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Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Ugly Mugs No. 3: Walk, Don’t Run (Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar)

For this last musing on ugly duckling guitars, let us turn our attention to this example from Japan, this Guyatone LG-160T. The Fenton-Weill Tux-master we contemplated was pretty much unrelentingly ugly, only redeemable if you fondly remember it from your youth. The Burns UK Flyte was more of a space oddity than especially ugly, but it sure didn’t grow on me, at least. However, some unusual guitars do eventually win your heart over the more you stare at them. I think that this is the case here.

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Japanese guitar makers made their names by emulating their competition largely for the American market. That strategy ultimately led to copy guitars, of which this is vaguely an example, although reflective of the peculiarities of Japanese aesthetics.

“Lutes,” in which family guitars reside, made their way pretty much everywhere in antiquity, including Japan, which favors the samisen. The first Europeans to “discover” Japan were the Portuguese, who were granted favored trading status by the Emperor. With the caveat that they couldn’t enter Japan proper, lest they pollute the sacred culture. They had to do their business from Okinawa.

Whether the Portuguese ever brought guitars with them is unknown, but Commodore Perry and the Americans certainly did when they arrived in 1853 on a mission to horn in on the Portuguese monopoly. Perry plied the Japanese ministers with tons of champagne and put on several blackface minstrel shows that featured both guitars and banjos. Perhaps it was the affinity between whiteface kabuki theater and the sailors’ burnt cork (more likely it was the huge stores of bubbly), but in any case Perry returned in 1854 with an open trade agreement with Japan.

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

No, the Japanese didn’t convert to playing guitars (or banjos) on the spot. In fact, Westernization didn’t really begin until the 1920s. One of the main vectors was Hawaiian music. This was big in the U.S. from the early 20th Century on, but it really wasn’t coming to Japan from the Continental U.S. There was a huge Japanese population living in Hawaii and the taste for Hawaiian music—admittedly informed by American (and, ironically, Portuguese!!) influences—came from the original source in Hawaii. It was also in the 1920s that Andres Segovia toured Japan, igniting a passionate embrace of classical guitar playing. And, the 1920s saw the triumph of radio, so all sorts of Western music became available.

The problem was that Japanese music had not yet adopted the “tempered” scale that Western music has used since the 18th Century. That style makes minor compromises in the mathematical intervals of the modes codified by Pythagoras. In the old system you could play in maybe 1 or 2 modes during a piece, but any further modulation sounded out of tune, because it was. By “tempering” those scales, you can essentially switch from any key to another at any time. Anyhow, this process of adopting the tempered scale began in the 1920s, with a lot of interesting hybrid music being created. And making it possible to adopt Western instruments, such as the guitar and Hawaiian guitar…especially once it was electrified in the early 1930s.

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Guyatone was one of the earliest guitar manufacturers in Japan, having begun making electric Hawaiian lap steels in 1933. It was founded by Mitsuo Matsuki and Atsuo Kaneko (who would later found Teisco after the War).

Once Japanese guitar-makers entered the American market, they kind of gravitated naturally toward the copy strategy. First they produced guitars vaguely based on Fender’s Jazzmaster/Jaguar. Soon in the trenches with European makers, they began to emulate them (think Burns Bison). Then, The Ventures, having grown a bit stale in the U.S., began to tour Japan. The went over extremely well and acquired a legion of lifetime fans. By around the time this guitar was made, various Japanese makers were producing loose Mosrite inspirations. Or “copies,” if you like.

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 Guyatone LG-160T Electric Guitar

This 1967 Guyatone LG-160T is actually pretty sophisticated. The body is mahogany, and features a German carve relief, like a Mosrite. Pairing two single-coil pickups back at the bridge, like a humbucker, emulates Guyatone’s domestic competition Yamaha. These two pickups can function as a humbucker or, using the sliding switch, one single-coil. Ain’t no DiMarzio but pretty clever. This bridge actually has roller saddles to make the vibrato very effective.

By 1969 the true “copy era” had been launched with the first Les Paul and Tele copies, however crude at first.

When you first glimpse this guitar, it looks like a somewhat awkward Mosrite copy. Gaze a bit longer and it almost takes on the look of a Japanese orthographic character. Elegant, not so ugly. Consider it more and your heart begins to warm toward it’s symmetrical asymmetry for sure! Beautiful!

