Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ten of the Most Unique Guitars Ever Made from Fender - Gibson - Rickenbacker - Teisco

Fender 1959
Fender had been purchased by CBS in 1967 and the companies factory was full of leftover parts that included bodies, pickups and hardware. The company was looking to turn a profit on their investment. Because of this, in 1969, Fender came up with two guitars that were made of other guitar necks and bodies.

This surplus of materials included many 1965 Fender Electric XII and Fender Bass V bodies and necks. These were excellent ideas on paper, but they did not sell many units. So instead of scrapping this material,

Fender/CBS executives decided it would be more profitable to build than to write off. in 1969 the two guitars that resulted were dubbed The Fender Custom guitar and The Fender Swinger guitar. And though these guitars were just a flash in the pan of Fender history, they are among some of Fender’s more unique guitars.

Word came from the top down to make something out of the excessive materials and the job fell to manager Babe Simoni.

Babe Simoni
George Fullerton hired Virgilio “Babe” Simoni to work at Fender when he was only a teenager in 1953. Fast forwared a dozen years and he rose through the ranks to become the companies stringed instruments product manager. When CBS took over, Simoni stayed on.

When told by his new bosses to “find something profitable to do with all the leftover parts sitting around, Simoni duly created these two unique Fender guitar model. The first of which was called the Swinger, but also marketed as the Musiclander and the Arrow. The second guitar was called The Custom, but also known as the Maverick.

Unfortunately neither instrument was a success, although Babe Simoni did what was asked of him. In fact he did something unheard of in all of Fender’s history. All models, past or present were carefully researched and developed before presented to the public. This was a trend Leo Fender had started by offering guitar and amplifiers to popular artists and getting their feedback.

But the Swinger and the Custom were improvised right on the spot; on the factory floor.  At Simonis' direction bodies, necks and pickguards were modified to build something new out of something old.

Oddly, the Swinger/Musiclander was never listed in any Fender catalog of sales brochure. These were probably suggested to Fender sales reps as bargain instruments to sell directly to dealers.

The Swinger was fashioned from leftover Musicmaster short-scale necks and Bass V bodies. The Musicmaster was a single pickup student model that had been around since 1955. This student guitar came with a 3/4 sized neck and a scale of 22.5”.

The Bass V was introduced in 1965 as bass guitar that could accomplish the full range of a long neck bass but with only 15 frets. This was accomplished by adding a top C string giving the instrument a compliment of 5 strings. Surprisingly, it remained in the companies product listing until 1971, although around 200 units were all that were sold. Bass players complained that the string spacing was too narrow.

Simoni took Musicmaster and Bass V bodies and cut an eliptical curve in the bottom and sawed off a portion of the guitars upper horn. The headstock of the short scale necks were sawn into a point shape. The guitar had only a single pickup.

The bridge/saddle assembly was salvaged from the Musicmaster assemblies.  These models were offered in Daphne Blue, Dakota Red, Black, Lake Placid Blue, Candy Apple Red and Olympic White.

Some of these guitar were produced with only the Fender logo written in black script, while others included a smaller clear decal that said Swinger. I’m going to speculate that the guitars that used Musicmaster bodies were designated as Musiclanders or Arrows, while those that used the elongated Bass V bodies were sold as Swingers.

It was essentially a student instrument that commanded a cheap price. However if you find one these day, expect to pay thousands of dollars for it as its was short-lived on the market and the supply is limited.

The Custom also known as The Maverick was made from the bodies and necks of Fender Electric XII’s. Simioni used a bandsaw to configure a point in the bottom edge of the instruments body and also took a small slice off the upper horn.

The Electric XII necks had an elongated headtock to accomodate the 12 tuning machines. The headstock aslo had the “hockey stick” carve on its top end.

These 12 string necks were converted into a six-string necks by adding maple veneer to six of the holes and leaving six open for the tuning pegs.

The bridge/saddle that was used was leftover Mustang tremolo bridges. The body had to be routed out for the vibratos spring mechanism.

