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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…

Michael Wright
Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Speechless (Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II HFR-1070 Electric Guitar)

Now that we’ve grabbed your attention, you may be surprised to find that it’s not that easy to write responsibly about a guitar with a shapely woman’s derriere replacing quilted maple on the top, but we’ll give it the old college try.

Actually, painted finishes have been around probably forever. I’m no expert on really old guitars, but I’m sure faux wood finishes have been used ever since the technique was invented. It was popular in the late Victorian period on many items, including boxes, clocks, and furniture. Chicago’s Joseph Bohmann specialized in acoustic guitars with faux wood finishes from the 1880’s into the early 20th Century. Faux wood finishes returned on inexpensive guitars during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, obvious concessions to the hard times. Even Fender and some other makers used a form of photographic faux finishes on their electric guitars in recent times.

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Likewise graphic decorations have been used time out of mind. Technically speaking, marquetry and purfling are forms of it. Stenciling probably existed for a long time, but by the 1920’s it had become a common technique for dressing up cheaper guitars. Think of those cowboy guitars with roundup and campfire scenes on the front. Sometimes this “stenciling” was actually what was known as “decalomania,” use of a colored acetate decal under the clearcoat. These could be as simple as gold scrolls to 4-colored scenes like on the Bradley Kincaid Houn’ Dog of the late 1920’s.

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

All these “finish tricks” are ancestors of the guitar graphics that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Probably no one did more to champion custom graphics on guitars than Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, whose checkerboard-to-self-portrait guitars almost define the genre. By the early ‘80s heavy metal was on the rise. Essential to metal was flashy guitar playing and for that you needed a flashy guitar, often with nifty graphics. Graphic guitars trailed off late in the decade but right around 1989-90 there was a resurgence of the form. Crackle paint jobs, bowling balls, and guitars like this here c. 1990 Vester II Concert Series (JJR Series) HFR-1070 (I kid you not).

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

I tried to get information about Vester guitars and contacted someone at the parent company, but it was NAMM time and later I misplaced the contact. But we know a little. Vester guitars were imported by Samuel Music Company of Effingham, IL, probably beginning in the late 1980’s, by 1987 at least. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is a Vester II and not just a Vester. There were some “Traditional Series” copy guitars, and some more modern bass designs, at least. Vesters were made by Saehan Guitar Technology of Korea. Online sources say there were some Japanese Vesters as well, but take that with a grain of salt, since the Korean Saehan factory is the only source identified. The guitars were imported by Midco Music, which became Musicorp. Most Vester guitars of this vintage had typical graphic finishes for the times, some abstract, some representational.

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

Vintage 1990 Vester Concert II Electric Guitar

I’m not sure how this graphic was produced, but I’m guessing its some sort of photo-printing process of an original airbrushed image. This is a pretty standard form of Superstrat, with the H/S/H pickup layout. The pickup covers are marked “Vester” and encase serviceable Korean pickups. The controls are interesting. Supporting the master volume and tone are the mini-toggles that control each pickup. The single-coil is on/off. However, the humbuckers are on/off/on, reversing the phase between the two on positions. Pretty clever and pretty complicated, if you ask me.

By the late 1980s Korean manufacturers were making decent guitars. These are solid, competent guitars. If you like personality, they don’t have a lot. But how do you define “personality?” Some guitars have this vibe that incorporates some sort of ineffable essence from the people who made it. Some are just good tools…and this falls into that category. Pump it through some nice effects and it will perform admirably.

I’ve no idea how long Vester brand guitars were produced, but probably into the mid-1990s at least. With the advent of “the Seattle sound” spearheaded by bands like Nirvana, Superstrats fell out of favor, and overtly sexist graphics were hardly appropriate. Vester guitars don’t seem to be especially rare, but this is the only one of this graphic I’ve ever seen. But, it was cataloged. At least we can say they are not everyday occurrences.

