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Category Archive1960’s Vintage Guitars

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

To The Stars – And Beyond! (Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar)

Jeopardy Quiz: When do you think this Bunker guitar was made? When I first laid eyes on it, I was pretty sure it was from the late 1970s. It just has that ‘70s “natural” kind of vibe. Well, the correct response would be, “What is 1968?” I was shocked. This matched none of my presuppositions about guitars from the Sixties. But then, Dave Bunker has made a career out of being ahead of his time with the unexpected.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Actually, the name of this guitar does provide something of a clue to its vintage: a Bunker Astral Series Sunstar. Far out, man. Shades of Star Trek. The Astral Series was the brainchild of Dave Bunker, a luthier whose name you may not know, but whose work you just may have encountered. Dave was born out in Washington State in 1935 and by the 1950s was playing guitar. Back then the legendary Jimmy Webster was touring the country promoting Gretsch guitars. Webster was one of the modern pioneers of two-handed tapping and the technique was a revelation to Bunker, who adopted it as his own.

Bunker became a teacher and began working on designing a double-necked tapping guitar, which he called the Duo-Lectar. This was the beginning of a long line of inventions intended to improve the performance of guitars. Dave actually build around 50 Duo-Lectars in the early 1960s. In 1964 Dave became part of a pop trio with two lovely sister singers and toured with them, playing Las Vegas and cruise ships.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Apparently Bunker had time to keep refining his guitar ideas and in around 1966 or so (he doesn’t remember exactly) he introduces the Astral Series guitars. Described as “The Guitar of Tomorrow,” for once the hype was right on. Basically this is a central core so beloved by tappers with two detachable wings or pods to give it guitar dimensions. The original idea was that you could get different looking pods and change the look of your guitar.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Alright, we’re are already in Klingon territory for 1966…or even today. But a core body with detachable pods is, in the end, largely a matter of carpentry. BUT, Dave had already developed his “tension-less neck.” Dave had found that he got dead spots where the truss rod was anchored, around the 10th fret. This led to his routing a channel in the neck where he placed a metal reinforcement rod that attached to plates at the body and the neck at the nut. This carried all tension and allowed the neck to fully resonate. This design also meant tuners had to be put tuners down at the bottom instead of the head. His Magnum pickups had individual poles hand wound with high impedance wire around a vertical Alnico V magnet. Each string had its own vertically and horizontally adjustable bridge/saddle, plus an additional microtuner that Bunker neglected to patent. If this looks like what showed up later on Floyd Roses, well, ask Dave what he thinks about that.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

What all this means is that this guitar was way ahead of its times, probably sporting more technical innovations than any other guitar I can think of in 1966.

I’ve guessed at 1968 as the date of this guitar. Its serial number is #4001, but that doesn’t mean it’s the 4,001st guitar he made. If there’s any rhyme or reason to his numbering, I don’t know it. His main production was done from 1966-1970, though you could still get one as late as 1974, when he began offering DiMarzio options. Plus, it’s entirely possible those later ones were unsold stock. This came in an original hardshell case with a foam padding that had turned to an annoying power. When asked about it, Dave just said, “Yeah, we had some problems with that early on.”

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Dave continued performing and making guitars, coming up with more innovations. If that tension-less neck idea rings a bell, that’s probably because it came back to life in 1990 when Bunker became the “B” in PBC guitars, P being John Pearce and C being Paul Chernay. They set up a manufacturing facility in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and began producing a line of mostly pretty high-end guitars. They were pretty well received, although somewhat eccentric in shapes, although I don’t think they sold all that well. Bunker met Jim Donahue, who was doing design work at Hoshino USA down in Bensalem, PA, and Ibanez contracted with PBC to make its USA Custom USRG Series in 1994. Ibanez liked the guitars and wanted to expand the relationship, but Bunker’s partner declined. Ibanez USRGs ceased production in 1996 and PBC promptly went out of business. I remember when leftover PBC stock flooded the Philly market, but I thought the prices too high and didn’t pick one up. Another of those “shoulda” moments, since they run about twice the sale price these days, if you can find one.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Dave Bunker still makes and sells guitars. He has an ad in the current Vintage Guitar Magazine.

