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Vintage 1960's Airline Jetsons Red Res-O-Glas Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Airline “Jetsons” 2P Red Res-O-Glas Guitar

Airline guitars were being made in USA from 1958-1968 by Valco Manufacturing Company and sold primarily through the Montgomery Ward catalog company. Valco also made other popular brands like Supro and National. Today they are being made through Canadian company Eastwood Guitars. By the early 1960’s Airline were producing many different models – most in those early days were solid wood designs like the Town and Country, but the more valuable vintage models were made of res-o-glas. This model is often referred to as the Jetsons model.

Vintage 1960's Airline Jetsons Red Res-O-Glas Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960’s Airline Jetsons Red Res-O-Glas Electric Guitar

Res-O-Glas was Valco’s term for fiberglass. These guitars we made with two clamshell pieces (top and bottom of the body) that were aligned and held together with a slotted rubber grommet strip, then long machine screws through the back and into the front. There was a maple block inside the hollow body which served the purpose of mounting the neck. The necks did not have a truss rod – a major setback to these old guitars, especially 50 years later – but had a 3 screw pivot system to tilt the neck angle back and forth to adjust the action. These were covered but chrome plastic covers on the back of the body. One giveaway that a vintage version has a bad humped neck? Those covers are always missing, as someone over the past 50 years tried and tried to adjust the neck and eventually lost the covers.

Although they appear to be humbuckers, these guitars had single coil pickups with a unique tone that became popular with the blues players (not just for their tone, but more likely for their affordability vs. a new Fender Strat). That is what modern players are seeking out these old guitars, like Jack White, for the growly single coil tone. This sample had two pickups, each with its own volume and tone controls, and a unique 3-way switch labeled “Tone Switch”.

Valco Effects Pedals Now Shipping!

Last week VALCO launched their new line of TRUE-BYPASS effects pedals. VALCO is raising the bar in quality while lowering the bar on price and we are please to be offering them here at Myrareguitars.com. We’ve put together some bundled price packages that are too good to pass up. First, when you buy any THREE pedals for only $250, we will throw in the BLACK HOLE (Phaser) or GOOD VIBRATIONS (Tremolo) for FREE. Second, bundle all 6 pedals for only $400, and also get a BODY GLOVE Pedal Gig-bag (value $29) for FREE. This offer is only available for existing stock, so don’t delay!

Valco Under Pressure Guitar Pedal

Under Pressure [$69 USD]

Valco Black Hole Guitar Pedal

Black Hole [$69 USD]

Valco Come Again? Guitar Pedal

Come Again? [$79 USD]

Valco Good Vibrations Guitar Pedal

Good Vibrations [$69 USD]

Valco The Stooge Guitar Pedal

The Stooge [$89 USD]

Valco Vaughnabe Tubescreamer Guitar Pedal

Vaughnabe [$79 USD]

To order the THREE PACK bundle for $250:

Enter 3 choices + 4th FREE

To order the SIX PACK Bundle for $400:

Check out these video samples:

Valco Guitars & Effects Pedals Now Shipping!

We are now carrying the new VALCO guitars and effect pedals. VALCO’s focus is to deliver classic designs at affordable prices without compromising quality. All of their guitars feature premium custom wound VALCO pickups – all effect pedals are true bypass with top quality components. Details and specifications of the pedals will be available next month, but the guitars are shipping NOW, priced between $300-$400 and until Sept 30th, FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING!. Here are some images and video demonstrations. For more detailed specifications, visit www.valco-direct.com.

Valco Chicago '52 Electric Guitar (Natural Blonde)

Valco Chicago '52 Electric Guitar (Natural Blonde)

Valco Chicago '55 Electric Guitar (Black)

Valco Chicago '55 Electric Guitar (Black)

Valco Chicago '59 Electric Guitar (Cherryburst)

Valco Chicago '59 Electric Guitar (Cherryburst)

Models Buy Now!
Valco: Chicago ’52 Electric Guitar

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Valco: Chicago ’55 Electric Guitar

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Valco: Chicago ’59 Electric Guitar

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Chicago ’52 Electric Guitar from Valco Guitars:

Chicago ’55 Electric Guitar from Valco Guitars:

Chicago ’59 Electric Guitar from Valco Guitars:

On The Road With The Urinals (Sept. 2009)

It wasn’t even a tour…just a few dates in the Midwest over a long weekend. But it sounded like fun. Even a short time on the road is usually a good time, and we’d be playing with our buds from Chicago, the fabulous Mannequin Men, for all three dates. And it proved to be the great time it promised to be. If you want a cure for the blues, hot the road with the Mannequin Men for a few days. They remind me while I love rock and roll—seeing them on a good night reminds me of when I got to see the Replacements on a good one. A band that’s at once tight and loose, with great songs and killer hooks. What’s not to love?