As a red-blooded heterosexual man, I’m tickled by the idea of exercising that strategically placed whammy. But, to be honest, it’s hard to imagine a venue where you could do that without garnering the ire of a good portion of the human race these days. Not sure I’d have the…

Well, so, did I write responsibly about a guitar decorated by a woman’s rear end? You bet your…

Michael Wright
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

Michael Wright
Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

The Softer Side of Hard Rock (Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar)

It’s funny how history and evolution work. They follow a loosely Hegelian dialectical process of first going one way, then leaping to an opposing pole, and finally ending somewhere in the middle, only to start the process over again. This Kramer Ferrington acoustic-electric reflects one of those dialectical swings that occurred in the mid-1980s.

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

You know the evolution of popular music in the late 1970s and early 1980s as well as I, so there’s no need to venture a reading here. But somewhere along the way, the non-stop “heavy metal” of the early years morphed into a poppier hard rock, still full of biting guitar riffs. Then one day, it became a requisite to incorporate a “power ballad” into your repertoire. This was usually a slower love song—still played loud—that featured some generally elementary fingerstyle guitar playing on an acoustic-electric guitar. All well and good. But you had your hard rock image to keep up, and, well, let’s face it, an Ovation with wooden epaulets wasn’t exactly going to cut it. What to do?

Leave it to Kramer Guitars to come up with the perfect solution in around 1986: Kramer Ferrington acoustic-electric guitars. Make the acoustic-electric look like a way-cool solidbody electric and you could be both tough and gentle at the same time!

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Ferrington was not a made up marketing name. Rather, it was the last name of Danny Ferrington, somewhat of a celebrity luthier living in Nashville at the time who’d built guitars for a number of stars. Ferrington’s main thing was to design guitars with asymmetrical or unusual shapes. I’m not sure whether Ferrington made the Strat- and Tele-shaped designs before hooking up with Kramer or not, but he designed these, the KFS-1 and KFT-1, for Kramer and they debuted in 1986, made in Korea. I interviewed Mr. Ferrington when reviewing a book on his guitars that came out in 1992. That book, by the way, was asymmetrically shaped and beautiful. It didn’t sell well, so you’re likely to find copies still available and should pick one up for your library.

Kramer Ferringtons had very lightweight bodies and came in black, white, red, and sunburst. They had a transducer pickup under the saddle with volume and tone controls. The necks were bolted on and featured a variety of headstock shapes and fingerboard inlays that evolved over the life of the line. By 1987 some plainer KFS-2 and KFT-2 models were introduced, mainly without neck binding and with dot inlays. The KFT-1 seen here was built in 1987.

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

In 1988 Kramer introduced Ferrington Signature models which were supposed to be made by Danny Ferrington himself in the U.S., or at least under his supervision. Marketing and reality are often at odds when it comes to classic Kramer guitars, so who knows! But they probably were American made and not Korean. These were upscale guitars with solid spruce tops, set-in necks, and asymmetrical Ferrington shapes. I think these are pretty rare birds. I only ever saw a couple of them in stores and they were pricey and hung around for quite awhile.

The Kramer Ferrington line lasted until the end in 1990, when Kramer imploded. Danny Ferrington relocated to Los Angeles and marketed the KFS-1 and KFT-2 with the Ferrington brand name for a bit, but the guitars trailed off fairly quickly. I don’t know if the Korean-made Kramer Ferringtons were plentiful or not, but it’s fairly easy to find them for sale. Kramer was pretty good at selling guitars.

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Likewise, I don’t really know if these guitars made it into too many hard rock acts. They certainly had a rock ‘n’ roll vibe and would look cool on stage. They’re fully functional, but, frankly, if you’re into real acoustic-electric guitar, they’re more of a novelty. They might make you look good jumping off your amp, but if you want a really good acoustic-electric sound, you’re going to go for one of the solidbody guitars like a Gibson Chet Atkins or, for that matter, an Ovation (with wooden epaulets).

Not long after Kramer Ferringtons bit the dust, the power-ballad-infused hard rock that was their reason for existing also fell from grace, replaced by the “alternative” sound typified by Nirvana et al. History was off on another dialectical tangent.