Dave thought that including PBC and Ibanez production, he’d made around 8,000 guitars. However, if that were true you’d see a heck of a lot more on the market and you hardly ever see them. Maybe their owners just love ‘em too much. This is the only Sunstar I’ve ever seen. Even more amazing since it was produced in the Sixties! Beam me up, Scotty…

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

The Other Dust Bowl Ballads (Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar)

I love playing the “what if?” game. You know, like “What if farmers had rotated crops instead of planting the same darned thing every year back in the 1930s?” Crop patterns and guitars? Yeah, because it was the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, caused in part by poor farming practices meeting drought, that sent legions of Okies and Texans west into California. That led to a rage for Western Swing and then the Bakersfield Sound. And without the products of that cultural collision we might not have had Fenders or… wait for it… Carvins.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin guitars, made in Covina, California, are one of the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the American guitar world. They’ve been around as long as Fender. They’re actually still in the family (as I write this, at least!), not passing through various corporate hands or part of a conglomerate family of brands. The company has contributed numerous innovations. These days the guitars reflect a high standard of quality. Yet for some reason Carvin doesn’t spring to most folk’s lips when you bring up the subject of venerable guitar brands.

I confess I was not really much aware of Carvin guitars until I started collecting back in the ‘80s. I probably saw some of their ads in Guitar Player Magazine, but since I wasn’t in the market for an electric guitar, I didn’t pay attention. Plus, I was living in the Great Lakes area and Carvin was out in California. You didn’t see too many Carvins.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

My first Carvin was a classy 1982 DC-200KI with a body make of figured koa and a heel-less glued-in neck. Very sweet. After that I always kept my eyes peeled for interesting Carvins, and there are plenty.

I found this Carvin SGB-3 languishing in a music shop in Toledo, Ohio, before I knew much about the brand. Turns out this was one of Carvin’s first solidbody guitars, originally introduced in 1955 and offered until 1961.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin—the name is a combination of the founder’s sons’ names Carson and Gavin—was started in 1946 when a Hawaiian guitar player from Kansas named Lowell Kiesel moved to L.A. Kiesel began developing an idea for a Bakelite lap steel and introduced the Kiesel lap steel in 1947. These were distributed by Continental, at least. I actually found one of those laps a few years ago. No one knew what it was! (Knowledge is power.) I spoke with one of the younger sons Mark years ago and he recalled assembling those laps in their kitchen. These did well and the Hawaiian line was expanded and they began making Kiesel amps.

The Carvin name appeared in around late 1949 or so. Carvin’s first Spanish electrics were hollowbodies sourced from both Kay and Harmony, with a Carvin pickup mounted on them in California. Until Carvin opened a couple retail outlets in the 1990s, Carvin guitars were always mail-order. Because they used that method of marketing, your guitar was basically custom-made when you placed an order. No dealers to supply, etc. As a result, Carvins have always offered lots of options, so you’re likely to find a lot of variation between examples of the same “model.”

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

As I said, the SBG solidbodies (Solid Body Guitar, SBG) debuted in 1955 with the design you see here, a big slab maple body and a sort of Stratish neck. I love the look, but there’s no way that point on the top side is comfortable to play! The pickups on this guitar are probably not original, although with Carvin’s “customizable” approach, who knows? I don’t know who made them. They look like DeArmonds and have the date Sept. 16, 1957, which DeArmond often did on older pickups. And they sound like DeArmonds, not my favorite units. Anyhow, they’re not stock Carvin pickups but they were probably mounted close to when this guitar was made. This one came with the all-important original hard case AND a Carvin brochure! These don’t have serial numbers yet, so your guess is as good as mine, but they were only made for 6 years. Pretty cool—if basic—guitars!

