Fifteen years ago I went to a guitar show in Cincinnati at the local National Guard Armory. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I met a reprentive from Vintage Guitar Magazine and I even got to ask George Gruhn a question about an old guitar. I was wandering around looking at all the great old guitars when some guy thrust a Fender D’Aquisto guitar in my hands and said, “Hey man, you gotta’ try this one out.”
This Fender hollow body jazz guitar was sweet. It looked great and it played great. The asking price was $500, which was a bargain. But then this fellow started to mention rather loudly to people walking by, “Hey this guy is buying the guitar, he's buying it!!” At the time I didn’t have enough to buy that guitar. I think I only had about $100. But I wish I could have bought that guitar.
It was the closest I would ever get to owning a James D'Aquisto guitar.
In 1984 Fender had created some guitars they called Espirts. Notably the Robben Ford models, which were solid body instruments. The others this series were the first two D’Aquisto models.
About ten years later Fender once again to Jimmy D'Aquisto's design and created a couple updated models including the D'Aquisto Elite and the D’Aquisto Ultra which was top of the line.
Of course all were designed by Jimmy D’Aquisto from Farmingdale, New York. D’Aquisto was THE luthier in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Although he was not able to secure the trademark, Successor to D’Angelico, he was the actual successor to D’Angelico since he worked for John D’Angelico for years and learned his skill from the master.
Besides making some of the most beautiful and interesting guitars and stringed instrument Jimmy D’Aquisto had created a guitar in 1975 for Hagstrom that was a beauty. Following the Hagstrom collaboration, Fender hired him to design some of the nicest archtops that the company ever produced.
In 1984 that Jimmy D’Aquisto began working with Fender on the D’Aquisto Elite. This guitar was similar to the Hagström Jimmy except for the headstock.
The Fender instrument bore a traditional 3 on a side headstock, while the 3 on a side headstock on the Hagström instrument was somewhat radical.
The Elite had one humbucking pickup located near the bottom of the neck with top mounted volume and tone controls. The control knobs were made out of ebony as was the pickguard. The bound neck had white block inlays.
The pickguard was narrow. This was a signature of many of D’Aquisto’s creations.
The Standard model was not nearly as fancy. The neck had circular dot position markers. The guitar came with top mounted humbucking pickups with volume and tone controls for each. Once again the knobs were made of wood. The control switch was on the top lower bout. The maple body on both models was laminated maple and the tops were spruce. The pickguard was bound and narrow. Both the Elite and Standard were manufactured in Japan
In 1994 the Fender Custom Shop took over construction of the D’Aquisto models. There were two models which featured hand-carved spruce tops.
The D’Aquisto Ultra featured a single floating humbucker that was attached to the pickguard. The volume and tone controls were mounted on the pickguard. Body size at lower bout: 16". The scale length: 24 3/4". The width at the nut was 1 11/16". The top of the Ultra featured bookmatched spruce. The sides and back were flamed maple. The adjustable three piece neck was maple with an ebony fingerboard adorned with mother of pearl block markers. The body was surrounded with triple binding as was the headstock, fingerboard and f-holes.
The headstock had a fancy inlaid design of mother of pearl marquetry. The gold plated hardware included a Schaller humbucking pickup on the Ultra. The tuning keys were gold plated. The tailpiece was contoured and made of ebony. The compensated bridge and a single volume control were all ebony as well. D’Aquisto’s signature was inlaid in mother of pearl. The pickguard is also made of ebony. This model could be ordered without a pickup.
The most popular model is the single pickup Elite. This guitar seems to be the hardest to find due to the limited quantities in which it was produced. The body is 2 ¾” deep.
The Elite’s dimensions are very similar to Gibson’s ES-175. The construction on the Elite includes a laminated body which helps to reduce feedback in a hollowbody guitar and reduce wear. The D’Aquisto Deluxe had a single neck pickup with top mounted volume and tone controls, once again with ebony knobs and pickguard.
The D’Aquisto Fender guitars are very collectible, especially the Elite and the Ultra and fetch high prices. In researching this guitar I noted that Christies sold an Elite for $23,500. However this instrument was a part of Eric Clapton’s collection. They are still far less expensive than a handmade D’Aquisto.
