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Guitar Guru

Article from Making Music, July 1987

vintage varmint


BEFORE WE GET DOWN, a reminder. Due to my modest and overwhelming success, it has for some time been impossible to print answers to every query sent in to this column. So please bear in mind the recently instigated scheme for Guru consultations which will overcome this deficiency.

If you supply as much information as you can about your electric guitar (sorry, no amps, no acoustics), and ENCLOSE AN SAE, then your good old Guru GUARANTEES a personal reply on a special form, regardless of whether it's used here or not. Another free (and unique) service for Making Music readers, in fact.

A clear photo of your electric guitar is the most helpful thing to send me. If your Nikon's knackered, a good sketch can be useful. Failing that, give as DETAILED a description as you can, including info on pickups and other hardware too. The more you like life really.

As usual, write to GUITAR GURU, (Contact Details).

THIS IS NOT the time to make jokes about the name Thatcher. So with no comment from me, Tom Thatcher from Salisbury, Wilts, writes, "I have a Danelectro 12-string, with a pear-shaped body and the logo 'Vincent Bell Bellzouki'. It has two bar pickups, and is very far from pristine but very playable. Any information?"

Certainly. The Bellzouki was imported from the USA by the Selmer company in the mid 1960s together with a more basic single pickup version and various other Danos (as they're affectionately known over the water). The renowned features of this brand are those of essential cheapness: bodies of masonite (called hardboard here) on cheapo timber frames lipstick-case pickups, and a simple wood-saddle bridge. All pretty basic, but very effective nonetheless. Original retail of the Bellzouki 2 was £63, but current value is nearer £200, and over in America prices of all models have risen dramatically in recent years as the brand is now regarded as an important part of their electric guitar history and heritage. (A Danelectro Guitarlin was featured as our Calendar picture in the September 1986 issue.)

Still with American guitars, Keith Newton from Northampton tells me, "I have a six-string solid bodied Ovation guitar, serial E4682. It has an active circuit, and a strange curved shape (which makes it very comfortable to play). Did Ovation make any other solids, as the only one I've seen unlike mine is Noddy Holder's 12-string version?"

Congratulations, Mr Newton, you're one of the comparatively few owners of this, the original Ovation solid. From the sketch of the shape you sent me, it seems you have a Breadwinner in your proud (?) mits. It could be the more deluxe Deacon model, possibly — check for slanty fingerboard inlays. As you say, it's great to play, but the beneficial aspects of its design were outweighed by its visuals: it proved to be a pretty disastrous seller in the UK (at least).

The Breadwinner and Deacon models appeared in 1971, and the earliest examples have nylon bridge saddles (later they were brass). Ovation's next solids were markedly conventional with no more excursions into weirdness; the Viper and Preacher appeared in 1976, later joined by the UK2. None achieved any great success, although they were good instruments. I would estimate yours to be from about 1974 — current value is around £150, well under half the original retail. So much for the unconventional approach, but I like it.

D A Hand of New Moston, Gtr Manchester brings us back to blighty with an old Fenton Weill guitar. "The shape," he tells me, "vaguely resembles a Strat: it has a tremolo unit like a Bigsby, and it's without its original pickups and scratchplate. Do you know anything about them?"

Yes, Mr Hand, and it's nice to receive something on a brand which was one of the mainstays of the UK industry in the early 1960s. The Fenton Weill designs often display a good deal of quirky character, something much missed these days. Your description isn't exactly over-generous, and could in fact apply to many of the models produced during the company's peak between 1960 and 1964. Evocative names like Triple Twistmaster, Spectratone and Twinmaster spring to mind, and that's just for starters. Yours could be any on these, and more. What a pity it's not in all-original condition. Pricewise the range originally cost anything from £30 to £80; current value of any nice example has to be much the same, although they're all pretty rare nowadays.

Stephen Hodgkinson from Denton, Gtr Manchester has a Gretsch bass. "It has a brown sunburst body with fake f-holes, black-painted neck with 34in scale, one volume, two switches, adjustable damper, and a metal nameplate screwed on the front with 'Gretsch Brooklyn Chicago', serial 61510. It's in full working order, and I think it was meant to be played double bass style, though the metal spike from the bottom is missing."

Your Gretsch bass is model 6070, the earliest version offered by the company. It was introduced in 1963 when it sold for £168; yours dates from 1964. I have memories of this one being quite a monster with something of a tree trunk neck and overall a bit of a handful.

The retractable cello style pin on the bottom indicated that the 6070's prime intention was to be played in an upright bass fashion, which probably made it easier to manage. This traditional approach by Gretsch was pretty unfashionable even in 1963; the Fender bass had been around for a good few years by then. By 1968, short-scale neck options were offered with Fenderish headstocks, while the body styling was altered to single cutaways and overall playability improved.

But none of the Gretsch basses achieved widespread popularity, and current values should reflect this lack of success — my motto in these cases is lemon then, lemon now. Not too long back it was almost hard to give these basses away, and prices were as low as £60. But that was when a Country Gent could be found for £150. Hard to believe nowadays. However, even with the current Gretsch boom, the basses don't command the same stratospheric prices as their six-string brethren, and languish around the £200 mark. And does the headstock plate really read 'Brooklyn Chicago'? If so, someone's geography requires improvement.

Graham Gunn from Glasgow has a Fender Strat. "Number on the backplate is 571558," he tells me, "but it only has a three-way selector. My only grudge is the intonation — it has been seen to twice, but with little success. Is it a common problem?"

The serial number indicates that Mr Gunn's Strat was made in 1974, and at this time the three-way selector was still standard fitting. Fender didn't catch up on this 'new' idea until 1977 — long after others were offering the same option. It is of course of all-USA origin, and current values of the previously unfashionable 1970s products have risen dramatically since the "orientation" of the Fender brand.

Intonation can be a problem on Strats, but is usually curable. Apart from the obvious causes — ie bridge, nut, and frets — pay particular attention to the height of the pickup's polepieces. If these are adjusted too close to the strings, the magnetic field can exert a pull, causing odd harmonics, wolftones, and poor intonation, particularly on the lower strings in the higher registers. The bridge pickup is often the culprit.

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Jul 1987

Feature by Paul Day

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