Last week I opined about my penchant for unusual, not to say, ugly guitars like the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England. Now, I don’t mean to throw (rolling) stones—the States has produced its share of butt-ugly guitars—but Merry Old England has contributed mightily to the cause. And even though he’s revered in the U.K. as their very own Leo Fender, Jim Burns has had a hand in more than a few guitar models that might crack a mirror if they could see themselves. One case in point: the Burns Flyte.
If you’re a young person, you probably don’t have much of a reaction to the adjective “Commie.” You might know that China is still officially “Communist,” but so fiercely Capitalistic that any associations with Mao are hard to parse out. Ditto Russia and Lenin and Stalin. You’ve got to find an old map to locate the “former Soviet Union.” But, if you’re an old fogey like me the term is full of “complex notes” as the vinophiles would say. What has this to do with guitars, you ask?
Some guitars are so unique, they acquire something of a “cult status.” I think you could say that about Veleno guitars. Not only have they been played by some famous guitar players (can you say Mark Bolan [T-Rex], Eric Clapton, Jorge Santana, Pete Haycock [Climax Blues Band], Alvin Lee, Ronnie Montrose [Edgar Winter Group], Martin Barre [Jethro Tull], Ace Frehley, Dave Peverett [Foghat], and Mark Farner, just for starters?), they’re pretty darned rare. Not to mention so darned cool!
Recently in a television interview, Linda Ronstadt was asked what it was like on a tour bus with an all-guy band. She started to give a politic answer and then changed her mind, admitting that “they were a bunch of cowboys.” I think we all know what she meant. It was the kind of macho gestalt that led a company like Ampeg to name its immediately post-Dan-Armstrong line of guitars the, uh, Stud series. Stud, eh?! Geddit?! Har, har.
Here are two examples of the Japanese made EPI Crestwood from the early 1970’s. The Epiphone ET Series guitars were solidbody guitars produced from 1970-1978 at the Matsumoku plant in Japan. In 1970, the decision was made to close down Kalamazoo production of Epiphones in favor of building them overseas in Japan. Epiphone decided to offer a new line of Japanese-built Epiphones that had more in common with other Japanese copies than previous Epiphone products.
Even for someone as guitar promiscuous as me, some brands of guitar just don’t speak to me. Rickenbacker was always one of those brands for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with Rickys; it’s just a matter of personality. However, when I found out Rickenbacker made a guitar with slanted frets, that definitely piqued my interest!
I confess I’ve not spent much of my life ice skating. Oh, I’ve been to ice skating rinks, but I don’t know, going around in circles on sore ankles just never turned me on. And there was always that queer, loud, ballparkish organ music in the foreground, if you’re lucky (or not), played by a live organist. I might have felt differently if the musician had been a guitarist. Or, rather, a Guitorganist!
In the 1960′s Maurice Lipsky Music Co., a prominent importer and distributor in New York City, developed the Domino brand of guitars. In 1967 Lipsky introduced a line proto-copies carrying the Domino brand name. Most were inspired by European models such as the EKO Violin guitar. Here is the original flyer announcing the lineup from 1967, claiming “DOMINO IMAGINATION LEADS THE ROCK GENERATION!”. The California Rebel, recently reissued by Eastwood Guitars, is front and center here in 1967.
EKO was an Italian musical manufacturer, prominent in Europe from the late 50’s to the 1980’s. The brand lives on today, but the instruments are no longer produced in Italy. To the best of my knowledge, they evolved from being an accordion manufacturer in the late 50’s, to creating some of the coolest electric guitars in the early sixties. They were known for their crazy pearloid and faux woodgrain finishes, accordion switches and funky body shapes. Later in the early 1970’s, they also took over production for VOX guitars, and were distributed in USA by the LoDuco Brothers in Milwaukee. That is likely where this guitar came from.
“Suppose,” enticed the email message (back when email messages were still something of a novelty), “I could get you into a strip mall that has one music store and the rest of the spaces are FILLED WITH GUITARS?” Thus began a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure that involved packing up my photographic gear into jerry-rigged thrift shop suitcases, hopping onto an airplane to head west, joining Tom, a knife salesman I’d never met except on the internet and at the other end of a telephone line, and driving up to Bob’s House of Music in Wheat Ridge, CO, just north of Denver. Where I would encounter more vintage guitars—including this 1974 Carvin CM95—than anyone could ever conceive! The second Temple of Doom of my life (so far).
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