The copy strategy was good marketing (and helped learning to come more quickly), but it tended to obscure how much Japanese culture—how much whiteface kabuki—really contributed to the guitar equation.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Ugly Mugs No. 2: Under the Radar (Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar)

Last week I opined about my penchant for unusual, not to say, ugly guitars like the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England. Now, I don’t mean to throw (rolling) stones—the States has produced its share of butt-ugly guitars—but Merry Old England has contributed mightily to the cause. And even though he’s revered in the U.K. as their very own Leo Fender, Jim Burns has had a hand in more than a few guitar models that might crack a mirror if they could see themselves. One case in point: the Burns Flyte.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Now, the Burns Flyte is definitely a step up from the Tux-master, but not such a very big one. James Ormston Burns (1925-1998) began designing guitars in around 1958 when he made a short scale Supersound guitar for the musician Ike Isaacs. In 1959 Burns teamed up with Henry Weill to form the Burns-Weill company, producing the rather ungainly forebears of last month’s featured Tux-master. Burns and Weills apparently weren’t a match made in heaven and they had parted ways before the year was out. In 1960 Burns struck out on his own, founding Burns London Ltd. And putting out what’s now a legendary line of soldibody electric guitars.

Probably the most famous feature on Burns guitars of the 1960s was the setting called “Wild Dog” on the Bison and some other models. I can remember not being able to wait to plug in mine when I got it. Wild Dog!! A snarl? Growl? Sharp bark? Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Wild Dog was simply a somewhat weak phase-reversal effect like you get in-between pickups on a Strat! Now there was the marketing department run amok!

Burns guitars quickly won the hearts of British guitar players…there were, indeed, few other quality options. Plus, they arrived at just about the time that teenagers were trading in their Skiffle washboards for their first electric guitars in order to play that new music from the Colonies.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Meanwhile, in the former Colonies, guitars—especially electrics—had become hot commodities among the young. And there were lots of young folks, the Post-War Baby Boomers, hitting the right age to become a “market.” Savvy businessmen wanted in on the gold mine. Companies as diverse as Norlin (a brewing conglomerate) and CBS (TV, movies, and records) started buying guitar companies (Gibson and Fender, respectively).

Into the corporate feeding frenzy jumped the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. At least it was in the musical instrument business to begin with! Initially Baldwin was a bidder for Fender, but lost out to CBS. On the rebound, Baldwin set its eyes on Burns of London and in 1965 began importing Baldwin-badged versions of Jim Burns’ guitars.

However, Baldwin’s affair with Burns was relatively short-lived. In 1966 Baldwin struck a deal to purchase Gretsch and they proved to be much better sellers in the U.S. marketplace. Baldwin held on to the Burns property until closing it down in 1970.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Burns wasn’t through with guitars yet. From 1969 to 1973 Burns manufactured Hayman guitars for the music distributor Dallas-Arbiter. As part of the agreement, Jim Burns couldn’t use the Burns of London name, but somehow Burns UK was acceptable and Burns resumed making guitar in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1974. Which brings us to the Flyte.

The Flyte—originally supposed to be the Concorde (or Conchorde)—coincided with the debut of supersonic aviation. Hence the swept-wing appearance. If you appreciated weird guitarflesh, this should tickle your fancy. I keep looking at it it just keeps getting weirder, and in an especially good way! Those pickups are called Mach One Humbusters. The Dynamic Tension bridge is pretty interesting…well, no, it’s not. It’s just weird. Indeed, much like Hayman guitars before it, Flytes were well made and pretty unremarkable except for the eccentric appearance.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Apparently, Burns UK Flytes were played by so-called Glam Rockers like the band Slade and Mark Bolan (who made a career of eccentric guitars, among other things). Wikipedia lists other Flyte players, but I’ve never heard of any of them, not that that signifies anything. But, you have to stretch to find Flyte fans; they never did take off.

This guitar is #172. I have no idea how many Flytes were produced, but I suspect production quantities were not enormous. They were only made for about 2 years. In around 1977 Burns UK introduced the Mirage to replace the Flyte, with re-designed Mach Two pickups. Burns UK then bit the dust.

Jim Burns gave guitars one more go with the oddly named enterprise “Jim Burns Actualizers Ltd.” From 1979-83, but that met with even less success than Burns UK and the Flyte.

Still, you have to give Burns high marks for chutzpah and if your taste, like mine, runs to the unusual, you should be sure to catch a Flyte the next time one come your way!

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Communist Guitars (Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar)

You might know that China is still officially “Communist,” but so fiercely Capitalistic that any associations with Mao are hard to parse out. Ditto Russia and Lenin and Stalin. You’ve got to find an old map to locate the “former Soviet Union.” But, if you’re an old fogey like me the term is full of “complex notes” as the vinophiles would say. What has this to do with guitars, you ask?

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

The short story, of course, is that Russia became Communist after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Fast forward to 1941 and the German Nazi army invades Russia, get’s stalled at Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and the Russian counter-assault commences. The Allies invade Sicily and Normandy. In 1945 everyone meets up in Berlin and Hitler eats a bullet. The victors divide the spoils, with Russia getting control of the Eastern half of Germany (and Berlin), as well as pretty much everything to the east of that. The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and the Iron Curtain are created and more than 30 years of Communist rule ensues in those areas. Can you say “Cold War?”

