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Peavey T-15 blog

Peavey T-15: the “Mississippi Mustang”

Some players seem to have a natural dislike for Peavey amps, which is often unfair. But what about… the Peavey T-15 guitar??? Now here’s an  obscure little gem! In this guest article, Rob Roberge reminds us why this guitar and Peavey itself deserve a bit more love…

Peavey T-15 guitar - sunburst

Peavey T-15 guitar – sunburst

I was talking to my buddy – a professional blues player – a great player who has an impeccable ear for tone, telling him about my new (well, used…but new to me) really outstanding amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. He said to me, “you lost me when you used Peavey and Blues in the same sentence.” And while I could have gone on about some of the southern blues players that, in fact, did and still do use Peaveys (both guitars and amps), I kept my mouth shut. I could have even gone into a minor history lesson about Lynyrd Skynyrd using the very powerful and tuneful competition for the 70’s Fender Twin Reverbs – the Peavey Mace (with SIX 6L6 power tubes inspiring all those Zippos to flame up every night during “Free Bird”).

But if you think many guitar players’ reaction to Peavey amps is dismissive, just try selling them on the brilliant (Yes. Brilliant. There. I said it.) T-Series of Peavey guitars (many made from the late 70’s-mid 80’s, though most dying a quiet death in the early 80’s). At best, you may get a chuckle that suggests you know nothing. Or a comment about how ugly they are (not an uncommon thought…and actually, with some models, perhaps the most valid criticism of the series). Or even an incredulous reaction: “Are you kidding? Peavey? Peavey guitars? Please.”

But why this reaction to Peavey guitar equipment? Especially the guitars themselves. So long as we’re not talking about an abomination like the pink Adrian Vandenberg signature model of the late 80’s…ouch. Yes…Peavey deserved all mocking and humiliation for that clunker.

One of my main theories for why Peavey is taken most seriously for their PA’s and audio equipment, and at times very seriously for their amps, and almost not seriously at all for their guitars (especially, paradoxically and oddly, for what is their classic period when they were making as good or better guitars than either Fender or Gibson) is for one unfortunate reason: they had almost no recognition at the time as a guitar builder. And they committed a cardinal sin in the guitar business: they were (and still are, for many players) pretty uncool and, at best, aesthetically boring. No way to get a new line of guitars off the ground.

Peavey T-15

Peavey T-15 and some better-known models

And while we guitar players tend to think we are somewhat radical and hardly conservative, consumers in the guitar market are like consumers in most other markets – they go with brand names they know other people think highly of. And in the late 70’s, that meant—more or less—Fender and Gibson. Even if those companies were producing, it is now widely agreed, some of the worst instruments they have ever made.

Of course, this is an oversimplification—the very existence of Eastwood Guitars points to the fact that there is a market for guitar players who want to stand out from the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul crowd. But, I’d argue, that market was pretty much absent in the late 70’s. It’s only over the last 15-20 years that we have seen a steady growth of interest in some of the most interesting and wild guitars of the 60’s.

The Rare Guitars Revival

The (steadily over the last fifteen/twenty years) increasing interest in Harmonys, Danos, Valcos, some of the best Kays, and others has been caused, I’d argue, by a two-prong desire among guitar players:

  1. As vintage Fenders and Gibsons—and brands Guild, Gretsch, and Epiphones and others—started to skyrocket in price, players on a limited budget still wanted to get their hands on a piece of guitar history and vintage gear. And,
  2. Players discovered (or rediscovered, as many baby boomers first instruments were affordable 60’s models) that a lot of these budget/catalog guitars from the garage boom of the mid 60’s just happened to be pretty great guitars.

And they were—and this is not to be minimized—cool. In 1979, just about everyone was playing a guitar by a major company. And many of these were the traditional, yet boring designs that hadn’t changed much from the 1950’s.

Even before players such as Jack White brought his radical, funky red resolglass Airline to the masses, you’d had a quiet, yet growing groundswell of underground 80’s and 90’s bands playing inexpensive guitars that are now classics—but were, at the time—simply affordable, weird guitars that set them apart from mainstream bands. Hey, if your band wasn’t mainstream, why play a mainstream guitar? This was even true of some of the higher profile players/bands, with people like Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine and Steve Wynn dusting off Jazzmasters—which, by the late 70’s, were considered pawn shop crud. Or, if not crud, hardly a guitar that had been by far Fender’s most expensive guitar in the 1963 catalog. By comparison, Strat was very fairly priced (by comparison…it was still pricey for the day), and Teles and Esquires (not to mention, later, Mustangs) were positively relatively cheap.