The Urinals: Kev, John & Rob (2008)

The Urinals: Kev, John & Rob (2008)

Plus, we’d second on the bills to Midwestern legends Killdozer, which sounded fun.

And a few days on the road with John and Kevin (the founding/original members of the Urinals) is always great. So, off we went.

I realized on this trip they don’t pay you for playing shows—they pay you for getting on planes and driving though seemingly endless fields of corn with billboards for Cheese and Fireworks. The shows are a blast—but you earn your money eating crappy road food and praying you’ll never see another stalk of corn.

So, it was up early Thursday and off to LAX. I’d brought my Tele (a new one as I can’t replace my ’69 of something happened to it on the road) and my Eastwood Airline Tuxedo, some pedals and cable. We’d be using a backline on the shows—i.e., other people’s amps and drums—so I just brought a good overdrive pedal, not knowing what kind of tubes I’d be pushing (none, it turns out).

We got to Chicago, got stuck in truly dreadful traffic and found the hotel. A 30 minute nap was followed by more hideous traffic—complete with tolls! In Chicago, not only is driving a slice of hell, but you pay cash for the privilege of sitting sucking diesel fumes and doing less than one mile an hour.

We finally get to the club and, despite being late, we get a sound check. My guitar sounds pretty terrible, as I’m using a new pedal and a borrowed amp (a Roland Jazz Chorus this night). My Tele’s too brittle and bright. I decide to use the dirt pedal I know better at the show.

Using borrowed amps is one of the things you get used to on the road. Normally, at home, I use, for various gigs: a little Lafayette duel EL84 (for small gigs with the other band), a late 50’s Magnatone 260 (modified for more gain and volume), or a Mack Skyraider (for louder Urinal gigs). In the studio, I’m spoiled with a bunch of lower wattage vintage Valcos and such. So, I’m kinda spoiled amp-wise.

But, out of town, you come to realize that most of the crowd couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your tone. They’re out for a fun night with good songs played well. They don’t really, hard as it is for a guitar geek to admit, know the difference between a Tweed Deluxe and a Line 6. And, while you might more readily play better with an amp you love, part of being a pro is not letting that kind of thinking affect your playing. That positive mindset is hard to keep when you end up playing, as I did once, through a 70’s Peavey PA head that a club thought was just fine for guitar.

So, the Chicago show goes well, the Abbey is a great place with great sound, and the show goes off without a hitch—I don’t even break a string. Kev, from the MM, joins us for a spirited “I’m a Bug.”

A hot woman thanks John for playing “Strip Club” (Kevin and I look at each other like, “we were there too” but she’s only talking to John. Some other woman at the merch table tells John he has the “Sexiest voice in rock and roll.” She’s cute, too. I get a bunch of geeky guitar guys asking about my guitars and my elbow. No fair.

Day two consists of much driving though Illinois and Wisconsin. We stop for photos under an enormous metal cow and a giant “CHEESE” sign. At every road stop are billboards for cheese and fireworks. On seemingly every mile of travel is…corn…corn…more corn. It’s a good thing that John and Kevin (the other Urinals) are two of the funniest, easiest tempered guys in the world.

Much kidding John about the Sexiest Voice in Rock and Roll.

Before the show, we hit what’s purported to be a great St. Vincent DePaul (recommended by the guys in Killdozer, who know the town well). Men from Killdozer don’t lie—this is a great vintage shop. I get some cool vintage plaid pants and some odd bean that I wear onstage that night. Michael, the bass player from Killdozer, tells me about a Goodwill in town that is organized by color. All the green clothes, men’s or women’s, in one section, all the orange in another and so on.

Night two, in Madison, at the High Noon Saloon, is a blast. The owner, Kathy (Cathy?) is super cool, the green room is comfortable and clean, and each band has a huge cooler of beer and water. Stylin’

Show goes pretty well. Pop a string on my Tele on the fourth or fifth song. The Tuxedo sounds fatter, anyway. The amp the 2nd night is a Silverface Twin Reverb….a fine amp, but not one you can get into distortion without peeling the faces of the first twenty feet of the audience. So, once again, most of my distortion comes from a pedal.

I go out to have a smoke after our set in Madison, still wearing the beanie from St. Vincent DePaul and some guy says, “Nice hat, faggot.”

Later, at merch table, a guy says, “You sounded pretty good for a hippy.” (Kev from Mannequin Men offers to punch him for me. It’s good to have passionate friends, but I tell him not to punch the guy. “Say the world, and I’ll go Miagi on his ass.”).

