Saturday, February 1, 2020

Guitars from Fifty Years Ago - 1970

It is difficult to believe fifty years ago was 1970. In my mind it seems like only yesterday. At the time I was 18 years old and just finishing high school. I had moved from playing electric guitar in a garage band at student dances, to playing acoustic guitar and singing in coffeehouses, and churches.

At the time, I considered myself to be a pretty good guitarist, but looking back, my playing was only average, so I relied heavily on my ability to sing.

What a difference fifty years can make! My 67 year old voice is old, and much deeper. Those high notes that used to be so easy are now long gone. I wouldn’t pay money to hear me sing. Come to think of it, I don't recall making much money back then.  But 50 years later my guitar playing has improved exponentially, and though I don't get to play in front of audiences much,  playing my guitar at home is something that gives me a great deal of joy.

1970 Fender Guitar Catalog
Fifty years ago the guitar industry was going through significate changes. The first popular electric solid body guitar, had appeared only twenty years earlier.  By 1970 USA manufacturers were facing not just competition with each other, but because Asian 'replica instruments' were greatly improving US manufactures were faced with an onslaught of copy guitars.

And as the decade progressed, some "replica" guitars were undistinguishable from the real thing.

1975 Ibanez Les Paul copies
This culminated in the infamous 1977 Gibson Guitars vs Elger Music lawsuit, which was settled before going to trial.

The first acoustic guitar I owned, a 1950’s Harmony Patrician, was broken by my siblings.

1970 Yamaha G55A

Around 1970, I acquired an inexpensive used Yamaha G55A classical guitar, which was a laminated wood instrument, that probably cost around $50.00.

1971 Giannini Craviola 12 string

In 1971 I purchased a 12-string acoustic guitar that I had seen at a local music store. This unique instrument was called a Craviola, and was made by The Giannini Company of Brazil. The best way to describe the body was as a large kidney bean shape. While the upper bout was ovular, the bottom was offset with a large Venetian cutaway. The slotted headstock had a distinctive lip that faced upward, and the neck had triangular position markers.

This instruments sound accentuated the treble. After reading much literature about the instrument, the goal of the guitars creator was to produce a sound that was similar to that of a harpsichord. Around 1970, the harpsichord, and electric clavinet were popular in music of the day. The sticker inside of my guitar indicates it was a 1971 model.

These instruments are still available, and today they are built from better woods. Mine had a laminate Spruce top, and beautiful laminate Brazilian rosewood back, and sides.

1970 Martin 0-16NY
The next guitar I purchased was a 1970’s Martin 0-16NY (New Yorker). I have ever since regretted selling that guitar. It was a fine instrument, with a beautiful solid Mahogany back and sides, and a solid Spruce top. The neck was a little wider than most Martins.

Like a folk instrument, it had a nice slotted peg head. I had two problems with that guitar. The first was, since it was made during the “Folk” era, it was built to only use silk and steel strings, or nylon strings. The neck would not withstand normal acoustic strings of day, so the sound was not very loud or crisp.

The other issue was that I could never get the darn thing in tune. It did not have a compensated bridge saddle. I sent it back to the factory twice, and even received a letter stating the problem was not the guitar, but me.

Ovation 1613-4 Classical Electric
So I traded it for an Ovation 1613-4 classical electric guitar. Aside from the fiberglass parabolic bowl, this instrument was deluxe. The solid top was top grade Spruce. The fretboard was African Ebony. The tuners were gold-plated. The 5 piece laminated neck was mahogany and spruce.

The electronics were an early version of Ovation’s six-piece piezo system, and had a built in pre-amplifier with a single volume control. I had to re-imagine some chords due to the wider neck. That guitar sounded fantastic, and even better when plugged into an amplifier. I still have that guitar. Because the resale value is so little, I continue to hang on to it.

It would be at least a decade before I acquired another guitar.

The 1970’s brought many changes to the guitar industry. Fender Guitars had been acquired by The CBS Corporation and by 1970 made changes to original design.

1970's Fender 3 Bolt Neck
The most obvious is the larger headstock. Other less obvious changes included the 3-bolt neck attachment, that had the micro-tilt adjustment.  The bodies on many of these instruments were heavier than the 1960 models, the pickups were not wound as much as on older models, and the colours offered were fewer than during the Leo Fender era.

1970's Fender Stratocaster
One major improvement that came about in the mid-1970’s was the 5 way Stratocaster selector switch. The new larger headstock was added to much of the line-up, including the Mustang, and the Music Master.

1976 Fender Starcaster

Around 1976 Fender added the Starcaster to their line up. The guitar featured a hollow body with twin 'F' holes, and was designed to compete with Gibson's ES line up. Like other Fender's of this era, it came with the 3 bolt neck joint, but the six-on-a-side headstock was totally unique with an up-turned shape.