But even lower on the food chain were the Airlines, the Silvertones, the Harmonys, the Danos. In the early 80’s, Karl Precoda used a Silvertone-branded Harmony H78 (with a missing middle goldfoil) on the Dream Syndicate’s classic The Days of Wine and Roses, an album that was widely praised at the time for bringing back long and aggressive duel guitar to underground rock—with a band that owed more to, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Velvet Underground than to any South Bay Hardcore. All of this with Precoda’s feedback-laden killer tone out of his Harmony.  East Bay Ray, from the Dead Kennedys, was famous for using off-brand guitars, often seen with then forgotten/unknown various Valco/Airline resoglass models over a decade before Jack White hit the national stage. No one was like him in bands of the time.

And then perhaps the band who perhaps most single-handedly showed their audience a plethora of cool 1960’s rare and funky and (at the time) forgotten guitars: Anton Newcome’s hollowbody Vox Cheetah he uses this day…over the years, he’s also used a Silvertone 1454L (the Silvertone model number for the Harmony/Airline H78—one of Eastwood great Airline reissues), Vox 12 strings…while brilliant former lead guitar player Jeff Davies was seen on stage with Hagstroms and Harmonys, and sometime bassist/sometime guitarist Matt Hollywood was often seen with a two pickup Rocket.

Brian Jonestown Massacre live

Brian Jonestown Massacre, dusting off vintage guitars…

Peavey T-Series

But, back to the Peaveys of the early 80’s. In some ways, picking a guitar (at least in part…no one plays a piece of crap just because it looks radical and unique) because it looks cool seems like a pretty shallow reason for picking you main/stage guitar. Because it is.

Still, I can understand why players might have shied away from the T-Series at first. The flagship and top of the line, the T-60, is a pretty unattractive guitar. While some people who LOVE them tend to say things on forums like, “it’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.” And while there are some people who do actually think the T-60 is a good looking guitar, they are in the vast minority. And remember, these are on forums for people who absolutely love these guitars. The general guitar playing public, if they are at all familiar with the T-60, tend to think of them as pretty uninspired designs at best, and pretty damn ugly at worst.

Peavey T-60

Peavey T-60: ugly, or so-ugly-it’s-beautiful?

But the T-Series was built in a way that revolutionized the guitar making industry. Peavey was the first to construct necks with a computerized copy lathe. By using computers, every neck came out exactly the same for the first time in guitar making history. This is now used throughout the guitar industry. This technology also allowed Peavey to produce guitars that were at least the equal to the quality of Fender and Gibson, yet significantly lower their production costs.

In 1978 (the first year of the T-60’s production), these were the prices of Fender’s Strat, Gibson’s Les Paul, and Peavey’s T-60:

Les Paul: Nearly $1,000

Stratocaster: $790

T-60: $375

And maybe that was another problem for Peavey. Maybe guitarists had the perception that a guitar that sold for so much less couldn’t possibly be the equal of the big names. But that simply wasn’t true (even if they weren’t nearly as good looking).

But the best—or most compelling and surprising—guitar in the T Series may be the T-15. This was a guitar that Peavey marketed as a beginner’s guitar, or a professional guitar for “players with smaller hands.” It’s become known over the years as the “Mississippi Mustang”—a reference, obviously, to Fender’s much more famous short scale classic—the Mustang.

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

The Fender Mustang had/has a 24” scale and a fast, comfortable neck that not only makes single note runs easy to speed up, but also offers a comfortable reach for more complex chords than many longer scale guitars allow and, lastly, makes bending easier up and down the neck. 

If you’re a player who enjoys playing the Mustang’s 24” scale, you might well love the T-15’s 23.5” scale. This, combined with a thin, flat, very fast neck, makes for an ease of playing that’s hard to describe. I’ve never player another guitar quite like it. It not only allows all of the benefits I mention above with the Mustang, but it makes double country bends enormously easy once you get used to the effortlessness of the bends. It may be why the guitar found early popularity with country players—with its ability to lend itself to complex country pedal steel-like bends. I have fallen in love with the 23.5” scale—which happens to be very rare and the same scale as the Gibson Byrdland (a short scale that’s also a favorite of Ted Nugent, which I pray is the only thing he and I have in common with the exception that we are both carbon based life forms).

Though, while the whole T Series of Peaveys first found the majority of their players in the country field, the T-15 is becoming more and more popular in indie rock. Some of the big reasons for this could be the one of a kind Peavey Super Ferrite pickups, which sound like a powerful cross between P90’s and some of the twang of a bridge Tele. But they have a sound all their own. Peavey also has the nice feature of there being no treble loss when you roll off the volume knob—the guitar keeps its tone no matter how low you roll off the volume.

