Even though I don’t frequent them often, I love classic car shows. The sight of those two-tone jobs—often done up in exotic colors like pastels or turquoise—always raises a smile of nostalgia, a glimmer of my youth when they were new and I had dreams of being able to hit the road. Kind of like how I feel when I look at this very nifty EKO Condor.
Among the popular performers of Hawaiian (and most other types of) music on the Vaudeville music hall circuit was Roy Smeck (1900-1994). Smeck was a talented instrumentalist who played guitar, banjo, ukulele, and lap steel guitar, earning the sobriquet “Wizard of the Strings.” Smeck made quite a few recordings and starred in part of the first “sound on disk” movie that was released in 1926. Like many other performers, Smeck endorsed a number of instruments by various manufacturers over the years, but is probably best known for the line of Harmonies introduced in 1927 with the pear-shaped Vita-Uke. Smeck’s name would be associated with Harmony instruments until near the end of the company’s run in 1973.
As much as I would like to, I can’t really shed a lot of light on this brand. What we do know, is they were from Japan, mid 60’s to early 70’s. All the typical copy-era models that you would see from Teisco and a handful of other brands. Slightly better than average quality, similar to the Domino guitars. So, likely an American importer that found a niche and filled it for as long as he/she could. Rather than ramble on about it, I’ll simply offer up a bunch of photos so you can let your imagination run wild!
In the 1960’s Maurice Lipsky Music Co., a prominent importer and distributor in New York City, developed the Domino brand of guitars. One of my favorites from them was the Californian Rebel. Lipsky was also the company that offered the Orpheum brand of guitars from the 1950s on. Many Orpheum’s were made by United Guitars of Jersey City, NJ, the successor to the Oscar Schmidt Company. There is some evidence that Lipsky’s Orpheum name was used on some Italian Wandré guitars, as well.
Airline guitars were being made in USA from 1958-1968 by Valco Manufacturing Company and sold primarily through the Montgomery Ward catalog company. Valco also made other popular brands like Supro and National. Today they are being made through Canadian company Eastwood Guitars. By the early 1960’s Airline were producing many different models – most in those early days were solid wood designs like the Town and Country, but the more valuable vintage models were made of res-o-glas. This model is often referred to as the Jetsons model.
One of the highlights of life back when I was a youngster was the arrival of the latest Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog. Anything you desired could be delivered right to your door. A lot of my early knowledge about guitars (and lingerie) came out of those “wish books.” One piece of that knowledge, however, wasn’t about this Sears Silvertone because when it was made in 1965, Sears only sold Japanese-made guitars through its retail store outlets, not through its catalogs!
Here are a pair of Airline Barney Kessel models from the 1960’s. It was also known as the Swingmaster, and could be found under the Kay brand and the Old Kraftsmen brand.
Back in the late 1960s, amplifiers were big. No, I don’t mean as in “popular.” I mean as in big! I had a giant 350-watt solid-state Mosrite that ran a whole band. It was so big, I had to buy a VW Bus to schlep it around. Back then, probably no big amp brand was bigger—as in more popular—than Standel out of California. Those were the amps to have (I suspect my Mosrite was really made by them). Standel got so big, the company introduced its own guitar lines. And, just as Mosrite probably didn’t make any amps, Standel didn’t make any of its guitars.
Castelfidardo is a town in the province of Ancona, in the Marche region of central-eastern Italy. During the early 1960’s this area was a hot bed for small but talented guitar builders, but also had links back to USA. From this area in Italy builders like Zerosette were branded with names like JG, Goya, Contessa, Atlas and Sano. Sano? Weren’t they an AMP builder in USA? That’s the connection!
There is not much information available out there on these fabulous late 60’s guitars. The Coral Hornet is certainly in my top ten all time favorite guitars. Why? The body was ultra thin. So thin in fact that the control cavity was mounted on a raised metal enclosure because the body was too thin to hold the pots and switches. The pickguard was completely unique, I’ll try to explain…