Monday, January 17, 2011

The Goya Rangemaster

I started playing guitar in 1964.  This was during Beatle- mania and the British Invasion.  By 1968, I wanted a brand new guitar.  What I really wanted was a 12-string guitar, but my Dad talked me out of that.  I spent hours shopping for guitars and one of the more unusual instruments I recall during those days was a Goya Rangemaster.

During the early 1900's as a way of distinguishing six string guitars apart from lap steels that may also have six or more strings; six string guitars that utilized wire strings and had rounded necks were referred to as Spanish guitars.  

Never mind that most guitars manufactured in Spain had nylon or guitar strings.  In fact, Gibson’s prefix of ES stands for Electric Spanish. 

In the 1940’s and 1950’s guitar manufacturers that were producing instruments in Europe and Asia wanted to latch on to a Spanish connection.  Therefore, they came up with Spanish sounding names, such as España, Goya, and Greco.

Levin Guitars of Sweden were one of the companies contracted to produce Goya guitars. 

Levin started importing the guitar under the Goya name in 1954. 

Herco Picks aka Hershman

The Hershman Musical Instrument Company of New York City contracted to import guitars bearing the Goya name to the United States. 

Jerry (Jerome) Hershman
Jerome Hershman had seen Levin guitars at a trade show in 1952 and thought this would be a great product.  The H.C. Levin Company was known for its excellent classical guitars.  The company also manufactured quality flattop and archtop guitars as well as mandolins.

The Levin Company and the Hagstrom Musical Instrument Company, both of Sweden produced the original Goya guitars.  Although in the mid 1960’s Goya electric instruments were manufactured in Italy, Japan, and Taiwan.  

Julie Andrews with a Goya Guitar
Hershman sold their interest in Goya to a company called Avenet. Avnet, in turn, sold the Goya brand name to Kustom Electronics of Chanute Kansas.  

By this time most Goya guitars were being manufactured in Japan.  Kustom filed bankruptcy. (see this blog about Kustom) A Chanute Kansas company called Dude Incorporated, bought out Kustoms remaining stock at a bargain. At the same time, Dude Inc. purchased the Levin guitar company's assets.  

Dude Incorporated sold Levin and Goya to Martin guitars in 1974. Martin then utilized the Goya/Levin connection to produce its Sigma line, although Sigma guitars were manufactured in Asia and assembled in the United States.  By this time the Goya brand name had an almost 50 year run.

During 1965 through 1969, Goya had come up with an interesting conception they referred to this guitar as The Rangemaster.  These instruments were mostly of Italian origin.

The Italian made Rangemaster had one or two Florentine style cutaways, twin pickups, an array of push buttons and most came with some sort of vibrato unit. The vibrato, made by the A. Hagstrom Company could be either a simple spring style unit or a modified Bigsby style.  

Some Rangemasters came with a stylish non-vibrato steel tailpiece that bore the Goya logo.  

The hollow body Rangemaster had two F-holes placed very far down in the lower bout.  The scale length was 25.2”.  The nut was 1.6”.  The neck and body were both made of maple. The rosewood fretboard had 22 frets.  The maple three on a side headstock had a black veneer plate with the Goya logo.  The more fancy versions came with an inlay of an Italian musician.  

The bolted-on neck was bound and the body was bound in 5-ply laminated plastic.  The position markers were mother-of-pearl. The neck plates came in a variety of styles, but generally were rectangular.  The finish was either cherry or cherry-burst. 

The pickup configuration was most interesting.  There were actually four pickups on the Rangemaster.  The split-style arrangement was similar to that of a Fender Precision Bass.  Pickup one was for the lowest three strings at the neck.  Pickup two covered the upper three strings.  The bridge pickups were set the same way. 

A black console contained an array of push buttons on the upper bout (right in the way of the palm of your hand) controlled which pickups were on or off. 

Position 1 had all four pickups on. The next position was 1 and 2 (the neck pickups) the next button turned on 1 and 4. The next controlled two and three. After that, the button controlled three and four (the bridge pickup) and the final button turned the pickups off.  A single potentiometer controlled the volume.

A similar console with switches for low/medium/high sounds was housed where one would expect the tone control. A single potentiometer controlled the guitars volume.

The other unique feature of the Rangemaster is the placement of the "F" holes.

