Sometimes, different is good … and/or unexpectedly awesome.
As a young, arrogant upstart of a guitar player, I had standards. Very early on, I realized the pawnshop beaters I could afford were beneath my dignity, especially if I was to be like the British idols of the day. I sneered at the Kay, Kent, Silvertone and Harmony starter guitars all my friends were playing. I didn’t even want to breathe the same air occupied by a Teisco Delray, Eko, Airline or Supro. So I scrimped, saved, begged and began my pursuit of Gibsons, Fenders and Ricks—along with several other really usable axes.
Man, how times have changed. I’m not saying I’d give up my old standbys, but I sure get excited these days when I see Jack White or The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach step out with one of those sweet old piece-of-crap guitars. Yes, those guitars that are now laughing at me, mocking me mercilessly with taunts of, “You could have had any of us for under a hundred bucks” (I think a top-of-the-line, three-pickup Harmony semi-hollowbody was $59.95 back then).
Of course, I’m not quite willing to swap my Strats and Teles for modern Korean sendups of 60s-era, low-end guitars. But I like the fact that some of those old trademarks are making a comeback and inspiring new designs. And while I love American guitars, it’s no secret that a lot of iconic American logos (e.g., Gretsch and Epiphone) are being tacked onto Asian-made instruments—so I figure anything is fair game.
If you’re looking for something a little different—both tonally and image-wise—there are some very vibey guitars out there that you might want to consider (at a fraction of the cost of their vintage originals). That is, unless you’re like I used to be: too cool to have a little fun onstage.
Check Out These Guys
Eastwood Guitars are bringing back several of the bygone National, Airline and Supro styles. Replacing the old res-o-phonic (fiberglass) bodies with chambered mahogany, they’re using decent humbuckers and hardware, and very playable maple/rosewood bolt-on necks to create great-looking, serious instruments. The Bigsby tailpieces add the perfect touch. These Korean-made throwbacks aren’t dive-bombing metal masters, but they have a great voice and vibe for roots rock and blues. Plus, anything that comes in seafoam green always gets my vote. General price ranges are $879-1199 online, and they offer several additional retro styles.
Eastwood Airline Map (available in seafoam green, red, black or white)
Eastwood Airline Coronado ’59 (available in white, black or metallic blue)
Airline ’59 Town & Country DLX (available in redburst or vintage cream)
DiPinto Guitars started as a repair shop in Philadelphia. An interest in oddball and unusual guitars led to Chris DiPinto designing several of his own models, which are now manufactured in Korea. Elliot Easton, Earl Slick, Dick Dale and Jack White are a few of the players using DiPintos in their arsenals. The Belvedere models are rockabilly-ready while the Galaxie 4, with four pickups, sparkle finishes and mother-of-toilet-seat trim, are surf-inspired beauties, bringing new tones to the (beach) party. Their looks may be playful, but these mahogany, maple-necked standouts are all serious players, and all under $700 online.
DiPinto Belvedere Deluxe (available in black sparkle or red sparkle)
DiPinto Galaxie 4 (available in silver sparkle, pink sparkle, orange or sunburst)
(Check out the pink sparkle: Yowzaa!)
Italia Guitars definitely lean a little harder toward the cheesy side. They’re all about sparkle and pearloid, and I’m not sure you could ever be taken seriously with one of these guys. But you WILL stand out with one of these retro-inspired classics, and you might very well find some yet-unknown tones from their unique pickup switching. Prices are under $600 online.
Italia Modena Classic (available in green, red, blue or silver sparkle)
Italia Imola (available in red, black or white)
If you’re after something even more authentic, you might want to search vintage sites like Reverb.com for a selection of vintage Hagstrom, Goya, Teisco, Supro, Vox, Kay and other oldies. Prices will be all over the map—but so are the sounds and the cool factor. At worst, you’ll have some very distinctive six-string art pieces to hang on your walls. Toss in the inevitable envy of your peers, and it should make your investment seem downright reasonable.