Tuesday, January 21, 2014

1939 Supertone Singing Cowboys Guitar

You might think I am featuring this guitar because the accent red color on it happens to match the color of my garage.  Not quite - I am featuring this Supertone singing cowboys guitar because it is from 1939 and it is in immaculate condition.  Seventy five years old - all original - and really quite pristine.

Picked this one up off of ebay for practically nothing quite some time ago.  I think people shied away from it because it was in such good condition that it looks like a reissue.  There were a couple of reissues of this guitar.  Harmony did one in the fifties and there was a more recent chinese reissue.  When i got the guitar i even thought that it was a reissue when i took it out of the box because it was so clean.  Paper tag in the soundhole and stamps confirm it to be model 237 stamped in 1939.  I believe these were actually made in 1938.

In terms of playability, most of these cowboy guitars are far from desirable.  Many of them are considered wall hangers and make great decorations.  I can't imagine a lodge in Montana or Wyoming that doesn't have one.  I would say the one cowboy guitar that was fairly well built was the Gene Autry model which began as a Supertone product and eventually became a Harmony product.  No one ever expected these instruments to be used in any sort of professional setting.  They were made to catch on with the cowboy craze and western movies of the 1940's.  There were numerous versions of the cowboy guitar that came under different names.  Of course we have The Singing Cowboys and Gene Autry, but there was also a Roy Rogers model, a Home on the Range model, The Plainsman(which hung on the coattails of a Gary Cooper movie with the same title) and far to many more to mention.  They are fun guitars to own as the whole idea of stenciling a guitar seems to be a thing of the past - although Martin, Gretsch, and Collings have all come out with recent examples of stenciled guitars with a cowboy theme.

This guitar actually plays okay.  It could use a neck set and if you were really concerned about tone you might add a fixed bridge, but i think I'll just leave it be.  Look how pristine the body of this guitar is and how nicely the stencil has held up against time.  I wouldn't want to cover that up with a much larger fixed bridge. In terms of it being rare, you will find these kicking around on a fairly regular basis.  You will almost certainly be able to find the Gene Autry model just about any week you look on ebay.  As far as this particular instrument goes you will see the reissues now and then but it is somewhat rare to find an original like this one and even more difficult to find one is this nice of shape.  I'm not sure what that means.  As I stated earlier folks are not beating down the doors for these types of instruments.  Nonetheless, I think if you are a collector that this makes a nice funky addition to that collection.  They represent  not only an important period in guitar making history, but an important cultural time in our history.  I can't think of to many things that are more American than an American made guitar featuring our love affair with the cowboy.
You don't see many faux granite fretboards with red dot fret markers
the headstock is a helpful way to identify the maker of this instrument.  A definite Supertone/Harmony characteristic

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gretsch G5265 Jet Baritone

The great Gretsch guitar name has been around for almost as long as guitars have been electrified.  If I had the dough, I could think of 4 or 5 models that I would like to have in my collection.  With their cool stylings, unique tones and a history of players that any guitar company would love to hold claim to, Gretsch guitars hold a pretty special and unique place in guitar history.

Just imagine at one time Brooklyn, NY had both Gretsch guitars and the Dodgers as ambassadors of the neighborhood.  Now, this made in America product of the past is a little more tricky to pin down.  They were bought out by Baldwin Piano in the late sixties ceased production in the eighties, went through a few generations of the Gretsch name attempting to reinvigorate the company and were eventually acquired by Fender instruments.  Made in America, or made in Japan, or made in China?  It's a bit sketchy.  Apparently there is an American custom shop but most of the product is from the Far East.  There is a lot to wade through if you are a through and through Gretsch fan.

Nonetheless, Gretsch(or fender or whoever) has been producing and reissuing a lot of instruments lately with classic names like Electromatic, Jet, Falcon, Country Gentleman, and Tennessee Rose.  All names that could double as a really cool kitchen appliance or western movie character.

All this backstory leads us to todays subject - The Gretsch G5265 Jet Baritone Guitar.

looks like a giraffes neck on a guitar

This guitar absolutely required a bit of a review here.  I dare you to venture further online and attempt to decide if this is the guitar for you.  The reviews are all over the place and fairly polarized.  Some folks loved it and a lot of folks had a lot of problems with it - so I'll try to sort through some of it.

One of the big problems people had is that the guitar is called a baritone guitar but when they received it in the mail they were surprised to find that it is really set up as a six string bass.  This is a contemporary problem and shows where most people are doing their shopping these days.  I can't fault people as I take a fair amount of chances on ebay and if you think about it this is how dad and grandpa bought their guitars back in the day from the Sears or Montgomery Wards catalog.  They would look at a picture, read the description and hope that the guitar was all it claimed to be.

I had the good fortune of actually playing this guitar in a little hometown music store so I knew exactly what I was getting.  It is true that this guitars name is a bit misleading as it really is set up as a six string bass.  This can be easily modified by restringing it and cutting a new nut to accommodate the skinnier strings.  I happen to really like the bass setup.  That is how I initially played it and it is what drew me to the instrument.  I can remember picking the guitar up and just fingerpicking it without any amplification.  I knew it was going to be something special.  Plugged it in and it really soared.  It was a sound I had never heard before or at least a sound I had never been able to create with any other instrument I have ever owned.  This guitar gets a lot of work in the studio.  It provides some wonderful colors to a tune and can be used as a backing pad just as well.  I've never used any effects - just fingerpicked it coming straight out of a dry amp.  Playing triads on the higher strings can really add a new dimension to your tune.

As a songwriter, the most important aspect of this guitar for me is that it inspired me to write. This is probably the best compliment i can give an instrument.  The sound was so unique that a song came running out of me within a short time of owning the instrument.  The best part is that i am sure there are more songs stuck inside this guitar waiting to come out.

It's a long guitar with an almost 30 inch scale.  Even so it plays with ease.  The strings fret easily and the fretboard and neck are both smooth as one could expect.  It comes with a pair of Gretsch mini humbuckers and a real deal Bigsby tremelo system.  This is where many have assessed the problems lie.  The guitar does not come with a roller bridge to accommodate the Bigsby and so if you are wanging away on that Bigsby there may tend to be some movement in the bridge as the strings are carrying it along with them when the trem is being used.  This is a valid point and something that was overlooked in the design.  I don't get to involved with the trem so it's a non issue for me.

The guitar stays in tune(if you are not wailing on the trem), it intonates properly, is easy and fun to play and like all Gretsch guitars is quite a looker.  That's generally all the assessment i need.  Yes, it's made in China and there are a few design flaws that some seem to consider a bigger problem than i do, but this guitar gets a two thumbs up from your grandpas guitar.  If you are really nitpicky about your setup, you might want to spend the extra bucks for something else.  If you are looking for a wonderful new tool to add to your arsenal at a very reasonable price point than this instrument is worth taking a look at.