Now, you could probably construct an argument about how the Cold War ultimately affected American popular music, but I won’t try. What I find more interesting is that a whole bunch of traditionally guitar-making regions in Europe ended up under Communist rule. Markneukirchen, probably the greatest center of German lutherie, ended up just a few miles over the border in East Germany. Similar areas in nearby Czechoslovakia also ended up in Communist hands, including that where the Jolana company that made the Diamant I seen here was located.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t grow up withCommunist Guitars on my mind. I just knew they wanted to drop an A-bomb on us. As with all of history, reality and geo-politics operate in totally separate realms! Thank goodness.

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Definitive information on Jolana guitars is hard to obtain, even though the brand was one of the most successful in the Eastern Bloc. If you search online, you will actually learn that Jolana guitars represent a pretty heroic story of a man, Josef Ruzicka (1928-2004), who bucked the official Communist dictum that electric guitars represented rock and roll and the decadent Capitalism that music stood for. In around 1953 Ruzicka built his first electric Hawaiian guitar (about as decadent a Capitalistic rock and roll tool as I can imagine, eh?). Thereafter followed some Strat-style guitars, eventually leading to a guitar factory which ended up in Horavice and guitars named for—if Google Translate can be properly translated!—Josef’s daughter Jolana.

Just when the Diamant Les Paul version appeared is a bit murky. If you asked me, I’d say around 1972, but other sources online claim that the Diamant appeared in 1979, with the upscale Diamant I, as seen here, debuting in 1983. This may be true. One curious phenomenon you’ll encounter in online accounts of Jolana and other Soviet-era guitars is a profound inferiority complex that disparages the quality of these instruments. Indeed, as someone with no youthful experience (and an awful lot of aged experience!) with these guitar, I find this surprising. I have not found Eastern European guitars to be particularly different from guitars produced in Western Europe, and the workmanship is generally speaking quite good. Would this hold its own head-to-head with a Gibson Les Paul? No. But neither would a Crucianelli or a Framus or a Hagstrom.

That said, I have noticed that I consistently date Eastern Bloc guitars as being much earlier than they actually were. I’ll eye-ball a guitar and say “1968” when it turns out to be 1979. What appears to be the situation is that Soviet-era guitars aren’t so much badly made as they are really out of date, anachronisms! As if the makers are all at least 10 years behind their Western counterparts! Anachronism shouldn’t be confused with shoddy quality. But then again, if you’re 15 and those were the only guitars you could get, you might see “old fashioned” as a “quality” issue.

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

Vintage 1983 Jolana Diamant I Electric Guitar

In any case, this is a well made little Les Paul copy. The body is maple with a thick, about ¾” thick carved European spruce top. There’s binding and the fit and finish aren’t bad. These humbuckers ain’t DiMarzios, but they’re serviceable. If online sources are to be believed, this particular guitar is quite rare based on the finish. The vast majority (“90%”) are supposed to have been black, with the rest finished in red, and only a very few done in sunburst, as seen here. It would be hard to judge here in the Western Hemisphere because as far as I know none were ever exported to these parts and you almost never see any—black, red, or sunburst—on vintage guitar dealer lists.

According to some online sources, the Jolana factory produced some guitars branded as Futurama and exported to the UK, where they were played by the likes of George Harrison, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton, presumably before they could afford more expensive guitars. Most sources have Jolana shutting down in 1989, about the time that the Iron Curtain came crashing down to end the Cold War, though one source claims to have a 1991 Jolana.

But just when you think the Cold War and Jolana guitars are gone for good, Vladimir Putin chomps off a bit of Ukraine and the NBE Corp. in the Czech Republic announced the return of Jolana guitars. I don’t know if the Cold War has returned (I hope not), and I haven’t seen any new Jolana guitars, but these old ones, Communist overtones and anachronisms included, are pretty interesting artifacts of a time when a guitar like this Diamant I was unknown to those of us raised under Capitalistic Decadance!

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Ugly Mugs No. 1 (Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar)

If you’ve read even a little of my writing about guitars over the years, you know I’m fatally attracted to unusual guitars. There’s a reason I’m “The Different Strummer.” But even I have to admit some guitars are just plain ugly. A case in point: the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England, a country (sorry, friends) that has more than its share of these birds.

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

This Tux-master actually comes with a pretty impressive pedigree. In 1959 the legendary guitar-designer (and notoriously bad businessman) Jim Burns hooked up with a German chap named Henry Weill to build a line of Burns-Weill electric solidbody guitars built in London. Weills was reportedly the electronics expert. This partnership lasted less than a year and it’s pretty hard to find examples. However, it’s pretty reasonable to speculate that Burns and Weill met more than once over many more than one pint! Then they retired to a band saw to reshape some firewood. These were truly Bizarro guitars, squarish angular monsters all off-balance!

