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Silvertone guitars and basses were offered through Sears and Roebuck stores and catalogs as beginner-level, quality made instruments from 1954 until the early ’70s. While originally marketed for novices— Jerry Garcia, John Fogerty, Dave Grohl, and Brad Paisley all noted a Silvertone as one of their first electric guitars—the Sears-branded axes have found a soft spot in the vintage market with collectors [as evident in PG’s March 2010 cover story“Funky, Cheap Electrics: Formerly LowEnd Kitsch... Now Cool Collectibles”] and oddball admirers like Beck, who often uses a 1448 Silvertone guitar.
The Silvertone name and brand was just that—a moniker started in 1915 when Sears began offering hand-cranked phonographs that expanded to include radios in the 1920s. The line grew in the 1930s and replaced the Supertone brand used for their musical instruments. Like most big box retailers of the day, Sears outsourced its musical instrument production to actual guitar companies like Kay, Harmony, Valco, and Danelectro. But Danelectro quickly became the go-to producer for Silvertone instruments selling about 85 percent of their guitars and basses through Sears. Many of the instruments made by Danelectro for Sears were identical to their own specs—the only differences were the name on the headstock and various color offerings.
In 1958, Silvertone attempted its first dive into the low end with the 1373 bass, which featured a short-scale setup and six strings. However, the shock-and-awe factor quickly wore off and it was discontinued the following year, and replaced by a standard four-string, semi-hollow, single-cut 1444 bass. The last model introduced under the Sears and Roebuck Silvertone name was the 1490 in 1968. It was the only bass exclusively built and distributed by the Japanese company Teisco.
The ’69 Silvertone 1490 bass showcased here has a 30" scale, three-tone sunburst, double-cutaway 14"-wide body—described in that year’s Sears and Roebuck catalog as hardwood—and a rosewood fretboard on a maple neck. Sears described it by saying, “an ultra-slim neck gives ‘uniform feel’ throughout the whole register.” Additional appointments include 20 frets, two singlecoils that are controlled by individual rocker tabs, two Volume knobs, a Tone control, an adjustable bridge, two-piece celluloid pickguard, and a thumb rest. As shown in the original Sears ad, this Silvertone originally went for just $77.95.
A special thanks to Greg Mayo of Greg’s Guitars in Atlanta, Georgia, and Randy Holmes of Silvertoneworld.net [who supplied the 1969 Sears ad image], for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.
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