Peavey T-15 in natural

Peavey T-15 in natural

Other features of the guitar are a three way pickup switch and a single tone and volume knob that controls both pickups. There’s a metal nut much like some of the classic Danelectros, which is nice because they never seem to wear down like many of the plastic ones that need to be replaced after many years of work. And while some of the higher end models, like the T-60, are famous for their excessive weight (some are reported to weigh more than a Les Paul—though the colored and sunburst ones supposedly weigh less than the more common natural wood finish), the T-15 is a very light and comfortable instrument. It, too, came most often in a natural wood finish, with much more rare versions made in both sunburst and walnut. According to Peavey’s literature at the time, the T-15’s body is made of “southern hardwood” whatever that might exactly be. The radius is 12”. And the neck is made of hard rock maple. It all adds up to a first-rate guitar. A Mississippi Mustang, indeed.

Lastly, while most of the T-15’s came with Peavey’s custom fit plastic cases, some (hardly all, but some) came with a 10 watt solid state amplifier in/with the case—harkening back to the classic Silvertone (made by Dano) Amp-in-Case of the 60’s.  The better one, of course, being the one that came with the two pickup 1457. Complete with a deep tremolo and a great tube sound driven by a single 6V6. While the T-15’s Peavey solid state amplifier hardly comes close to the greatness of the Silvertone Amp-in-Case, it does have some beautiful cleans and serviceable overdrive. But it’s hardly the same, even if it’s a cool and nostalgic feature.

For now, the T-15’s are still pretty affordable for such a great, professional grade guitar. They play like butter, and they have pickups like you’ve never heard, but will want to her a lot more once you do. Grab one before the price starts going up. The T-60’s have already been discovered. Grab the T-15 while you can.   

– guest article by Rob Roberge.

WATCH: PEAVEY T-15 DEMO 

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Ugly Mugs No. 2: Under the Radar (Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar)

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.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Now, the Burns Flyte is definitely a step up from the Tux-master, but not such a very big one. James Ormston Burns (1925-1998) began designing guitars in around 1958 when he made a short scale Supersound guitar for the musician Ike Isaacs. In 1959 Burns teamed up with Henry Weill to form the Burns-Weill company, producing the rather ungainly forebears of last month’s featured Tux-master. Burns and Weills apparently weren’t a match made in heaven and they had parted ways before the year was out. In 1960 Burns struck out on his own, founding Burns London Ltd. And putting out what’s now a legendary line of soldibody electric guitars.

Probably the most famous feature on Burns guitars of the 1960s was the setting called “Wild Dog” on the Bison and some other models. I can remember not being able to wait to plug in mine when I got it. Wild Dog!! A snarl? Growl? Sharp bark? Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Wild Dog was simply a somewhat weak phase-reversal effect like you get in-between pickups on a Strat! Now there was the marketing department run amok!

Burns guitars quickly won the hearts of British guitar players…there were, indeed, few other quality options. Plus, they arrived at just about the time that teenagers were trading in their Skiffle washboards for their first electric guitars in order to play that new music from the Colonies.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Meanwhile, in the former Colonies, guitars—especially electrics—had become hot commodities among the young. And there were lots of young folks, the Post-War Baby Boomers, hitting the right age to become a “market.” Savvy businessmen wanted in on the gold mine. Companies as diverse as Norlin (a brewing conglomerate) and CBS (TV, movies, and records) started buying guitar companies (Gibson and Fender, respectively).

Into the corporate feeding frenzy jumped the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. At least it was in the musical instrument business to begin with! Initially Baldwin was a bidder for Fender, but lost out to CBS. On the rebound, Baldwin set its eyes on Burns of London and in 1965 began importing Baldwin-badged versions of Jim Burns’ guitars.

However, Baldwin’s affair with Burns was relatively short-lived. In 1966 Baldwin struck a deal to purchase Gretsch and they proved to be much better sellers in the U.S. marketplace. Baldwin held on to the Burns property until closing it down in 1970.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Burns wasn’t through with guitars yet. From 1969 to 1973 Burns manufactured Hayman guitars for the music distributor Dallas-Arbiter. As part of the agreement, Jim Burns couldn’t use the Burns of London name, but somehow Burns UK was acceptable and Burns resumed making guitar in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1974. Which brings us to the Flyte.