According to online sources (meaning cross your fingers and hope), one of their models was called the Fenton, and that became the source of name of the new company re-formed by Weill in 1960, Fenton-Weill. Whether or not there was a person named Fenton remains one of guitardom’s unsolved mysteries.

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Regarding this Fenton-Weill guitar I have in my notes that it was a re-design of the Burns-Weill RP2G guitar model but I have no idea how I arrived at such a conclusion. I don’t need to point out this guitar’s ungainly aspects! That anteater snout headstock, the small, asymmetrical body.

To be fair, this guitar actually has some innovative features. For one thing, the neck is glued in and has a heelless design to improve access up the neck. This is at least a decade in advance of the appearance of that design feature in the U.S. Also, the weird paint job, with the shaded black-burst, was at least 25 years ahead of its time, such aesthetics not appearing until the mid-1980s.

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Actually, this guitar isn’t entirely “stock.” The bridge is a Gotoh replacement and the 3-way switch and jack are not original. However, this kind of fits with the gestalt of Fenton-Weills. That’s because Henry Weill was also an early pioneer in sourcing parts from Japan, as it turns out (if online sources are to be believed). Apparently Weill bought pre-assembled pickguards, with pickups and wiring, from Guyatone. Reportedly, Henry “tweaked” them, but the electronics are Japanese. Online rumors suggest that Weill didn’t do the wood-work either. Necks are supposed to have come from Germany. Thus, the presence of a Gotoh bridge doesn’t violate the spirit of the law.

Like most ugly-duckling guitars, this actually plays and sounds pretty well. The original Featherlite vibrato is great for your rendition of Apache or Walk, Don’t Run. I suspect you wouldn’t want to be seen strapping this on for a heavy metal gig, but it does have a cool surf vibe.

When Burns and Weill split in 1959, Weill continued to make guitars badged Weill-London. These seem to be even rarer than Burns-Weill guitars. I couldn’t find a single online image of one, but they no doubt continued the same aesthetic. The Fenton-Weill brand was in play at least by 1963. Weill had his own factory by this time and was also producing amplifiers, plus reportedly producing guitars for Hohner and Selmer.

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Fenton-Weill Tux-Master Electric Guitar

If you Google-Image Fenton-Weill guitars you’ll get a range of designs that include the square Bizarros some vaguely Supro-ish LPs, a kind of Alamo Jazzmaster thing, and these skinny anteater whatever-they-ares. Some have bolt-on necks, many are set-necks like this. Guitars and basses. The black-bursty finish touches are fairly tyoical.

Fenton-Weills seem to have come in a plethora of model names, “-master” being favored, including Dualmaster and Twinmaster. Minor details differ between models. Consistency was no hobgoblin for Fenton-Weill!

Alas, Henry Weill doesn’t appear to have been much better at business than Jim Burns and in 1965 the Fenton-Weill company was history, imploding in bankruptcy.

I can’t be certain when this guitar was made, but the window is pretty tight: the widest being 1960-65, with 1962-65 being more likely.

Today, sourcing parts from foreign lands is common practice. It was novel when this guitar was made, as were many of the other features. The awkward design, however, is completely original and completely…ugly! So ugly you gotta love it! I know I do…

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Mirror Image Guitars (Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar)

If you’d have told me I was going to write an appreciation of a guitar like this Dean Z Autograph—let alone any Korean-made guitar—back in the ‘80s, I probably wouldn’t have laughed outright, but I certainly would have been skeptical. Then again, a good many of us probably couldn’t have imagined people writing books about or paying premium collectible prices for Japanese guitars back in the early ‘70s. Times change and reality and history intervene to challenge our preconceptions!

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Now that Japanese guitars are too expensive to import into the U.S.—and now that most folks understand how good Japanese guitars could be (with a good set-up)—it’s not uncommon for eBay auctions to feature “MIJ” as a positive selling point. And, now that large-scale guitar-making—except for the highest quality custom shop work—has pretty much left Korea, for a combination of economic and political reasons, attitudes are being adjusted once again. Turns out the Koreans had also gotten pretty good a making guitars. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time that “MIK” will become another compelling sales factor when you’re shopping for guitars.

Dean guitars were the brainchild of suburban Chicago native Dean Zelinsky who started building the now legendary upscale, hybrid “Gibson copies” in the late 1970s, like the folks at nearby and contemporary Hamer partly in response to the perceived inattention to quality at Gibson at the time, and partly because Zelinsky liked Explorers and Vees and was annoyed that Gibson didn’t make any fancy flamed-top versions. The former reason might be a debatable point, but there’s no question that those early Deans were darned good guitars.