One other issue remained were the 12 small holes in the body which were there since the Electric XII bodies was a string-through instrument .Simoni solved this by use of wood filler for the holes then painting the back of the body with black paint to hide the filler and then spraying front of the body with a sunburst finish.

Compare to above photo
This guitar appeared in the fall 1969 Fender price list at $289.50, which was the same price as a Telecaster Custom, Precision Bass and non-tremolo Stratocaster.

The mystery remains as to why some of these guitars had headstock logos that proclaimed the guitar to be a “Fender Custom” in the familiar flowing script, while others were produced that said “Fender Maverick.” Perhaps this was to distinguish between the converted Electric XII necks and necks that were created specifically for this guitar.

The Custom/Maverick was a superior instrument when compared to the Swinger/Musiclander. The necks on the Custom were bound with rectangular block fret markers while the Swinger neck was unbound with dot positon markers. A single string retainer, left over from the Electric XII, was added to the Custom, the Swinger had 2 usually placed string retainers.

The pickup system on the Custom was the same as the unique system on the Fender Electric XII. This included four separate pickups at split levels so that two pickups were under the three bottom strings while two pickups were under the three upper strings. The wiring was attached to a 4 way pickup selector switch which allowed for neck, neck & bridge in series, neck & bridge in parallel and bridge only options.

The Custom/Maverick was listed in the Fender catalog from 1969 through 1971, although it appeared on the Fender price list as late as 1972.

Perhaps one of the more unique Fender designs never offered for sale is the Tye Zamora 6 String Bass was made for in 2003 by Senior Master Builder Jason Davis for Tye Zamora or the group Alien Ant Farm. This is the first one Built with a serial number of JD001 named for the builder.

The original intention of this bass was to go into production,  Only two neck through versions of these basses exist. One is owned by Fender and the other is owned by Mr. Zamora.

This bass features a  9 piece contoured laminated wenge/flame maple neck through Cocobolo top, maple strip, and mahogany sides. The fretboard is made of Bubinga wood with a compound radius.

The humbucker pickups were designed and made by Bill Lawrence and have matching Cocobolo pickup covers. Internally this guitar is equipped with a Reggie Hamilton 18 volt pre-amp with controls for volume, pan, bass, mid, treble, and a passive/active bypass button.

The individual through-the-body saddles and the Ultralite tuners are made by Hipshot. The bass is full scale at 34”. It was valued by Fender at $28,000. Currently Tye Zamora was listed it on eBay and was asking $10,600. It since has been removed by Zamora.

There was a time frame of about a year when Gibson marketers decided to produce “the guitar of the month” as a promotion for guitar collectors.

Perhaps the most popular guitars of this run was the Reverse Flying Vee.

Everything on this guitar was opposite of what was on the original 1958 Korina Flying Vee. The most obvious change is the fact that the body is backwards.

But look closer and you’ll find the headstock is also backwards and so is the gold-plated string retainer and the pickguard.

The Reverse Flying Vee guitar came with only a single volume control placed directly below the neck pickup and the pickup selector switch located on the top end of the bottom horn.

Though the input jack on a regular Flying Vee was located on the front of the lower horn while the jack on the Reverse Flying Vee was on the guitars bottom edge. It appears to be a very uncomfortable guitar to play while seated, It am told also that access to the upper register frets is impeded by the guitars design.

Despite being rather odd, it was a hit. The entire 2007 limited run of 400 units sold out quickly. Gibson quickly added another limited run of Reverse Flying Vee’s producing 300 in black and 300 in white finishes.

All included reproductions of 1957 PAF humbuckers. Aside from the obvious differences between the 1958 Vee, there are plenty of other changes.

The Reverse Flying Vee features a mahogany solid body with a mahogany neck. The neck was designed with a profile that blends in the 50's rounded contour with the 60's slim-taper one. The rosewood fingerboard comes with a vintage, 22-frets construction and a 25.75” scale length.

Of course the strings pass over a tune-o-matic bridge with the reverse gold-plated vee tailpiece. while the electronics complement is made from a dual humbucker array of hand-wound pickups, a 3-way switch, with a single volume control.

