It’s always dangerous to deal in stereotypes. Nevertheless, there’s often a grain of truth lurking behind them. Take guitars (what else?) from the ‘60s. Often it only takes a glance to sus where a guitar came from. Look at a Japanese electric guitar and you won’t mistake it for anything else. Or move to Europe. You’d almost never confuse a German guitar—full of engineering bells and whistles—for an Italian one (loaded with style), or vice versa. Take this c. 1965 Juliett Delux guitar.
If you’re old enough and like whacky guitars, like me, you probably remember the great Guitar Player “Off the Wall” columns by Teisco Del Rey, the nom de plume of journalist Dan Forte. His was the first, and sometimes the only, story I’d read for a long time. Dan was perhaps the first to celebrate guitars whose names didn’t begin with M, G, or F. Dan usually worked the humor angle, but for those of us with an aesthetic eye, the guitars he featured became Holy Grails. One of the holiest of those was the 1968 Teisco May Queen guitar, a rare red version of which you see here!
Case in point? This 1967 Fender Wildwood acoustic guitar. In the mid 60’s, with Roger Rossmeisl (who had earlier done some great designs for Rickenbacker) at the head of design, Fender tried to break in to Gibson and Martin territory with their Coronado models (aims at Gibson’s 335 and other hollow and semi hollow guitars) and their acoustic line (aimed at both industry standards in those fields: Gibson and Martin). The models included The Kingman, the Concert, the Malibu, Newporter, Palimino, Redondo, Shenandoah and the 12 string Villager. The Wildwood VI was essentially a top of the line Kingman with the Wildwood added.
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.
Now, here’s a piece of guitar history that proves there’s more than meets the eye, a circa 1967 Cameo 1402T! It wasn’t that long ago that violins were considered the superior cousin to its distant relative, the guitar. You know: violins equal classical music equals high class. Guitars equal popular music equals you dancing fool you!
By the later ‘60s—especially with the advent of transistor circuits—musical instrument designers began to come up with electronic methods for creating distortion and other special effects suitable for the psychedelic frame of mind of the guitar’s audience! Sometimes this was an external device, sometimes it was built into the amplifier, and sometimes, like on this 1967 Hofner 459TZ, it was put right into the guitar itself!
Judging by many of my last few years guitar purchases (on Ebay and elsewhere), I’m the kind of a person who seems to think he’s the kind of a person who likes guitars with a lot of knobs and switches. I’ve bought several multi-pickup guitars. Old ones, new ones, new ones made to look like old ones (not those stupid “relic-ed” ones, though…I’m an idiot, but I’m not stupid). Yet, as I look at the keepers in my collection, I’ve only kept one guitar with more than four knobs, and none with more than two pickups. Odd.
Anyhow, as wars recede their meanings change with each succeeding generation. Ask a young person today about the Viet Nam War and you might be lucky if he’d ever heard of it. For some older folks among us it seems to have happened only yesterday, transforming their lives so much that they live with it every day. For others of us, it has just become a murky bad dream that we’re only reminded of when a guitar like this ca. 1965 “Pinoy Jazzmaster” forgery comes around!
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.
Avanti guitars were probably made by the Polverini Brothers of Castelfidardo for European Crafts of Los Angeles beginning in late 1964. For this one, they chose a really cool rootbeer-barrel colored faux-rosewood plastic covering. Most early Italian guitars had either pushbutton or rocker controls adapted from accordions, but this is unusual with a fourway rotary select that let you choose each pickup individually or all at once. All in all a sensible arrangement. Whether the pickups are really humbuckers or single-coil is unknown, but they have that bright ’60s sound, and, anyhow, you really want an Avanti because it looks like rootbeer candy.
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