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Vintage 1986 Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Michael Wright
Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

I Can See Clearly Now (Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar)

Knowledge can be a terrible thing, especially if you’re a collector like me. Once I learn about a subject—say, an obscure guitar maker with connections to bigger things that almost no one knows about—I want one, or two. Never fails. That’s how I ended up with this 1981 Renaissance bass.

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Now, basses have rarely spoken to me. I was always a 6-string man. Although, that said, I actually did play bass (and sing) briefly in a band for a few months back in 1967 (a rent-to-own, baby blue Hagstrom, as I recall). Most of the time, in a shop or at a show, I usually walked right past the bass guitars.

In any case, the road to my Renaissance began in the shop window of Society Hill Loan on South Street in Philadelphia. I used to work in an office tower near City Hall. I was a writer and no one paid attention to us, so I found that on my lunch break I could zip out, hop on a bus, and in a few minutes find myself walking down 7th Street toward Temptation. South Street was home to a lot of clubs and young hipsters, so naturally Society Hill got lots of interesting instruments.

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

One day I walked up to the corner display and staring back at me was a clear Plexiglas bass guitar bearing the Renaissance brand. This was one of those RARE instances where the guys in the shop actually knew something about Renaissance. They knew they came from the western suburbs of Philly, maybe Newtown Square, and a music store called Dragonetti’s. This was way more information than the usual shrug and “I dunno” that I usually got. A red hot lead!

I didn’t buy the bass that day. In fact, in a rare occurrence, I didn’t even own any Renaissance gear when I tracked the company down. Which wasn’t all that hard. I just let my fingers do a little walking—this was way before you “Googled” anything—and found Dragonetti’s Music located in Newtown Square, PA, in Ma Bell’s Yellow Pages. A quick call and I reached store owner John Dragonetti. “You know anything about Renaissance guitars,” I asked. “Do I? You can’t imagine how much that cost me.” Pay dirt!

Turns out Dragonetti marked the end of the Renaissance saga, not the beginning. The story began in around 1977 when a young John Marshall decided to go into guitar making instead of college. Marshall had learned how to build guitars from Eric Schulte, a well-known local luthier living in Malvern, PA, a far northwestern suburb of Philly a few miles north of Newtown Square. Marshall got together two partners, recording studio owner Phil Goldberg and studio guitarist and manufacturer’s rep Dan Lamb and founded Renaissance guitars in Malvern.

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

In search of something different, the trio settled on using Plexiglas, inspired by the old Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitars of a few years earlier. Marshall came up with the design. Both the guitar and the bass were similar to what you see here. Three shades of Plexi were offered: clear, smokey gray, and black. Prototypes were made in late 1977 and production began in 1978.

This bass is the SPB Gold model built in May of 1979, in the smokey grey known as “Bronze.” The neck is 3-piece mahogany. What you can’t see are brass dot position markers along the side of the ebony fingerboard. It has active electronics with two notched filter tone controls, and active/passive switch, phase switch, and a pair of special designed DiMarzio pickups. I’m not really qualified to evaluate basses based on my brief Hagstrom experience, but I think this is pretty top-notch!

However, sales did not go well for Renaissance and the instruments were expensive to make. They needed an infusion of cash. That’s when John Dragonetti was brought in. John Marshall had become disgruntled and left to take a job with Martin. Dragonetti put in some capital and immediately found his new partners absent and in early 1980 pretty much in sole control. He redesigned the instruments in an attempt to make them less expensive to produce, the new shapes reflecting more of a B.C. Rich influence. Sunn amplifiers were interested in purchasing Renaissance, but a fluke accident at the NAMM show scuttled that deal. That’s when the IRS knocked on the door… The end.

Renaissance guitars and basses are relatively rare. Generously speaking there were only about 600 give or take of six various designs. Basses in this design were around 150 in number, divided between two different models, so maybe 75-100 of these were made, at most.