Most of the company’s amplifiers were solid state although they produced a few tube models. Perhaps the best remembered model was the Acoustic 360, which was actually a preamp for bass guitar designed to be combined with the Acoustic 361 W-bins which contained a rear facing 18” Cerwin Vega speaker and a folded horn (similar to the old Voice of the Theater speaker cabs.) and a 200 watt power amplifier.
The normal configuration was two of these monster amp/cabs with the preamp which was enough to power a coliseum. This was a huge amplifier that produced nearly 400 watts RMS.
Some of the company’s other versions would include the Acoustic 260 head and 261 powered cabinet and the model 270 amplifier, the Acoustic model 134 and the model 371 (which was a combination of the model 370 amplifier and 301 bass cabinet).
The company went out of business in the 1980’s and the trade name was sold to True Tone Audio. Steve Marks founded SWR amplification and sold it to the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation. Fender then sold SWR to Raven amplifiers in the late 1990’s.
Acoustics’ design did not contain any IC chips, but used only transistors, much like Kustom amplifiers. Acoustic was able to produce a huge and loud bass amp with nearly no distortion at extremely high volume.
Acoustic made a come back in 2007 and in 2011 launched a revamped version of it's 360/361 amplifier. The 360 is the pre-amp unit and the 361 is a 400 watt powered speaker cab. It features an 18" bass driver and a HF speaker done up as a horn driver with a 2" coil.
Get a roadie, because this beast weighs about 150 pounds.
During the 1970's the Church I attended brought in a Gospel singer to perform. Her name was Lily Knauls. Ms. Knauls was one of the Edwin Hawkin's group that had a hit record at the time.
Lily brought with her a pianist and bass player. I was enlisted as the chauffer and got to drive Ms. Lily around all day. This meant I got to attend her rehearsal. The bass player had this unusual instrument which had a black, glossy finish and no frets. This was the first time I'd seen a fretless bass. I looked at the headstock and it said Acoustic. Being curious I discovered that
Acoustic Amplifiers aka the ACC produced the bass and a guitar.
In looking back on the company's history the bass and guitar production only lasted a few years, from 1972 through 1975. Both instruments were built in Japan and based on designs by Paul Barth.
Barth was the son of one of the National Guitar Company foremen. He was born in 1908 and by 1931 was elected to the board of directors of National Guitars and was with Ro-Pat-In string instruments, which became Electro String Instruments. He stayed on with the company until 1957. In later life he opened a small store and made guitar pickups. He made guitars and basses for other companies but under the name Bartell. Some of the electric guitars that Paul Barth made under the name Bartell look surprisingly like the Black Widows.
Semie Mosley claims that he built several hundred of the guitars for the company’s final run.
Both the Black Widow guitar and bass had a familiar body style similar to the Les Paul Junior only larger. The double cutaway horns had more of a flared shape. The bodies were made of maple and had a high gloss black lacquered finish.
Both guitar and bass had a German carve around the edges (as did Moseley’s guitars). The two octave necks were bolt-on, the headstocks were triple bound. The necks had a zero fret (as did Mosrite) and miniature dot fret markers. The strings went over a tune-able bridge and were held in place by a tailpiece that was set rather far back and was designed to increase sustain.
The fingerboard was made of rosewood. The scale length from the nut to the bridge was an incredible 27”.Although not uncommon for classical guitars, this was much longer than Gibson’s 24 ¾” or Fender’s 25 1/2” scale. Oddly enough, the Black Widow bass was short scale of 31” with 20 frets”
The guitar had 2 single coil pickups with chrome sides and 6 poles hooked up to a 3 way selector switch with twin volume and tone controls.
The bass came with one humbucking pickup that had 8 pole pieces and was mounted in the center of the body. The jack was mounted on the top of the body. The bass came in a fretted or non-fretted version (that had lines for position markers). The pickups output was higher than most produced during this era.
Originally the guitar and bass were equipped with Grover tuners, however by the end of the run the bass tuners were changed to Schallers. One of the most interesting features was the red pad on the back of each instrument.
This snapped on to the body just like some Gretsch guitars. On the pad was the design of a black widow spider.
