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Vintage 1960's Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Espana Bass Guitar

Here is a rare bass from Italy. There is little information about the Espana brand, but it was most certainly created under the Crucianelli brand in the 1960’s Italy, likely the late 60’s. This bass was obviously targeted at the Fender crowd – check out the headstock – and the body too is quite reminiscent of the classic Fender style. The switch on the upper horn was the pickup selector switch, added to this was a switch on the lower horn which switched the pickups in and out of phase. Each pickup had its own volume and tone controls.

Vintage 1960's Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

Vintage 1960’s Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

These Crucianelli guitars are surprisingly well made with a wonderful, slim neck. Unfortunately, many of these instruments from the 60’s were 30.5″ short scale basses, so never did measure up to the sonic boom of the full scale Fenders.

Vintage 1960's Bartolini Avanti Electric Guitar - white

Back Catalog Memories: Bartolini Avanti Electric Guitar

In the 1950’s Italian manufacturers were cranking out accordions by the thousands. When Rock ‘n Roll came on the scene, many of these builders switched from accordions to electric guitars. Bartolini was one of them. When the electric guitar boom took off in USA in the early 60’s, Italy became a source to fill the appetite. Accordions were plastic covered, so many of these early Italian guitar were too, some with plastic bodies like this Avanti model.

Vintage 1960's Bartolini Avanti Electric Guitar - white

Vintage 1960’s Bartolini Avanti Electric Guitar – white

Not much is known about them, but here is an excerpt from a Michael Wright article:

Avanti guitars were probably made by the Polverini Brothers of Castelfidardo for European Crafts of Los Angeles beginning in late 1964. Most early Italian guitars had either push-button or rocker controls adapted from accordions, but this is unusual with a fourway rotary select that let you choose each pickup individually or all at once. All in all a sensible arrangement. Whether the pickups are really humbuckers or single-coil is unknown, but they have that bright ’60s sound.

The Italian guitar boom did not last too long, as Japanese manufacturing took over the low end guitar boom in the late 1960’s and soon all the cool European guitars disappeared from North America.

1960’s Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

A buddy of mine (thanks, Garrett!) tipped me to this model on eBay. I’ve long been a lover of 1960’s Italian-made guitars. One of my great regrets is letting go of a Sano hollowbody that was, in all but name, the same as the hollowbody Galanti Rangemaster.

What makes these guitars special? The necks, mostly. If you like think, very fast-playing necks, vintage Italian guitars may be your thing. This “Jetstar” model has the normal zippy neck, plus some other very cool feature—not the least of which are the (typical to Italian guitars made by factories more accustomed to cranking out accordions) push buttons for the pickup selectors.

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

This model has a rather strange tone set-up. The buttons are labeled 0/1/2/M. You can either have the bridge pickup selected (setting 2), or the neck pickup (setting 1), or some cross between them that’s choked with a treble-cutting resistor (setting M). Or, you can hit the button closest to the strap on the treble horn (setting 0), which cuts the guitar off entirely (?!). Why anyone would need a kill switch on a guitar is beyond me. Unless you wanted to do that cool Morse-code sound at the end of “London Calling” (I may have answered my own question). But that Morse-code on/off only works with a toggle switch, not so well with a slower-to-operate button. But several 60’s Japanese and Italian models seem to have a button that turns everything off. Odd.

But the guitar plays like butter. Fast and slick—and the intonation is easy to set correctly. The bridge is pretty high-end, made very solidly with smooth slots and a center-loaded whammy bar with the feel and sweep of a Jazzmaster or Jaguar. And that’s who this guitar would probably appeal to the most—people who dig Jags and Jazzmasters, with a slightly more lo-fi, garage vibe to the tone. The tuners are high-end, as well—teardrop shaped with slightly pearloid plastic. Pretty.

And how is the tone? Like I say, very garage, very 60’s. Raw enough to play overdriven punk and grungy blues. The pickups sound a bit like a combination of a P-90 and a Teisco gold foil. Fair amount of snarl if you want it, but also full of some pretty cool surf tones if you want. For a single-coil guitar, there’s a good amount of sustain, too—plenty more than the Fenders mentioned here. The down-angle of the strings at the bridge eliminates the plinky lack of sustain that can plague a Jazzmaster (much as I love them). The tone is very balanced—overall, the guitar sits dead center in a midrange between the brightness of a Strat and the rich darkness of a Les Paul or 335.

