Sometimes you take a look at a guitar and the warning bells start ringing: bogus. Like those early “missing links” proposed by inventive amateur anthropologists who put gorilla skulls on anthropoid skeletons. That’s what happened to me the first time a dealer hauled this out and showed it to me. It was a Danelectro alright, but those pickups? Then I looked again. Who would stencil “Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro” on an aftermarket pickguard? Then there were the pickups. Epoxy potted. Trademark of who, or is it whom? Dan Armstrong. Think his Ampeg see-through guitars. No, on second thought, this had the air of a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a generous dash of authenticity. So it proved to be. And so it came my way and all I had to do was put the links back together again.
I’ve always had a bit of a taste for plastic on my guitars. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love flamed and quilted maple, rich ribbon mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, abalone pearl. But there’s something so wonderfully cheesy about the use of plastic on a guitar. I guess that’s one of the reason why I like this otherwise relatively humble Italian-made Gemelli 195/4/V from around 1965.
I don’t go to guitar shows much any more. I should, because I have a lot of friends who ply the floor, but I’ve been on a guitar diet for several years now. And my friends always find something goofy for me to buy. That’s how I ended up with this mysterious and rare Takamine solidbody guitar from 1984. What the heck is this?! I didn’t know and the dealer who knew enough to bring it to me didn’t know either, but he knew I would have to have it!
These days Epiphone guitars are almost ubiquitous. If a band plays Gibson-style guitars, they’re most likely to be slinging Epis. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because the quality is pretty good, the sound is decent, the look is there, and, if some scumbag should manage to ease a case out of the back of your van when you’re looking the other way, you’re only out an Epi. In other words, the Gibson stays back at home. This is only the latest twist in a tale full of deliciously ironic symbiosis. Another turn is reflected by this extremely rare 1988 Epiphone Spotlight.
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!