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin got a little more hip with a quasi-Jazzmaster style following these first SBGs, but switched to importing parts, briefly bodies made in Japan, then for much of the 1970s made its own Strat-style bodies but outfitted them with Höfner necks from Germany. In 1978 Carvin started making all of its own guitars again, including use of glued-in necks like my DC-200KI.

Fortunately the Plains-states migration into California didn’t yield The Grapes of Wrath for guitars. I’d say both Fender and Carvin are success stories. Carvin just needs a little more respect.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Garage-Band Dream Machine (Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Guitar with Amp-in-Case)

Ever since electric guitars and amplifiers were invented in the 1930s, certain folks have been interested in cutting down the amount of gear you have to schlepp to a gig. You gotta have a guitar. It’s gotta have a case to carry it in. And the amp electronics have to be housed in some sort of a cabinet. I know! Let’s combine the case and the amp electronics: Amp-in-case guitars. The primary “certain folk” was the brains behind probably the first amp-in-case guitar and the iconic version seen here, Mr. Nate (or “Nat”) Daniel, namesake of the Danelectro company.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Inevitably there’s always an earlier “earliest,” but the earliest amp-in-case I know of was built by Daniel when he was working for Epiphone in around 1936. Nathan I. Daniel was a young electronics wizard who was discovered in the early 1930s by Epiphone’s head engineer Herb Sunshine building amplifiers in the basement of a New York department store (back when department stores really had departments and they did things). In 1935 the Epiphone Banjo Company changed its name to Epiphone and introduced a line of electric guitars and amplifiers called Electraphones, which was almost immediately changed to Electar. These included electric Spanish archtop guitars, Hawaiian lap steels, and little amplifiers designed and built by Nat Daniel. In 1936 Epiphone offered its Electar Model C Hawaiian guitar with an amp built into the case, designed by our friend Nat. For some reason, it didn’t go over very well, and the amp was quickly separated out into the Model C amplifier.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

In 1938 National-Dobro revisited the idea, introducing the Supro 60 Electric Combination and the Portable Supro 70 Electric Combination. Both of these featured a little pearloid-covered Supro Electric Hawaiian Guitar tucked into an amp in case unit. I don’t think any of these earl amp-in-case designs did particularly well, but then there was something called the Great Depression going on, which had to have an effect on sales.

Obviously, Daniel thought the idea was good enough. Daniel worked for Epiphone until 1942. After the War Daniel opened his own plant, Danelectro, in Red Bank, NJ, mainly making guitars and amps for Sears and Montgomery Ward, badged Silvertone and Airline, respectively. They began selling Danelectro-branded guitars and amps in around 1954. People throw the term around all too often—and ignorantly—these days, but those ‘50s and ‘60s Danos were truly iconic.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

And maybe the most iconic of Danelectros were the Silvertone Amp-in-Cases made for Sears beginning in 1962. The first were the smaller black-sparkle-finished Masonite one-pickup No. 1448s with an 18-fret fingerboard and a small 3-watt, 6” speaker tube amp built into the case. These were followed in 1963 by the full-size red-sparkle-finished Masonite two-pickup guitars with a 5-watt, 8” speaker tube amp, the No. 1449.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Let me get this off my chest. Something’s “iconic” when it represents something bigger than itself. “Iconic” does not mean, as modern advertising copywriters throw it around everywhere these days, “his best album,” or, more often, “very famous” or “extremely popular.” Icons are like symbols or metaphors with greater meaning attached, signaling a bigger message or concept. These amp-in-case guitars are icons because they stand for a whole generation and the changes in American culture that were transpiring in the early ‘60s. They were targeted at maturing Baby Boomers who were doing Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club (or, more likely, imagining that they were), switching from Folk to surf rock, starting bands in their suddenly suburban garages. A population on the go, on brand new Interstate superhighways. See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet. Well, you get the point. I’ll be quiet.

