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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 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

K-Pop Star Power (Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar)

I must admit I don’t really pay much attention to K-Pop (Korean pop music), which I only know exists because there was a story about in on NPR. These Techno song-and-dance groups are apparently manufactured by the government in order to help shape Korea’s public image. No lie. However, when the Korean performer is a guitar and shaped like a five-point (six with the neck) star—and is finished in purpleburst—it lands at the top of my agenda.

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

So, what in the world is this guitar? What it is is a circa 1987 Cort Super Star made in Korea. How it made its way to a pawn shop in Pennsauken, New Jersey, remains something of a mystery, but that’s where I first encountered it.

Cort was one of the first serious Korean guitar manufacturers, established in 1973 when the late Jack Westheimer, facing increasingly unfriendly yen-dollar exchange rates, decided to begin moving his guitar manufacturing operations out of Japan to Korea. He partnered with Yung H. Park and formed what would become Cort, an abbreviation of Westheimer’s premier Japanese brand, Cortez. They began with acoustic guitars, later graduating to electrics, all OEM products for other companies. Around 1978 or so quality had finally reached a point where they felt they could begin to use their own brand name and Cort guitars debuted.

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

Cort did well, primarily as a budget brand. As the ‘80s progressed, Westheimer was increasingly interested in moving his brand up-scale. In around 1987, Cort attempted to introduce guitars that would change its image. Among those was the famous Dragon Sto-Stat, a Strat-style guitar with an abalone and pearl dragon inlaid on the top! I suspect the guitar seen here reflects that transitional period of attempted brand redefinition.
Everything about this guitar tends to point, as it were, to around 1987 give or take (there is no serial number). The twin humbuckers may be Mighty Mites—Westheimer owned them—and the Precision Tune vibrato is a take on a top-mounted Kahler. It wasn’t long after ’87 that Floyd Rose successfully claimed patent protection for all double-locking vibrato systems, putting Kahler out of business and pretty much guaranteeing that locking vibratos would be licensed and follow Rose’s recessed designs. Thus, this guitar is unlikely to come from much later than 1987-88. Weird-colored sunbursts were another popular feature of the 1980s, although generally speaking they were big a few years earlier in the decade.

And, finally, the 1980s was THE decade for strange-shaped guitars, especially among Heavy Metallers, although this doesn’t really strike me as a Heavy Metal axe. Some of those really pointy Ibanezes and Arias, a Gibson Futura: Heavy Metal. But a purpleburst star? Not so sure about that. Maybe Prince. Definitely Prince.

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Cort Star Electric Guitar

As outrageous as this guitar looks, it plays pretty decently…as long as you play standing up. Even then, well, I don’t know about you but I kind of don’t like to play guitars with pointy parts pointing up and down and in all directions, if you take my meaning. The pickups are basic but decent and I do prefer those top-mounted Kahler-style vibratos. While this isn’t a PRS by a long-stretch, it’s a respectable, well-made guitar. (Still a bit leery about those points.)

But, assuming I’m right about this being part of Cort’s efforts to upgrade the image of its brand, it was another dead end. Don’t just take my word for it. How many Cort Super Stars have you seen? Better yet, take a look at it! Yeah. Let’s be honest, I fell in love with it because it was pretty much a joke.

Cort continued to introduce innovations in an attempt to spruce up its brand. By the late ‘90s they were putting out some fine guitars. Their Earth acoustics were all solid timbers and quite elegant, excellent guitars. Electrics like their Matt “Guitar” Murphy Signature, while still not a PRS, were spectacular guitars any company would be proud of.

But the Cort Super Star didn’t quite do the job. Come to think of it, depending on how you feel about tightly choreographed girl-group technopop, I’m not so sure K-Pop is going to rehabilitate the Korean brand either. It’s sort of like sharp points on a guitar. But that’s just me.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Garage-Band Dream Machine (Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Guitar with Amp-in-Case)

Ever since electric guitars and amplifiers were invented in the 1930s, certain folks have been interested in cutting down the amount of gear you have to schlepp to a gig. You gotta have a guitar. It’s gotta have a case to carry it in. And the amp electronics have to be housed in some sort of a cabinet. I know! Let’s combine the case and the amp electronics: Amp-in-case guitars. The primary “certain folk” was the brains behind probably the first amp-in-case guitar and the iconic version seen here, Mr. Nate (or “Nat”) Daniel, namesake of the Danelectro company.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Inevitably there’s always an earlier “earliest,” but the earliest amp-in-case I know of was built by Daniel when he was working for Epiphone in around 1936. Nathan I. Daniel was a young electronics wizard who was discovered in the early 1930s by Epiphone’s head engineer Herb Sunshine building amplifiers in the basement of a New York department store (back when department stores really had departments and they did things). In 1935 the Epiphone Banjo Company changed its name to Epiphone and introduced a line of electric guitars and amplifiers called Electraphones, which was almost immediately changed to Electar. These included electric Spanish archtop guitars, Hawaiian lap steels, and little amplifiers designed and built by Nat Daniel. In 1936 Epiphone offered its Electar Model C Hawaiian guitar with an amp built into the case, designed by our friend Nat. For some reason, it didn’t go over very well, and the amp was quickly separated out into the Model C amplifier.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