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Indeed, players thought Deans were so good they were highly successful and the company quickly expanded its offerings. Unable to keep up with demand, Dean inevitably—like virtually everyone else, in time—turned to Japan for help. In 1983, with Guitar Player Magazine doing cover stories on the return of the Strat, Dean came up with it’s own take on a Fender with its first “Super-Strat,” the Bel Aire, one of the first guitars (there are competing candidates) to sport the now-ubiquitous h/s/s pickup configuration. The Bel Aire had a neck and hardware imported from ESP in Japan, though final assembly continued to be Stateside. By 1985 Dean Hollywoods were made in Japan by ESP.

By the end of 1985 Dean had also inked a deal to bring in Dean Autographs, like the one seen here, made in Korea. I’m actually not sure who made these guitars. Even though Korea had (and has) a number of guitar factories, most OEM work was done by either Samick or Cort and the odds are that the Autographs came from one or the other.

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

So, get over any contemporary reservations about Korean guitars and look at this with a modern eye, and you have to admit it’s pretty snappy! I’ve never been a fan of black guitars but make the black super-high-gloss, add a white lacquered fingerboard, and slap a mirror on the front and you have my attention. In addition to having the usual Super-Strat features, this also has a neck-tilt adjustment feature to let you fine-tune your action without taking everything apart. A lot of people obsess over pickups, which I’ve never really understood. Almost no one plays an electric guitar through a solid-state amp set to give clean, neutral sound, which is the principal way you’d get to hear mainly pure pickup. Color your sound with a tube amp, pump up the bass, or, horrors, shoot the signal through a distortion pedal with a touch of reverb, like most of us do, and as long as you’re getting some output it doesn’t really matter what pickups you have. You’re going to color the sound electronically. I’m sure that’ll rile some folks. Whether you agree with this last point or not, the Dean Autograph holds up as a swell, classy shred machine.

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

Vintage 1987 Dean Z Autograph Electric Guitar

This guitar has a serial number of 8700430. Since the Autographs were made from 1985-87, I presume the “87” is date encoding. I have no idea if these are relatively rare or common. They don’t come up for sale that often, but that many not mean much. I suspect it’s a lot like 1960s Japanese guitars. They weren’t that rare (although less plentiful than most of us think), but no one ever imagined they’d be collectible in the future, so few people held onto them. By the time Zelinsky got into Korean-made guitars, he’d grown tired of the guitar biz and he shuttered the original Dean doors in 1990, off to make furniture.

Dean guitars are back in business, of course, and apparently doing well, including some made in the U.S.A. again. The more I see, the less I know I can predict about how things will eventually turn out. If my wife wouldn’t kill me, I’d start squirreling away some of those Chinese guitars…

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

The Lure of the Wild Dog (Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar)

Go ahead, admit it. If someone told you there was a cool Sixties guitar with a factory setting called “Wild Dog” (or maybe even one called “Split-Sound”), you’d want one, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. That’s why, once I found out about the Burns Jazz Split-Sound, it went straight to the top of my wish list. But sometimes when you get what you wish for it doesn’t live up to the hype!

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

I finally found my Wild Dog on, of all things, the inventory list of George Gruhn, the eminent Nashville vintage guitar dealer. Now, that may not seem odd to you, but this was a long time ago. Back then finding guitars was done by eagerly getting the first printing of the Trading Times, a weekly newsprint want-ad rag that was published all over the country in localized versions. If you’re one of those young-uns who walks around with your nose in a smart-phone, “want-ads” were notices you paid to put in the paper if you had something to sell. EBay didn’t exist. Only Al Gore used the Internet. George’s list wasn’t in the Trading Times, but in Vintage Guitar Magazine, which was the Trading Times for old guitar junkies.

Anyhow, I got this 1965 Baldwin-Burns Jazz Split-Sound from George Gruhn for what I thought was a high price at the time, but it was a relative bargain at Gruhn’s because this was the time when everyone was still looking for vintage Strats and Les Pauls (before they cost 5 to 6 figures), not Baldwin-Burns guitars. So, this wasn’t on the radar at the time. Except for someone like me. There’s a reason I’m billed as “The Different Strummer.”

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Baldwin-Burns guitars are part of the madness that was the 1960s guitar industry. Baby Boomers like me liked guitars and corporations with money started buying up guitar manufacturers. CBS and Fender, Norlin and Gibson, etc., etc. Among the early suitors for Fender was the Baldwin Piano and Organ company of Cincinnati. When Fender went on the block in 1965 due to Leo’s health problems, Baldwin tried to buy the company. CBS outbid them and that was that. At the same time, Burns of London, owned by Jim Burns, was having financial difficulties. Burns was more guitar “genius” than business wizard. The plan was to import Burns-designed and produced guitars carrying the Baldwin name. The first units began to arrive in late 1965 and this was a very early arrival of the Jazz Split-Sound model.