The guitars were awesome instruments. The guitars (and basses) were based on a design by Paul Barth. The guitars were ahead of their time. Though the pickups were single coil and looked like DeArmonds, Barth designed them. They sound stunning. The guitar with its black, shiny finish is visually awesome.
The guitars manufactured by Bartell feature 3 bolts securing the neck to the body. The Black Widows made by Moseley have a sort of a wavy chrome neck plate with 4 bolts. There were also some that were built in Japan. The Japanese Black Widow have a 4 digit serial number sometimes starting with the letters BA. The Moseley Black Widows start with BC for the guitars and BD for the bass guitars.
The guitars were ahead of their time and somewhat reminiscent of Schecter guitars produced today.
By 1975 the company went back to what it did best...produce amplifiers.
In 1966 Fender developed a guitar to compete with Gibson’s ES-330. This was an era when double cutaway guitars were popular since they were being played by many British groups.
Gibson had several models, from the ES-125T to the ES-355. So did the Epiphone with the Casino, Sheraton and others, which by now were being manufactured by Gibson. The Beatles were seen with a pair of Epi Casinos. Guild, Gretsch and even Hagstrom had come out with hollow body, double cutaway instruments.
Fender once again went to guitar designer/luthier Roger Rossmeisl to come up with a hollow body, thin, double cutaway instrument and Roger came up with the Fender Coronado.
Just like the ES-330 the Coronado did not have center block. It was a true hollowbody instrument. Even the horns were hollow.
The Coronado actually looked more like Hagstrom’s Viking guitar than the rounded horn Gibson ES design. The upper cutaway bouts were sharper and the lower body appeared to be wider.
Fender offered four versions of the Coronado within their catalogue. The Coronado I featured a single pickup below the neck.
The Coronado II had a neck and bridge pickup. The Coronado XII was a double pickup twelve string version. Plus two Coronado basses were offered.
The top, back and sides of the Coronado body featured laminated beechwood. The tops were arched. The Coronado I was a rather plain instrument.
The body was bound, but the “f” holes and the neck's fingerboard were not bound. The rosewood fingerboard featured white circular dot markers. The body came in a variety of colors, however the headstock on the Coronado I was always black with a gold Fender decal.
The Coronado I bridge was a very plain, non-adjustable, non-anchored, rosewood arch top guitar bridge. The trapeze tailpiece was also very plain. All the Coronados featured a glossy nitrocellulose lacquer. Incidently, the nitrocellulose lacquer process is what Fender uses on it's new line of Thin Skin models and custom shop guitars.
The Coronado II was a much fancier instrument. Its two “f” holes were bound with white plastic as was the rosewood fingerboard. The fingerboard also featured white block position markers. The body was bound with a sort of semi-herringbone trim. The color of the headstock was either black or matched the color of the body. Once again the decal was the gold Fender logo. This guitar featured an archtop guitar bridge with a chrome adjustable poles for each string. The bridge was not anchored to the body. The tailpiece was deluxe and embossed with a gold “F”.
It could also be ordered with a rather unique vibrato unit. The arm on this vibrato was the same long one used on Jazzmasters and Jaguars.
The Coronado XII featured the same appointments as the Coronado II except for the headstock. The headstock on these guitars was the same one used on the Fender XII guitar which came to be known as “the hockey stick” style, however the headstock was painted to match the body color.. The decal on this instrument was located on the downward curve at the top and read Fender Coronado XII, instead of just Fender.
The Coronado II bass also had the same fancy appointments of the Coronado II. The pickups were of course different and the headstock was painted to match the body and featured the 4 on a side style similar to that found on the P or J bass. The decal read Fender Coronado Bass II. The Coronado II bass featured bound “f” holes, deluxe binding on the body, a neck and bridge pickup, a bound rosewood fingerboard with white block position markers. Both basses featured Fender’s bolt-on neck. The bridge on both instruments was sort of a staggered stair step type of bridge for compensation.
As I've mentioned the Coronado basses came in two versions.
Once again the Coronado I bass had one neck pickup, no binding on the “f” holes and white dot position markers on the fingerboard. This bass had an unusual non-adjustable bridge.
As on the Coronado I guitar, the Coronado I bass headstock was always black.
