Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Eko Guitars

The Eko Company was founded in Italy by Oliviero Pigini in 1959 and was the largest musical instrument company in Europe during the years of 1964 through the 1970’s. Eko was also a significant exporter of guitars basses, organs and accordions to the United States thanks to the company’s ties with the Lo Duca Brothers of Wisconsin and the Vox Corporation.

The Lo Duca Brothers, Tom and Guy started their business in the early 1940’s selling accordions, providing accordion lessons, accordion repair, and sheet music and instruction books. They began importing Italian made accordions during this same period.

If you are old enough to remember there was a period that occurred in the late 1940’s through the 1950’s where the accordion gained some popularity and salesmen went door to door signing up children for lessons and encouraging the purchase of a child-sized beginner instrument.

The accordion was especially popular in mid-western and north-western cities with ethnic populations such as Swedes, Norwegian, German, Dutch, Slovakian, Polish and others that enjoyed Polka music. Many Italian instruments had faux pearl and sparkly celluloid finishes. The also were equipped with rocker switches that controlled the different reeds to provide diverse sounds.

The British Invasion hit around the United States in 1964 and everyone wanted to learn to play guitar. Most of the domestically manufactured instruments were expensive, so to fill the glut some manufacturers and entrepreneurs turned to importing Asian and European manufactured instruments.

The Lo Duca Brothers began importing guitars from Eko.

In 1959 Oliviero Pigini was already in the accordion manufacturing business.

Swedish accordion manufacturer/competitor Hagström was reconverting its factory to build guitars. Mr. Pigini decides this is the way to go. Neither he nor his workers had any experience in guitar building, so Pigini sets out to gather information on the process. He speaks with Italian builders, the Paladino Brothers for advice and sets up a sales contract with them. He also contacts German guitar builder Wenzel Rossmeissl who is building excellent electric jazz style guitars and selling them under the brand name Roger, which is his son’s name.

The company starts by building flat top and arch top acoustic instruments.
Models 100 and 200 are in direct competition to the Framus Sorella and countless other German arch tops.

The Eko 300 is offered as an alternative to the Höfner Club or Framus Hollywood, Europe’s best selling electrics of the late 50’s. Wenzel Rossmeissl, who is by then reducing his own production and increasingly concentrates on Eko ’s distribution in Germany, was certainly influential in that choice.

The solid bodied 400 (often called ‘Ekomaster’) is a master stroke. As far as electrical construction and finishing techniques are concerned it takes an obvious inspiration from the already established Hagström Deluxe and Standard series, but instead of aping a LesPaulish Höfner Club the shape leans towards Fender’s top-of-the-line, the recently introduced Jazzmaster.

The whole production is build with glued-in necks. Pickups (optional on the 100 and 200 series) have a sparkle or perloid plastic topping, soon to be substituted with visible polepieces.

There is still some trial-and-error in the designs but the guidelines are clearly defined: Eko’s philosophy is to offer a complete range of guitars, made with standardized solutions and industrial procedures that warrant consistent quality. The company targets the most buoyant market segment, i.e. affordable instruments that can also be used at a semi-pro level if the dreams of thousands of beginners come true. Eko sells the tools for the dream

During the early guitar days, Piginis are based on German designed guitars. The first solid body guitar to come out of his factory was known as the Ekomaster.

The electrical design was much like that of a Hagström, but the shape was reminiscent of a Fender Jazzmaster. The accordion influence is very prevalent in the design as some of the new models have a sparkle or perloid plastic topping. The pickups on the earlier instrument feature this encasement as well. Later instruments were designed with visible polepieces. The guitars featured set in necks.

Eko Acoustics
The acoustic instruments and guitars with visible wood utilize thick laminated wood with heavy glossy finishes. The plastic coated instruments are covered with a virtually indestructible material that is resistant to cracking if the guitar is dropped. The switches on many of the instruments were either rocker or pushbutton style.

They created a bass guitar that was similar in appearance to the famous Höfner 5001 violin style bass. The price was far less than the Höfner and during those days the Eko bass was a somewhat popular alternative.

In the mid 1960’s, due to the influence of the Beatles use of Vox amplifiers, their manufacturer Rose Morris set out to create guitars. These were first produced in the U.K. however as demand grew, this time due to the Rolling Stones use of Vox instruments,

Rose Morris contracted with Eko to produce instruments under the Vox logo. The Vox instruments featured unusual shapes, but most had more conventional potentiometer knobs and toggle switches. They all featured single coil pickups that were similar to Fender pickups.

Although we are dedicated to guitars, it needs to be mentioned that Eko produced its own line of combo organs during this same period.

Rose Morris also contracted them to produce the famous Vox Continental organ. This was the most popular organ for 1960’s bands and featured a bright red or orange top, reversed key colors and an unusual stand.

Eko also created its own line of guitar and bass amplifiers.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)



Anonymous said...

Hi, you should join us on FaceBook, where we have a wonderful Eko Vintage page, with currently over 500 members. This is a very nice page you have here, and perhaps we can add to each other's knowledge!

BluesDog, admin on Eko Vintage, FB

Anonymous said...

Eko acoustic (Ranger, etc.) and electric (including Vox Phantom & teardrop designs) guitars are still available as new instruments built from original 1960s parts from a family run company in Wembley, London, UK. They are called Brandoni Guitars. I am not connected to them but have dealt with them and can highly recommend.


I'd love to have one of those!

Doc Feelgoode said...

Finally getting rid of my 66 modello 290 XII (pre-barracuda), made in Italy. Had it for nearly 50 years. Actually I got it around time of posting, 50 years ago today.

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