Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Zemaitis Guitars

Zemaitis guitars are perhaps the worlds most original, stunning and beautiful electric guitars.

British luthier Tony Zemaitis, (Antanus Casimere Zemaitis) was originally from Lithuania. As a boy, Zematiis was obsessed with creating things, such as handmade bicycles, cabinets, and model airplanes. He also learned to play guitar.

By the 1950’s, the 20 year old Zemaitis was building his own guitars. By the early 1960’s he was building guitars for some of the well-known British players. These musicians influenced The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

He sold these acoustic instruments to friends and only was able to make a few guitars each year.

Zemaitis experimented with his instruments to determine acceptable string scale and differing soundhole shapes.

By 1965, he devoted his career to luthery and began building guitars.

We all know that single coil guitar pickups have a propensity to capture 60-cycle hum from other electric devices, including amplifiers.

In an effort to solve this problem, Tony Zemaitis placed a metal cap on the tops of some of his electric guitars. This was successful solution for shielding out the undesired noise. As a plus, it looked great.

Zemaitis did not stop there. He recalled the beautiful engraving designs on high-end firearms such as Western pistols, rifles, and shotguns.

Tony then hired engraver Danny O’Brien to engrave decorations on the metal-topped Zemaitis instruments. These guitars went from musical instruments to works of art.

Zemaitis’ basic design looked somewhat like a Gibson Les Paul Special, with its Florentine cut-away. However, his guitars were much narrower than the Gibson.

Early models had single-coil pickups. Humbucking pickups are what are typically seen on a Zemaitis. His other design has two cutaways.

The lower one is similar to the Les Paul Special design and the upper is a rounded extension, and the bottom cutaway was Florentine.
The metal-topped guitars came in two versions. On the fancy version, the top covered most of the top of the body.

Zemaitis also produced a disc-front version in which a round metal disc covered the area housing the pickups and bridge.

Zemaitis next came up with the beautifully adorned Pearl Top guitar. The top of this guitar featured a mosaic of pearloid tiles and in some cases abalone surrounding the pearl, causing a sparling illusion of colour change under stage lights.

Despite the fancy top, the rosewood fretboard on most Zemaitis guitars is rather plain, bearing only dot markers. Some models have bound necks and others have plain necks.

By the 1980’s Zemaitis’ fame was widespread. His guitars were very expensive. They were hand built and handcrafted.

Many popular artists such as Ron Wood, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison owned and played Zemaitis guitars. The bodies were made of three pieces of high quality wood, as were the glued-in necks. The headstocks were topped off with an engraved metal emblem. All through his career, Zematis continued making acoustic guitars.

I recall seeing a very young Donovan playing a Zematis. All the Zemaitis acoustics were handmade and sold at a premium.

In the year 2000, Tony Zematis retired and his son, Tony Jr. took over the business. Mr. Zematis passed away in August of 2002.

That same year, the company entered into a relationship with Greco guitars of Japan.

Greco is the trade name used by the Japanese musical instrument manufacturer Kanda Shokai of Tokyo. This Japanese firm was founded in 1948 and is still building guitars, more often these were replicas of U.S. instruments such as Gibson and Fender.

In 1982, Fender tapped Kanda Shokai as the builder of Fender Guitars in Japan. 

(This was a transition period for Fender when they did not have an America manufacturing facility.) This is currently where Zematis guitars are produced.

Zematis offers hand-built and hand-engraved guitars, which still command premium prices. Danny O'Brien manages the engraving staff. Zematis currently offers low cost models selling under the Greco-Zematis name, which has come to be known as the GZ line.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hoyer Guitars

Randy Bachman collects Hoyer guitars.  That ought to make your ears perk up. Besides being a first rate rock guitarist and singer, Bachman is one of the foremost guitar collectors in the world. Here is a man that knows guitars.  He recently sold a part of the collection that he had amassed over a 30-year period. Fred Gretsch of Gretsch Guitars purchased his entire cache of 360 vintage Gretsch instruments.These will be housed in the Gretsch museum.  

When Gretsch restarted the business, he owned no original models. The originals were destroyed in a fire at the Arkansas based factory.  At the time, Gretsch was able to borrow some of Bachman’s collection as a basis for the measurements of the current Gretsch guitars.

As I alluded to, Bachman is  a collector of Hoyer guitars. When it comes to guitars, Hoyer is one of Germany's best-kept secrets. The company started in 1874 and to this day is building excellent guitars. In my opinion, the guitars they produced in the 1950’s through the 1960’s are the best. 