The Flyte—originally supposed to be the Concorde (or Conchorde)—coincided with the debut of supersonic aviation. Hence the swept-wing appearance. If you appreciated weird guitarflesh, this should tickle your fancy. I keep looking at it it just keeps getting weirder, and in an especially good way! Those pickups are called Mach One Humbusters. The Dynamic Tension bridge is pretty interesting…well, no, it’s not. It’s just weird. Indeed, much like Hayman guitars before it, Flytes were well made and pretty unremarkable except for the eccentric appearance.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Apparently, Burns UK Flytes were played by so-called Glam Rockers like the band Slade and Mark Bolan (who made a career of eccentric guitars, among other things). Wikipedia lists other Flyte players, but I’ve never heard of any of them, not that that signifies anything. But, you have to stretch to find Flyte fans; they never did take off.

This guitar is #172. I have no idea how many Flytes were produced, but I suspect production quantities were not enormous. They were only made for about 2 years. In around 1977 Burns UK introduced the Mirage to replace the Flyte, with re-designed Mach Two pickups. Burns UK then bit the dust.

Jim Burns gave guitars one more go with the oddly named enterprise “Jim Burns Actualizers Ltd.” From 1979-83, but that met with even less success than Burns UK and the Flyte.

Still, you have to give Burns high marks for chutzpah and if your taste, like mine, runs to the unusual, you should be sure to catch a Flyte the next time one come your way!

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Communist Guitars (Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar)

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?

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

The short story, of course, is that Russia became Communist after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Fast forward to 1941 and the German Nazi army invades Russia, get’s stalled at Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and the Russian counter-assault commences. The Allies invade Sicily and Normandy. In 1945 everyone meets up in Berlin and Hitler eats a bullet. The victors divide the spoils, with Russia getting control of the Eastern half of Germany (and Berlin), as well as pretty much everything to the east of that. The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and the Iron Curtain are created and more than 30 years of Communist rule ensues in those areas. Can you say “Cold War?”

Now, you could probably construct an argument about how the Cold War ultimately affected American popular music, but I won’t try. What I find more interesting is that a whole bunch of traditionally guitar-making regions in Europe ended up under Communist rule. Markneukirchen, probably the greatest center of German lutherie, ended up just a few miles over the border in East Germany. Similar areas in nearby Czechoslovakia also ended up in Communist hands, including that where the Jolana company that made the Diamant I seen here was located.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t grow up withCommunist Guitars on my mind. I just knew they wanted to drop an A-bomb on us. As with all of history, reality and geo-politics operate in totally separate realms! Thank goodness.

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Definitive information on Jolana guitars is hard to obtain, even though the brand was one of the most successful in the Eastern Bloc. If you search online, you will actually learn that Jolana guitars represent a pretty heroic story of a man, Josef Ruzicka (1928-2004), who bucked the official Communist dictum that electric guitars represented rock and roll and the decadent Capitalism that music stood for. In around 1953 Ruzicka built his first electric Hawaiian guitar (about as decadent a Capitalistic rock and roll tool as I can imagine, eh?). Thereafter followed some Strat-style guitars, eventually leading to a guitar factory which ended up in Horavice and guitars named for—if Google Translate can be properly translated!—Josef’s daughter Jolana.

Just when the Diamant Les Paul version appeared is a bit murky. If you asked me, I’d say around 1972, but other sources online claim that the Diamant appeared in 1979, with the upscale Diamant I, as seen here, debuting in 1983. This may be true. One curious phenomenon you’ll encounter in online accounts of Jolana and other Soviet-era guitars is a profound inferiority complex that disparages the quality of these instruments. Indeed, as someone with no youthful experience (and an awful lot of aged experience!) with these guitar, I find this surprising. I have not found Eastern European guitars to be particularly different from guitars produced in Western Europe, and the workmanship is generally speaking quite good. Would this hold its own head-to-head with a Gibson Les Paul? No. But neither would a Crucianelli or a Framus or a Hagstrom.

That said, I have noticed that I consistently date Eastern Bloc guitars as being much earlier than they actually were. I’ll eye-ball a guitar and say “1968” when it turns out to be 1979. What appears to be the situation is that Soviet-era guitars aren’t so much badly made as they are really out of date, anachronisms! As if the makers are all at least 10 years behind their Western counterparts! Anachronism shouldn’t be confused with shoddy quality. But then again, if you’re 15 and those were the only guitars you could get, you might see “old fashioned” as a “quality” issue.

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

In any case, this is a well made little Les Paul copy. The body is maple with a thick, about ¾” thick carved European spruce top. There’s binding and the fit and finish aren’t bad. These humbuckers ain’t DiMarzios, but they’re serviceable. If online sources are to be believed, this particular guitar is quite rare based on the finish. The vast majority (“90%”) are supposed to have been black, with the rest finished in red, and only a very few done in sunburst, as seen here. It would be hard to judge here in the Western Hemisphere because as far as I know none were ever exported to these parts and you almost never see any—black, red, or sunburst—on vintage guitar dealer lists.