I wonder what I did to Madison to get this treatment from strangers. Also, why hippie? I don’t mind being called a faggot, but hippie is another matter. Hippies are annoying. I have no hair. The guys in the band start calling me “the faggot hippy”.

Later, a woman wants the band’s autographs, but the last CD doesn’t have me on it, so I don’t want to sign. But it’s too hard to explain, so I had to sign Rod Barker’s name on a CD for a drunk woman who wanted autographs on WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS NOT.

The guys start calling me “Faggot, hippy Rod Barker” (Seemingly endless hours on the road leads to sophomoric humor).

At the merch table, a woman comes on to John. I get called more names. A woman says, “I NEVER thought I’d like a band called the Urinals.”

Next day’s drive to St. Paul. More corn. Eventually, blissfully, replaced with lakes and rivers.

Before the last night, we have dinner with the Mannequin Men and some of their cool pals. That puts our group at nine or ten for dinner. We try to go for Ethiopian food, but the place is packed, so we settle for pizza—a road staple we were hoping to mix up a bit, but no such luck. We make plans to do a cover single with the MM, where we cover one of theirs and they cover one of ours on a 45 (remember them? They’re back!). There’s talk of past tours and future tours and the general good-feeling of hanging with pals on the road.

The last night, at the Turf Club, I’d planned on using Ethan’s (from MM) Twin again, but the guys in Killdozer blew one of its speakers the night before. So I end up with the sound guy’s Fender Deville, which he tells me is a “great amp”. I’m not so sure that’s true, but it’s his and I don’t say anything, and it sounds fine…it gets loud and has a good clean channel (which sort of defeats the whole idea behind a tube amp, but whatever), so I can crank the clean and get, once again, dirt from the floor.

We have, maybe, our best show in St. Paul. Much fun. Miles and Kevin from MM join us on “I’m a Bug”. We close with a very fast version of 13th Floor Elevator’s/Roky Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

We hang out at the club. It’s 1AM. Killdozer is playing a pretty great, over the top cover of “I Am, I Said.” We have a flight back to California in 5 hours and I’m wondering if I should nap or stay up all night. A woman hits on John after announcing, “I’m not a stalker, but I needed to see you!” Clearly, a stalker. To add insult to injury, her boyfriend stands there while she just about pins John to the pool table. Interesting. No one hits on me. More questions about the eBow and my guitars (well, my guitars are kind of cool). Ah, well. Rock and Roll.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The big daddy out of New Jersey in the 60s was Ampeg. While they never made much of an inroads into the guitar market (though the Plexiglas was radical), they were the East Coast’s answer to Fender for much of the 50s and 60s in amplifiers. And, come flip tops and, later, SVTs and they actually surpassed the king of Fullerton in bass amplification.

But New Jersey had a few other great (albeit minor) amplifier companies of the 60s and 70s. You had, from various divorces from the Ampeg company, Stanley Michael’s great Sano company of amps and, later, Jess Oliver’s line of amps (under his name and briefly, a few rare ones under the “Sam Ash” brand in the late 60s). The solid state Andre amplifiers are a surprisingly good sounding series, founded by former Ampeg troubleshooter and designer Gene Andre. It seems like every great amplifier company in New Jersey had some ties, at some point, to the Ampeg Company.

Every one, except (perhaps, maybe—there’s not much written about them) the Hilgen company. Hilgen, by anecdotal evidence at least, did not make a lot of amps and they didn’t make them for very long. They did, however, make them very well, and they made (however briefly) some stunning looking and sounding guitar amps. Like late 60s and early 70s Sanos, many models of Hilgens sport great “swirl” paint grills reminiscent (surprise) of late 50s Ampegs.

They also sport circuits that could have been (and may have been) Xeroxed from Ampeg schematics.

While everyone in California was making amps with 6V6s and 6L6s, and everyone in Chicago and Michigan was using 6V6s and 6L6s and the occasional EL84 (Lectrolab and Gibson/Kalamazoo), it seemed the Jersey makers alone who were finding a good use for the 7591 output tube (although, Kalamazoo/Gibson DID use this one for a couple of models, notably, the super underrated BASS 30, a twin 10” amp that sings with a guitar).

After a few Jets and Reverberockets rolled off the line with 6V6s in 1964, Everett Hull (head of Ampeg) got complaints from Jazz players (his main clientele) that the amps were breaking up too much. From then on (until the monster early 70s amps that the Rolling Stones made famous), the Ampeg Jet and Reverberocket sported the sturdy (and cleaner, at least for a while longer, headroom-wise) 7591 tube. In between a 6V6 ad a 6L6 in output-wattage, the 7591 turns out (while rock-and-roll-hater Everett Hull spins in his grave) to be a fabulous sounding tube under breakup. In the right circuit (and, as Mack amps designer Don Mackrill so rightly points out, it’s the design, more than any other factor, including the tubes, that defines the tone….still, the tubes play a part and they do have different characteristics), a 7591 is a killer rock and roll tube. Push a Reverberocket past its intended operating point and you have yourself an amp that is just as great sounding (in its own way) as a Blackface Deluxe Reverb.

