Oh man, am I experiencing déjà vu! No, I’m not remembering the 1950s and ’60s, when Valco-made brands such as Supro populated the musical instrument sections of those retail palaces we called “department stores.” Nor am I recalling the many Supro revivalists, from Pagey to punks to post-rock artistes. No, I’m flashing back to last summer, when I reviewed Supro’s Zep-tastic Black Magick combo amp in the August 2016 issue, hailing its astute compromise between vintage accuracy and cost-conscious modern production.
Something similar is happening with the first new Supro guitars in 50 years, and it’s a brilliant balancing act.
The Supro Story
A quick Supro recap: Valco folded in 1967, but, early this century, esteemed amp designer Bruce Zinky acquired the name and began issuing new amps that both revived and improved old Supro designs. Ownership eventually passed to New York’s Absara Audio, the folks behind Pigtronix pedals. Absara expanded on Zinky’s work, transforming a long-dormant brand into a popular and critically acclaimed amp line.
Judging by Supro’s initial 6-string release, they’re approaching guitar making much as they do amp building. Supro amps use modern production methods such as circuit board electronics and wood-composite cabinets, making them eminently affordable. At the same time, they reference Supro’s bitchin’ mid-century visuals—and, more important, their musical essence. Modern Supro amps usually sound as good as vintage models, and often better. And now Supro is doing a similar thing with guitars.
Islands and Ozarks
Supro is unveiling two new guitar lines. The Americana series includes 10 models with chambered mahogany bodies beneath modeled-plastic “Res-O-Glass” tops. Meanwhile, the dual-pickup Westbury is part of the solidbody Island series, whose models are all based on the 1962 Supro Ozark (famous as Jimi Hendrix’s first guitar). Westbury’s siblings are the three-pickup Hampton and the single-pickup Jamesport.
The Indonesia-built Westbury has an alder body and a set maple neck. Our review model’s ocean blue metallic finish is flawless. (The guitar is also available in black, white, turquoise, and tobacco burst.) The neck’s rear surface has a comfy matte texture. The body shape mirrors the original lines with a subtle perimeter bevel. Other retro flourishes include the asymmetric headstock with its lightning-bolt logo, small plastic knobs, and a “wave” tailpiece.
Meanwhile, a generic Tune-o-matic assembly replaces the original floating wooden bridge. The 6100 jumbo frets are fatter and taller than on originals, but they feel sexy, are expertly installed, and are great for the greasy blues and rock at which Supros excel. Kluson-style tuners are another modern update.
The star sonic attractions, however, are the recreated gold-foil pickups. Gold foils are famed for their fat, full-frequency tones, with hefty lows and ringing, transparent highs. They’re also remarkably quiet for single-coils.
Supro nailed the gold-foil vibe. Tones are complex and compelling, with that airy high end that can almost feel like a miked acoustic guitar. It’s a fat, full-range sound aerated by interesting spectral nooks and crannies. Bright clean tones shimmer without shrillness. Overdriven ones are meaty yet buoyant in an early Zeppelin way. The lows aren’t chunky in the modern rock/metal sense, but they’re smooth and satisfying. Westbury sounds substantial yet effervescent regardless of pickup setting.
For the longest time, I partly credited the wide-open gold-foil sound to chambered bodies made from light materials. But my time with Westbury, coupled with recent workbench experiments using various gold foils, convinces me that the character resides almost exclusively in the pickups. With good gold foils like these, you get their signature qualities regardless of body composition.
I love the fact that Supro devised a trapeze tailpiece, as opposed to taking the easy way out with a typical stop tailpiece. The extra string length contributes to Westbury’s zingy acoustic resonance and formidable sustain. You can also create cool bell-like effects by playing behind the bridge (as heard at 1:49 in the demo audio clip).
Westbury’s playability and consistency are likely to satisfy even choosy professional players, but simple chords and unrefined strumming sound great too. Westbury would be a great choice for a ham-fisted rhythm guitarist (pardon my bluntness), because its airy tones won’t hog all the band’s sonic space.
Like Supro’s current amps, the company’s debut guitar manages an impressive feat: employing budget-conscious modern construction techniques while successfully conjuring the soul of the instruments that inspired it. Westbury is well made and ultra-playable. It looks sharp. Its tones range from rude to angelic, oozing charm and character. And it sells for under a grand. Nicely done.
Watch the Review Demo: