Throughout his long career, Trev Wilkinson has always made a
point to remember the beginner, and he considers every skill
level when making such product decisions as adding features
and pricing instruments. Recently, Wilkinson combined
forces with one of Britain’s premier independent distributors, John
Hornby Skewes & Co., to oversee their affordable Vintage guitars
and add his own, more upscale Fret-King brand to JHS’s catalog.
The idea behind Vintage is to offer accessibly priced, vintagelooking
guitars with great finishes, quality parts, and features that
are typically found on guitars costing upward of a thousand dollars.
These instruments include Wilkinson-designed hardware, a
bubinga neck extension that runs into the body to add rigidity and
enhance acoustic resonance, and a Roll Control knob that allows
variable coil splitting.
“I think the unfortunate truth of our industry is that an awful
lot of things have been taken out [of affordable guitars] in order to
achieve a price point,” Wilkinson says, “but the reality is if you go
in at the beginning wanting to achieve all those things, the price
point isn’t actually that different. So you say, ‘Why don’t we do it
then?’ And I think that’s really behind an awful lot of the success of
When it comes to Fret-King, Wilkinson keeps his designs classic
without being forced into “nostalgia corner” as he describes
it—the phenomena of guitar players snubbing useful innovations in
exchange for blind loyalty to Fender and Gibson designs. According
to Wilkinson, Leo Fender himself was a victim of this phenomenon.
“In conversations I had with Leo,” Wilkinson says, “he could
never understand why people held his early guitars in such reverence,
when in his mind the [G&L] guitars he built before he died
were far superior to his previous guitars. He couldn’t understand
that he’d already created that nostalgia.”
It’s too soon to tell, but Wilkinson might be fostering some nostalgia
for his own pioneering technological advances in the music
industry. He’s been described as “Britain’s one-man think tank.”
And at 62, he’s certainly not throwing in the towel anytime soon—
asserting that there’s always more work to be done when it comes
to improving guitar playability.
In addition to its Distressed
Sunburst finish, this Vintage
V6HMRSB has a pair of
a WHHB humbucker, a
distressed WVCD trem, and
Wilkinson EZ LOK tuners.
We’ll let him tell you the rest.
When you got onboard with
JHS and the Vintage brand,
what was your first order of
I took about 57 models and
kind of went through each one,
spec’ing it and putting what
I considered to be the right
pickup with the right guitar,
and choosing the right vibratos,
tailpieces, and tuners. I went
through all the body shapes
and all the body designs. Some
obviously are paying homage
to past classic designs and some
are unique to Vintage guitars.
What would you say is behind
the success of the Vintage brand?
They just offer so much value
for money. They sound so
good, play so well, and perform
so well, that sometimes people
look at them and go, “Wow!
What a fantastic bargain—it’s
too cheap—why don’t you
make it more expensive?” And
we say, “Why should we?”
Everyone should have access to
a working guitar.
There are manufacturers
who have very, very high dollar
instruments and are obviously
interested in creating aspirational
consumer brands. But then,
as you come down the dollar
chain from, let’s say, a guitar at
$3000 or $4000, you have to
take features out because obviously
if you’ve got everything
in a $4000 guitar, you can’t put
everything in the $2000 guitar,
because then your customer
wouldn’t have to buy the $4000
guitar. We’ve always taken the
philosophy of, “Why don’t we
build it in at $299, rather than
take it out at $299?” We can do
this because we’re not trying to
protect a very expensive guitar.
There came a point in our
industry where prices came
down so low it was actually
impossible to make a reasonable
guitar cheaper than what
the big brands were doing. So
the sensible distributors—the
people who were in control of
their own destinies—looked at
the situation and said, “Well,
we’ve got to change. We can no
longer compete on price, so we
have to compete on quality and
features.” And I think that was
the key for the Vintage brand.
We concentrated on the quality
of the product and the features.
It’s part of a long-term plan and
probably the most important
way that we went from a “me
too” guitar to a brand that
people ask for by name because
they know it’s a quality product.
The Wilkinson ADT Self-Tuning Bridge uses signals from the vibrating strings to control onboard electric motors and automated
tuning gears. Located between the bridge pickup and ADT unit, the string sensor also provides a pitch readout for the player.
Certain features make
Vintage guitars, as you say, “the
bigger bang for the buck.” I
partnered up with a company
in Korea to do some very traditional
bridges, but we’ve made
changes to them so they perform
much better. For instance, on
the spring block, the holes are
staggered in a way that allows
the strings to leave the block and
pass over the saddles at an angle
that helps keep those strings
in tune. I also developed some
tuning keys called EZ-LOKs
that work like a locking tuner,
but actually don’t require any
There’s nothing to unwind when
you’re slacking the strings using
the vibrato, and they always
come back to pitch.