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Weird Guitars: Vintage Freak Show

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Wurlitzer Cougar
For most guitarists, the Wurlitzer name stirs up memories of cool electric pianos or the old organ in your grandparents’ sitting room. But for about a year in the mid 1960s, the company produced an interesting line of electric guitars. Back in the ’80s, I found the guitar shown in the same small-town piano store where it originally sold in the ’60s. The whole shop was a time capsule from that bygone era—so much so that I initially thought the guitar was brand new.

It dates to 1966 and is called the Cougar model 2512 (the 2512 denotes the sunburst color). Cougars were also available in “Taffy White” and “Lollipop Red.” There were two other Wurlitzer models (the Wildcat and the Gemini) and the entire lineup was referred to as “The Wild Ones!”

These wild things were made in Neodesha, Kansas, at the Holman-Woodell factory, which made guitars from 1965 until around 1968. This factory produced some cool guitars, including the bizarre LaBaye 2x4 models made (somewhat) famous by Devo’s Bob Mothersbaugh.

The well-made pickups and tremolo were Holman-Woodell exclusives, produced in house. The Sensi-Tones single-coils sound good, but suffer a bit from a complex wiring scheme with many capacitors buried under the pickguard. The tones are definitely 1960s, albeit a little thin-sounding. Cougars were wired for stereo—they are among the first stereo guitars—so there is a fader knob as well as a 3-way pickup selector. The little rocker switches are preset tone controls that seem to aim for rock or jazz settings. These were ambitious guitars, both in design and function, with some nice components and unique designs. Unfortunately, they never sold well and were out of production after about a year.

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