The 50s and 60s were a time of visual wonderment in electric guitar design, and witnessed some truly beautiful, quirky and outlandish creations. The original examples that get the collectors twitching are, unsurprisingly, getting rarer and more expensive. Trouble is, many of them look great but are actually pigs to play, as electric guitar research and development was in its infancy and the manufacturing standards of the day were variable. In terms of playability some models were pretty poor to start with, while others have not grown old gracefully, developing stability, intonation and electrical issues over the years and becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.
The good news? There are a number of affordable guitars available today which combine eccentric vintage-vibe with the benefits of modern design, manufacture and quality-control. It remains to be seen which, if any, of these will become the collectors’ items of the future, but in the here and now they play great, look great and offer serious value for money.
Here are our five of our current favourites:
This gorgeous small-bodied, semi-hollow arch-top features the classic combination of maple top on a mahogany body, 24.75” scale length, glued maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets.
Pickups are authentic P90 single coils, which balance nicely with the semi-hollow construction and give a nice combination of warmth and bite. Master volume, master tone, a volume control for each pickup and a three-way switch allows plenty of tonal tweaking.
Finally there’s a Bigsby™ B70 Vibrato installed behind the Locktone Tune-o-matic™/Stopbar bridge providing wobble-factor and completing a faultless aesthetic. The guitar comes in a choice of Antique Natural or Wine Red.
Minimalist and easily fall-in-lovable withable(?!), the newest version of Danelectro’s lightweight stripped-down axe combines a solid spruce top and semi-hollow body with f-hole (actually more of a swoosh than a ‘F’). A bolt-on maple neck with 21 fret rosewood fingerboard and a 25” scale length.
Two ’56 ‘lipstick’ single coil pickups add to the fifties vibe and two stacked volume/tone controls plus three-way pickup selector switch provide a surprigin range of usable tones. The ’59 has an adjustable wrap-around bridge and a pleasing scratchplate which both flows into and mirrors the sound hole.
There are a few body/scratchplate colour combinations – our favourite on this guitar a is good old black’n’white, closely followed by the unusual ‘buttercup’.
A great choice to sling over your shoulder if you’re taking the bus to the rehearsal or gig.
A quite recent addition to the Gretsch range, the Streamliners offer an ultra-affordable entry into Gretsch-world. These are not reissues of bygone models, but a modern take, combining all the Gretsch flavours of the past with some modern twists.
To combat feedback from the two high-output new-design Broad’tron humbuckers, the G2622T’s f-holed body conceals a lightweight spruce center block, so no problems cranking this one up in a live situation.
Other features include a U-profile, 22 medium-jumbo fret neck with easy-to-play 12” fingerboard radius, pearloid block inlays and white binding, separate volume controls per pickup plus master volume and tone and a three-way pickup selector switch. A Bigsby-licensed B70 vibrato tailpiece and anchored Adjusto-matic™ bridge provide additional rock’n’roll vibe.
The Fender Jazzmaster was introduced in 1958 and although it never really found favour in the Jazz world it originally set its sights on, it has, along with its sibling the Jaguar, an enduring fan club amongst indie, rock and just generally subversive players.
Squier’s affordable take is visually authentic to the originals and familiar features include the floating vibrato bridge, dual-circuit electronics, and 21 fret rosewood fingerboard atop a maple neck.The Squier has a basswood body (the more expensive Fender’s typically use alder). Nods to modern-players’ tastes include a pair of Duncan-Designed JM101 single coil pickups and a flatter (9.5”) neck radius.
This is one cool-dude option if a Fender is out of budget and it looks, plays and sounds the part.
The Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster is available in a choice of Three-Colour Sunburst, Olympic White and Sonic Blue.
A little more expensive than the others here, but the Mondial has some extra tricks up its sleeve, aside from being a real looker. Italia guitar sprung from the imagination of British designer Trev Wilkinson, who combined his taste for 50’s and 60’s era guitars with his love of all things Italian.
The Mondial has a mahogany body with a ‘Res-O’Glass’ top and rubberised binding (as was sometimes used in the era), a bolt-on adjustable action maple neck and rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets.
It’s in the electrics department things get really interesting though,with two completely separate systems on board, each with its own output socket. One, a pair of Wilkinson WVC Humbuckers with master tone and volume and a three way pickup switch. The other features a piezo acoustic pickup under the wooden bridge, with 2 band EQ and another master volume. So you can use this as a conventional electric, a piezo-charged acoustic, or plug into two amps at once and blend the two. Versatile or what?
The Italia Mondial Classic is available in pastel blue or cream.
For more retro quirk please see our recent post on the Fender Offset range.
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