The potentiometer knobs on all the guitars were black plastic with a silver top. The single pickup models featured a volume and tone control. The double pickup models came with two volume controls and two tone controls plus a three-way pickup selector switch which was located out of the way on the bottom horn. The tuning keys generally had chrome buttons and posts. The chrome bass tuning keys were the open Fender oval style. (Although I have seen the bass with the cloverleaf style pegs.)
The fancier models were available in a variety of finishes including “Wildwood”. Wildwood was a process developed by a Danish inventor in which beech trees were injected with dye prior to havesting. This created a unique veneer that contained the dye in the grain.
Fender also offered the Coronado in what they referred to as Antiqua. This was a finish that created a dark gilt effect on the parameter of the guitars body and “f” holes.
Probably the most unusual feature for Fender was the use of DeArmond pickups for the Coronado line. DeArmond pickups made in Toledo Ohio were somewhat popular with jazzers. That is the only reason I can imagine Fender would outsource the manufacturing of pickups.
Unlike the Montego, Fender shipped these guitar complete with cases made by Victoria Luggage, a USA company.
The instruments were expensive to make and were never the hit Fender expected. Jazz players once again did not like the bolt on neck and Rock players did not like the hollow body because of feedback from loud amplifiers.
Gibson kept it’s hold on the hollow and semi-hollow body market.
Fender 2013 Coronado
In 1970 Fender ended construction of the Coronado I and in 1972 Fender stopped manufacturing all Coronados.
I may be wrong, but I recall first seeing the Fender Montego in the 1965 or 1966 Fender Catalogue. The guitar was offered in two versions; The Montego I & II
It was advertised as being "a magnificent duo created for professional guitarists. Appreciated by top pros for warm singing tone." Although I don't know which top pros they were referring to since I do not recall anyone regularly playing this guitar.
This guitar was Fenders top of the line and featured all the bells and whistles. It was essentially hand made or as they would say today, "from the Custom Shop."
Both Montegos had a contoured spruce top and came with either one or two humbucking pickups. I suppose because humbucking was trademarked the catalogue described them as; specially designed pickups with hand-wound hum-canceling coils totally shielded from outside interference.
The inlay was genuine hand-cut Australian mother-of-pearl.
The body was 42 ¾ in length, 17” in width and 5 1/2,” deep with a single Venetian cutaway. Both sides of the body were "contoured", which I assume means arched and carved.
The top was select spruce. The back and sides were made of flamed maple. The guitar came in only one finish which was sunburst. The double "f" holes featured white binding on the Montego II. The Montego I's that I have seen do not have bound "f" holes. The Montego II guitars pickguard was 3 ply black/white/black laminate.
The Montego I featured a faux tortoise shell guard with the volume and tone controls mounted on it. The Grover rotomatics and tailpiece were chromed. The Grover tuners featured white perloid buttons. The guitar came with 2 strap buttons which was unusual for the day. Fender finished it with what they called a "thick-skin high-gloss finish."
Instead of saying the guitar had a bolt-on neck, Fender's copy writers called it, Detachable hard rock maple with fast-action design and a curved ebony fingerboard that featured a completely adjustable truss rod. The neck was bound in white plastic.
The headstock was unusual for Fender since it was a tilt-back head. It also featured an inlaid decorative pattern made of genuine Australian mother of pearl. The nut was hand-cut ivory nut with custom hand-filed string notches. There were 9 rectangular custom made Australian mother of pearl inlaid position markers in a rectangular design. The bridge was hand-made of ebony wood.
The Montego II had one pickup with two hum-canceling coils which was actually a floating pickup attached to the pick guard. The Montego II had two hum-canceling pickups. The pickups featured 6 individually adjustable pole pieces.
The Montego I had one volume and one tone control.
The Montego II had two volume and two tone controls, plus a 3 way selector switch which were all mounted in the body.
The hardshell plush lined case was extra; however each guitar came with a cord, polishing cloth and a black leather guitar strap.
Both Fender Montego were designed by Roger Rossmeisl of Rickenbacker fame. He joined Fender in 1962. Rossmeisl had been trained in his home country of Germany as a luthier. His father Wenzel was a German guitar maker of much renown.