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

Put it together with the Magnatone 431(the one sitting behind the Danelectro in the pictures), and you have a great surf machine with some reverb and that wonderful Magnatone vibrato (OR tremolo, as this model Maggie has both choices—too cool). Plus it into the other amp pictured, the Lectrolab R600 (a truly amazing dual 6V6 amp that I’ll cover in a review soon), and it’s straight out 1950’s Chicago blues. Crank it up and you’re in Neil Young and Crazy Horse RAGGED GLORY territory. Really—play this through a fully-open overdriven amp and the tone is incredible.

The neck pickup is fat and rich, while the bridge has a fair amount of bite (less than a Jaguar or Strat—closer to the bridge PU of a Jazzmaster). The only thing that can be an issue (or it can be sonic joy, depending on who’s playing) is the pickups are very microphonic and the guitar can squeal feedback a little quicker than most solidbodies tend to do.

For anyone who’d be interested in buying a Jazzmaster, Jaguar or Mustang, you could do well (and save a few bucks in the process) grabbing one of these Galantis. They aren’t that easy to come by, but they aren’t super rare, either. Mine was beaten up and needed a neck repair, so I got a great deal on it (along with the original, form-fit case). But, if you’re looking to find a mint one, they seem to be out there in the $400-600 range as of this writing (Oct, 2010).

It’s not the MOST versatile machine you’ll add to your collection. But it sounds and plays great, and looks pretty fabulous, too. It’s become my number one guitar in my main garage/roots band. Really—plug it straight into a good amp and it sounds like you’re in a nice two-car garage in 1968, with mom and dad’s Falcon and Mustang (my family had cool cars) pulled out in the driveway. It’s not just a guitar—it’s a time machine!

A Taste of Italy (1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar)

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.

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

You don’t need years of study to figure out this came from south of the Alps. A German guitar would have an innovative laminated neck and perhaps two more switches than you can figure out what to do with or a finger-operated, spring-loaded vibrato. No one but Italians—or someone pretty close—would make a guitar in avocado green with a green-black-silver mesh pickguard and matching pickup covers! I didn’t need two seconds to grab it off the dealer who showed it to me, no matter where it came from! I mean, avocado green?! You gotta own a guitar in that color, especially if it comes with color-coordinated appointments!

But there’s a long way from figuring out at a glance that this is Italian to figuring out what the heck it is! Like many of the guitars I’ve picked up over the years, this Juliet became an unsolved mystery buried in the back of my guitar room for ages. Actually, quite a few apparently Italian mysteries collected there gathering dust.

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

But I have this thing about learning what’s up about any guitar I own. It’s why I got into the guitar history game in the first place. So these guitars nagged at me. Then one day I discovered www.fetishguitars.com, a web site devoted to Italian guitars. This site is about the best—and almost only—source on the subject at this point in time.

Besides a general lack of information, part of the problem involves the fact that so many Italian—read European—guitarmakers, like the Japanese, made guitars for a lot of different people carrying many different brand names and logos. Just as guitars made by Tombo in Japan ended up in the U.S. as Norma guitars, guitars made by various Italian manufacturers ended up in both Europe and America carrying a wide variety of names, usually not that of the factory.

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Juliett Delux Electric Guitar

Back to this Juliett Delux. Mucking around the fetishguitars.com site led me to a company named Zerosette from Castelfidardo, Italy. Castelfidardo was—and is—one of the world’s centers of accordion-making. It began there in the late 1800s and even today it’s the home of an international accordion festival and competition. Its heyday was the 1950s when the accordion craze briefly swept the U.S. That soon ended, and, as we all know, guitars eventually took over. It turns out that Castelfidardo is located in a region of Italy with a long tradition of guitarmaking. So it was not that hard to add guitars to the mix. This explains why EKO guitars were so successful in the U.S. the early years of the ‘60s.

One of the more obscure shops located in Castelfidardo was called Zerosette. Virtually nothing is known about the actual operation, though you may have encountered their work in various guitars bearing the Goya, Contessa, and Sano.

