Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Wish Book Time

I started playing music when I was only 10 years old. My folks got a big old fire engine red upright piano from my Mom’s uncle. Dad had it hauled to our basement and I set out to take lessons from an old lady that live a quarter of a mile away.

I rode my bicycle to my teachers house and I learned Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE, the difference between whole notes, half notes and quarter notes, the sharps and flats and the G and F clef. But all I really wanted to do was play music.

I toughed it out and got a clarinet, which was certainly more portable. I made numerous trips to Willis Music to buy more reeds, since I was forever chipping them. But I was only playing notes printed on a page and I doggone it wanted to PLAY music! You know, spontaneously and from the heart.

The Beatles came along which started a wave of other bands with young guys playing guitar and I surmised this may be the ticket. So I begged my folks to get me a guitar. I got one and then an electric guitar. Ever since then I’ve been playing music..from the heart.

That's me with a Strat at 14 years old
I spent my youth and now my senior years watching the guitar evolve, in the old days though the catalogs that usually arrived around Christmas time. Now we are in the Holiday Season so I thought it would be great to review those old days and pages and pages of the guitars that we longed for when we were young.

Harmony Guitars
Arguably one of the most prodigious producers of catalog guitar was the Harmony Musical Instrument Company of Chicago. Fender, Gibson, Guild, Martin and Epiphone were building high quality instruments, but in the 1960’s when the average annual income was less that $5,000, not many folks could afford a $400.00 guitar. But your parents could get a guitar and an amplifier from Sears or JC Penny’s for only $100.00. And it was great to look at the catalog and imagine this could be yours.

Kay Guitars
The other big manufacturer of guitars was Kay Musical Instruments, which was also based in Chicago. Some of their more expensive guitars may have been of a higher quality than Harmony, but all in all the two companies were fairly comparable. Like Harmony, Kay's biggest client was the catalog stores, such as Sears, Montgomery Wards, J.C. Penny and Western Auto. We waited every Christmas to decide which guitar would be the best.


Danelectro made Silvertones
Sears had the market on Danelectro guitars. These were inexpensively made out of formica, with wooden frames that came with single coil pickups which were housed in surplus lipstick tubes.


Sears Danelectro Silvertone with amp.
Instead of rosewood or mahogany sides, the sides were made of vinyl tape. You know what? Danelectro guitars hold up forever and back in the day they were used by many so studio musicians. Best of all they were cheap and stayed in tune. The Sears Wishbook was full of Danelectros with the Silvertone brand on them.



Silvertone guitar/amp-in-case
Plus Sears had a deal on a guitar and a case with the amplifier built into it. And in 1966 this could be yours for less than one-hundred dollars!

Montgomery Ward Airline guitars
The other big catalog company was Montgomery Wards, or as some folks called them Monkey Wards, much like those of us today refer to Walmart as Wally World. Montgomery Wards distinguished their guitar line by mainly using a company called Valco Musical Instruments. This company sprung from the National Guitar Company.

Montgomery Ward called their house brand Airline guitars. Many of these guitars were made of Res-O-Glas, which was actually two shells of molded fiberglass that were sandwiched together with the electronics inside. The necks were made of wood. They were certainly more expensive than Danelectro guitars but were well made and came in a variety of “space-age” shapes and colors including one guitar that resembled a map of the United States.


Teisco brokers catalog
So maybe your folks were unable to afford that $100 Silvertone guitar and amp. You could have just as much fun playing an Asian imported guitar. And by the mid 1960’s the market was flooded with them. The biggest importer was Teisco of Japan.

They really weren’t so bad and they were continually improving. Why even Wrecking Crew member Glen Campbell did a lot of studio work using his Teisco guitar. These were featured in all the popular mail-order catalogs.


Silvertone amplifier
We haven’t even mentioned amplifiers. The biggest catalog jobbers of amplifiers were Danelectro and Valco. Before transistors came along, you could get an amplifier that worked with vacuum tubes at a reasonable price.

Montgomery Wards/Valco amps
The cabinets may not have been as nice as those Fender and Gibson were building, but these were nice amplifiers that ranged from 3 watts up to 100 watts and all you had to do was send in your money to Sears or Montgomery Wards and wait for the post man.

Things are so much different these days. Life has changed.

We don’t have to wait until the Holiday Season for the catalog since we can log into Musicians Friend or Guitar Center or our local music stores web sites to see what is being offered. Much of the merchandise is no longer built in the United States, but the World’s manufacturers have come a long way in improving their products and in many cases their offerings are of excellent quality.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season and a Prosperous and Blessed New Year! And may this year bring Peace on Earth!





6 comments:

Glenn Lazzaro said...

Thanks so00 much. I had a parallel experience growing up in Bergen County NJ in the sixties. My first instrument was a magnus chord organ. But after seeing the Beatles all I wanted was a Guitar. And guitars were everywhere! Teiscos at Alexanders Department store in Paramus NJ, Epiphones and Danelectros at Sears in Hackensack NJ. But most importantly Gibsons at Mikes Music in Pearl River NY (just over the border from Montvale NJ) After being disappointed with a Kay and then A Hagstrom I I finally got my dream guitar. I saved up for a year to buy a 1969 Gibson SG Jr. at Mikes music shop for $176.00 with a chipboard case. It was the envy of all my friends and I'm sure it helped us win the battle of the bands at Pascack Hills High School 3 weeks running.

marcus ohara said...

That is awesome Glenn. I've owned a Hagstrom bass in the past. Those guitars are underrated. A '69 SG is a treasure. I did an article on SG's. Check it out sometime. I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

Glenn Lazzaro said...

Hi Marc,
I did check out your SG article. Its like all your articles, Fantastic! I just recently have discovered your blog and have been reading the archives. I hope to be all caught up in the next month so:)
Happy New Year!
Glenn

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