In 1938 National-Dobro revisited the idea, introducing the Supro 60 Electric Combination and the Portable Supro 70 Electric Combination. Both of these featured a little pearloid-covered Supro Electric Hawaiian Guitar tucked into an amp in case unit. I don’t think any of these earl amp-in-case designs did particularly well, but then there was something called the Great Depression going on, which had to have an effect on sales.

Obviously, Daniel thought the idea was good enough. Daniel worked for Epiphone until 1942. After the War Daniel opened his own plant, Danelectro, in Red Bank, NJ, mainly making guitars and amps for Sears and Montgomery Ward, badged Silvertone and Airline, respectively. They began selling Danelectro-branded guitars and amps in around 1954. People throw the term around all too often—and ignorantly—these days, but those ‘50s and ‘60s Danos were truly iconic.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

And maybe the most iconic of Danelectros were the Silvertone Amp-in-Cases made for Sears beginning in 1962. The first were the smaller black-sparkle-finished Masonite one-pickup No. 1448s with an 18-fret fingerboard and a small 3-watt, 6” speaker tube amp built into the case. These were followed in 1963 by the full-size red-sparkle-finished Masonite two-pickup guitars with a 5-watt, 8” speaker tube amp, the No. 1449.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Let me get this off my chest. Something’s “iconic” when it represents something bigger than itself. “Iconic” does not mean, as modern advertising copywriters throw it around everywhere these days, “his best album,” or, more often, “very famous” or “extremely popular.” Icons are like symbols or metaphors with greater meaning attached, signaling a bigger message or concept. These amp-in-case guitars are icons because they stand for a whole generation and the changes in American culture that were transpiring in the early ‘60s. They were targeted at maturing Baby Boomers who were doing Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club (or, more likely, imagining that they were), switching from Folk to surf rock, starting bands in their suddenly suburban garages. A population on the go, on brand new Interstate superhighways. See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet. Well, you get the point. I’ll be quiet.

As with everyone else in the ‘60s, Danelectro got bought out in 1966, here by entertainment giant MCA. Whether due to the ownership change or coincidence, the Dano line was shuffled. The two-pickup 1449 was renumbered to 1457 and a bunch of new models debuted. While the amp-in-case concept seemed to continue to 1969, it was no long the iconic versions we know and love.

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

Vintage 1964 Silvertone 1457 Electric Guitar with Amp-in-Case

I’ve never played a 1448, but I’ve played this 1457 and the amp is surprisingly good. The 8” speaker and tube output have really sweet tone and really decent volume, more than you’d expect. I can’t say the guitar knocks my socks off, but as primitive as it is, it plays fine and it’s pretty good for a few choruses of “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Apache.” These are pure guitar fun! And, yes, they are iconic…

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

The Nuts (& Bolts) of the Guitar Biz – Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Guitar history has yielded some very odd marriages, from a business perspective, at least. While these can be found at almost any time, perhaps the glory days of unusual conjunctions was the 1960s, when cascading demand for electric guitars among maturing Baby Boomers caused corporations, both with and without music industry experience, to realize that thar’s gold in them thar hills. Among the odder of these unions was that between Chicago’s Heads & Threads company and Norma, Noble, and even National guitars.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

How, you ask, could anything be odder than a beer conglomerate (Norlin) buying Gibson? (I guess, the more you think of suds and guitars, it’s not so hard to understand!) Well, that’s because Heads & Threads wasn’t about skin tensioners on percussion instruments or banjos. Heads & Threads was originally a pioneer in the importation of nuts and bolts made in Japan founded by Norman Sackheim. Please note his first name, the source of the “Norma” brand name. Like others before him (Jack Westheimer and sporting goods), it wasn’t such a giant step from hardware to guitars, given the times.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Sackheim set up a subsidiary called, following a theme here, Strum & Drum in 1964 to import guitars and drums and related instruments. Like everyone else, Strum & Drum purchased instruments most likely from a trading company. They were the power brokers in Japan and every trading company had a stable of related manufacturers to draw upon, based on what the customer wanted. It’s darned near impossible to identify the makers of Japanese guitars with any precision. Sometimes outstanding workmanship—as in the cases of Matsumoku or FujiGen—are pretty compelling evidence, but there were so many specialty providers (eg, hardware, pickups, etc.), it’s hard to identify conclusive features. This is further complicated by the fact that imitation of successful ideas between companies was an accepted part of the culture, so just because something looked good on one brand’s product doesn’t mean it wouldn’t show up on another’s. Welcome to reality!