As with everyone else in the ‘60s, Danelectro got bought out in 1966, here by entertainment giant MCA. Whether due to the ownership change or coincidence, the Dano line was shuffled. The two-pickup 1449 was renumbered to 1457 and a bunch of new models debuted. While the amp-in-case concept seemed to continue to 1969, it was no long the iconic versions we know and love.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

I’ve never played a 1448, but I’ve played this 1457 and the amp is surprisingly good. The 8” speaker and tube output have really sweet tone and really decent volume, more than you’d expect. I can’t say the guitar knocks my socks off, but as primitive as it is, it plays fine and it’s pretty good for a few choruses of “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Apache.” These are pure guitar fun! And, yes, they are iconic…

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

The Nuts (& Bolts) of the Guitar Biz – Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Guitar history has yielded some very odd marriages, from a business perspective, at least. While these can be found at almost any time, perhaps the glory days of unusual conjunctions was the 1960s, when cascading demand for electric guitars among maturing Baby Boomers caused corporations, both with and without music industry experience, to realize that thar’s gold in them thar hills. Among the odder of these unions was that between Chicago’s Heads & Threads company and Norma, Noble, and even National guitars.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

How, you ask, could anything be odder than a beer conglomerate (Norlin) buying Gibson? (I guess, the more you think of suds and guitars, it’s not so hard to understand!) Well, that’s because Heads & Threads wasn’t about skin tensioners on percussion instruments or banjos. Heads & Threads was originally a pioneer in the importation of nuts and bolts made in Japan founded by Norman Sackheim. Please note his first name, the source of the “Norma” brand name. Like others before him (Jack Westheimer and sporting goods), it wasn’t such a giant step from hardware to guitars, given the times.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Sackheim set up a subsidiary called, following a theme here, Strum & Drum in 1964 to import guitars and drums and related instruments. Like everyone else, Strum & Drum purchased instruments most likely from a trading company. They were the power brokers in Japan and every trading company had a stable of related manufacturers to draw upon, based on what the customer wanted. It’s darned near impossible to identify the makers of Japanese guitars with any precision. Sometimes outstanding workmanship—as in the cases of Matsumoku or FujiGen—are pretty compelling evidence, but there were so many specialty providers (eg, hardware, pickups, etc.), it’s hard to identify conclusive features. This is further complicated by the fact that imitation of successful ideas between companies was an accepted part of the culture, so just because something looked good on one brand’s product doesn’t mean it wouldn’t show up on another’s. Welcome to reality!

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

That said, the majority of Strum & Drum’s electric guitars seem to have been sourced from the Tombo factory. A few have features that suggest Teisco, with the caveat above. There’s no way to know where the acoustics came from. The older I get, the less important that seems to get, but I also know we collectors have issues…

Norma was Strum & Drum’s major brand. Many were pretty pedestrian solidbody and hollowbody electrics that are interesting as period artifacts, and little else. Of special interest were their sparkle-finished guitars, which are about as cool as it gets with ‘60s Japanese guitars.

In 1966, Norm Sackheim’s son Ron bought the rights to Don Noble’s instrument line. Noble was a prominent Chicago-area accordionist who sold imported accordions and guitars. Some Noble guitars made by Wandré Pioli in Italy appeared, but in ’67 the line was cancelled and the Noble name was added to the Strum & Drum stable.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

While all this was transpiring, the Ventures were becoming guitar gods in Japan, and Japanese makers began to build Mosrite “copies.” Long story short, the Noble brand re-appeared on some Mosrite copies sold by Strum & Drum, including this 1968 copy of a Mosrite Combo hollowbody, The Noble Model No. EG 686-2HT.

I’m no Mosrite expert but I own a Combo and this copy isn’t too far off in terms of quality. Mosrites weren’t that great. And, it’s pretty historically interesting. Note the nifty “N” fingerboard inlays and real German-carve top. This guitar was the only Noble model, the only Strum & Drum Mosrite copy, and was only available until late 1969, maybe into 1970. Ironically, The Noble Mosrite Combo copy is probably as rare if not rarer than a genuine Mosrite. Such a world; go figure.