According to some online sources, the Jolana factory produced some guitars branded as Futurama and exported to the UK, where they were played by the likes of George Harrison, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton, presumably before they could afford more expensive guitars. Most sources have Jolana shutting down in 1989, about the time that the Iron Curtain came crashing down to end the Cold War, though one source claims to have a 1991 Jolana.

But just when you think the Cold War and Jolana guitars are gone for good, Vladimir Putin chomps off a bit of Ukraine and the NBE Corp. in the Czech Republic announced the return of Jolana guitars. I don’t know if the Cold War has returned (I hope not), and I haven’t seen any new Jolana guitars, but these old ones, Communist overtones and anachronisms included, are pretty interesting artifacts of a time when a guitar like this Diamant I was unknown to those of us raised under Capitalistic Decadance!

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Great Shiny Birds (Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar)

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!

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

I kind of missed contemporary pop music during the 1970s, with my eyes glued to classical guitar books and my stereo playing old 78 rpm records I found in thrift shops. So, I also missed Veleno guitars, although I did read Guitar Player magazine and thus had a kind of literary idea of what was going on. I probably first learned about Velenos in those pages and, later, when I started building a collection, a Veleno went on my wish list.

I finally located a pair for sale listed in the “want ads” of Vintage Guitar Magazine. I was on the phone two minutes later. A minty gold one was already gone, but this chrome beauty was still available, so I paid what was back then a lot of money to get it.

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

The fellow who sold it to me knew where John Veleno was living and I was able to track him down in Florida. That resulted in some interviews that yielded an article in Vintage Guitar Magazine, the chapter in my book Guitar Stories Vol. 2 and subsequent entry in Electric Guitars, The Illustrated Encyclopedia.

John was an amiable fellow who gave me a bunch of great anecdotes. These days I might be a little more critical of some of the facts, but it’s pretty hard to get corroborating data on a small guitar-maker from Florida!

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

John Veleno (b. 1934) was a machinist who grew up in Massachusetts. He started taking guitar lessons in around 1958 and by 1961 he’d become a teacher. If you’ve ever taught guitar, you know it ain’t exactly the most dependable living. Married with children, he became a machinist and relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1963 and got a job in a machine shop that made aluminum parts for use by NASA at then Cape Canaveral. Veleno augmented his day-job income by giving guitar lessons at home after work. You see where this is going!

Actually, the Veleno guitar originated from some advertising for his teaching sideline. To attract attention to his lessons, John fashioned a guitar-shaped aluminum mailbox for his house. Intrigued by the design, friends urged him to build a real guitar out of aluminum. John bit and Veleno guitars were born.

Using the technology with which he was familiar, Veleno guitars were carved out of aluminum, which was either chromed or anodized—I’m not sure I understand the difference. Most were chrome, but a few were gold, and fewer yet were done in red or blue. Or at least those were offered.

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

If you read my accounts, you’ll find an estimate of around 185 Veleno Originals being made, plus another 10 or so other odd models. That was based on Veleno’s recollection. You’ll find other numbers on the Internet, but they’re all in the same ball-park. Apparently there were some forgeries made, but it’s not clear when that happened; it seems like there was an issue with eBay in the early 2000s. At this writing Veleno was still offering to make you an upgraded version for around $8,000, but, by his own accounting, he’s only made around 10, if that, so Veleno guitars are still relatively rare.

Truth about Velenos is sometimes elusive. Plus John’s accounts were not always crystal clear. He has a massive, rambling “autobiography” you can find with a little searching on the Web. He talks about me in it, accusing me of claiming that he made 3 guitars with bird-shaped heads, wondering where I got that wrong information. Well, guess what? That’s what he told me. He forgot to mention that they were just necks and after Jorge Santana bought a guitar with one, he cut those other heads off. He also claims I got “fired” from my job around 2002, implying some connection that questions my credibility. Actually, I have been fired a couple of times during my advertising career! But, for the record I was laid off at that time and started a very successful agency shortly thereafter which I ran for more than a decade. In any case, it’s all very amusing!

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

Vintage 1972 Veleno Standard Electric Guitar

This guitar is #90 and features the original Guild humbuckers. The fellow who sold it claimed it had formerly belonged to Frank Hannon of the band Tesla, but there’s no way to verify that. Hannon is on the list of Veleno owners. This guitar was part of the Dangerous Curves exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and it’s in Acoustic Guitars and a host of other books because the photos were subsequently licensed to other publishers (not by me).