Unfortunately, the secret is out on the Reverberocket. What cost $350 two years ago and $450 last year is now up to around $600-700. Soon, I won’t be surprised to see Jets and R-Rockets going for a grand. They are amazing sounding amps—built like tanks.

But where does that leave all of us cheap, gear addicted tone freaks? Looking for Hilgens (or Sanos…see my earlier column about the Sano Twin Twelve in the archives…another awesome amp on the cheap), that’s where!

Want a great amp with sweet, blossoming distortion at gig-friendly volume? Want a nice pulsing output-biased tremolo? Deep, lush, jazzy Ampeg-style reverb (capacitor coupled, rather than the Fender transformer style…a different tone altogether…neither better, but both cool)? Want it in a small, relatively light package? Here’s your new (old) amp:

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The Hilgen “Victor” Model R2522. For the tube geeks among us, this starts with a 5AR4 rectifier before running into a couple of 12AX7s for preamp and reverb send duties. Then comes the only expensive and hard to find (although not impossible) tube—a 7199 for ‘verb recovery. From the factory, it came with a 12AU7 for phase inverter, which I switched out to a 12AY7 for a little more drive on the output tubes. I tried going up to a 12AX7, but that made for too much gain and resulted in a mushy, compromised output. The 12AY7 gives it more heat than stock, but still retains the crisp, tight, articulate character of the amp, as intended.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

The controls along the top (from L to R): Volume, Tone, Speed (tremolo depth is pre-set), Reverb. And it’s got that cool grill cloth with the odd crest (?!) in the lower right corner.

Up to halfway on the volume, it’s a lush, deep, rich, plumy clean amp (remember, it was designed for Jazz and clean headroom). Over half-way, pushed more that it was supposed to be, the amp comes alive at a sweet rock and blues machine. It’s a loud little amp—probably just a little bit under a Deluxe Reverb for gig volume. The distortion is rich and creamy, with a fair amount of grit, yet it still maintains the crispness and tightness for articulate chords and voicing. This is a fabulous amp, with one of the riches reverbs around. The tremolo is good—but not great. It lacks the depth of a classic Valco or Danelectro tremolo, but it still has a nice tone to it, overall.

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Hilgen Victor Model R2522 Amplifier

Originally, the Victor came with a CTS ALNICO speaker. It’s a fine sounding speaker, but I replaced it with a more efficient Celestion Vintage 30 for a little better output and punch for gigs. For a loud show, I’ll run this and a Deluxe Reverb together—a monster sound out of two amps that weigh under 35 lbs each. Can’t beat that.

So, grab a Hilgen now, while they are still affordable. They tend, right now, to go for between $300—400 (though sometimes they can sneak in around $250 if they are poorly listed on eBay). They’re well worth it, work and sound-wise. It’s a beautifully made, hand-wired amp that would go for between two and three grand if it were being made in the boutique market today. Grab one for under $500 while you can. Start looking—they don’t come around often, but they’re well worth the hunt. Get yourself a Hilgen, and drop me a line when you do.

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

One of the very cool (for gear heads) fallouts of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was the great amount of small, oddball guitar makers trying to strike it rich in the 65-68 era. Plenty of small makers from all over the world got the idea that they would go into the guitar business. 1965 was, by far, the biggest year in guitar production up to that point. But then a strange thing happened. Even though garage bands were cropping up all over the place, guitar sales started to shrink (slowly at first). Then, by the late 60’s, you started to see cheap imports from the Asian market competing with the lower end US made guitars (Kays, Danos and Harmonys and so on), putting a serious hit on the US budget brands. And these new makers (budget and high end) who started in the wake of ’65? Most went belly-up within a few years, but left for collectors some very neat-o guitars for our collections.

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

Check out, for instance, this rare bird. A 1966 Wurlitzer Gemini, made at the Hollman-Woodell guitar factory in Neodesha, Kansas. Part of Wurlitzer’s THE WILD ONES series (which included the more pedestrian-looking, but still pretty rad Cougar and Wildcat models), these were made to compete with the best of the domestic market. High end tuners (Klutsons), a wonderful chunky bound neck (like a Fender V shape, but a bit thicker), and a great look highlight the Gemini.