In 1969 Strum & Drum bought the rights to the National brand name—notice the N theme—and brought out the National Big Daddy, one of the earliest bolt-neck Gibson Les Paul Custom copies, in 1970, but that’s another story. Strum & Drum stumbled on into 1975 when it was sold to C. Bruno, who promptly deep-6ed the whole shebang. Seeing promise in the nuts and bolts market, the Sackheims returned to importing those essentials, which they were still doing the last time I spoke to them quite a few years ago. So, that’s what nuts and bolts—or Heads & Threads—have to do with our favorite obsession, and some venerable brand names in guitar history.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

The King of Vintage – err – Used Guitars (Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

When I published my first book, Guitar Stories Vol. 1, we promoted it at a few vintage guitar shows and I would invariably get the wit from collectors and dealers, “Guitar stories, yeah, I got a few stories I can tell you.” Of course, they weren’t talking about histories, like I was, but amusing anecdotes about where they’d picked up this or that guitar. I guess most of us pack rats remember where we got things. Oh, maybe not so much the mail-order or internet scores, but back in the day when you looked the seller in the eye and tried to make him blink with a lower offer. It’s hard to forget the story about getting this Imperial guitar.

This Imperial came out of a little piece of Dickens in Philadelphia called Torresdale Music in the neighborhood with that name, in the “near northeast” as we call it, near the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (cheapest toll bridge over the Delaware River to New Jersey and back). Torresdale was a tiny, ancient corner shop just up the street from Chink’s Steaks, a legendary cheesesteak sandwich purveyor, the name of whose establishment has been the source of some local ethnic controversy. (Really good cheesesteaks consumed while sitting in 1940s-vintage wooden booths, highly recommended.)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Torresdale Music was run by Marvin Kopernik, who’d worked for the local music distributor 8th Street Music before becoming a guitar picker, as in flea market habitué, not as in Doc Watson. Anyhow, Marvin’s shop was STUFFED to the gills with old guitars and amps that he’d pick up dirt cheap at yard sales and local swap meets, an endless stream of new treasures lurking behind something else under a shelf to tempt me.

Marvin liked to get a dear price for his wares and he would rarely budge from his sticker price. However, there were chinks in Marvin’s armor. He’d write a little code on the reverse of the price tag. It didn’t take long to decipher the fact that this was what he paid for the guitar written backwards. If it was, say, “501” I’d know that Marvin had $105 into it.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

One other chink in Marvin’s armor was that he couldn’t add too fast on his feet. The strategy was to scope out three guitars, decipher what he had into them, bundle them together and offer him a larger, but reasonable sum for the lot. Marvin’s circuits would fry and he’d hear $300 and that sounded like a lot of money and I’d walk out with a really great score!

But, no, this Imperial wasn’t part of one of those deals. You see, in addition to the overstuffed racks out front, Marvin had this teeny, tiny little back room where he’d pile up recent finds and stuff he had no room for in the showroom, like so much firewood. It was kind of painful to see, really. It was lurking under one of these stacks of guitars that I found this Imperial early in my collecting days and when I first knew Marvin. I had no idea what it was other than being Japanese, but it spoke to me.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Much later I found out that this was a product marketed by the Imperial Accordion Company of Chicago. As we’ve discussed before, there was an accordion boom among Baby Boomers in the mid-1950s. Like many booms before and since, it didn’t last and the numerous accordion manufacturers/importers/distributors that had sprung up to meet the demand found themselves in need of new markets. Fortunately, this coincided with the rise in guitar popularity. Also fortunately, the Italian accordion manufacturers, from whom most of the accordion guys sourced their products, were also near a guitar-making area, so they expanded into guitars, many of which were sold by the old accordion companies, including Imperial. By the early 1960s Imperial was selling solidbody electrics made by Crucianelli in Italy. By around 1965 Imperial had added Japanese-made guitars to its line, including this puppy.