Veleno Originals are actually pretty good guitars. They’re light-weight and easy to play. And, if you have one, you’re part of a fairly exclusive club. Like I said, cult objects!

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Getcher Money Fer Nothing & Yer Chicks For Free! (Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar)

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.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Ok, it was the early 1970s so Ampeg can be forgiven for being well behind the curve in the politically correct category (I’m not even sure that political correctness had been fully invented yet at that time). Still, you gotta admire the chutzpah and it’s hard not to like any line of guitars called Stud. Sounds like it should be a Paul Newman movie.

Anyhow, all the yuks aside, the use of the Stud name was kind of eerily appropriate. These guitars were loosely speaking what we’d today call “copy guitars” in that they are based on American guitar designs popular at the time. They appeared just as the whole copy strategy was unfolding. Importers/distributors were producing copies mainly of Gibson guitars, since they yielded the most profit, but also of Fender and occasionally Guild guitars and basses. Even American guitar companies themselves hopped on the copy bandwagon. Gibson itself imported Japanese “copies” of some of its Epiphone models, and both Martin and Guild marketed lines of copy guitars until they wised up to the potential threats to their business.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

The Ampeg Studs were part of this whole copy scene, but they were aptly named because, unlike many of their competitors—the Ibanezes and Arias of the world—these were really over the top. They really were Studs!

Ampeg has always been better known as an amplifier company, although the very name refers to an amplifying “peg” or leg for a doghouse bass fiddle. Indeed, Ampeg’s first stringed instruments were electric Baby Basses in the 1960s. In 1969 Ampeg struck a deal with then hot guitar designer Dan Armstrong, who came up with the idea for those wonderful Plexiglas “See-through” guitars and basses. These were made into 1971 when Armstrong left the arrangement over a financial disagreement.

While rough copies of Rickenbackers and Mosrites appeared in Japan as early as 1968, followed by some somewhat crude Les Pauls, it was really the Plexiglas Ampegs that the Japanese manufacturers pounced on, producing near and pretty exact copies by 1970. That kick-started the whole copy movement.

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Vintage Ampeg Super Stud GE-500 Electric Guitar

Around the time that the Plexiglas guitars and basses disappeared, Ampeg was sold to Selmer Band Instruments in Elkhart, IN. It was the Selmer incarnation of Ampeg that decided in 1973 to bring in the Studs.

The Ampeg Studs included 5 guitars and 2 basses. Three guitars, including this model, were based off of the twin humbucker Gibson SG: the Stud GE-100 with a stoptail, the Stud GET-100 with a vibrato, and this Super Stud GE-500. Two guitars were based off of the Fender Telecaster, the Heavy Stud GE-150 with two single-coil pickups and the GEH-150 with ‘buckers. Two Fender-style basses included the Little Stud GEB-101 with one single-coil pickup and the Big Stud GEB-750 with a single and mini-humbucker. Except for the Super Stud seen here, most of these had laminated bodies with either grained cedar, grained cherry, or a black finish.

This Super Stud has a one-piece maple body. It might have been better named as Heavy Stud because this is one hefty axe. The neck is bolted on rather than set in like a real SG, but, as much as I love set-neck guitars, you have to admit that it sure is easy to get a great set-up on a bolt-neck guitar, especially if it’s not premium grade. That said, this is a pretty darned good guitar. The abalonoid inlays look great on stage but are kind of cheesy up close, unless you’re like me and love any kind of bling. These ain’t DiMarzio pickups, but they’re quite adequate, especially if you’re going to pump this through a nifty Maestro effect pedal or two, and why wouldn’t you? And a little (or big) Ampeg amp.

There’s an illusion that 1970s Japanese copy guitars were legion. Twasn’t so. Most came in in relatively small batches and are nowhere as plentiful as some think. The Ampeg Studs don’t come around all that often, so they’re probably pretty rare. There’s no way to date these precisely because before 1975-76 most Japanese guitars did not have serial numbers, related to my previous point. They weren’t numerous enough to worry about returns and warranties. The Ampeg Stud line was only available from 1973-75, so you have a less than 2-year window to date with.

Linda Ronstadt’s “cowboys” certainly didn’t play Ampeg Studs, however apropos they might have been on that tour bus. Nevertheless, all of us who play guitar have a little bit of stud in our DNA and deserve to play a Super Stud! Plus, you getcher money fer nothing and yer chicks for free!

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

1973 Ampeg Guitars Ad (Stud Series)

Vintage 1970's Epiphone ET Series Crestwood Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Epiphone ET Series Crestwood Electric Guitar

 

Vintage 1970's Epiphone ET Series Crestwood Electric Guitar

Vintage 1970’s Epiphone ET Series Crestwood Electric Guitar

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.