Rossmeisl joined Fender and was given the job of designing a line of acoustic instruments for the company. During the early 1960 the demand for acoustic guitars was as great as the demand during the Brit Invasion. We will talk about Fender acoustics, the Fender Thinline Tele and the Wildwood guitars later. All of these guitars were designed by Rossmeisl.
Rossmeisl was in all probability mostly responsible for the design and creation of the Fender Montego guitars. Although in reading the specs carefully you can determine Mr. Fender also had a hand in the guitars creation.
At this time I cannot find any data on how many Montegos were manufactured or how many were sold. It was listed in the catalogue through 1972 and perhaps beyond.
Possibly due to the bolt-on, excuse me, detachable neck, the guitars popularity was overshadowed by other instruments. And that was too bad, because the Montego was a fine guitar.
I cannot help but wonder if the name, Montego, was trademarked by Fender?
Although the Montego guitar no longer exists, Fender's color chart keeps it alive with their color called Montego Black. This color is sort of a gun-metal black and a shade lighter than the Black on Clapton's well known stratocaster.
As I see it, there seems to be a recurring theme in the guitar manufacturing industry.
A company creates a great signature product and then becomes envious of their competitors product, so they make an attempt to create a guitar similar to their competition's instrument, only to find out sales of the imitation are flat.
1976 Fender Starcaster
The Fender Starcaster was an excellent instrument. This was Fender’s attempt to move forward with a semi-hollowbody guitar, in a market dominated by Gibson.
In the 1960’s through the 1970’s Gibson’s semi-hollowbody guitars, the ES-335 and ES-345 model guitars ruled the roost. There was a period of time the Les Paul lead the pack as the required solid body rock guitar.
However through the 1950’ to the present, Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster are THE solid body guitars.
The Starcaster was designed by Gene Fields, a guitar builder who worked for Fender for 23 years and participated in the design of several of their well known products. It was first offered for sale in 1974
Fields sought to build a high quality semi-hollow body instrument during the CBS era. Gibson had already set the standard with their set neck design and Guild thin line guitars featured a set neck.
However Fender's Starcaster featured a bolt on neck with 3 bolts. This was not a popular feature.
The Starcaster featured a master volume control and a unique string through the body bridge saddle/tailpiece. The guitar had volume and tone controls for each pickup and a toggle switch on the bottom uppper bout.
The Starcaster production lasted from 1976 ending in 1980 (or 1982 depending upon sources.) Unfortunately the Starcaster was commercially unsuccessful. At the time guitarists envisioned Fender guitars as solid body, single coil pickup instruments and Gibson as hollow or semi-hollow instruments with humbucking pickups.
The Starcasters headstock design was quite different from other Fender guitars. It retained the six-on-a-side tuning pegs, but the curve at the headstocks end pointed up instead of being rounded off.
The headstocks bottom curve was painted to match the color of the guitar body.
The body was asymmetrical. The fingerboard featured a maple fretboard. The controls consisted of volume and tone controls for each pickup and a master volume control.
The Starcasters humbucking pickups were designed by Seth Lover and first appeared on Telecaster Customer and Thinline instruments. These pickups were known as Fender Wide Range Pickups. Two of these were mounted on each Starcaster.
The Starcasters body, neck and fretboard were all made of maple. The 25.5" neck scale was typical of most Fender products. The bridge was fixed on the bodies top and the strings went through the body and the ball ends were held by grommets. The color choices for the Starcaster were White, Natural (Blonde), Sunburst, Tobacco, Mocha Brown.
Due to the guitars unpopularity when first sold, Starcasters are not considered to be high value collector instruments. However they were well designed players.
Possibly Fender should have stuck to what they do better than anyone else and stick to making high quality solid body guitars. Who knows?
The Starcaster name was revived recently for Fender's budget quality, Asian manufactured instruments sold at Wal-mart and other big box stores.
In 2013, Fender reissued the Starcaster and the Coronado in both guitar and bass versions. The new models no longer have the string-through-body, but come with a trapeze tailpiece. The master volume control was eliminated on the new models.
These guitars resemble Stratocasters and are distributed by Fender, but do not bear the Fender or Squier logo.