The wood is beautiful, the woodworking is classic with the German Carve on the bodies perimeter, the f-holes are unique to Hoyer and included a lightening bolt style and a cats eye style reminiscent of Rickenbacker guitars. These guitars are works of art and craftsmanship.

As for some background, in 1874, Franz Hoyer followed in his families business of making stringed instruments. His son, Joseph, opened his own shop at this time to concentrate on building classic and folk guitars. 

By 1945, Hoyer had to leave Schönbach, which was the town his family had lived. At the end of the ware, the town became part of the Czech Republic. The family settled near the town of Erlangen, in Bavaria.

Erlangen was home to many instrument artisans, including Fred Wilfer, who founded Framus guitars. Shortly after the relocation, Hoyer’s son Arnold took over the company.

By 1948, Hoyer guitars were making a name as preeminent Jazzgitarran in Germany.  By the 1950’s most Hoyer guitars were semi-acoustic and equipped with pickups. By the end of the 1950’s, the company had started  producing solid body guitars.

Arnold Hoyer passed away in 1967 and his son Walter took over the business. Walter concentrated mainly on the line of electric guitars and classical instruments. Quality, design and beautiful wood were hallmarks of Hoyer. During the 1960’s, Hoyer even invented a guitar with a foldaway neck.

Hoyer Specials
In 1977, Walter Hoyer left the business. His staff of luthiers ran it through 1987 when the company closed its door. Three years later it was purchase by a German acquisition group. They concentrated building a contemporary line of solid body instruments. Much of the production was outsourced to Asia, though some high-end instruments were still built domestically. 

In 2005, AMC Compernass, a company owned by Michael Compernass acquired the Hoyer brand name. 

By 2009, a UK company, Ritter Europe LTD entered into an agreement with AMC for the purchase of Hoyer. Compernass has stayed on to provide expertise and by the sole distributor in the German market.  The company is still building guitars in Germany and importing some from the Far East.

However the golden years of Hoyer stretched from 1945 to the end of the 1960's, when they produced gorgeous German-crafted, hand-built guitars. 

The top-of-the-line guitar for Hoyer is the Special SL. This guitar combines many of the features of the Bianka and the Special. The body is similar to the Hoyer Special, but has black or white pearloid inlay surrounding the top, much like the Bianka. The top and bottom sides are bound with large herringbone inlay. The top is carved spruce and the back and sides are flamed maple.

The Special SL has cats eye tone holes that are bound with herringbone inlay. The controls come mounted on a metal plate. On some models the controls mounted in the traditional manner. The usual Hoyer rolling bridge is used. The bound neck is flamed maple and came with a traditional ebony fretboard with bow-tie style markers. 
Hoyer Special SL

It also came with a white plasticized fretboard with black bow-tie position markers. The tailpiece was elaborate and interesting.

One of the most beautiful instruments was the Hoyer Bianka. The body is carved from spruce, with unusual engraving. This engraved top is emphasized by the German carve. The top of the body bears a beautiful pearloid border and bound by a white plastic inlay. But for the pickups and controls, the back of the body mirrors the front. The sound-holes are lightening bolt style, the body is extra wide, the neck is flame maple with laminated mahogany strips, and the six individual tuners have engraved buttons. In the break between the neck and headpiece is a large volute.

The fretboard is bound ebony with sort of bow-tie inlays. The metal roller bridge saddle is unique and so is the tailpiece. The roller bridge is unusual since the guitar does not have a vibrato.  The controls sit on a chromed metal pad on the lower bout. The parallelogram pickups are unique to Hoyer guitars. Looking closely, the output jack is an old-style DIN plug. The sunburst Bianka is even more stunning.

The Hoyer Special does not have the engraving of the Bianka, or the German carve or even the lightening bolt inlays. It is a more subtle instrument with bound cats eye sound holes and a beautiful tailpiece. The arched top is carved from spruce and the back and sides are flame maple. Both front and back come bordered with herringbone inlay. The neck is laminated with maple and mahogany. The bound ebony fretboard is similar to the Bianka’s and has a zero fret. The tuners had engraved pegheads.

This guitar also came as a twin pickup electric model with the Hoyer parallelogram pickups. It was available in with a natural or red sunburst finish. Some models have the metal plate to house the controls. Later models have more traditional controls that were mounted into the wood.  This guitar came in acoustic or electric models. Some of the electric models featured the Hoyer parallelogram pickups and others featured pickups that appear to be made by DeArmond.

