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Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

A (Mostly) Happy Accident (Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop Electric Guitar)

I don’t recall how I got his number, but when I called Dana Sutcliffe to talk about what is probably his most famous—at least known famous—guitar, he said we should do lunch. Dana lives just down the road from me in Delaware, so it was an easy meeting. I asked if he’d ever had Vietnamese pho (beef noodle soup, one of the world’s most perfect foods), and since he hadn’t and since he loves to eat, we met one day in one of South Philadelphia’s numerous pho parlors to discuss the genesis of the Alvarez Dana Scoop. It was, as it turns out, all the result of an accident.

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Sutcliffe grew up in the Philadelphia area and Delaware. At 13 years of age, he got one of those 4-pickup Kent solidbodies with the horrible pickups. He promptly rewound them and was on his way. Armed with guitar experience, in 1978-79 Sutcliffe cut his teeth on guitarmaking at the short-lived flop—but ultimately fascinating—Renaissance (plexiglass) guitars out in Newtown Square, PA.

Most of you have probably seen his next work. Sutcliffe began working with another Delawarean, George Thorogood, converting Gibson hollowbodies to his taste and repainting them white. Sutcliffe began adjusting amps for a local Crate amp rep using a guitar with his own pickups, and that eventually led to a gig outfitting electrics in Westone solidbody guitars for St. Louis Music (Crate’s owner) in around 1987. The following year he had a line of Dana Westones.

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

In 1988 one of Sutcliffe’s employees was working on a Matsumoku-made Westone body when the router hit a knot near the treble cutaway and accidentally cut a big gash in the body. The body was discarded, but another employee finished assembling the guitar. The next day it was the joke of the shop, but when Sutcliffe played it, it sounded really, really good. He fiddled around with the gash and invented the Dana Scoop prototype.
Sutcliffe took the guitar to the 1989 NAMM show and showed it around as a novelty. However, SLM pulled him aside and told him to stop showing it. They were looking for a new model and this would be it! The new Alvarez Dana Scoop (made by Cort; the Westone brand died when Matsumoku stopped making guitars perhaps as late as 1990) debuted at the 1992 NAMM show, where it was named the “Guitar of the Year.” It was extremely successful and a number of variations appeared over the next couple years, including a Strat-style “L.A.” model and a Tele-inspired “Nashville.”

However, the relationship between Sutcliffe and SLM quickly began to sour. By 1994 versions of the Scoop that Sutcliffe had not approved began to appear, including the one with a Modulus Graphite neck and the guitar shown here with the 3-coil Tri-Force (probably a descendent of the Mighty Mite Motherbucker; Cort owned the Mighty Mite franchise by this time).

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Seen here is an Alvarez Dan Scoop AE650TRW from around 1994. It has a see-through butterscotch finish over a figured maple body with the unauthorized Tri-Force pickup. The fiveway offers five different one- and two-coil combinations. Controls include a master volume and two tones. These were basically made for about one year, possibly less. By 1995 Sutcliffe and SLM had parted ways. Since Sutcliffe had a patent on the Scoop design, the model also departed the guitar universe. Production numbers are impossible to determine with any accuracy, but Sutcliffe estimates that approximately 2-3,000 of the original design were made, plus a 500-700 more L.A. and Nashville Scoop variants, and a fair number of custom-shop examples. How many of these Tri-Forces were produced is a total mystery.

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

Vintage 1994 Alvarez Dana Scoop AE650TRW Electric Guitar (White)

The Alvarez Dana Scoop is pretty cool for a pin-router accident! And a lot of fun to play. It only had a brief roughly three year run, though it seems to loom larger than that. These days Sutcliffe keeps extra busy doing custom restorations and set-ups of high-end collectable guitars and banjos for well-heeled, mostly pro clients. We both keep trying to schedule another lunch, but so far it hasn’t worked out.

Michael Wright, The Different Strummer, is a collector and historian whose work is featured in Vintage Guitar Magazine.

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: 1960’s Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

The Short-Scale Bass is a versatile and wonderful instrument. It packs enough punch to be used as a part of a bassist’s gigging set-up. Its shorter scale (anywhere from the super duper short 25 7/8″ of the Valco/National/Supro/Airline pocket basses, to the 30″ of the classic Fender Mustangs and Musicmasters) makes it comfortable to play for beginners, small-handed adults and guitar players more familiar with guitar scale. Plus, a lot of very cool ones have been made over the years.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Enter exhibit A: A late 60’s KENT short scale variation on the very popular (then and now) “Beatle” violin shaped bass. As you can see from the photos, this isn’t your average violin bass. While many, from the classic Hofner that Paul McCartney turned a few kids on to, to the Teisco and Black Jack Japanese models, didn’t stray far from the violin shape, this Kent takes a few attractive and stylish liberties with the standard template.

While clearly inspired by the violin basses, notice the cool horn flares and the distinct cut aways. Also of note on this model is a stunning triple (TRIPLE!) bound side and a highly figured and eye-catching sunburst on the back (!?) side.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

This, like many (most?) Kents has a history that’s a little difficult to trace. This one is from 1967 or 1968 and was probably made at the Kawai factory. Some sources also credit the earlier slab bodied models to Guyatone and/or Teisco. A tangled web they weaved, these Kents.