Being Plexiglas, this is relatively heavy. In my dotage, I like light-weight. However, the likelihood that I’ll join a band and play any bass is remote indeed. Also, I tend to stay away from pawn shops, as well. You never know what you’ll learn about, and you know where that can lead…

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Vintage 1981 Renaissance Bass Guitar

Michael Wright
Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Peachy Keen (Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar)

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.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

The first time I laid eyes on this guitar was in the showroom of LoDuca Brothers warehouse in Milwaukee, which was another of those “Temples of Doom” you hear me talk about periodically. LoDuca Brothers were (or was if you consider it a company, not siblings) the American importers and distributors of EKO guitars (actually Rickenbacker handled the West Coast). LoDuca Brothers had its roots in a late 1930s, early ‘40s accordion duo Vaudeville act featuring Thomas and Gaetano (Guy) LoDuca. According to their son, Mickey, as good Italian sons, the brothers handed their earnings over to their father, who paid them an allowance and put some in savings. When they’d amassed a couple grand, they opened the first of what would become a chain of music studios around Milwaukee. As they thrived, they began to import and sell LoDuca brand accordions sourced from Oliviero Pigini of Recanati, Italy, just north of Castelfidardo, a town that is still the hub of accordion manufacturing in Italy.

As we’ve talked about before, accordions were a big fad among young Baby Boomers in the early to mid-1950s. This was good for the LoDucas business. But when the wind was squeezed out of the demand for accordions, it kind of left the LoDucas with empty hands. They played around with importing keyboards—including the actual black and white key assemblies—until, fortuitously, folk music happened and demand for guitars began to pick up toward the end of the 1950s.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Pigini knew only too well about the drop in sales of accordions in the US, of course. So the company decided to expand into guitar manufacturing. LoDuca Brothers had an accordion distribution network with around 600 outlets and was doing business with Pigini, so they were a natural partner to handle the expansion into guitars.

As far as I know, EKO was the brand name chosen for Pigini’s guitars and didn’t come off another existing line of instruments. I don’t think it was ever used on accordions (though it eventually did get put on some electronic keyboards and drums). Just as with accordions, Pigini would gladly put the brand name of your choice on a batch of guitars, but EKO was their main string moniker. EKO guitars debuted in 1961.

The first EKO guitars were acoustics and among the first customers was Sears. LoDuca had imported a little chord organ for Sears beginning in 1959, so they had an established relationship. The first EKO electric guitars were a pair of plastic-covered solidbodies, the Models 500 and 700, covered in sparkle plastic, plus a range of archtops, introduced in 1962.

From the get-go Pigini relied on input from LoDuca Brothers to develop guitars that would sell in the American market. In this regard LoDuca enlisted a number of professional guitarists from the Milwaukee area, who endorsed EKOs.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

LoDuca and EKO hit the market at a good time. EKO’s biggest year was probably 1967, when this Condor was made. It’s the huge ’67 catalog that most frequently circulates in the paper trade. I fell in love with this the moment I laid eyes on it. I mean, it’s so T-Bird (as in Ford with a porthole) or Edsel (yeah, I loved those, too). That pale pink with the black neck. And four—count ‘em—four pickups. It pretty much screams out for a matching tuxedo. Besides being a looker, this guitar actually plays pretty well, too. It’s light-weight and comfortable. The single-coil pickups aren’t screamers, but they’re beefy enough. You get a nice variety of tones, though not those swell glassy out-of-phase sounds like on a jimmied Strat. Having four on-off switches is darned awkward, but otherwise this is a sweetheart.

So, why was the warehouse this came out of another Temple of Doom? Mainly because of a confluence of events. Demand for guitars in the US began to drop in 1968. Tastes changed. Hendrix, Clapton and Bloomfield were whetting appetites for axes capable of chopping, not matching tuxedos. Then, at some time probably around 1968 or ’69, Oliviero Pigini, who loved fast sports cars, died in a car crash. Anecdotal evidence suggests that EKO’s seasoned wood supply burned up in 1970, but I can’t confirm that. In any case, quality supposedly declined.