Often confused with the Crestwood, Coronet, Olympic and Wilshire, the ET-275, 276, 278, 290 & 290N were a Japanese-made amalgamation of a few older Epiphone body shapes and designs. And unlike the USA originals, these Japanese models featured a bolt-on neck.

Additional Details:

  • 1974-1978
  • Two humbuckers
  • Maple body
  • Gold hardware
  • Bolt-on Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard with pearl block inlays
  • Bound neck and headstock
  • Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • 2 Vol. 2 Tone controls
  • 3-way selector switch
  • 24.75″ scale
  • 1.68″ nut width
Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

The Right Slant on a Rickenbacker (Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar)

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!

Something I’ve always found curious was the discrepancy between “correct” and “incorrect” technique on the guitar. If you ever study classical guitar, you’ll get schooled on proper positioning of the left (and right, for that matter) hand, with the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck and the fingers coming down perpendicular to the strings. This helps maximize your reach and make it easier to fret the often complex harmonic line movements. It works. But then along comes Jimi who plays left-handed upside down and backwards with his darned thumb looped over the edge of the fingerboard and creates genius. Go figure.

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

In any case, periodically guitar designers turn their attention to the ergonomics of the guitar fingerboard and implement improvements to the traditional parallel fret layout. In modern times Oregon luthier Ralph Novak employs his patented “fanned fret” concept—with lower frets angled toward the bass side of the head, gradually migrating in a fan-like shape so that higher frets are angled toward the bass side of the body—on his Novax guitars.

Of course, somebody has always done something before, and in this case, conceptually if not actually, at least, it was Rickenbacker who came up with the slanted frets idea in 1973 with its Model 481. Or actually they reportedly did the slanted frets as a custom option as early as 1969. Rickenbacker had a tradition of trying to improve the ergonomics of guitar necks. Back in 1961 Rickenbacker designer Peter Sceusa filed a patent for a parabolic neck profile that was narrower at the top of the back to make it easier for ladies and people with smaller hands to fret the guitar (granted 1963). Who came up with the idea of slanting the frets I don’t know, but the idea was that if you’re resting the neck in the crook of your thumb, the fingers naturally curve forward. Thus, if you angle the frets slightly forward on the bass side, it’s more comfortable to fret, more natural.

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

The notion must have been at least somewhat popular because the concept got its own guitar model with the 481 introduced in 1973. Basically this is a solidbody with what’s called the “cresting wave” shape derived from Rickenbacker’s distinctive 4001 bass guitars. Rickenbacker even came up with a pair of high-output humbuckers with 12—count ‘em—adjustable pole pieces each for the 481 which only ever appeared on this guitar. One of the toggles is a threeway select and the other is a nifty phase reversal switch.

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Hard information on the 481 is difficult to come by. The slant-fretted Model 481 was offered for 10 years from 1973-1983, but online references suggest that these are relatively scarce. There was a sort of companion Model 480 which had a similar shape, but different electronics and no slanted frets. Apparently, the Model 481 is favored by a guitarist named Serge Pizzorno of the contemporary band Kasabian, but I confess I don’t know their music (reflective of someone like me advancing on in age).

I love the idea of this guitar, even if for me the slanted frets don’t work all that well. They’re not a real obstacle to playing—they’re not that slanted—but if you favor classical technique, like I do, they’re no real advantage, and they don’t work all that well if you play a lot of barred chords. Unless maybe you’re Jimi, but who is?

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Vintage 1973 Rickenbacker 481 Electric Guitar with Slanted Frets

Certainly the Model 481 is one of the more desirable of Rickenbacker’s 1970s output, probably because it’s so unlike the usual Rickenbacker. I love phase reversal switches and I love crushed pearloid shark’s teeth inlays and even the varnished fingerboard surface. That it’s so unusual is probably why I was so attracted to the Model 481 in the first place. Well, come on. You gotta love any guitar with slanted frets. Whether or not the guitar really fits in with your personality.

1977 Guitorgan B35

A Guitar for Ice Skating (Vintage 1977 Guitorgan B35)

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!

1977 Guitorgan B35

1977 Guitorgan B35

The Guitorgan has to be one of the front-runners in the race for weirdest guitar concept ever, and there’s a lot of competition! Yeah, it comes dressed up in pretty normal-looking guitar’s clothing, but after that any resemblance melts away.