Just what this model is is uncertain, but we can extrapolate. This shape is very similar to the older Crucianellis. A c. 1965 catalog has the Model S1 with one pickup and the Model S-3T, a three-pickup with “tremolo.” This is probably a Model S-2T. Very similar Greco guitars from Japan are seen, and most Grecos were built by Fujigen Gakki, the factory that produced most Ibanez guitars as well. The style of this guitar probably puts it right around 1965 or ’66.

Fortunately, this had a thick enough poly finish to survive Marvin’s woodpile. Unfortunately, Marvin’s health didn’t hold up—certainly not helped by too many cheesesteaks from Chink’s—and his shop finally had to close and become a piece of Philly history and legend. Every time I see this Imperial I smile and recall those glory days when I had Marvin’s number and got to revel in his shop’s treasures. How much did I pay? Now, that’s another story…

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

Surf’s – uh, Murph’s Up! (Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar)

One of the big influences on my guitar writing “career” was Dan Forte’s writing—under the nom de plume Teisco del Rey—for Guitar Player magazine back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Dan, or Teisco, took a much more tongue-in-cheeky approach to regaling the often goofy guitar designs of the 1960s, whereas I’ve always been a bit more dourly serious about the subject, but I like to think we kept the torch burning for decades for those of us who love whatever’s whacky about guitars.

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

One of Dan’s favorite subjects was a truly weird kind of heart-shaped Murph hollowbody 12-string electric guitar, a model called the Satellite, which was truly funky and bizarre. He featured it in a Vintage Guitar Magazine article a few years back. These “heart” 12s are exceptionally rare, but, really, so is any Murph guitar, including this Squire 11-T.

Believe it or not, there actually is a sort of Murph fan club with a Murph history web site run by an Aussie fan named Dan McGonigal and located at www.murphguitars.com. This is the kind of madness and devotion that deserves recognition!

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

As you’ll learn on this site, Murph guitars were part of the Los Angeles-area guitar scene of the wild and wooly 1960s. Or 1965, to be exact. Actually, Murph guitars were the brainchild of a former Midwesterner named Patrick Murphy and were actually originally intended to help promote his children who had formed a family song-and-dance band called the Murphys. Or to have his children promote the guitars, which is a slightly different spin on the tale. The Murphys apparently did a mix of live gigs and recording local television commercials.

In any case, in early 1965 Murphy leased a small factory space and commenced an ambitious manufacturing program. Initially Murphy planned to call his guitars York, but since there were band instruments made carrying that brand, he settled on an abbreviation of his family name, which made sense given the tie-in with his children’s band. Murphy’s scheme was ambitious because he probably had too many designs. These included the aforementioned Satellites, heart-shape semi-hollobodies, plus his most popular model, the Squire, seen here and offered in a variety of other configurations, such as bass and 12-string. There was also a hollowbody Gemini, which looked very similar to contemporary Standel gutars. Oh, did I mention the single cutaway Continental IV solidbody? Or the Westerner, which was a Squire by another name. Or the Tempo I and II guitar kits? Or the acoustic model? Or the Califone model, some 25 or so were made for the record manufacturer Rheem Califone.

Murphy’s plans were so ambitious he even targeted the mighty Sears, Roebuck & Co. and sold them another batch of 25 Murph/Silvertones. At its peak, the Murph factory employed as many as 22 workers. Murph guitars sourced its primary timbers locally but bought a lot of its hardware from the German collective C.A. Gotz Jr., which is still around as a violin maker.

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Murphy Squire Electric Guitar

The exhaustive Murph lineup was unveiled at the 1966 Summer NAMM show and Murphy lined up a stable of dealers. As with many other small ‘60s guitar companies, these Murphs are decent little guitars with that nice, bouncy single-coil sound that’s perfect for riffing on a surf melody.