In any case, business waned and LoDuca Brothers found itself sitting on a warehouse full of unsold EKO guitars. And there they sat for years. Fast forward and in the 1980s vintage guitar collecting became all the rage. Collectors and dealers got the word and began to mine the trove at bargain prices. Temple of Doom indeed! When I strode in, the pickings were comparatively slim, but there was still plenty of guitar eye candy left, including this two-tone beauty, as fine a sight as any gleaming T-Bird, or maybe a pink Cadillac!

Michael Wright
Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Catalog of Dreams (Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar)

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!

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Ward’s was probably the first to sell guitars through its catalogs. Aaron Montgomery Ward started his company in 1872 as a solution to the problem of farmers obtaining the items they needed to make life more palatable out on the Great Plains. At the time, the farmer’s only source for household goods was the general store. And their only source of merchandise was the railroads, who charged an arm and a leg. To combat the high prices, the farmers joined to form buying clubs and put together lists. A representative would take it to the big city to buy the stuff and ship it back in one big container. Lot’s cheaper. Ward’s idea was to return to Chicago and put the lists together for them by assembling a catalog and sending it to the farmers direct.

Ward’s concept was so successful that Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck decided to compete head-to-head with them, starting Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1893. Sometime between Ward’s founding and Sears’ first catalog in 1894 Ward’s began selling guitars. There’s a guitar offered in Ward’s 1894 catalog with a woodcut and some copy. That very SAME woodcut and copy appears in the first Sears catalog!

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Sears sold increasing numbers of guitars as the years progressed, obtained from various sources, including Lyon & Healy, Oscar Schmidt, and the Harmony Company. In 1916 Sears purchased Harmony to supply the majority of its stringed instruments, which began appearing carrying the Supertone brand name in 1917. While it was a subsidiary of Sears, Harmony was still free to sell its own brand independently and to make guitars for other companies. Sears, for its part, mainly relied on Harmony for its guitars, except occasionally when a specialty model was sourced from someone else. In 1940 Sears sold Harmony to its president Jay Kraus, after which it operated pretty much as before, with Sears as its main customer, with the Sears brand name changed to Silvertone.

Sears had branched out into retail stores in 1925. By the 1960s, when this guitar was made, Sears was the largest retailer in the U.S. Throughout the 1960s the guitars featured in the Sears catalog were exclusively American-made, mostly by Harmony. However, obviously, as evidenced by the very existence of this guitar, they also sold guitars made in Japan, only just through their retail store outlets.

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

This Silvertone is a Model 1437, otherwise known as a Teisco WG-4L. Except for the logo, it’s a completely stock Teisco. The Teisco company was founded in Japan in 1946 by Atswo Kaneko and Doryu Matsuda. Teiscos were distributed within Japan and probably regionally until the end of the 1950s, when exporting to the U.S. commensed. The first known American importer was the late Jack Westheimer whose Westheimer Sales Corp. began importing Kingston acoustic guitars from Japan in 1959, followed either later that year or early in 1960 by Teisco electric guitars. Jack added the “del Rey” most often seen on these guitars.

In around 1964, Sil Weindling, Barry Hornstein, and Sid Weiss formed Weiss Musical Instruments (W.M.I.) and began importing Teisco Weiss guitars. Westheimer’s focus had shifted toward his Kingston brand, so W.M.I. sort of took over the Teisco franchise. The WG line debuted in 1964 with a plain pickguard, changing over to the very groovy striped metal ‘guard in 1965. W.M.I. undoubtedly provided this guitar to Sears.

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Silvertone Teisco 1437 Electric Guitar

There’s nothing not to like about this guitar! I mean, how could you resist the look of that pickguard?! And metallic blue paint! Plus four—count ‘em—four chunky single-coil pickups. And I love those typically Teisco rectangular adaptations of Gretsch’s thumbprint inlays. As with almost all better Japanese solidbodies from the 1960s, with just a little attention this can be set up to play quite nicely. The neck is a little hefty for a modern taste, but then so were many others back then. To be honest, you don’t really get that much tonal variety out of four pickups, but it’s still way, way cool. Perfect for a chorus or two of Walk, Don’t Run or Apache!