Tucked among the gems produced by Zerosette are guitars bearing the Juliett Delux and JG brands. A comparison of the shape of one of the Juliett solids is the spittin’ image of this guitar…and even in light green! A look at the pickups shows a certain similarity of shape to others made by Zerosette. None of the examples shown there are quite as fancy as this guitar, but it’s pretty clear that this came from the Zerosette shop. Jack Marchal of fetishguitars.com believes this to be from 1965, based on the components and style. JGs may or may not have been related to the Juliett brand’s owners (other than being made by Zerosette); I suspect them to be for the same company but slightly later.

So, I now feel like I know where this guitar came from and who made it, as much as you can know with our lack of knowledge. When it was made or for whom? That remains a mystery.

All I know for sure is that an avocado guitar with matching parts, that’s way cool. Thank god for Italian guitars! Like I said. Style!

Unexpected Eye Candy (1965 Avanti Electric Guitar)

Maybe it was the smarmy, frozen smiles thrust kind of aggressively into the camera. Or maybe it was because our PARENTS chose the TV programming. Not that there were very many options back in the day when you were lucky to get three network broadcasts, depending on where you lived. If you were lucky enough to have a TV. Or maybe it was because my little sister played insipid beginner tunes on a black-plastic and pearloid Silvertone piano accordion (“The bear went over the mountain”). But every Saturday night it was the Lawrence Welk Champagne Hour “wonaful, wonaful” with those big honkin’ accordions. Take it away Myron. For years I hated accordions. Little did I realize their vital connection to the guitar, as can be seen, if you know what to look for, on this little 1965 Avanti from Italy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

It’s amazing how little you know when you’re in the middle of things. Especially when you’re young. Even though I was prime-time ’60s, I didn’t really become aware of Italian guitars until I began writing about them several decades later and, with a personal attachment to Milwaukee, learned of the Lo Duca Brothers and EKO guitars. It was talking with the Lo Ducas that I learned of the accordion connection. Duh.

That’s because those very accordions I’d hated as a kid were the equivalent of what the guitar became a decade later. Very popular. And very Italian. The piano accordion “with keyboards instead of buttons” was invented in Vienna in 1863 and brought to the area of Castelfidardo on the eastern coast of Italy. The instrument was embraced and a lively accordion manufacturing industry grew up in the area. It’s still a major center. While accordions were also made in Germany and Sweden, the vast majority played during the 1950s were from Italy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

As fate would have it, the rage for accordions in the US at least passed by the mid-’50s. Accordion makers struggled to replace the lost business. Lucky for them Baby Boomers like me came along with a taste for playing guitars. Doubly lucky for them, there was a long tradition of guitarmaking in the same part of Italy. When the American electric guitar market exploded in the early 1960s, the Italians were among the first European sources of guitars for meeting the demand. One of the hallmarks of early accordions was the use of plastic covering. Thus it was natural that, when switching to guitars, they should be plastic covered, which brings us back to this Avanti.

Avanti guitars were probably made by the Polverini Brothers of Castelfidardo for European Crafts of Los Angeles beginning in late 1964. For this one, they chose a really cool rootbeer-barrel colored faux-rosewood plastic covering. Most early Italian guitars had either pushbutton or rocker controls adapted from accordions, but this is unusual with a fourway rotary select that let you choose each pickup individually or all at once. All in all a sensible arrangement. Whether the pickups are really humbuckers or single-coil is unknown, but they have that bright ’60s sound, and, anyhow, you really want an Avanti because it looks like rootbeer candy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

Italian guitars continued to be plastic-covered through 1965 or so. By 1966 guitar players were becoming more discriminating and Italian guitars switched to more conventional finishes. Though not for long. Rising wages and slacking demand, plus implacable competition from Japanese guitarmakers, led to the demise of Italian guitars by 1968 at the latest, at least in the American market.

Since discovering these plastic-covered marvels I’ve become more interested in the piano accordions that spawned them. I’ve even contemplated picking one up to play it. But one thing they haven’t done. And that’s change my opinions about watching the Lawrence Welk show, no matter how wonaful it may actually have been.