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Actually, this is pretty interesting in a number of dimensions. First of all, it’s a “Strat” configuration, although pretty liberally interpreted, with “notes” of the Burns Bison. Back in the mid-‘60s Fender’s top guitars were the Jazzmaster and Jaguar, which were most copied by both European and Japanese manufacturers. It’s early because of the head, which became a scroll design in mid-1966. Like I said, Jim Burns was a pretty good guitar designer and this has one of his Series 2 adjustable vibratos. The pickups are a pretty interesting take on a humbucker, really kind of a hybrid, with offset coils and poles. This is, no doubt, the origin of the “Split-Sound” nomination. These are pretty cool, because the “Split-Sound” meant that the neck coils captured the bass strings and the bridge coils got the trebles. I’m not really sure you can hear the subtleties, but it’s dang cool none-the-less.

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

The “Wild Dog” setting is, well, underwhelming. It’s basically an out-of-phase sound like you get in the in-between positions on a Strat, but the pickups aren’t really as hot as a Strat’s, so, while it’s cool—and pretty innovative—in a ’60s guitar, it’s really no big whoop. But good marketing!

This is, for the times, a professional grade instrument, on a par with Fender or Gibson, with an entirely unique feel, of course. Burns doesn’t get the respect he deserves in the American market, and the Baldwin—and later Ampeg—monikers didn’t help with credibility, given the consumer illusion that a brand name had to equate with the manufacturer. Which it almost never has.

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Baldwin Burns Jazz Split-Sound Electric Guitar

Despite all the technical features that make this guitar desirable, there really isn’t any “Wild Dog” there. Maybe compared to a Kay or a Harmony electric. And to get Wild Dog out of a Strat, you needed toothpicks. Nada on Gibsons.

That the “Wild Dog” setting was kind of disappointing doesn’t diminish the coolness of this guitar, but it certainly wasn’t what I expected. More like “Big Whoop.” But pretty good marketing!

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

To The Stars – And Beyond! (Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar)

Jeopardy Quiz: When do you think this Bunker guitar was made? When I first laid eyes on it, I was pretty sure it was from the late 1970s. It just has that ‘70s “natural” kind of vibe. Well, the correct response would be, “What is 1968?” I was shocked. This matched none of my presuppositions about guitars from the Sixties. But then, Dave Bunker has made a career out of being ahead of his time with the unexpected.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Actually, the name of this guitar does provide something of a clue to its vintage: a Bunker Astral Series Sunstar. Far out, man. Shades of Star Trek. The Astral Series was the brainchild of Dave Bunker, a luthier whose name you may not know, but whose work you just may have encountered. Dave was born out in Washington State in 1935 and by the 1950s was playing guitar. Back then the legendary Jimmy Webster was touring the country promoting Gretsch guitars. Webster was one of the modern pioneers of two-handed tapping and the technique was a revelation to Bunker, who adopted it as his own.

Bunker became a teacher and began working on designing a double-necked tapping guitar, which he called the Duo-Lectar. This was the beginning of a long line of inventions intended to improve the performance of guitars. Dave actually build around 50 Duo-Lectars in the early 1960s. In 1964 Dave became part of a pop trio with two lovely sister singers and toured with them, playing Las Vegas and cruise ships.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Apparently Bunker had time to keep refining his guitar ideas and in around 1966 or so (he doesn’t remember exactly) he introduces the Astral Series guitars. Described as “The Guitar of Tomorrow,” for once the hype was right on. Basically this is a central core so beloved by tappers with two detachable wings or pods to give it guitar dimensions. The original idea was that you could get different looking pods and change the look of your guitar.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Alright, we’re are already in Klingon territory for 1966…or even today. But a core body with detachable pods is, in the end, largely a matter of carpentry. BUT, Dave had already developed his “tension-less neck.” Dave had found that he got dead spots where the truss rod was anchored, around the 10th fret. This led to his routing a channel in the neck where he placed a metal reinforcement rod that attached to plates at the body and the neck at the nut. This carried all tension and allowed the neck to fully resonate. This design also meant tuners had to be put tuners down at the bottom instead of the head. His Magnum pickups had individual poles hand wound with high impedance wire around a vertical Alnico V magnet. Each string had its own vertically and horizontally adjustable bridge/saddle, plus an additional microtuner that Bunker neglected to patent. If this looks like what showed up later on Floyd Roses, well, ask Dave what he thinks about that.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

What all this means is that this guitar was way ahead of its times, probably sporting more technical innovations than any other guitar I can think of in 1966.