By the 1970s, Sears was finally featuring Japanese-made guitars in its catalog, but the Sears hegemony was waning, replaced by emerging “big box” retailers such as Kmart. The catalog soldiered on into the 1990s, but its value as a source for interesting guitar—or lingerie—information was long past.

Michael Wright
Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

All Amped Up (Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar)

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.

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

Standel was originally founded by Bob Crooks of Temple City, CA (a northern suburb of L.A.), in 1953 to make high-end tube amplifiers. The company describes itself as a “boutique” manufacturer, meaning it was basically a custom shop. Transistors—which can amplify an electrical signal in a way that’s analogous (!) to tubes—were invented around the same time, but it took some time for them to be applied to musical instrument amplification. I’m no amp expert, but the earliest application of transistors to guitar amps I’ve encountered was by Kay and its Vanguard series that debuted in 1963. Bud Ross, in Chanute, KS, built a reputation for hot-rodding amps by putting tuck-and-roll vinyl on them, and, in 1965, produced a transistorized amplifier that he took to NAMM and Kustom amplifiers—also “big” in both senses of the word—were off and running. I don’t know when Standel embraced the new solid-state technology, but it wasn’t long thereafter.

Kustom, like Standel, would go on to produce—or really commission—its own line of guitars. Exactly when Standel introduced its first guitars is a mystery remaining to be solved. Likewise, who made most of Standel’s guitars also remains to be elucidated. By 1969, at least, Standel was sourcing its guitars from legendary luthier Sam Koontz in New Jersey. This Standel Custom guitar is from before that arrangement.

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

Pretty much inspired by the Country-Western bands that congregated in and around Bakersfield, CA, a whole bunch of guitarmakers sprang up in Southern California, including Semie Moseley and others. Standel did sell some solidbody guitars with a tell-tale German carve around the top that I suspect might have been built for them by Semie. But Crooks apparently preferred hollowbodies, since most Standels are made that way.

Looking at the Southern California guitarmaker landscape at the time—excluding Fender and Rickenbacker, of course—the most likely source for this guitar is Murph. This looks for all the world like a Murph Gemini. Murph guitars were made in another northern L.A. suburb of San Fernando, CA, by Thomas Patrick Murphy from 1965-67, mainly as a vehicle to help promote the pop music act put together by his children. The best known models were the Squier and a heart-shaped Satellite that Dan Forte (aka Teisco del Rey) loves to feature. The Gemini was a thinline hollowbody with a pair of f-holes. The Murph Satellite had a headstock with a little Woody Woodpecker peak at the tip. Visit www.murphguitars.com for more information on Murph guitars.

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

Vintage 1967 Standel Custom Model 202 Electric Guitar (Red)

You can’t just look at a Murph and this Standel and say “Aha.” There are both similarities and differences. In addition to the similar body shape, the Standel head shows its own resemblance to Mr. Woodpecker. Murphs had more than 10 coats of paint; this appears to be plastic-covered, but could be really just very thickly painted. Both lines had 3-bolt necks. The Gemini had a similarly shaped pickguard with extensions up under the pickups, although these pickup covers are unlike any Murphs. The bridge and vibrato are also different. The Murph Gemini used a threeway toggle, but the Squier used a sliding switch, as here. The two biggest differences are the presence of an elevated “belly on the top,” yielding a mild German carve, sort of. Murphs had flat tops. Lastly, Murphs did not have zero frets. Of course, Standel could have deliberately sourced hardware from a different supplier just to make their guitars different.

So, like those annoying History Channel shows where you sit through an hour to find out that they can’t really prove that the wreck they’re exploring really is the Santa Maria or not, we can’t say for sure that Murph made this Standel. If they did, that would place it somewhere between 1965 and 1967, probably closer to the latter. If Murph did supply Standel’s guitars, then Murph’s demise in 1967 might explain why Standel switched to Sam Koontz a year or two later.

All Standel guitars appear to be quite rare. Until we find an example from another known maker that’s identical, origins will never be conclusive. Who knows? We could even find out that, for awhile, at least, Standel did, in fact, actually build its own guitars! And, for the record, give me a small amp any day!