2008 Gibson Reverse Explorer
A second oddity that appeared in Gibson’s Guitar of the Month promotion was the Gibson Reverse Explorer. This model arrived the following year in 2008.

This guitar gets my vote for one of the top Unique Guitar designs of all time as it is obvious that Gibson s R and D team put a lot of thought and effort into this instrument. It is not just an upside-down Gibson Explorer. It has some extremely unique features.

The original 1958 Explorer was made of Korina wood, while the reverse model was made of mahogany, as were the ones revived later on by Gibson.

The headstock appears to be taken off of the the Moderne; the mythical guitar designed by Ted McCarty. However on the Reverse Explorer, the headstock is facing the opposite way.

Looking very closely from the top of this guitar we see the Gibson logo applied in almost what could be considered similar to the font that Fender uses. This is very different than anything Gibson has used on past guitars.

The next extremely unusual feature is the gold-plated Steinberger tuners instead of traditional tuning keys.

The Steinberger keys have a 40:1 ratio, which makes it extremely accurate. Instead of being controlled by winding the string around the peg, Steinberger employs a system of raising and lowering the pegs internal post.

This is accomplished by twisting the knurled knob on the back-side of the headstock.

from The Gear Page
The neck is solid mahogany with a 22 fret rosewood fretboard with unique position markers that are made of carbon fiber which is sealed with an epoxy resin coating. The neck utilizes Gibson’s traditional 24.75” scale

The “pickguard” is also made of molded carbon fiber in the shape of a lightning bolt and adds a very unique touch to the design both by its shape and texture. This same material is used on the truss rod cover.

The Reverse Explorer is equipped with a gold plated Gibson tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece. The electronics complement is made from a dual humbucker array (57 Classic neck and 57 Classic Plus for the bridge position), a 3-way switch, 2 volume and 1 tone controls. The strap buttons are also gold-plated.

friom The Gear Page
One feature that is very unique are the pickup covers. Gibson employed a powdered copper finish on both covers. The neck pickup is enclosed with a black plastic pickup surround, but the bridge pickup uses only the pickguard for its surround. The copper coating beautifully matches the deep brown colour of the mahogany body.

As a bonus, these guitars were shipped with a custom black reptile skinned case that included a silky white blanket adorned with the “Guitar of the Month.” Only 1,000 units were produced and they retailed for $2000 USD.

In 2009 Gibson released the Eye Guitar, which was loosely based on the Gibson SG series with a slightly elongated upper horn. Only 350 units were scheduled to be produced during its limited run and records are uncertain if even that many units were actually made. In fact the figure from Gibson indicates as few as 18 to 60 units were built.

The guitar was featured in Fire Engine Red although according to a Facebook fan site, there were some produced with a black finish.

The C-shaped set mahogany neck has ebony fretboard with 24 frets with a 12” radius and no position markers on its ebony fretboard.

The Gibson Eye Guitar is powered by Gibson modern humbuckers featuring anti-feedback wax potting. The 490R neck pickup with Alnico II magnets provides traditional humbucker tones with enhanced highs. The 498T bridge pickups uses Alnico V magnets for high output, enhanced mids and highs.

Minimized control included a single volume and tone knob and a 3-way pickup switch. The hardware is chrome and the tuners were Grover kidney button style models. This guitar featured a very unusual and stylized surround pickguard.

It was sold replete with a special Limited Run Series certificate of authenticity and a black hardshell case with white interior and silk-screened Gibson USA logo.

The Rickenbacker model 490, although listed on the companies 1973 catalog and the 1974 price sheet, it only existed as a prototype, but is was a far cry from the companies usual design. But for  the headstock mosr folks would not guess it to be a Rickenbacker.

Model 490
The 490's design may be considered the foreunner of the Rickenbacker model 430 and model 250, which was not offered until the mid 1980’s. It appears to be styled after the model 430, which was designed by Forrest White and offered for sale in the mid 1970’s. The bass model of this same body design was known as the Rickenbacker 3000. The 250 and 3000 were some of the few Ric’s to utilize a bolt-on neck.