I’ve guessed at 1968 as the date of this guitar. Its serial number is #4001, but that doesn’t mean it’s the 4,001st guitar he made. If there’s any rhyme or reason to his numbering, I don’t know it. His main production was done from 1966-1970, though you could still get one as late as 1974, when he began offering DiMarzio options. Plus, it’s entirely possible those later ones were unsold stock. This came in an original hardshell case with a foam padding that had turned to an annoying power. When asked about it, Dave just said, “Yeah, we had some problems with that early on.”

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Dave continued performing and making guitars, coming up with more innovations. If that tension-less neck idea rings a bell, that’s probably because it came back to life in 1990 when Bunker became the “B” in PBC guitars, P being John Pearce and C being Paul Chernay. They set up a manufacturing facility in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and began producing a line of mostly pretty high-end guitars. They were pretty well received, although somewhat eccentric in shapes, although I don’t think they sold all that well. Bunker met Jim Donahue, who was doing design work at Hoshino USA down in Bensalem, PA, and Ibanez contracted with PBC to make its USA Custom USRG Series in 1994. Ibanez liked the guitars and wanted to expand the relationship, but Bunker’s partner declined. Ibanez USRGs ceased production in 1996 and PBC promptly went out of business. I remember when leftover PBC stock flooded the Philly market, but I thought the prices too high and didn’t pick one up. Another of those “shoulda” moments, since they run about twice the sale price these days, if you can find one.

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Vintage 1968 Bunker Astral Sunstar Electric Guitar

Dave Bunker still makes and sells guitars. He has an ad in the current Vintage Guitar Magazine.

Dave thought that including PBC and Ibanez production, he’d made around 8,000 guitars. However, if that were true you’d see a heck of a lot more on the market and you hardly ever see them. Maybe their owners just love ‘em too much. This is the only Sunstar I’ve ever seen. Even more amazing since it was produced in the Sixties! Beam me up, Scotty…

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! (2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar)

Once upon a time I was in a used window shop in Milwaukee—true story, such a thing used to exist; they sold windows salvaged from old houses (I needed a storm window)—and some old geezer was wandering around the store yelling “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” I thought it pretty weird and didn’t immediately understand until I realized he was a Korean-era Vet and needed help and, like in most modern big box stores, there was no one around to assist him. I don’t often need much assistance in knowing about obscure guitars, but, boy, is this guitar off the radar and it makes me scream “Mayday!” Despite what I do know.

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

I bought this guitar on eBay in 2000. How could I not? I think the seller was in Houston, and was Asian with not too great English language skills. I asked them what it was and learned it was a Parrot Tirryche made in China. OK. Upon further inquiry I learned that it was also being sold as a Scorpion QueensRyche. Well, a connection with the Scorpions and QueensRyche established an obvious Heavy Metal relationship that made more sense than tropical birds. Indeed, I was told it was made by “Scorpion” in TianJing, China. This is most likely Tianjin, a city immediately to the east of Beijing, essentially a “suburb.”

Now, assuming this is true information, which I have no reason to doubt, it really doesn’t tell us much of anything. Actually, I’ve done some research on the modern Chinese guitar industry and the area east of Beijing is, in fact, one of the regions where guitar-making thrives. (Another is on the mainland across from Hong Kong.) So, assuming this guitar was made in Tianjin, it was made near a modern center of Chinese lutherie. And, in 2000 it was a pretty early example of Chinese product. As we all know, Chinese industrial progress has been extraordinarily swift, and today some decent guitars are being made there.

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

I know that most modern guitars are basically rough-hewn on CNC carving machines. They began to be used in around 1976 pretty much simultaneously by Peavey for its remarkable T-60/T-40 guitars and basses and by FujiGen Gakki in Nagoya, Japan, for Ibanez, Greco and other guitars. And I know CNC machines can do amazing things. But I have no idea what the story is on this Tirryche or whatever it is. I suspect that, coming from back in Ought Zero, it actually may have been carved by hand, not a fancy CNC machine. First of all, the Chinese guitar industry was in its infancy at that time. People were only just beginning to look there for sources. Korea was still the go-to place. With no large-scale production, it’s highly unlikely that “Scorpion” had a CNC machine, or the expertise to program it to make something this complex. Some little old wood-carver supplying someone who assembled the parts and sold them to a trading company is a more likely scenario. If I’m right, this actually becomes a pretty interesting guitar, which it already is intrinsically, if you, like me, like really weird guitars!

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

Indeed, it’s pretty hard to decipher what kind of imagination created this guitar. The Heavy Metallers were partial to odd-shaped guitars, but this? Kiss and the Axe guitar I get. This is like a caricature of a Heavy Metal guitar. Or maybe it’s a guitar modelled after a Chinese orthographical character that represents mental illness. Or the sign of the Year of the Boar. Or some dead Emperor.

You can actually play this guitar, though I’m not sure why you would. I mean, the embarrassment factor alone would argue against breaking this out on stage. Then again, no one else would have one… This is well enough made that you can set it up adequately. Think Korean-made Hondo and you have the guitar space it occupies.

