Back in the late 1960s—Jimi notwithstanding—the cat’s pajamas of amplifiers were solid-state. Tube amps were heavy and prone to feedback. Solid-state amps were clean, big, and loud. I ran a whole band off a humongous 350-watt Mosrite amp. The mix sucked, but we were loud! The most desirable amps at that time were made by Standel and, to a lesser extent, Kustom (depended on your kind of music). It was only later that I learned that both companies also made guitars, like this ca. 1966 Standel Model 101 Custom Deluxe Solid Body Guitar. Heavy!
It’s always dangerous to deal in stereotypes. Nevertheless, there’s often a grain of truth lurking behind them. Take guitars (what else?) from the ‘60s. Often it only takes a glance to sus where a guitar came from. Look at a Japanese electric guitar and you won’t mistake it for anything else. Or move to Europe. You’d almost never confuse a German guitar—full of engineering bells and whistles—for an Italian one (loaded with style), or vice versa. Take this c. 1965 Juliett Delux guitar.
If you’re old enough and like whacky guitars, like me, you probably remember the great Guitar Player “Off the Wall” columns by Teisco Del Rey, the nom de plume of journalist Dan Forte. His was the first, and sometimes the only, story I’d read for a long time. Dan was perhaps the first to celebrate guitars whose names didn’t begin with M, G, or F. Dan usually worked the humor angle, but for those of us with an aesthetic eye, the guitars he featured became Holy Grails. One of the holiest of those was the 1968 Teisco May Queen guitar, a rare red version of which you see here!
Hondo was founded by Freed and Tommy Moore in 1969 with the intention to open up guitar production in Korea, at that time a non-player in the guitar game. Japan had taken over from Europe as the primary supplier of budget-level guitars during the 1960s. However, even by the late ‘60s the success of the Japanese was being eroded by their very success and the strength of the yen. Americans, mostly as an after-effect of World War II, had little respect for Japanese products and weren’t willing to pay much for them, even if they were pretty good. When Nixon cut the dollar loose to float with other currencies on the free market, the yen went up, making Japanese products increasingly expensive, a problem in a prejudiced, price-sensitive market like the US.
Maybe it was punk rock, with its rejection of good guitar playing. You know, any old bloke can bash on a guitar and who cares if it’s in tune. More likely it was punk’s more popified successor New Wave which opted for tasty yet understated guitar textures (in tune), though still without the slashing guitar solos, matching costumes accepted. Think Andy Summers and the Police. Whatever the cause, right at the beginning of the 1980s a new type of guitar appeared on the scene. An understated, minimalist guitar with no head, like this 1986 Ibanez take on the form, the Axstar AX75!
When Darcy Kuronen, the musical instrument curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, contacted me in early 1999 about their upcoming exhibition of guitars as art, which eventually became the Dangerous Curves exhibition, I was psyched. Guitars as art is my credo, why I collect. Well, at least one of the reasons. After a lot of sifting and winnowing, we agreed on a list that included a bunch of my guitars and a hyper-suspensioned, climate-controlled art moving van showed up to spirit my pretties up to Beantown. My Aria Pro II Urchin Deluxe became the visual emblem of the show, on the catalog cover, billboards, bus signs, banners. Pretty cool! Tucked away at the bottom of the pile was this 1985 Schecter Genesis G6 Illusion guitar!
Now, here’s a piece of guitar history that proves there’s more than meets the eye, a circa 1967 Cameo 1402T! It wasn’t that long ago that violins were considered the superior cousin to its distant relative, the guitar. You know: violins equal classical music equals high class. Guitars equal popular music equals you dancing fool you!
Whatever you call this instrument, the Gittler certainly pushes the envelope of what is a guitar! Alan Gittler (born in 1928) was originally a jazz guitarist in New York, heavily influenced by Remo Palmieri. He played music, composed, and even wrote and produced a film called Parachute to Paradise. He worked as a film editor for many years, invented a number of photographic-related devices, and even wrote a novel.
Travel with us now Back to the – no, not the Future, but – the 1970s! Back when things were all natural and stuff! Back to nature. Long hair. Deer-hide jackets with fringe. Back when the taste for things au naturale began to show up in guitars. Back when clearcoat finishes began to reveal alternating laminates of light and dark wood, often maple and mahogany or walnut. Back to a time when Martin built this 1979 Martin EM-18. Say what? Martin??