Michael Wright
Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

Nectar of the Gods (Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe 2235 Electric Guitar)

One cool thing about liking oddball old guitars is they always contain hope…and a challenge. By which I mean, no matter how obscure or exotic, you always live with hope that you’ll someday figure out what the heck they are and thrive on the challenge of trying to do so. At least that’s been my repeated experience over the last quarter century or so of playing guitar detective.

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

That being said, this Apollo Deluxe was kind of the exception that proved the rule, in that it followed a reverse pattern, sort of backing into discovery. While I didn’t really know what it was when I found it, I did have some idea of what it might be, or at least ought to be! I knew that the Grecian-god-themed Apollo brand was a part of the St. Louis Music (SLM) family of instruments, so all I had to do was locate it within the pantheon (SLM’s better-known brand was Electra, another Greek god).

St. Louis Music reflects one of those hazy back-stories in American (and actually international) guitar history that involve the murky world of distributors, which few people really understand. Distributors—or “jobbers”—were part of the middleman structure in the music business that bought instruments from the manufacturers (usually what we call “mass manufacturers,” like Kay or Harmony), marked them up, and got them to the music stores,department stores, and studios where they would be retailed to you and me. They’re the wringers because the guitars they bought might say Kay, but they might just as well say Cromwell or Custom Kraft. This latter was the brand used by SLM on guitars produced for them by Kay during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

A roughly equivalent—though somewhat more Byzantine—business model developed in Japan following World War II. How much that was a result of American governorship would be an interesting subject to study. Guitar manufacturers—some of whom had been active before the War—sprang up, similar to a Kay or Harmony. They sold their products to “trading companies,” whose job was to distribute domestically and to interface with foreign importers, who would then either be a distributor in its own country, or sell to other distributors, or both. (To make things worse, the trading companies may or may not have owned an interest in the manufacturing companies; can you say CMI and Gibson?) You can see why sorting this all out is not always easy!

Japanese guitars made significant inroads into the American market as the 1960s progressed. And not coincidentally, American mass manufacturing declined accordingly, although I think this was more a combination of management stagnation and cultural chauvinism than anything else. The global economy was still emerging and Depression-era-trained managers didn’t get it. There’s very little difference (read “improvement”) between a 1962 and a 1967 Kay, Harmony, or Valco guitar.

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Apollo Deluxe Electric Guitar

SLM had sourced guitars from Kay for a long time but it, too, was drawn to the Japanese makers. SLM was big enough to be important players in the music industry, big enough to see the writing on the wall. They may even have had inside information that all was not rosy at Kay, which was purchased by Seeburg in 1965 and then Valco in 1967. By 1968 both Valco and Kay had gone belly-up.

Anyhow, this model shows up in an undated SLM catalog probably from around 1967. Or at least a two-pickup version does, called the Deluxe 2235. Clearly this was inspired by—or actually meant to compete with—a Burns Bison. At that time the Japanese were copying the European guitars that had been the “budget” alternatives earlier in the ‘60s. Thus, this is an early “copy” guitar. If you’ve overcome the usual prejudices of many older guitar enthusiasts, you know that this is a pretty decent guitar, once it’s properly set up. Poor set-up was the common problem of the time for these guitars. Look, these pickups ain’t DiMarzios, the switching is kind of sucky, and Japanese wiring was really small gauge, so it may not survive well, but these have their own sound and are great fun.

Even though Kay went out of business in ’68, SLM continued to offer Custom Krafts until 1970. Whether or not those were left-over stock or assembled by SLM from parts is unknown. By 1968 they were already pretty dated designs in any case, so probably not selling well. The SLM Apollos were probably not imported in large quantities, based upon how many you see: not many!

SLM, of course, would go on to introduce The Electra guitar, a copy of the Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexiglas guitar in 1970, and Electra would be their primary brand for electrics (Alvarez for acoustics) until 1984, and they would be a major force in the importation and distribution of guitars from Asia. This Apollo represents a fascinating clue in deciphering that process!