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

2000 Parrot Tirryche Electric Guitar

Needless to say, neither Parrot Tirryches nor Scorpion QueensRyches hit a home-run. This is the only one I’ve ever seen. Even on eBay at the time (or since, not that I’ve been looking)! This likely was a trial balloon, limited-run guitar designed to test a market that didn’t and doesn’t exist. It can’t hold a candle to a Peavey T-60. Or to most modern Chinese-made guitars. But, if I’m right in my assumptions and conclusions, this is a rare example of product from the early Chinese guitar-making industry, possibly largely hand-made, and, if you’re jealous, go ahead and find another one!

Let me know if you’ve seen anything similar. Like I said, this Parrot Tirryche is one of the rare incidences when I have to cry “Mayday!” I need a storm window.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

The Other Dust Bowl Ballads (Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar)

I love playing the “what if?” game. You know, like “What if farmers had rotated crops instead of planting the same darned thing every year back in the 1930s?” Crop patterns and guitars? Yeah, because it was the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, caused in part by poor farming practices meeting drought, that sent legions of Okies and Texans west into California. That led to a rage for Western Swing and then the Bakersfield Sound. And without the products of that cultural collision we might not have had Fenders or… wait for it… Carvins.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin guitars, made in Covina, California, are one of the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the American guitar world. They’ve been around as long as Fender. They’re actually still in the family (as I write this, at least!), not passing through various corporate hands or part of a conglomerate family of brands. The company has contributed numerous innovations. These days the guitars reflect a high standard of quality. Yet for some reason Carvin doesn’t spring to most folk’s lips when you bring up the subject of venerable guitar brands.

I confess I was not really much aware of Carvin guitars until I started collecting back in the ‘80s. I probably saw some of their ads in Guitar Player Magazine, but since I wasn’t in the market for an electric guitar, I didn’t pay attention. Plus, I was living in the Great Lakes area and Carvin was out in California. You didn’t see too many Carvins.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

My first Carvin was a classy 1982 DC-200KI with a body make of figured koa and a heel-less glued-in neck. Very sweet. After that I always kept my eyes peeled for interesting Carvins, and there are plenty.

I found this Carvin SGB-3 languishing in a music shop in Toledo, Ohio, before I knew much about the brand. Turns out this was one of Carvin’s first solidbody guitars, originally introduced in 1955 and offered until 1961.

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin—the name is a combination of the founder’s sons’ names Carson and Gavin—was started in 1946 when a Hawaiian guitar player from Kansas named Lowell Kiesel moved to L.A. Kiesel began developing an idea for a Bakelite lap steel and introduced the Kiesel lap steel in 1947. These were distributed by Continental, at least. I actually found one of those laps a few years ago. No one knew what it was! (Knowledge is power.) I spoke with one of the younger sons Mark years ago and he recalled assembling those laps in their kitchen. These did well and the Hawaiian line was expanded and they began making Kiesel amps.

The Carvin name appeared in around late 1949 or so. Carvin’s first Spanish electrics were hollowbodies sourced from both Kay and Harmony, with a Carvin pickup mounted on them in California. Until Carvin opened a couple retail outlets in the 1990s, Carvin guitars were always mail-order. Because they used that method of marketing, your guitar was basically custom-made when you placed an order. No dealers to supply, etc. As a result, Carvins have always offered lots of options, so you’re likely to find a lot of variation between examples of the same “model.”

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

As I said, the SBG solidbodies (Solid Body Guitar, SBG) debuted in 1955 with the design you see here, a big slab maple body and a sort of Stratish neck. I love the look, but there’s no way that point on the top side is comfortable to play! The pickups on this guitar are probably not original, although with Carvin’s “customizable” approach, who knows? I don’t know who made them. They look like DeArmonds and have the date Sept. 16, 1957, which DeArmond often did on older pickups. And they sound like DeArmonds, not my favorite units. Anyhow, they’re not stock Carvin pickups but they were probably mounted close to when this guitar was made. This one came with the all-important original hard case AND a Carvin brochure! These don’t have serial numbers yet, so your guess is as good as mine, but they were only made for 6 years. Pretty cool—if basic—guitars!

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1961 Carvin SGB-3 Electric Guitar

Carvin got a little more hip with a quasi-Jazzmaster style following these first SBGs, but switched to importing parts, briefly bodies made in Japan, then for much of the 1970s made its own Strat-style bodies but outfitted them with Höfner necks from Germany. In 1978 Carvin started making all of its own guitars again, including use of glued-in necks like my DC-200KI.

Fortunately the Plains-states migration into California didn’t yield The Grapes of Wrath for guitars. I’d say both Fender and Carvin are success stories. Carvin just needs a little more respect.

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!