As mentioned, by far the most common Murphs were the Squires, which look suspiciously like a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster. There’s also more than a little of a Rickenbacker vibe. Indeed, after the ’66 NAMM appearance, according to the Murph site account, “someone” complained about patent infringement and threatened to sue. The “someone” isn’t identified, but you can probably draw your own conclusions as to who was also in the neighborhood and might object. The Murph site implies that pressure was exerted on the dealers, too, who began returning guitars. Sustaining a prolonged legal battle wasn’t in the cards for Murph guitars and the doors were closed in the Spring of 1967.

I have no idea how common Murph guitars are, but an educated guess is not very. As I write this there’s a Murph Squire on eBay, well road-worn, the seller is asking $3,500 for. Good luck with that. They were never pitched as anything but budget guitars and by the time they appeared, there would have been plenty of competition from both European and Japanese manufacturers, not to mention Harmony, Kay and Valco. Probably like so many inexpensive ‘60s guitars, no one thought to hold on to them. Estimates are that only around 1,200 Murphs were ever produced, and of those around 950 were Squires.

Anyhow, muchas gracias to Teisco for bringing Murphs to our attention and even more thanks to Dan the Murph-man for keeping them alive on his tribute site. Now we’ll just have to see how much that eBay Murph guitar fetches, if anything!

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Domino Californian Electric Guitar

Not to be confused with the recently re-issued California Rebel by Eastwood Guitars, the Domino Californian came out a few years earlier. Imported to New York by Maurice Lipsky Music Co., these Japanese guitars were part of a series of models branded “Domino” throughout the 1960’s.

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Electric Guitar (Redburst)

Vintage 1960’s Domino Californian Electric Guitar (Redburst)

This model was an obvious take on the VOX Phantom from the same era. VOX initially made guitars in England then transferred production to Italy. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones popularized the Phantom and the Teardrop models, so Lipsky was quick to jump on the opportunity with the Domino brand.

The California was available in 2 or 3 pickup configuration. Main colors were White or Redburst as shown below, but have also been spotted in canary yellow and sonic blue. They all sported the rather unique woodgrain pickguard which looked like a 1950’s kitchen table top. It was also available in a Bass version.

Vintage 1960's Espana Violin Electric Guitar (Sunburst)

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Espana Violin Electric Guitar

If you Google this brand, 95% of the info is about acoustic guitars. But here is a very cool example of one of their electrics. Espana was a brand used by Buegeleisen & Jacobson of New York City, who imported guitars from Italy in the 1960’s. Although not this model, It appears these same guitars were imported into UK with the VOX brand.

Vintage 1960's Espana Violin Electric Guitar (Sunburst)

Vintage 1960’s Espana Violin Electric Guitar (Sunburst)

This model was an obvious take on the Hofner Beatle Bass from the same era, but a 6 string version. It is an extremely well made guitar (compared to the similar models that were coming from Japan at the time). The components look very similar to most VOX models of that era.

This model was available in 2 pickup configuration, 3-way switch, volume and tone with a Bigsby style tremolo. I have only seen this one model in Sunburst, and a very impressive and detailed Sunburst it is with a wonderfully contrasting white binding everywhere!

Vintage 1960's Espana 335 Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Espana 335 Electric Guitar

If you Google this brand, 95% of the info is about acoustic guitars. But here is a very cool example of one of their electrics. Espana was a brand used by Buegeleisen & Jacobson of New York City, who imported guitars from Italy in the 1960’s. It appears these same guitars were imported into UK with the VOX brand.

Vintage 1960's Espana 335 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960’s Espana 335 Electric Guitar

This model was an obvious take on the Gibson 335 from the same era and almost identical to the VOX version. It is an extremely well made guitar (compared to the similar models that were coming from Japan at the time). The components look very similar to most VOX models of that era.

This model was available in 2 pickup configuration, 3-way switch, dual volume and tone controls with a Bigsby style tremolo. Here is a fine example in Sunburst, but it was also available in traditional cherry.