Also of note about Kents is that both the amps and guitars vary wildly from model to model – perhaps more so than any other brand from the era. They made some truly crappy guitars (the slab body models mentioned above among them. Most I’ve seen, actually, are low-grade crude one pickup models with very little to recommend them as players or collectables). Yet, they made beauties like this and many other higher-end semi-hollowbodies. And while most of the Kent amps I’ve ever seen are the basic three and four tube crapboxes without Power Transformers (i.e., ones you don’t want to play barefoot on a cement floor with a moisture problem), there are a couple of models that are very sweet. These include a 2 EL84 output model with tremolo and a single 12″ speaker in a primitive basket-weave faux-tweed (or, paper, if you want to be exact-ha), and a REALLY cool piggyback model (with single 12″ cab). They may not be collectable, but their cool factor is very high and no one wants them, so they can be had on the cheap (which, for the frugal tone gourmet, only increases the cool factor).

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Back to the bass at hand, though. This model has a zero fret and plays really well up the neck. With a good setup, these are truly sweet playing basses. If you were going to use it as your main bass, you’d probably want to get some higher-grade machine heads and also probably replace the pickups (which are pretty aenemic and flat sounding). However, the pickup covers are so radically cool, you’d probably want to find something that fit so you could put this beauty back to stock. No permanent mods on something this nice looking. For just looking and the odd recording bass and quieter(er) jams, leave it as-is.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

One thing to look out for (especially if buying via on line auction and/or through the mail): I’ve seen a few of these over the years and nearly half had a warped neck. The truss rods are not the most reliable, so ask questions and don’t pay too much if you have any hunch there might be something hinky about it.

Other nifty features: Dig the 60’s Japanese top-hat Tone and Volume knobs (with the stylish “T” and “V”), the funky script on the headstock and chunky block mother of toilet seat inlays on the neck.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

What does one of these cost? These are pretty rare and, as a result, they don”t show up on eBay or in music stores a whole lot. As a result, there seems to be more variation on the price- I’ve seen them go as low as $150 (not including shipping…which of course we never do include when discussing what we paid for a neat vintage guitar, right?) and as high as $450. There is a corresponding guitar model, so be the hep cat on your block and, like they used to say about Hot Wheels, “collect ’em all.” Happy hunting, yee vintage freaks.

Is more better? (1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar)

Who among us doesn’t relate to Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap when he tried to explain to “Meathead” that having an 11 on his amp made it louder than – and hence superior to – one having a mere 10? That’s just how I felt back in the day when, after nearly two decades of owning one – that’s only one – guitar, a classical, I decided I ought to get an electric guitar again. Who could have known how slippery that slope would turn out to be?! This was back in the days before the internet and eBay, when there were little shops in out-of-the-way places where you could find used (they weren’t even “vintage” yet) guitars. In the front would be nice, expensive guitars by Martin or Gibson or some other premier company. Then tucked away at the back of the rack would be the goofballs, guitars of unknown origin with strange names and often stranger looks. That was where I got hooked, at the back of the rack.

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

I met my Waterloo at a place called The Trading Post at the Pennsauken Mart, one of those East Coast predecessors to the modern mall, made of cinderblock and full of exotic stalls. But instead of Penney’s and Victoria’s Secret, you would find a butcher, gun shop, Polish imports, dollar stores, short-order counters, and the Trading Post, a kind of quasi pawn shop where you sold stuff, but couldn’t retrieve it unless you bought it back. Almost by instinct I threaded my way past the Fender Strats to the back where I saw this Kent guitar. It had a gorgeous burled maple front and back and really cool black and white celluloid on the sides, giving it the cachet of an ancient Baroque guitar. It even had a real Bigsby. But best of all, it had 4 – count ’em, four – pickups! It had to be better than one with just three! And, at $89, it was priced right.

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

But where the heck did this guitar come from? I learned later it was a Kent Model 742, made in Japan in 1967. Kent was the brand name used by Buegeleisen & Jacobson (B&J), once a major music distributor in New York City. B&J was one of the early companies to begin importing musical goods from Japan in 1960, starting with microphones and aftermarket pickups, and adding guitars in 1962. By the time this Model 742 was built the guitars had graduated from relatively primitive mahogany planks to sophisticated laminates and trim. Earlier Kents were made by Guyatone, but it’s unknown who created this glam job.

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Kent Model 742 Electric Guitar

The Model 742 is a beaut. But do the four pickups make it better? Well, alas, poor Nigel, more is not necessarily better, except maybe in the looks department. Indeed, these admittedly handsome pickup units just may have been the worst ever produced! Plus the guitar is wired so that playing all of them decreases further the already crappy output, making the onboard mute switch kind of superfluous! And, maybe they could have used some help on the truss rod design. Ok, so the Kent won’t power my Ventures tribute band. But if its fancy burl, Baroque rally stripes, and especially four pickups hadn’t grabbed me from the back of the rack that day in Pennsauken, New Jersey, I’d never have discovered my love for bizarre guitars and begun my long journey into the dark recesses of guitar history. That makes this Kent an 11 on my list!