A most unusual guitar manufactured by Hoyer sometimes did not bear the Hoyer logo. Instead, the headstock read Herr Im Frack or Gentleman Dressed for the Evening. This all black hollow archtop bore a small round soundhole as well as twin cats eye soundholes. The black non-cutaway body was bound, front and back, in white pearloid inlay.

The neck was bound in white and came with a rosewood fretboard inlaid with white blocks, except for the 12th fret, which had a red marker, mimicking a bowtie. The guitar had the zero fret, which is found on most Hoyers. The usual Hoyer roller bridge saddle was paired with a beautiful gold-plated tailpiece. The headstock was bound in white and bore the name Herr Im Frack in gold pearloid lettering. 

Hoyer also produced a very unusual model, somewhat similar to the Herr Im Frack. They called this the Volttal. The instrument was not as fancy. It bore the Hoyer logo. The bizarre feature was the 18 individual sound holes that surrounded the body's perimeter.

The Hoyer Soloist was a beautiful guitar. Different models had different features. It came in a very plain natural version with a spruce top and maple back, sides and neck.  The body was bound with white inlay, the bound neck featured an ebony fretboard with small position markers. The headstock came with 3 white pearloid inlays. The machine heads were plain with pearloid buttons. A fancier version of the Soloist was also available with a multi-striped top that featured alternating strips of spruce and mahogany. It was bound with triangulated wood pieces.

Without a doubt the most bizarre Hoyer guitar was the Fantastik model.  This was sort of an experimental instrument that Hoyer created and sold. Due to its unusual construction, it became  known as the organ guitar.

The body is constructed of six wooden pipes or tubes lined up in three differing lengths. Each pipe is an individual resonator and each has a sound hole. The beautifully carved body is lined with a dark binding.  The back of the guitar is flat. 

The guitars accoutrements include a trapeze tailpiece, the Hoyer roller bridge; white binding on the back of the body and Hoyer fancy butterfly shaped tuning buttons. The guitars ebony fretboard came bound in white and came with unusual white inlays, but for the 12th fret, which had a red inlay

The unusual pointed headstock came bound with black and white strips and adorned in fancy script announcing this was an Arnold Hoyer guitar. A DeArmond floating pickup attached to the scratchplate topped the body and contained the output jack, volume, and tone control.

As futuristic, well constructed, and thought out as this instrument was, according to those that played it, the instrument did  not have much of an acoustic sound. However, it was surely and eye catcher.

Though many US music stores offer new Hoyer guitars, one would be hard pressed to find a used Hoyer in the USA. They occasionally show up on eBay.eBay.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weird Guitars

Did you ever look at a product and scratch your head and say, “What were they thinking?”

I have stumbled across a few guitars over the years that made me wonder this very thing.  The LaBaye 2x4 and the Musicvox guitars come to mind.

We are living in an age in which there are more amateur and professional luthiers than ever before. Most are creating wonderful instruments. But there are some that make you wonder if someone forgot to lock the cage door. That's what this is about.

Though this looks something like a teenage girl mannequin, it is actually a guitar.  It was made by a fellow named Lou Reimuller. I'm sort of concerned about Lou.

This one was not made by Cheech or Chong, but by Basone Guitars, located in Vancover, BC. Judging their web page, they make some fine quality guitars. But this one is...uh...different.

It appears an individual that uses guitars as art projects made this Egyptian objet d’art. Or perhaps it was a rare find from one of the pyramids.

I have seen hundreds of guitars, and played many guitars, but I have never played a 12 neck guitar. I believe this guy attempting to outdo Rick Nielsen.

I do not know who made this, but they must think they are a cut above the rest.

Here is a hodge-podge of strange-but-true guitars. Most are a mystery as to the creator. If I knew who they were, the question I would ask is why?

This must be Maton's new Evenrude tribute model.

I never was keen on snakes, not even if they have six strings and a humbucker.

Let’s give a polite hand to this builder. Hooooraaaayyyy!!!

I'm not sure what side you use to tune this guitar  I’m so confused.

What the @#$%???

  “Oh the shark has, lots of teeth dear,
    and he keeps them pearly-white...”

This is a Jay Turser JT-Shark Guitar. I am not sure why someone would want one, however get one and be the life of your next party!

If you are ever in Bohemia, you might want to pick up one of these zither guitars that they make..

I had to rub my eyes to see if this guitar was for real. It is! It is a 1964 Rickenbacker 360 12S tenor guitar with 12 strings and a combination of guitar and banjo tuners.