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Over Easy & Coffee Black, Please (Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar)

Look, I obsess as much as any old guitar nut about fancy tone woods. I love flame. I love burl. I love spalting (although I guess that’s not too good for the tree). I love any exotic timbers, like purpleheart. I also like those fancy pearl-encrusted jobs, like Mike’s Tuxedo Custom. So naturally, when I saw this little Teisco guitar, there’s no way I could resist. How do you say “No” to a guitar covered in mother-of-dinette?

Teisco guitars have run a curious course in the opinion of vintage guitar fans. There was a time when any unidentified Japanese guitar from the 1960s—and that was just about all of them, even with brand names—was said to have been “made by Teisco,” and was generally held in disdain. Then, what used to be just cheap old guitars became collectible “vintage” guitars and before you knew it, Teisco and other el-cheapos were all of a sudden desirable and treated more or less seriously.

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Teisco guitars were somewhat unusual back in the 1960s because many—though certainly not all—were imported into the U.S. by Westheimer Sales carrying their own company’s brand name. There actually was a Teisco company! In fact, it was the late Jack Westheimer who appended the “del Rey” suffix to give the brand a little more “Spanish” veneer. By around 1964 or so another company called W.M.I., which stood for Weiss Musical Instruments, started importing Teisco del Reys, as well. Westheimer’s interest was more engaged in other brands he was selling, so he didn’t complain about W.M.I.’s usurping his brand name.

The object of my desire seen here is a c. 1963 Teisco SD-4L, which could have been brought in by Westheimer or someone else. For a guitar that was once regarded as something close to junk, laughed at by Les Paul and Strat aficionados, this is actually a pretty remarkable piece of lutherie for its time, the formica facing notwithstanding. The body is laminated, which the more snobbish call “plywood.” The neck is one-piece maple with a bound rosewood fingerboard. I don’t know if this has a reinforced neck; if it does, it’s certainly not adjustable. It’s pretty straight, however.

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

The ultimate inspiration for this guitar was the Fender Jazzmaster, which was, at the time this was introduced, still Fender’s top-of-the-line. However, it’s probably more by way of European translation. Very early in the history of Japanese exports to the U.S. they determined that their chief competition was Italian and, to a lesser extent, German guitars. And they were often loosely based on the Jazzmaster. The presence of four pickups, rocker switches, and thumbwheels clearly takes its inspiration from the Europeans. However, the nifty, top-mounted chrome housings that hold the controls are more of a nod to Supro.

A faux walnut top, the groovy shape, and four pickups are enough to recommend this guitar. But the neatest part is under the hood. The thumbwheels are master volume and tone. I’ve always thought that each pickup having both was overkill and impossible to use outside of a studio. Notice this has six rocker switches. Four of the rockers are simple on-off swtiches for each pickup. The other two, marked “Rhythm/Solo,” are actually phase reversal switches. Using these required that each pair of pickups (front and back) be on. The Solo position gives you both pickups in series or flat out. The Rhythm position reverses the phasing, giving you that funky in-between sound so cherished on Strats. Pretty cool.

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

The vibrato is also interesting. It sits on a little elevated platform above the guitar top and operates with three springs, one of the earliest 3-spring vibratos on a Japanese guitar I know of. All in all this is a great little guitar for getting down with “Walk, Don’t Run.” Once you get everything all set up, it plays very nicely indeed.

I’ve called this a 1963. In ’62 when these were introduced, the pickups were large chunky chrome affairs with a black bobbin center. By ’63 they had changed to these quasi-DeArmond gold foil single-coils (which are not bad, by the way). The Teisco SD-4L (and a companion 2-pickup SD-2L) only lasted into 1964. There’s a perception that Japanese guitars such as Teisco were imported by the millions, but, in fact, quantities were not really that large. The biggest year was 1966, when 618,000 guitars were imported, including all electrics and acoustics. It’s probably fair to conclude that this particular model is relatively scarce. In any case, when it was made nobody thought that inexpensive Japanese guitars were worth saving or would become collectibles! I’m sure glad this one made it. I love it! Mother-of-dinette and all.

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1963 Teisco SD-4L Electric Guitar