Other cool features include stereo pickups. That’s right – the guitar is wired in stereo, so that the neck pickup is one channel and the bridge pickup the other. With a stereo cord that has a “Y” splitter, that means you can send your bridge pickup to one amp and your neck pickup to another. There’s a traditional 3 position toggle to select the pickups, or set it for both and use the blender knob on the treble side horn. It’s a trippy sound to stand in between two amps with the split signal. Put the tremolo and reverb on one of them, and it’s a great sound. You can also run both pickups, of course, into one amp with the proper cord.

Each pickup has a rocker switch labeled “Jazz” and “Rock”. Predictably, the JAZZ setting cuts the output and trebles, offering a m ore rounded mellow tone. The ROCK setting opens the tone up a bit, boosting the treble and volume. It’s a very versatile guitar, with a high end feel.

The vibrato, with its very stylish W cutaway feels like a cross between a Bigsby and a Mosrite. It has the position under the hand and sound of a Bigsby, but with a hint of the feathery lighter touch of the Mosrite. The bridge has separate plastic posts that intonate very well and allow for the vibrato to return to pitch consistently. The balance is wonderful as well. It’s an odd shaped guitar, but it’s very comfortable to play standing or sitting.

And, obviously, it’s one of the best looking guitars to come out of that king of all great-looking-guitar decades, the 1960’s (sorry all you pointy 80’s fans). If the Airline Reso-glass futuristic model most associated with Jack White earns the nickname of the Jetson model, well what is the Gemini? It out Jetsons the Jetson model itself. Maybe it’s the Spacely model. Or the Cogswell’s Cogs model.

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

1966 Wurlitzer Gemini Electric Guitar

So why didn’t they catch on, if they’re so great? Well, a lot of great companies couldn’t withstand the relative slump of the late 60’s and the birth of quality imports. Think of Danelectro, Valco and Kay all going south within a year of each other. Also, maybe they didn’t have enough capital to make enough noise outside of their Kansas factory. Maybe they just weren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

But if you’re looking for any areas where the guitar itself hurt its own chances in the hyper-competitive guitar market of the late 60’s, there are a couple. Wurlitzer could have done better in the finish and the pickups. The finish on all three Wild Ones models had a habit of peeling and cracking. This white Gemini (all three models came in Red, White and Blue) is in surprisingly good shape. It does, however, have the same pickups as the other models, and this isn’t a great thing. While the pickups (the same as one the famed LeBay 2X4 – they were made at the same factory) look to be between the size of a DeArmond Silverfoil and a P-90, sadly they don’t share tone with either of those great pickups. They are clean and solid, tone-wise, but their output is very low and they can’t overdrive the dirtiest of amps. They can get a pretty good snarl going with a nice preamp or a good overdrive pedal, but they aren’t going to sound too tough going straight into most amps. Power and tone-wise, the popular guitar they sound most like (output-wise) is the Fender Mustang.

These are incredibly rare. Most estimates put the entire Wild One line at under one thousand guitars. Of those, the Cougar was the most popular, followed by the Wildcat, leaving the Gemini as the rarest of the rare.

Cool shape. Awesome retro vibe. Stylish. Super rare and hard to come by. And they could use a pickup upgrade. Maybe the more standard MONO wiring. Sounds like a guitar that might be just right for a cool company that re-issues rad guitars from the 60’s (hint, hint, Mike). If enough of you make enough noise, maybe this one could come back from the past.

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: 1960’s Univox Amps

A lot of yesterday’s “sleeper” amps, the great secret tone machines that only a few gear-geeks knew about (such as Danelectros and the several-branded versions of Valcos—Supro, National, Airline and the like) are now pretty well known and, as a result, are not as cheap as they were say, ten years ago. But there are still some great deals to be found with some of the other lesser-known amps of the 60’s and 70’s.

Among the best deals out there are the Japanese-made Univox tube amps of the mid to late 60’s. There are some rare birds out there that are worth keeping an eye open for, but the one you see most often, among the low-priced, great sounding Univox tube amps, is the U-45B Model.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

This is a small, incredibly light, and super simple and easy to work on amp that has a great garage and blues tone all its own. What’s not to love? And, while it does employ some oddball tubes, they are readily available and not at all expensive like some of the less common tubes from 1960’s amplifiers.

So, what’s going on with the U-45B? It actually has a lot to recommend it beyond some of the other cheaper vintage amps. The cabinet is solid, and the baffle is made of plywood, unlike, say the cheesy pressboard in an otherwise great amp like the Danelectro-made Silvertone 1482. So, you’ve got, in the U-45B, a fine Jensen 12” speaker that fits tightly and without rattle against some nice solid wood. A nice surprise in a cheapy. Also, the tolex (or whatever tolex-like material is used) on the later, front-controlled version of the U-45B is pretty durable, unlike some of the nice colored paper you might get on some Valco and Dano products.