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

That said, the majority of Strum & Drum’s electric guitars seem to have been sourced from the Tombo factory. A few have features that suggest Teisco, with the caveat above. There’s no way to know where the acoustics came from. The older I get, the less important that seems to get, but I also know we collectors have issues…

Norma was Strum & Drum’s major brand. Many were pretty pedestrian solidbody and hollowbody electrics that are interesting as period artifacts, and little else. Of special interest were their sparkle-finished guitars, which are about as cool as it gets with ‘60s Japanese guitars.

In 1966, Norm Sackheim’s son Ron bought the rights to Don Noble’s instrument line. Noble was a prominent Chicago-area accordionist who sold imported accordions and guitars. Some Noble guitars made by Wandré Pioli in Italy appeared, but in ’67 the line was cancelled and the Noble name was added to the Strum & Drum stable.

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Noble EG 686-2HT Electric Guitar

While all this was transpiring, the Ventures were becoming guitar gods in Japan, and Japanese makers began to build Mosrite “copies.” Long story short, the Noble brand re-appeared on some Mosrite copies sold by Strum & Drum, including this 1968 copy of a Mosrite Combo hollowbody, The Noble Model No. EG 686-2HT.

I’m no Mosrite expert but I own a Combo and this copy isn’t too far off in terms of quality. Mosrites weren’t that great. And, it’s pretty historically interesting. Note the nifty “N” fingerboard inlays and real German-carve top. This guitar was the only Noble model, the only Strum & Drum Mosrite copy, and was only available until late 1969, maybe into 1970. Ironically, The Noble Mosrite Combo copy is probably as rare if not rarer than a genuine Mosrite. Such a world; go figure.

In 1969 Strum & Drum bought the rights to the National brand name—notice the N theme—and brought out the National Big Daddy, one of the earliest bolt-neck Gibson Les Paul Custom copies, in 1970, but that’s another story. Strum & Drum stumbled on into 1975 when it was sold to C. Bruno, who promptly deep-6ed the whole shebang. Seeing promise in the nuts and bolts market, the Sackheims returned to importing those essentials, which they were still doing the last time I spoke to them quite a few years ago. So, that’s what nuts and bolts—or Heads & Threads—have to do with our favorite obsession, and some venerable brand names in guitar history.

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)

Eastwood Airline '59 Newport Guitar (Black)

NEW Airline ’59 Newport features PIEZO Bridge Pickup

newportBLK550-1

Intruducing the new Airline NEWPORT. It is Eastwood’s take on the rare National Newport Val-Pro 88 from the late 50’s and early 60’s. It features two NY Mini Humbuckers and a Piezo pickup in the bridge with a 5-way swtich. Tones of tonal variations! Available in Black or Seafoam Green.

Only $1099, hardshell case included. Shipping TODAY, so don’t wait too long to pull the trigger.


choose Color:


SPECIFICATIONS:

Available in Black or Seafoam Green, Bigsby Optional

Body: Tone Chambered Mahogany
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Fingerboard: Maple, Sharks Tooth Fret Markers
Scale Length: 24 3/4″ Scale, Zero Fret
Width at Nut: 1 5/8″
Pickups: Dual NY Mini Humbuckers, Piezo Bridge
Switching: 5-way
Controls: 1 Volume, 1 Tone for each pickup, master volume
Bridge: Tun-o-matic
Hardware: Grover Style Nickel/Chrome
Strings: D’Addario #10
Case: INCLUDED
Unique Features: Rubber body binding, Piezo bridge pickup

More pictures:

newportSFG550-1 newportBLK550-4 newportBLK550-6 newportBLK550-3 newportBLK550-2 newportSFG550-6 newportSFG550-4 newportSFG550-2 newportBLK550-9 newportBLK550-1 newportSFG550-3 newportBLK550-8 newportBLK550-7 newportBLK550-5 newportSFG550-5

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

The King of Vintage – err – Used Guitars (Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

When I published my first book, Guitar Stories Vol. 1, we promoted it at a few vintage guitar shows and I would invariably get the wit from collectors and dealers, “Guitar stories, yeah, I got a few stories I can tell you.” Of course, they weren’t talking about histories, like I was, but amusing anecdotes about where they’d picked up this or that guitar. I guess most of us pack rats remember where we got things. Oh, maybe not so much the mail-order or internet scores, but back in the day when you looked the seller in the eye and tried to make him blink with a lower offer. It’s hard to forget the story about getting this Imperial guitar.