1974 Gibson L-5S

In 1970 Gibson was taken over by ECL, which by 1974 became the Norlin Company.  They still offered their classic line of  ES models, Les Pauls, and SG's. Added in 1974 was a new electric model called the L-5S Custom model. This was meant to be a solid body version of the Gibson L-5. It was a gorgeous guitar. The first version had low impedance pickups, that were later changed to humbuckers.

1970 Gibson L-6

Another very nice Gibson model was the L-6. It was designed for Gibson by Bill Lawrence. This guitar had twin custom designed pickups, and a six position rotary switch that offered different sound combinations. Gibson offered three variants of this guitar.

1978 Gibson S-1

By the mid 1970's Gibson entered into what I call, That Zany Norlin Era, and came out with some very odd guitars, such as the 1978 three single coil pickup S-1, which combined a Flying V headstock, and solid Les Paul body.  This guitar had a four-way rotary switch for different pickup combination.

1976 Gibson Maurauder

Around this same time Gibson/Norlin came out with another guitar they called The Marauder. It looked much like the S-1, but came with one humbucking, and one single coil pickup. (Didn't Fender have a guitar with the same name?)

Grabber, Ripper, and G-3

In 1974 Gibson came out with the Ripper Bass, the Grabber Bass, and the G-3. They were all very interesting instruments, with similar bodies, two had Flying V style headstocks, and the G-3 came with three pickups, The Ripper had twin pickups, while the original Grabber had one sliding pickup.

Another 1970's Gibson creation during the Norlin era was the ES-335TD which came with a lovely laminated Walnut finish.

An Epiphone instrument built in 1967 for Howard Roberts, became The Gibson Howard Roberts Custom guitar in 1974. It's arched top was made of 7 layer Birdseye Maple. The neck was beautifully bound. This guitar featured an oval shaped sound hole, and a single floating humbucker, which was controlled by a volume knob, a treble roll off, and a mid-range roll off knob.

1976 Peavey T-60's

In 1976 the Peavey Company, which had been making amplifiers, and public address equipment, entered the guitar market with the Peavey T-60, This twin pickup guitar had a Stratocaster-like shape on its solid body. The twin pickup design was rather unique. The tone controls actually rolled the humbuckers from humbucking mode to single coil.

Although this was a remarkable guitar, and offered at a very reasonable price, the downside was it was heavy as a rock.

Up until the 1970's the Hagstrom Guitar Company of Sweden made some electric guitars that were modeled after Fender instruments. However in 1970, Hagstrom designed an extraordinary guitar based on Les Paul specs, but with a more rounded cutaway. It was called The Swede. It was one of the last guitars to be made at the Alvaden factory in Sweden. It also came as a bass version. These guitars had a bolt-on neck, and a switch that coloured the tone.

Late 1970's Super Swede
Late in the 1970's Hagstrom offered The Super Swede, which featured a set neck and a coil tap switch.

These guitars came with twin humbucking pickups, twin tone and volume controls, and two toggle switches. One switch operated one pickup, the other three way switch gave both pickups different tone options. The body was mahogany with a laminated spruce top. The bridge saddle was based on a tune-o-matic bridge.

The Super Swede models the tailpiece featured a chromed palm rest.

Santana with Yamaha S-2000

Yamaha of Japan came up with a unique guitar called the S-2000. This instrument was based on a Gibson Les Paul, but came with two shallow cutaways. The prototype was sent to Carlos Santana, but he thought the guitar was too light.

1976 Yamaha SG-2000

Yamaha installed a brass sustain plate beneath the bridge, and improved the three piece laminated neck by added a 'T-Cross' system in the neck. These improvements gave the instrument excellent sustain, and Santana used the guitar for a lot of his early career.

In the 1960's, Gibson was building Epiphone guitars right alongside the more expensive Gibson instruments. Some were different shape, but had similar features to Gibson models. But by 1970 Gibson/Norlin moved their Epiphone division to Japan, and contracted with Matsumoku to built guitars under the Epiphone name. Ironically this was seven years prior to the infamous lawsuit.

The hollow body Epiphone Casino, which was used by The Beatles and other popular groups, was almost the same guitar as Gibson's ES-330. The Epiphone Sheraton was semi-hollow, and comparable to a Gibson ES-335.

Other Epiphone guitars built during the 1970's included updated versions of the Wilshire, Emperor, Riviera and Newport bass.

1976 Epiphone Scroll

Another totally unique guitar called The Monticello, more commonly called The Scroll was introduced in 1976. These instruments had beautiful carved mahogany bodies.

The Guild Guitar Company was mostly known for it's exquisite acoustic guitars, but during the 1970's they produced some fine electric models as well, such as the M-75CS and the M-85 II Bass.

Guild Starfire and Starfire Bass

The hollow body Guild Starfire came in several versions, including single cutaway, and a double cutaway models.