Michael Wright
Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar - Black

Within the TeleStar Orbit (Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Electric Guitar)

I think there’s an illusion among many vintage guitar enthusiasts that the 1960s were some sort of candy store filled with glittering guitars at every turn. Certainly the remarkable variety of brands and designs that were produced and have survived help foster this illusion of abundance. But the reality on the ground back then was quite different for most of us. Few of us ever encountered a guitar like this 1967 TeleStar until well after the fact!

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar - Black

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar – Black

When Telestar—the first communications satellite and this guitar’s namesake—was launched in 1962, I was living in a small-to-medium sized city in Michigan about a 100 miles north of Detroit. I knew about Gibson guitars, of course, and Kay and Harmony (mainly through the Sears and Wards catalogs). Even though my heroes, The Ventures, played them, I’d never heard of Fenders, much less Rickenbackers, or EKOS or Teiscos, for that matter. Inevitably, my horizons expanded to include more than Midwestern guitars, but that MicroFrets or TeleStars ever existed at all came as a revelation only years later when I became something of a guitar archaeologist. I don’t think my experience was atypical.

One corollary of the illusion about the abundance of ‘60s guitars goes beyond awareness. It’s that they were so abundant. That is, that millions and millions were produced and sold. This is just not the case. The only documentation available is from reports in The Music Trades of the time, for Japanese electric guitars. The peak year was 1966, when 618,000 were imported. By 1968 the number was down to 385,000. By 1969 it was 150,000. American or European numbers aren’t available. In any case, when you spread those numbers over the plethora of brands that created the illusion in the first place, you begin to see that the quantities of many of these guitars was relatively small.

I became aware of TeleStar guitars (sometimes it was Tele-Star) when I started buying obscure paper. Somewhere along the line I obtained a brochure with a business card for one Maurice Laboz, 1129 Broadway, New York City, stapled to it. And even then, I really only began to get a clue when I met Chip Coleman, who had a vintage guitar shop in China Grove, NC, and had a large personal collection of TeleStar guitars and basses. At the time, I was working on the Kramer history and my collaborator lived in South Carolina. He had a large personal collection of Kramers. So, I put my young son and my photo gear in the car drove southward while my Kramer buddy loaded his daughter and his Kramer guitars into his car and headed northward. We rendezvoused at Chip’s place and I got all these great photos of Kramer and TeleStar guitars.

That great experience put me onto the scent, and before long I had a couple TeleStars of my own and had documented the line as far as was possible.

TeleStar guitars were being sold by 1965. While it’s not certain, many features of these guitars suggest that most, if not all, were built by Kawai. In the past I’ve speculated that there might even have been some greater business connection between Laboz, TeleStar and Kawai, similar to that of, for example, Hoshino (Ibanez) and Elger, but probably there’s a simpler answer that Laboz just got his guitars from Kawai, or whatever the trading company representing them was. A rather remarkable number of models were offered in the catalogs over the next few years, helping to reinforce the illusion of plenty. It’s unlikely that large numbers of each of these models were actually produced

In 1967, following the corporate gobbling frenzy of the times, TeleStar became a part of the Music-Craft Electronic Corporation and moved to 651 Broadway. It was from this era that the TeleStar Professional Solid Body Sparkle Electric 5002 seen here comes. Sort of inspired by a Burns Bison, this is a Kawai product. Like many ‘60s Japanese guitars, a light weight, delicate wiring, and slightly awkward sliding controls tend to cause folks to look down on these guitars, but they really can be set up to play and sound satisfactorily. However, let’s face it, the reason you really want one of this is for the sparkle finish, little silver specks that would make this guitar twinkle in the spotlights!

TeleStar guitars, including the sparkles, lasted into 1969, around which time the warehouse burned down, and the company moved to Secaucus, NJ, and became a distributor of music accessories.

Guitars like this sparkling TeleStar are certainly eye-candy. They’re just not as common as many once thought, probably only distributed on the East Coast. Still, if not common, no illusion either!

Michael Wright