The first Soviet-made electric guitar was the Tonika shown here. Manufactured in multiple locations from the late ’60s till the early ’80s, it featured Guyatone-inspired fretboard inlays and pickups, and a multi-pin DIN output jack.
TonikaThe original Soviet solidbody, this design was produced from the late 1960s up to the early 1980s. Initially designed and made in Leningrad (now known as Saint Petersburg), this particular variation was made at the Sverdlovsk (Ural) Keyboard Factory from 1971 to 1977. It is estimated that the factory churned out around 10,000 of them.
The Tonika doesn’t appear to have any influences from the U.S., although—like almost all Soviet-era guitars—it does use a Fender-style scale of 25.5", so who knows? The most obvious outside influence is evident in Tonika pickups and neck markers, which are very similar to Japanese Guyatones from the early 1960s. This model features typical volume and tone knobs, as well as a rotary pickup selector. The output jack is a multi-pin DIN plug—a Soviet industry standard for many years.
The neck has a comfortable, slightly thick profile, and the radius seems small and tight. They feel similar to the early Japanese Kawai guitars that Hound Dog Taylor favored. There’s acceptable action in the first five frets, but the ebony fretboard has a rough-cut feel with very raw fretwork.
Like many subsequent Soviet electrics, Tonika bodies were mostly made from birch, and the necks from beech wood. These were painted using a very thick lacquer, almost always black. There’s no adjustable truss rod.
The Tonika tremolo is a spectacle of original design and engineering. It features a heavy piece of metal recessed into the body and a cam-style mechanism whose range of movement is small, yielding only subtle pitch shifts that throw the guitar out of tune without too much effort. The tuners, however, are of acceptable quality, and the inscribed sparkle pickguard is pretty awesome.
Plugged in, the Tonika can yield some good tones with the aid of a boost or overdrive. That said, there’s some extraneous noise at higher volumes, and because each pickup as a whole can’t be adjusted for height (you can only raise or lower pole-piece screws), tonal balance is hard to achieve.
About 7,000 Aelita EGS 650s (top)—which were heavily influenced by Teisco ET-200 “Tulip” solidbodies (bottom)—were made at Russia’s Rostov-on-Don factory from 1974 to 1980.
Aelita EGS 650Made between 1974 and 1980, the Aelita EGS 650 was one of the first models made at the Rostov-on-Don factory in Russia. During that period, about 7,000 were produced. Several design cues—such as the overall shape, the pickups, and the tremolo—suggest that it was highly influenced by the extremely popular and affordable Teisco ET-200 (aka the Tulip) made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Teisco was owned by Kawai of Japan.
But while ET-200s are very light and thin, even fragile feeling, the EGS 650 is nearly twice as thick and heavy, with much harder body lines. And whereas the Tulip has softer curves that complement the flower-engraved pickguards, the Aelita has more angular sculpting and an industrial feel, all of which leads me to believe the Soviet clone was inspired by photos rather than close inspection of an actual Teisco.
EGS 650 electronics feature an interesting array of knobs and buttons similar to 1960s Italian guitars: Each pickup has its own on-off button, and three more buttons engage preset EQ settings—all of which sound poor. The pickups are weak, and as with the Tonika, filtering is abundant. By replacing the existing wiring with a more organic, point-to-point approach, you can get some interesting lo-fi tones out of these guitars.
But even then, the guitars are limited in tone and output. Meanwhile, the surface-mounted tremolo, which also seems inspired by the popular Kawai unit of the time, uses a seemingly industrial-strength spring and requires quite a tug on the bar to move.
Some players might notice that the EGS 650’s pearloid headstock overlay is also reminiscent of ’60s Italian electrics. There’s also a polished metal cover over a port yielding access to an adjustable truss rod. Meanwhile, back at the body, the bridge can be adjusted for both height and intonation—although the range of movement is minimal. Such features, as well as the inclusion of bridge covers and a mute bar, must have made the guitar seem like a real improvement over early Tonika guitars. But in reality, Aelitas were often even rougher in terms of playability.