The 490 prototype was made with the traditional Ric Fireglo finish on the body and headstock. It also came with the white plastic Rickenbacker elliptical headstock logo. All the rest of this guitars features stray from Rickenbacker’s traditional design. The body was flat on the front and backside.

The upper body was bound with white trim.

The black pickguard encompassed much of the bodywhich was unlike the traditional Ric pickguard found and controls found on the model 430 and most other Rickenbacker guitars.

The pickguard on the 490 did not have this shape nor did it have the same control panel. The 490 came with 3 potentiometers, which we can only assume were 2 for volume and 1 for tone, although in the book The History of Rickenbacker Guitars, we do see a picture of a guitar with four potentiometers.

The 490's pickguard included a throw style switch for choice of its 2 pickups and another switch, possibly for changing the phase of the pickups. The pickups on this instrument were designed to be interchangeable, which would explain the unusual pickguard that housed the pickups.

The pickups could be changed by removing and replacing only 2 screws. Pickups offered were Rickenbacker single coils, humbucking pickups or EMG style active pickups.

The only model in existence is the one personally owned by John Hall, president and CEO of Rickenbacker.

Gibson seems to have a penchant for the unusual and this certainly holds true for the bass their R and D team designed in 1987 with the aid of Ned Steinberger. These were the days when The Steinberger Bass was all the rage and Gibson sought to capitalize on the trend. Thus was born the Gibson 20/20 bass.

Steinberger’s specialty was actually in ergonomic furniture design. He won an industrial award for his bass, which launched his career in luthery.

The Gibson 20/20 minimalistic rectangular bass appears to be based on the cigar box guitar, only with one end longer than the others. It can be described as a pack of cigarettes with on sticking out.

The headstock is...well also rectangular and replete with four non-Steinberger type Sperzel tuners. The 20/20 bass weighs in at 8.8 pounds. The neck is of the bolt-on variety. The scale is 34 inches.

Both the body and neck were made of hard rock maple, with the fretboard made of ebony and topped with 24 frets and dot position markers. The guitar features twin active pickups each with their own volume control and a single tone control. The upper rectangular horn announces this to be a Gibson 20/20, while a flip out leg rest designed by Mr. Steinberger graces the bodies bottom side. The neck is fairly narrow at only 1.5” at the nut.

Teisco Del Rey
In the mid 1960’s Teisco was entering the world guitar market. Subsequently the United States was flooded with Japanese guitars, some of which resembled popular American brands. As many of these guitars arrived, they were rebranded with differing trade names making them appear to be produced by differnet companies. They were not.

The Norma Brand was made by Teisco. I am not certain if Barney Kessel lent his name to this model or if it was merely based on the design of the Gibson model that bore his name, but this Teisco “Norma” guitar was known as the Barney Kessel model.

What makes this guitar unique is the Z Coil pickup switching system. This guitar had four pickups with 2 under the three lower strings and 2 more under the three upper strings. The pickups are numbered and switchable by the rotary switch on the guitars upper bout. The other unique factor is the placement of the F-holes on the bottom of the lower bout. And lastly the tone switch on the lower bout, where one would find the tone potentiometer.

As someone who grew up in the 1960’s and was playing guitar by 1965 I remember the Japanese off branded instruments although at the time I knew nothing about their origin.

The Greco brand was started in 1960 by an export firm called Kanda Shokai. The name was sort of a corruption of the word Canada. Greco guitars were actually produced by several Japanese factories including Fujigen, Matsumoku and Teisco.

Some of these guitars included this Greco semi-hollow “Shrike” guitars that were first imported by Goya and later by the American company Kustom electronics. The Shrike model  pictured here with the “L” shaped pickups that point in opposite directions. This guitar has some other unusual features including the unique headstock.

If you take a close look at this guitar you can compare it to the Teisco “Norma” Barney Kessel guitar and you will see that the vibrato has the same “W” marking. Though the pickups appear to be twin single coil models, they are actually divided into 4 segments.

The 4 controls on the upper bout control the volume of each section. These controls were on the lower bout on some versions. This guitar was indeed made at the original Teisco Gen Gakki factory in Nagano Japan.
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