This Imperial came out of a little piece of Dickens in Philadelphia called Torresdale Music in the neighborhood with that name, in the “near northeast” as we call it, near the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (cheapest toll bridge over the Delaware River to New Jersey and back). Torresdale was a tiny, ancient corner shop just up the street from Chink’s Steaks, a legendary cheesesteak sandwich purveyor, the name of whose establishment has been the source of some local ethnic controversy. (Really good cheesesteaks consumed while sitting in 1940s-vintage wooden booths, highly recommended.)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Torresdale Music was run by Marvin Kopernik, who’d worked for the local music distributor 8th Street Music before becoming a guitar picker, as in flea market habitué, not as in Doc Watson. Anyhow, Marvin’s shop was STUFFED to the gills with old guitars and amps that he’d pick up dirt cheap at yard sales and local swap meets, an endless stream of new treasures lurking behind something else under a shelf to tempt me.

Marvin liked to get a dear price for his wares and he would rarely budge from his sticker price. However, there were chinks in Marvin’s armor. He’d write a little code on the reverse of the price tag. It didn’t take long to decipher the fact that this was what he paid for the guitar written backwards. If it was, say, “501” I’d know that Marvin had $105 into it.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

One other chink in Marvin’s armor was that he couldn’t add too fast on his feet. The strategy was to scope out three guitars, decipher what he had into them, bundle them together and offer him a larger, but reasonable sum for the lot. Marvin’s circuits would fry and he’d hear $300 and that sounded like a lot of money and I’d walk out with a really great score!

But, no, this Imperial wasn’t part of one of those deals. You see, in addition to the overstuffed racks out front, Marvin had this teeny, tiny little back room where he’d pile up recent finds and stuff he had no room for in the showroom, like so much firewood. It was kind of painful to see, really. It was lurking under one of these stacks of guitars that I found this Imperial early in my collecting days and when I first knew Marvin. I had no idea what it was other than being Japanese, but it spoke to me.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Much later I found out that this was a product marketed by the Imperial Accordion Company of Chicago. As we’ve discussed before, there was an accordion boom among Baby Boomers in the mid-1950s. Like many booms before and since, it didn’t last and the numerous accordion manufacturers/importers/distributors that had sprung up to meet the demand found themselves in need of new markets. Fortunately, this coincided with the rise in guitar popularity. Also fortunately, the Italian accordion manufacturers, from whom most of the accordion guys sourced their products, were also near a guitar-making area, so they expanded into guitars, many of which were sold by the old accordion companies, including Imperial. By the early 1960s Imperial was selling solidbody electrics made by Crucianelli in Italy. By around 1965 Imperial had added Japanese-made guitars to its line, including this puppy.

Just what this model is is uncertain, but we can extrapolate. This shape is very similar to the older Crucianellis. A c. 1965 catalog has the Model S1 with one pickup and the Model S-3T, a three-pickup with “tremolo.” This is probably a Model S-2T. Very similar Greco guitars from Japan are seen, and most Grecos were built by Fujigen Gakki, the factory that produced most Ibanez guitars as well. The style of this guitar probably puts it right around 1965 or ’66.

Fortunately, this had a thick enough poly finish to survive Marvin’s woodpile. Unfortunately, Marvin’s health didn’t hold up—certainly not helped by too many cheesesteaks from Chink’s—and his shop finally had to close and become a piece of Philly history and legend. Every time I see this Imperial I smile and recall those glory days when I had Marvin’s number and got to revel in his shop’s treasures. How much did I pay? Now, that’s another story…

Vintage Egmond Thunder Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Egmond Thunder Electric Guitar

Vintage Egmond Thunder Electric Guitar

Vintage Egmond Thunder Electric Guitar

Uilke Egmond (1878-1959) founded a music school and a music shop in Valkenswaard, that was named Musica. In the shop he sold instruments imported from the Eastern Europe. In 1935 the business moved to Eindhoven. The import of instruments ended and they decided to make the instruments on their own.

In the early 50’s there were 20 employees making 50 guitars a week and by the early 60’s there were 80 employees cranking out 2000 guitars a week.

Egmond was the largest luthier in Europe and they were more known for quantity than quality. Cheap instruments were made in large numbers that everyone could. The cheapest models had a price tag that was one tenth the cost for a comparable model of a Gibson or a Fender.

But Egmond also made high quality instruments, the Egmond 2 and 3, 2V and 3V. They had 2 or 3 pickups, as the number states. 2V and 3V (V=vinyl covered body) had the body shape of a Fender Jaguar or Fender Jazzmaster. Later the Egmond 2 and 3 got the name Egmond Thunder, and the Egmond 2V and 3V got the name Egmond Typhoon. A more advanced and luxury guitar, with the same body shape as the 2V and 3V, was the Egmond Tempest.

Here is a fine example of the Egmond Thunder:

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
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…