I was quite surprised to learn that the Guitorgan concept was around before 1962, when inventor Robert Murrell of Waco, Texas, filed for a patent on the instrument. In a nutshell, Murrell’s idea was simple. Take an electronic organ. You press a key and that makes an electrical connection that sends a signal to whatever tone generator circuit you’ve selected using the frequency location of that key. So, why couldn’t you do the same thing with a guitar? Of course, an electric guitar is just an acoustic guitar with an electro-magnetic pickup that translates the interruption of its magnetic field by vibrating steel strings to generate an electronic signal. That’s actually a far more complex connection, and irrelevant. Suppose we wire the frets so that the electronic connection is made there? The problem is that the fret touches all 6 strings, so you can’t distinguish the frequency or pitch. Solution: cut the frets into 6 segments and wire each segment separately. Then at each touchpoint you get a different, distinct pitch. Run this through some real organ circuitry and you have a Guitorgan!

1977 Guitorgan B35

1977 Guitorgan B35

Well, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea. In 1966 or so, Bob Murrell began working with engineers at Baldwin in Cincinnati to figure out how to adapt their organ electronics to fit into a guitar. By 1967 he’d developed a prototype with his partner Bill Mostyn and took it to NAMM in Chicago, where the guitar was played by one Bob Wiley. We don’t know what kind of guitar was used, but they obviously favored hollowbodies. There was enough interest that they went home and began making Guitorgans in the garage, forming a company called MusiConics, opening a factory in 1968, and beginning production in 1969.

Over the years Guitorgan used a number of hollowbody guitars to mount its electronics. Most were Japanese, including a Barnie Kessel model and various ES-335 copies. Online sources say that there were some examples using American guitars produced by Kapa in Maryland, but that would be pretty curious. By the time Guitorgans were produced, Kapas were Japanese hollowbodies with U.S.-made necks that were extraordinarily thin. When you have to mount wires in the neck, thin isn’t better. Besides, Kapas barely made it into the 1970s. Who knows?

1977 Guitorgan B35

1977 Guitorgan B35

What’s even more surprising is that online sources suggest that approximately 3,000 Guitorgans were produced from 1969-1984. I find it really hard to buy that quantity, both because I can’t imagine 3,000 guitarists wanting to play one and because you almost never see them.

1977 Guitorgan B35

1977 Guitorgan B35

And, because the control options are almost mind-boggling. You got flute/accordion/vibes voices, with six register controls for flute mode alone. You got an organ/combo switch with tuning wheel to synchronize guitar and organ. You got a button for open E to tune. You got a button to temporarily activate organ when in guitar mode. You got voice controls for percussive, sustain, tremolo and octave lower. You got a button at the nut to activate the open string while fingering (this may be the weirdest feature of all!). Plus stereo output. And a 5-pin jack to connect to an organ. And a transformer/volume pedal. Not to mention on the guitar side you get standard controls PLUS a 6-position varitone. I don’t know about you, but this is way too much information to process in the middle of Apache. Did I mention a $2,500 to $4,000 price tag?

MusiConics did make Guitorgans from 1969-1984, and on a custom-order basis, including with a MIDI option, into the late 1980s. But three thousand musicians bought these? You decide…

This is a well-made guitar, probably built by FujiGen Gakki, the maker of Ibanez guitars. It’s a B-35 model probably from around 1977.

1977 Guitorgan B35

1977 Guitorgan B35

I love the idea of this guitar—er, organ—but it’s over the top. You might be able to find one, but good luck. If you want to hear what a Guitorgan sounds like, look for Dan Forte’s CD The Many Moods of Teisco Del Rey (Upstart Records, 1992), if you can find that, as well. As for playing at the local rink, I think I’d rather be skating, ankles be darned…

Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar

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.

Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar

Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar

Who actually built these guitars in Japan is unknown, but these pickups appear to be associated with Kawai guitars, and that’s probably a good guess.

Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar (Ad)

Vintage Domino Spartan Electric Guitar (Ad)

Here is an example of a dual pickup Domino Spartan in Sunburst. It was available in 2 or 3 pickup configuration, and in many different colors. Over the years I have seen olympic white, sunburst, seafoam green, orange and red. This 2P model has volume and tone controls, a 3-way selector switch and a rhythm/solo switch. The quality was pretty solid across the entire Domino line, compared to some of the stuff that was coming out of Japan at the time.

Vintage EKO 12-String DLX Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Vintage EKO 12-String DLX Electric Guitar

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.

Vintage EKO 12-String DLX Electric Guitar

Vintage EKO 12-String DLX Electric Guitar

Here is an unusual 12 string model, likely dating from the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. Obviously inspired by the Hofner “Beatles” shaped guitars, it is a surprisingly good player. I’ll let the pictures to the talking from here on in…