The tube line up of the amp is the rather unusual 12AX7, 6BM8, 6BM8, 6X4. It’s rated at 10 watts. The 6X4 is an easy to find rectifier. What’s odd about this amp is that the 12AX7 isn’t used as a preamp tube but, rather, as the tremolo tube. The less common 6BM8s are used as both preamp and output tubes.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

The control panel (on the top in early 60’s versions, on the front in later models—otherwise, they are the same amp) is about as simple as it gets. VOLUME. TONE and SPEED (for the tremolo, which has a nice deep set depth).

How does it sound? Well, pretty great. You can get some very fine clean tones when the volume is under half way, from a jazzy laid-back tone, to a twangy rockabilly sound. It’s great for recording. A quiet, smooth sounding amp on its clean settings, but where it really comes alive is when it’s pushed into overdrive. At 10 watts, with a 15 watt Jensen 12”, it really excels for recording rock guitar or for a quiet(er) jam with full-throttle tone. It’s around 15 lbs, yet it’s built solidly and it sounds great. It’s an amp you want, and you can find them, with stunning regularity, for under $250…frequently for a good deal less.

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

1960's Univox Guitar Amplifier

The tremolo is rich, with a nice range of speeds. The only possible downside to the amp? It has a rather dark voice which offers plenty of sparkle while using a Tele, but it can muddy up a bit with a darker voiced guitar like, say, a Supro Dual Tone. An easy, non-mod fix for this? Any boost pedal gives it plenty of sparkle. (My home-made OC71 Germanium boost gives it a rich, harmonic sparkly push…awesome). But if you want to totally retain the tone of the amp and the voice of the guitar, use a simple EQ pedal, and you can dial in a little more treble, while keeping the basic character of the amp.

This is a great amp. It was also (with the exact same components from the same factory) marketed/labeled as a Lafayette, a Cavalier—and also marketed by the Hilgen brand under the model name Meteor. Most Hilgens I’ve seen (hardly a scientific sampling, but, still…) were made in New Jersey, but, for a time, the company apparently imported SOME of their amps, and the one I’ve seen the most of, among the imported Hilgens, is their Meteor branded amp that is the same, guts-wise, as the Univox U-45B.

So why haven’t these caught on in the vintage market? Who cares, but why not take advantage of it while they’re still cheap?

Next month—more on some of the even more rare Univox’s, like the U305 with the 15” speaker, or some of the more rare 2X10” amps with 6973 output tubes and more! Meanwhile, search away.

1960’s Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

What’s the best bass for guitar players? What’s arguably the coolest bass ever made? What’s got bottom that’s so huge, warm, and round that Mr. “I like Big Butts” Sir Mix a Lot would pen a moving ode to it? If you guessed the Valco-made Supro and/or Airline Pocket bass, you guessed right.

1960's Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

1960's Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

What makes it so special? Let’s start with the delightful design, typical of early to mid 60’s Valco. The Supros came in black, with transparent thumb and finger rests on either side of the body and the white (and sometimes, rarely, black) headstock. The Airline came in the Ice-Tea sunburst and white pickguard wings. Some of the Airline models came with a bound neck; some did not. For my hand, I dig the unbound, thinner neck, but that’s all to taste, I suppose. Either model is a ridiculously easy bass to play. Both models sport Brazilian rosewood fingerboards.

Is one better than the other? I think the AIRLINE model is better looking, but beware: The SUPRO model has a MUCH better down angle from the nut to tuning pegs. The Airline’s angle is too shallow, allowing the strings to pop out of the nut unless you add some after market string trees on at least the A and the D strings.

Other interesting features? Small (for a bass, at any rate) Kluson tuners. A monster of a fat Valco pickup in the neck position and a piezo pickup in the bridge. The knobs are for pickup blend and volume.

What’s the story behind these? They are pretty much a guitar-sized bass, which is really just too cool. Actually, the bodies ARE guitar bodies (or, at any rate, were USED for Valco-made guitars that are the cousin of these basses). The only things different are the necks and the bridges. So, it was probably an economical way for Valco to use the bodies as a duel-purpose body to get more bang for fewer production bucks (though they probably weren’t very successful, as the productions ran for fewer than 4 years).

But back to the bass at hand (if you’re lucky enough to have one at hand). None other than vintage gear collector and ex-Bob Dylan sideman and Saturday Night Live bandleader GE Smith called these the best recording basses around. I’d agree and go one further – they are the coolest bass for jam sessions and live gigs if you’re a guitar player who plays bass on the side or a bassist with small hands.

The neck pickup is a typical Valco monster. VERY full and fat and round (put some nylon strings on this and play along to “Rubber Soul” all day long) with tremendous depth and warmth. The piezo pickup (and the blend knob) result in a much lower volume, but have an incredibly woody tone that resembles a standup jazz bass. Maybe not enough volume for the stage at this setting, but a fabulous recording setting.

