Guitar history has yielded some very odd marriages, from a business perspective, at least. While these can be found at almost any time, perhaps the glory days of unusual conjunctions was the 1960s, when cascading demand for electric guitars among maturing Baby Boomers caused corporations, both with and without music industry experience, to realize that thar’s gold in them thar hills. Among the odder of these unions was that between Chicago’s Heads & Threads company and Norma, Noble, and even National guitars.
How, you ask, could anything be odder than a beer conglomerate (Norlin) buying Gibson? (I guess, the more you think of suds and guitars, it’s not so hard to understand!) Well, that’s because Heads & Threads wasn’t about skin tensioners on percussion instruments or banjos. Heads & Threads was originally a pioneer in the importation of nuts and bolts made in Japan founded by Norman Sackheim. Please note his first name, the source of the “Norma” brand name. Like others before him (Jack Westheimer and sporting goods), it wasn’t such a giant step from hardware to guitars, given the times.
Sackheim set up a subsidiary called, following a theme here, Strum & Drum in 1964 to import guitars and drums and related instruments. Like everyone else, Strum & Drum purchased instruments most likely from a trading company. They were the power brokers in Japan and every trading company had a stable of related manufacturers to draw upon, based on what the customer wanted. It’s darned near impossible to identify the makers of Japanese guitars with any precision. Sometimes outstanding workmanship—as in the cases of Matsumoku or FujiGen—are pretty compelling evidence, but there were so many specialty providers (eg, hardware, pickups, etc.), it’s hard to identify conclusive features. This is further complicated by the fact that imitation of successful ideas between companies was an accepted part of the culture, so just because something looked good on one brand’s product doesn’t mean it wouldn’t show up on another’s. Welcome to reality!
That said, the majority of Strum & Drum’s electric guitars seem to have been sourced from the Tombo factory. A few have features that suggest Teisco, with the caveat above. There’s no way to know where the acoustics came from. The older I get, the less important that seems to get, but I also know we collectors have issues…
Norma was Strum & Drum’s major brand. Many were pretty pedestrian solidbody and hollowbody electrics that are interesting as period artifacts, and little else. Of special interest were their sparkle-finished guitars, which are about as cool as it gets with ‘60s Japanese guitars.
In 1966, Norm Sackheim’s son Ron bought the rights to Don Noble’s instrument line. Noble was a prominent Chicago-area accordionist who sold imported accordions and guitars. Some Noble guitars made by Wandré Pioli in Italy appeared, but in ’67 the line was cancelled and the Noble name was added to the Strum & Drum stable.
While all this was transpiring, the Ventures were becoming guitar gods in Japan, and Japanese makers began to build Mosrite “copies.” Long story short, the Noble brand re-appeared on some Mosrite copies sold by Strum & Drum, including this 1968 copy of a Mosrite Combo hollowbody, The Noble Model No. EG 686-2HT.
I’m no Mosrite expert but I own a Combo and this copy isn’t too far off in terms of quality. Mosrites weren’t that great. And, it’s pretty historically interesting. Note the nifty “N” fingerboard inlays and real German-carve top. This guitar was the only Noble model, the only Strum & Drum Mosrite copy, and was only available until late 1969, maybe into 1970. Ironically, The Noble Mosrite Combo copy is probably as rare if not rarer than a genuine Mosrite. Such a world; go figure.
In 1969 Strum & Drum bought the rights to the National brand name—notice the N theme—and brought out the National Big Daddy, one of the earliest bolt-neck Gibson Les Paul Custom copies, in 1970, but that’s another story. Strum & Drum stumbled on into 1975 when it was sold to C. Bruno, who promptly deep-6ed the whole shebang. Seeing promise in the nuts and bolts market, the Sackheims returned to importing those essentials, which they were still doing the last time I spoke to them quite a few years ago. So, that’s what nuts and bolts—or Heads & Threads—have to do with our favorite obsession, and some venerable brand names in guitar history.