range of harmony and chords, as you were very limited on only six strings no matter how you tuned it… I used to do a lot of solo work, sometimes using four guitars on stage all tuned differently. Not only that, but if you should break a string on the stage in front of a large audience, you were up against it and it would throw the whole guitar out of tune. So here was a very good point for the double-neck. Also, combining the major and E-7th tunings together made a sensational effect”

Penewell is credited with inventing multi-necked guitars in both Hawaiian and Spanish styles and even developed a guitar with four necks as early as 1924. He continued to use this layout for the rest of his career, playing both Spanish fretted and Hawaiian Lap Steel styles! 

Looking closely at this example from 1932, we can see a few “firsts” for Gibson. This guitar is widely considered to be the first and perhaps only acoustic double-neck Gibson ever made. The words “Sample” can be seen inside of the body handwritten on the top bracing. It features a 4-3/4″ thick body with a spruce top, highly figured maple back and sides, and a gorgeous pair of curly mahogany necks with intense figuring throughout. One of the coolest parts of the guitar is the conjoined headstock, which is custom-inlaid with Penewell’s name and his signature name for this model, “Twin Six.” Adorning the headstock are twelve gold Grover Sta-Tite tuners that still work well and even retain some of their gold plating. Since this is a lap steel guitar, the “frets” on both necks are actually flat inlays. Luckily, we have one photo below of Mr. Penewell illustrating how he’d hold and play the guitar, wearing several fingerpicks on his right hand for quick and precise control. The neck closer to the player is tuned to standard ‘EADGBE’ and the further neck is tuned to ‘DGDGBG’. The original bridge seems to have been secured to the top of the body with three bolts but has since been replaced with a handmade bridge. The original still remains in the case. The guitar has been professionally and meticulously cared for, with a repair history included. This particular double-neck is truly a stunning piece of Gibson and music history. For more pictures and specs, head to the listing here!

Penewell using his Gibson Twin-Six

Works Cited

“Jack Penewell and His Twin Six Guitar.” WISCONSINOLOGY, wisconsinology.blogspot.com/2011/02/jack-penewell-and-his-twin-six-guitar.html. Accessed 12 Mar. 2024.

Jack Penewell, ‘Steel Guitar Design Changes’, Music Studio News 14/1 (1956)

Jack Penewell Collection, 1897-1973 – Catalog – UW-Madison Libraries, search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/999825268902121. Accessed 12 Mar. 2024.

“Steel Guitar Ace: Photograph.” Wisconsin Historical Society, 19 July 2011, www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83303.