The 25 7/8″ neck practically begs you to play chords and/or two note combos. The bass has a ring and chime to it that jumps out of a good cab’s speakers.

How much should you pay? As I write this (always a danger to list a price for vintage instruments…a month later, this could be woefully out of date the way prices seem to go), a MINT example seems to be going in the $800 range (that’s with the original hard shell case). A beater that you could take to your garage or a bar stage? Around five hundred bucks. Which, really, when you think about it, is better than money in the bank. You have an incredibly cool bass that will have people coming up before and after the set asking “what the hell are you playing?” Which, of course, is part of the fun with oddball gear.

We have two of these in the house, and both get used with the bands. One is set up like a normal bass – one set up as a baritone electric ukulele (hey, why not?). These are fabulous made in the USA vintage basses that are still pretty affordable on the vintage market (the Reso-Glass super short scale Map Shape Bass is ALSO incredibly cool, but they’re going for well over a grand now). Get one while you can. And, hey Mike, how about a re-issue?

Editors note: We’ve considered doing a re-issue of this little beast for some time. But, the ultra short scale has some inherent design flaws; the worst of which is the extreme difficulty in keeping these in tune. The heavy strings combined with the short scale make intonation and pitch very difficult to nail down. If someone invented tuners with a much higher (or lower?) gear ratio, they would be easier to tune. Also, the short scale length does not give a full resonance as a Bass. But hey, it is a great BASS for guitar players indeed…

In the meantime, we decided to offer something that is the best of both worlds, and hence the AIRLINE Bass and the new AIRLINE MAP Bass. Both are 30″ scale (shorter than traditional 34″ scale BASS), and therefore offering 1) complete comfort for a guitar player, 2) long enough scale for accurate tuning and setup and 3) resonant enough for professional Bass players.

But, might still be cool to do the real McCoy in the coming years…

– Mike Robinson

Electric Ladyland (1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar)

I love the classic guitar shapes. They’re what attracted me to the guitar oh those many years ago. But as you can probably tell from these little essays, I’m also a sucker for a pretty face. Pretty weird, that is. Like this 1983 Electra Lady XV1RD with a Little Dutch Girl shape!

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

We’ve already talked about that great period in the early to mid-1980s when the New Wave of Heavy Metal, combined with the emergence of L.A. as an important music center, Eddie Van Halen, and hair bands. For just a couple years before Superstrats hijacked everyone, weird-shaped pointy guitars were hip. Well, this is an example of a guitar that takes that to the extreme!

Electra guitars were made by Matsumoku in Japan for St. Louis Music (SLM). SLM started in the 1920s and grew to be a large regional music distributor. They were thick with Kay and from the late 1950s or so through to Kay’s collapse in 1968 offered Kay-made Custom Kraft guitars. Some of these, especially the later ones, are really pretty good guitars. We’ll profile one in time.

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

Like everyone else, SLM couldn’t resist the allure of Japan. Sometime in the late-’60s, SLM started to bring in guitars with the Electra brand. It was probably pretty tentative at first. But when Valco/Kay went under, options were running out. In around 1970 they introduced a “copy” of the Ampeg Dan Armstrong “See-Through” guitar called The Electra. This coincided with the rise of the copy era, and it wasn’t long before Electra was competing with Ibanez for the “beginner” market and beyond. One advantage they had was that they hired a guitar designer named Tom Presley who started designing guitars and supervising the manufacture of the electronics in St. Louis. From a certain point on, guitars came made by Matsumoku but without pickups, which were installed in the US. Those open-coil zebra pickups on Japanese Electras were American. Paul Yandell, who backed Chet Atkins, endorsed them.

Other stuff happened, but this brings us up to the early 1980s and the craze for pointy guitars. Two things happened in around 1983. One: SLM started playing with new pointy guitar designs. Two: SLM entered into a joint venture with Matsumoku and began a year-long process of taking over Matsumoku’s own brand name Westone.

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

1983 Electra Lady XV1RD Electric Guitar

There were a bunch of different radical designs introduced by SLM, including this Lady (obvious name!). All had the same hardware and electronics, but different shapes. The shapes speak for themselves. The cool thing was the electronics. These had two humbuckers on either side of a reverse-wound single-coil. This was Presley’s idea from back in 1971. This was controlled by a 3-way with a master volume, two tone controls for the humbuckers, and three pull-up pots. The front pot tapped the humbuckers to single coil. The middle pot activated the middle reverse-wound single-coil, and the rear pot has an out-of-phase function. There are 11 possible pickup combinations, making this one of the most versatile tonal layouts ever invented. These are great, hot, swell-playing guitars! Comfortable too! If you like to sit down, as I do in my old age, this fits very nicely with a classical position. And relatively rare. According to Presley, fewer than 200 of these were ever made. This was not cheap either. Cost was $439.50 in 1984.