The Polverini Brothers in Italy manufactured the hollow body Rangemaster guitars.  The Polverini Brothers were and still are a manufacturer of fine Italian accordions and accordion parts.  

During the days of the British Invasion, the accordion had fallen out of fashion and the electric guitar was king.  Many accordion manufacturers in Italy, German, and Sweden geared up to manufacture guitars, especially electric guitars.  

Sales firms subcontracted most of these instruments and the finished products were given different brand names.  This included the Goya brand.

Accordion manufacturing firms focused on accordion design and this was evident in their guitar design.  Instead of toggle switches, they utilized single or double throw slider switches.  Many times no potentiometer was utilized for tonal changes.  This job was accomplished through a switch that activated a capacitor, which gave either a bright or a deep tone, but nothing in between.  On/off push buttons and rocker, switches were standard on accordions, so they were used on guitars.

There was a demand at the time for 12 string instruments, so Goya also sold a 12-string version of the Rangemaster. 

Goya also produced a solid body version of the Rangemaster with a six on a side-elongated headstock.  It came with similar push button controls and only one potentiometer, which controlled the guitars volume.  Another Italian company called Galanti manufactured this guitar.

Probably the one claim to fame for the Rangemaster was an off stage photograph of Jimi Hendrix playing one.

Somewhere during their run, Goya came out with an updated model.  The push buttons were gone and replaced by two tone pots and two volume pots.  This came with three toggle switches. The one on the lower horn was used to control the neck and bridge pickups. The pickups were still the split style version, so there were actually four single coil pickups.  The two toggles on the upper horn to control which pickups were on or off.

The most interesting thing about this guitar was the finish.  The entire body was covered in a psychedelic style fabric that was glued on and covered with a rich clear-coat finish.  The guitar appeared to be painted in a flower design.  Goya came out with three different versions of the finish in paisley or flower designs, which used the same guitar body.  

It is unclear whether the Polverini Brothers or another firm manufactured these versions.

As you can hear in the clip below, the Rangemaster does not sound as solid as a Gibson ES-335 or 330, but the Psychedelic version would make for a very visual stage presence.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


Anonymous said...

I have one and it has been my warhorse for 20 years. I was wondering if you might know through your research of specific guitar tachs or repairmen that specialize in working on and restoring old Rangemasters. said...

I don't know of anyone that specifically works on Rangemasters. I would think any competent guitar tech that works on electric guitars would be able to take care of your guitar.

Anonymous said...

I owned and played one for much of the 70ies and 80ies. Got short on cash and sold it to a studio musician in Berlin, Germany.

I loved this guitar. It had its very own tonal characteristics and its own will. In combination with an overdriven tube amp, you really could let the djinn out of the bottle. It was a joy to play the overtone feedback notes. At the same time, using the vibrator made this guitar go wild. I loved it.

CJ Lauziere said...

I still have one. Got it from a buddy for $40 CDN; which his girlfriend suggested, otherwise she was gonna throw it out.

There was a big crack on the back of the head-stock, but I took it home and applied a little wood glue and clamped it for a couple of days. Solid and straight as an arrow now, and the neck has never twisted or warped one bit.

Great guitar, with very interesting sounds from the combination of pickup arrangements, and wicked soft action. Feels like a buttery Jazz guitar.

Every time I place it into the hands of a guitarist...the first thing out of their mouth is "How much do you want for it?"

To which I reply..."Sorry. It's not for sale!"

-CJ Lauziere (Ottawa, Canada)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an excellent report!
My Goya Rangemaster (Cherry Red), bought new in 1967, still working and sound great.
- Kjell (Houston, TX USA)

jim said...

idgxil43fookforBought my Rangemaster cherry red 107 back in June 1967 for $299 new. Still have it in mint cond. and it sounds great and always had great action. Bought a 12 string variety a few years back and it is very difficult to stay in tune. But my 6 string 107 is still my favorite guitar.

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Unknown said...

I am interested in buying one of these. If anyone is interested in selling it, please contact me.

Lloyd said...

Some of the chronology in this article is a little backwards. All Goya guitars were made in Sweden by Levin from 1954 until about 1974. The only exceptions were the electric guitars, which were mostly made in Italy, a few models built by Hagstrom. Goya’s acoustic guitars were never made in Japan and Korea until Martin bought the Levin company in the mid 70’s.