1973 Guild S-100
One of my favorite Guild electrics is the 1973 Guild S-100. But for one cutaway being slightly lower than the other, this guitar was similar in shape to Gibson's SG model. However it had mahogany body, with gorgeous carving of acorns, and oak leaves on it's natural wooden body, and a clear pickguard. It also had twin humbucking pickups, a phase switch,  a bound neck with block inlays on the ebony fret board.

The S-100 designation was taken from the discontinued 1960's model known as The Polara, which came with a built-in stand.

1976 Guild S-300
The Guild S-300 series began in 1976. The following year the guitars were given the designation S-300A for ash bodies, and S-300D for mahogany bodies. These solid body guitars had a very unique shape, and came with twin Guild humbucking pickups.

Guild S-60 & S-60D

Around that same time Guild offered the single humbucking pickup S-60, and the S-60 which came with two single coil pickups.

1979 Guild S-70

By 1979 Guild came out with the S-70, which had three single coil pickups, and a blade switch. This guitar had a beautiful carved mahogany body.  It was their tribute to Fender's Stratocaster.

Due to the massive increase in imported guitars, by the 1970's some iconic American guitar manufacturers took a financial downturn and went out of business.

Harmony Guitars

Harmony Guitars started producing instruments in 1892. By 1916, Sears and Roebuck purchased the company. However in 1975, Harmony Guitars ceased operation, and held a huge auction. Late in the 1970's the Harmony brand name was sold, and subsequent guitars were then manufactured in Asia.

Gretsch, another iconic U.S. guitar company had been sold to The Baldwin Piano Company in 1967. In an effort to cash in on the guitar boom, Baldwin purchased Burns of London Guitars in 1965, but never really made a go of that company.

By 1969 The Baldwin Piano Company moved their guitar manufacturing business to Booneville,  Arkansas. Their facility suffered through two disastrous fires, burning down equipment. The heat and humidity in the South was not conducive to painting and finishing guitars.

Baldwin Era Gretsch Guitars
Many Gretsch guitar that were built in the 1970's were sent back to the factory due to finish problems. Gretsch was well-known for their relationship with Chet Atkins, and their fine hollow and semi-hollow instruments.

However Baldwin/Gretsch came up with some rather bizarre solid body creations, as well as some guitars that seemed to be variants of Gibson products. Though they were fine instruments, they never caught on.

There were a few 1970 Gretsch guitars that I admired.

Super Axe and Super Chet

One was the Gretsch Super Axe, and the other was the Super Chet.

1970 Baldwin 700

Baldwin still made some guitars under their own brand up through 1974. Although by 1969 some were made in Italy by Crucianelli, and rebranded with the Baldwin logo.

1969-70 Kay Electric Guitars

Kay Guitars had already been sold to Seeburg, a company known for manufacturing Juke Boxes.  In 1967 Kay Guitars then merged with Valco Musical instruments. But due to financial problems, both companies ended business in 1968.

Danelectro Guitar
Danelectro Guitars, founded in 1947 as an amplifier manufacturer/distributor. By 1954 the company began building guitars out of poplar frames topped with Masonite. The pickup covers were fashioned out of surplus lipstick tubes.

Although the construction was cheap, these guitars, and basses stood the test of time. The founder/inventor, Nate Daniels sold the company to Music Corporation of America (MCA) in 1966. The company went out of business by 1969.

Some of these company brand names emerged in later years, but the manufacturing was no longer done in the United States. Fifty years later, although much has been tried in the electric guitar industry, most companies harken back to turning out replicas of vintage models, due to consumer preference.

The one factor that has improved manufacturing of modern guitars is computerization. Virtually all modern guitars are built through computer aided design. In the past artisans 'eye-balled' it. Many individual luthiers still use their own templates.

Plek Pro Station

A newer machine called Plek is used by builders to set up exacting guitar neck specifications, install and dress frets and nuts.

Worker at the original Fender Factory

Guitar manufacturing has come a long way from 1970.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2020 (text only)


Shnookylangston said...

Great article, Marcus. I worked in a music store from around 1974-1976, and this brings back a lot of memories. I remember almost all these guitars. I once special-ordered a Flying V copy from Ibanez for a customer, and that guitar was really nice. Looked pretty much identical to the real deal except for the logo and sounded great.

zabdart said...

Still play my 1970 Telecaster and my 1970 Les Paul DeLuxe and love them as much as ever. You might mention that the 70s were the decade in which Taylor guitars really got going.
And on the subject of 70s acoustics, how about a post on S. L. Mossman, Michael Gurian and Bozo Podunavac (to say nothing of David Russell Young)? said...

You guys are both correct. I recall those 1970 instruments. Great ideas for future articles. All of those luthiers and companies made excellent instruments.

ankit verma said...

This is a super informative list. Just an FYI Julien's includes the buyer's premium in the prices it. All of the guitars you have listed here are listed much higher than what they sold for. I used to run the organization and have attended most of their sales since so I was there and I know.

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