From 1983-84 SLM changed its brand from Electra to Electra-Westone to Westone. You see examples of these strange shapes under a variety of names. By 1985 this novel switching system was gone and the Superstrat form was adopted. Too bad. By 1987 or ’88 Singer Sewing Machines had bought Matsumoku and killed guitar production. SLM changed the brand to Alvarez (it’s acoustic brand) and switched production to other plants, including Korea.

It’s kind of funny in a way. Rock and roll has this image and reputation for being on the edge. You know, sex, drugs, throwing TV sets out of your hotel window. Yet if you look at it from a guitar point of view, things look way more conservative. The vast majority of guitar players like the classic old shapes. Not everyone, but most. Except every once in awhile things get turned on their heads. Like when this Electra Lady was made.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

Rare is, of course, a relative term when you’re talking about anything made by Danelectro for Sears. This ain’t a hand carved arch-top by one of the D’Whoever’s in New York, or a prototype KOA wood, only ever seen by Ted McCarty and the 33rd-level Masons who know the secret Skull & Bones handshake and Vulcan death grips, after all.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

These were cheap, crap box guitars made at a price point to that every kid who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan could get one for whatever holiday or birthday was next. They were product, churned out at an alarming rate. They were also, lucky for us, pretty damn cool sounding little guitars.

So, a “rare Silvertone” is a bit of an oxymoron. The best Michael Bay film. A tall jockey. The thinnest sumo wrestler. The most competent politician in Washington. The least annoying morning DJ, and so on.

But by 1968, the post-Beatle guitar boom of 64-66 had waned. The wave had crested and you started to see some of the biggest names in little guitars (Kay, Valco, Danelectro) starting to suffer and, within a year, all die quiet deaths. (Chicago enormo-manufacture Harmony would slump on into the early 70’s before limping to a public auction death knell in 1975).

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

In their last years, all of these companies would make some changes, hoping desperately to cling to their former market share. In Dano”s case, the biggest change when ownership switched hands to MCA in 1966 was the end of the poplar and Masonite guitars that had so defined the Neptune maker”s sound for over ten years. The last year and a half, Danelectro produced actual WOOD guitars, the top of the line being the classic 3 pickup Vinnie Bell signature model with the wonderfully psychedelic pickguard and the zippy quick neck.

The bottom of the line? The wood one-pickup Silvertone model from the Amp-in-Case line. This was still called the 1448 in the 1968 SEARS catalog, but it is a slightly different sounding little beast from its earlier and more prevalent semi-hollow 1448’s. The AC/DC (sans power transformer) amp in the case is the same (not nearly as cool at the great 1457’s single-ended 6V6-driven amp with tremolo. BUT, this guitar is arguably a better little axe than its predecessors. It’s at least as good and different enough that you should get one if you can.

It’s a killer blues and garage guitar. The skate key tuners hold surprisingly well, so long as you drop some graphite (or the lube of your choice) on the sticky, but great sounding, aluminum nut. The rosewood bridge is just like on the older models… simple, but effective. And, of course, the key to the tone is still there – the brilliant lipstick tube low-output (with plenty of volume…ohms ratings and volume are not the same) Danelectro pickup is worth all of the hype it receives. There’s just nothing quite like them, and if you want that full voiced twang and snap…well, you need an original lipstick Dano. There is truly no substitute.

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

1968 Danelectro Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

And in a wooded solidbody, rather than the more common (and great, make no mistake) hollow Masonite-topped models, the pickup really shines. Crank your amp and turn up the guitar volume for some great smooth overdrive. Roll back the volume knob and the guitar cleans up, while retaining its treble response (unlike many great vintage garage guitars like Harmonys, which get muddy and murky very fast with their original volume knobs turned down at all). This is a clear, clean and articulate tone monster that responds well to every amp in the house (at least in this house of too many amps, it does).

The short scale makes for easy playing, smooth bends and surprisingly good intonation up the neck when set up well. Plus, this model, like later Danos, has a very cool, very figured fretboard for a “budget” instrument. And, of course, it comes, like its older Masonite siblings, in a wonderfully cheesy black metaflake finish.

This is one pawn shop surprise you should pick up when and if you see it. Like I said, they’re rare – or they’re “Silvertone Rare” at any rate. They show up on eBay a LOT less often than the standard, more common 1448’s, so if you see one in good playable shape, do yourself a favor and dig this last-of-the-breed from Neptune.