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!
Thus I was tickled pink when I landed my very own May Queen. And a red one at that! Almost all that are seen are men in black. So, is this worthy of being a Holy Grail? As usual, the answer is a mixed bag.
Let’s take the plus side first.
Coolness factor. Only the worst kind of snob would deny this maximum cool. A hollowbody guitar shaped like an artist’s palette with a catseye soundhole? No way that isn’t cool!
Now, there are some guitars that were once ultimate cool, like when the Flying V and Explorer debuted back in 1957. Radical! But, there have been so many knock-offs in the years since, their coolness factor diminishes accordingly.
Then there are guitars like the 1960 Kay Solo King, sometimes called the “Map of Ohio” guitar. Elsewhere I’ve dubbed this the ugliest guitar in the world. And it is butt-ugly. While it has some design consistency, there’s just no way this guitar will ever be cool. Except to me, of course, sick-o that I am! But that’s another issue!
Rarity. As far as I know, the May Queen was made for domestic consumption—or at least regional consumption—only. I don’t think it was ever exported here. Then again, it does have an English engraving on the pickguard. Still, I’ve never seen a catalog, ad, or other evidence of it’s being sold in the US. These just do not come around very often. We have no idea how many were made, but ‘60s Japanese guitars are fewer than most people suspect. And, as mentioned, a red finish is really special. This rarity has to contribute to Holy Grailness.
The Teisco May Queen appeared at a significant time in Japanese guitarmaking. Teisco, which had formed following World War II as a Hawaiian guitar and amp company, had considerable success with exporting into the 1960s. They were probably the most successful brand during that decade. In January of 1967 they were acquired by Kawai, the piano company turned guitarmaker. Kawai seems to have kept the Teisco and its own lines separate throughout this period.
In any case, in 1968 the Japanese companies were feeling their oats and began to come up with original guitar designs. A whole spate of Japanese-style guitars appeared, reflecting creative thinking, not just copies of other people. This was, perhaps, the first golden age of Japanese guitars. All contributing to coolness.
Now the other side. Teisco just never did do hollowbodies too well. Some of their solidbodies are spectacular. They have great features and, with a little attention to set-up, can far surpass guitars in the same class, including those made in the US and Europe. And sound remarkably good. The pickups on this May Queen are nice, beefy single-coils, but the whole package just comes off as sort of, well, limp. Good if you’re back is bad, but lacking “heft.” It plays fine. These simple rip-offs of Bigsby vibratos are really pretty good. Maybe if the cats eye was really bound, but it’s just paint. There’s a lot of visual slight of hand here. Put it all together and, well, given a lot of choices of what guitar to pick up and play, this keeps sliding down the list. There’s no problem setting it up to play. It’s NOT bad. It’s just that I’d choose my vinyl-covered Teisco with the platform vibrato first… Or, to be honest, my Levinson Blade… Unless you’re really looking for the right image.
So, is this a Holy Grail? This begs the question, “What you mean pardner?” There are so many ways to define desire. Combine rarity and art, and this is way desirable. Consider a player’s criteria, and it become less so. Depending on how many guitars you want to own. Quantity was never an issue for me! At least I was able to check this off my “Off the Wall” check list!
16 thoughts on “Artist’s Pallette (1968 Teisco May Queen Electric Guitar)”
Oh MAN, the Teisco May Queen is definitely on my list! Ever since I saw one on the sleeve of NYC band the Headless Horsemen (and didn’t know if it was a Vox I didn’t know or what…), I’ve been hoping to find one. No luck so far. I have even seen a cheap clone of a May Queen, possibly even more rare, but that wasn’t for sale either… Anyway, this red one is brilliant!
I bought a Mae Queen on ebay and sold it on ebay…a visual treat and a great wall hanger, as a player it was not much of anything to talk about…If you want to stare at it, buy one…player buy something else…
Back in the day I had a black and white May Queen, which I smashed to bits for a teenage photo op. What an idiot. I still have the photo, but I wish I had the guitar!
I love my May Queen. I replaced the pickups with D’Armond Dynasonics, had the frets, set up, and bridge worked on, & it sings. A bit on the flimsy side, but it is almost totally hollow.
Sounds more like a Gretsch or a Ricky through my Vox, compresses, sustains, and jangles quite nicely.
I recently scored a Teisco May Queen off Craigslist. You have no idea how shocked/psyched/amazed I was when i saw the ad running. In fact the ad was running for almost a week publicly before I emailed the dude at a frantic pace. He responded and said he didnt want to list it on ebay because he didnt feel like shipping it. No worries here 🙂 Of course he was several hours away located deep in Cleveland while I was in the harbor side of Baltimore. Whatever – I made the trip in several hours the following day. The guy said he had a few offers low balling his price and of course asking him to send it a few states over in every direction. This was something he just wasnt going to do fearing it might get damaged en route. He really liked the old guitar, said he’s owned the May Queen for almost 25 years but had to part with it due to financial issues. She was a little beat up. The black paint was losing a little of its glossy look in some spots and it was in desperate need of new strings and a set up, but everything was there. Original pickguard (no cracks or chips), volume & tone knob, vibrato, pick ups, tuners, headstock logo. He even threw in an oversized hardshell Gibson guitar case. You can tell he didnt want to let her go, but he knew that his ’68 Teisco May Queen was going to someone who was going to care for it and really enjoy it. Christ, I did drive over seven hours one way to pick it up and still had to get home later that afternoon. Ive given the May Queen a full once over – cleaned the pots, changed the strings, intonation attack, waxed and buffed it back to as much life as possibly left on the original factory black paint. The vibrato surprisingly stays in tune if youre not going crazy on it. lol I love this guitar – if you get the chance to pick one up – it’s definitely one to check off from the list – for the cool factor and a one of a kind guitar that does sound great – even with the stocks.
So what Teisco’s are good to play? I see alot of the Tulip guitars around and I love the look but how do they sound and play? Love the article!
In all the articles I’ve seen regarding the May Queen, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody mention the inspiration behind the shape–it’s a scaled-up copy of the Vox Mando-Guitar (which was actually a half-size 12-string). It’s possible that the designer had never seen a Mando-Guitar outside of the picture in the Vox catalog and didn’t realize that it wasn’t full-size. The Japanese were copying other Vox designs at that time–teardrops, Phantoms, etc. so why not the Mando-Guitar? I wonder if they ever made a Mando-Bass-Guitar?
We still refer to anything cheap and/or bizarre as “a Tesico Del Rey Special” in my house.
Mark White Of ABC(80’s new wave band) got one in Mexico in 81 & used it in the Video for”That was then,But this is now) & that was the first time I saw one & was blown away with its beauty.
To whom it may concern,
I’ve owned a Kimberley MayQueen for nearly forty years. I bought it as a young teenager and it has spent almost all it’s life inside a case in my closet. I took it to a luthier a while back to check it out and he called saying it was a rare guitar as it was a 1968 kaiwa model. (spelling) It does not say Teisco on it like all the ones I see online
rather Kimberley MayQueen, pickguard and head stock. It is black and is 100% all original and plays.
So, what do I have here? It is a pretty guitar and I display it but as I get older would like it to go to someone who really would play it.
Interested in any feedback.
They did indeed export these. A friend of mine had a black one. I’m pretty sure it was a Tiesco, but it might have been a Kimberly. It was a long time ago. He also had a Domino Californian.
hola , yo tengo una y esta como nueva ..
TENGO UNA EN BUENAS CONDICIONES..email@example.com
hola , yo tengo una y esta como nueva ..la quiero vender..
Got a kimberly mayqueen. For Sale?
I have a Kimberly may queen for sale.