The other day I was thinking about how shopping has changed over the years. I was raised during a time when there were still corner general stores hawking penny candy, and when Sears catalogs were still mailed to families offering myriad products from fireplace inserts to swimming pools. Catalog shopping offered different outlets for different urges, but for guitarists catalogs really raised the game when it came to sensationalism and visual dynamite.
One of the best examples of catalog hype comes from the Custom Kraft brand. The name was used by the St. Louis Music Supply company, which would slap the Custom Kraft name on all sorts of electric guitars that were made primarily by Valco and Guyatone. I found a 1969 catalog in a large box of paper from a shuttered music store, which included all sorts of fragile artifacts like manuals, other catalogs, and advertisements. And in that catalog I came across a photo of the Custom Kraft Beat Blaster. Yes, with a name reminiscent of ’80s boom boxes, the Beat Blaster was the guitar to own. Tricked out with a large pickguard, shapely headstock badge, and a pair of humbucker-looking pickups, the Beat Blaster was certainly ready to rattle some heads back in the day.
The following is the Beat Blaster copy from the catalog: All that a professional guitar player could ask for. Two extended magnetic field pickups with individual pole adjustments. New super slim neck with adjustable rod. Rosewood fingerboard. Special black nylon flat tape wound electric strings for whisper quiet, nimble fingering.
I’d be short-changing you if I didn’t mention the other Custom Kraft solidbody guitars, like the 22"-scale Groover and the full-scale Agitator, both of which sported a single pickup. The names of these Custom Kraft guitars sound as if they could have been used by a high school counselor when speaking to a parent. “Do you feel your child is a chilled-out groover, or is Junior more of an agitator? Now if you choose beat blaster, then we have to recommend further intervention.”
If you were interested in hollowbody guitars complete with lightning bolt f-holes, then you’d be looking at the Super Zapp and the Sound Saturator (12-string), or the Bone Buzzer for the bassist in your family. And yes, even their amps had suggestive names, like the Fireball Special, the Vulca-Throb, the Dyna-Blast, and the Quake Maker, for a truly earth-moving experience.
Although these guitars were all touted as being “Made in the USA,” Valco was in their death throes at the time and was importing bodies, necks, and tremolo systems from the Matsumoku factory in Japan. The electronics were still all Valco-made, but the wiring was a real rat’s nest of tone-sucking caps and resistors. (Valco called their pre-set tone switches “tone-shading.”)
On first listen, the entire Custom Kraft line-up can really leave one unimpressed. But, as with most ill-planned guitars, a little rewiring or a little tweaking can bring out the true nature of the Valco pickups. When they’re straight, they’re great! They have a really nice sound and I’ve always been a big fan of these units. It should be said that Valco pickups only look like humbuckers from the outside. Underneath the cover they are single-coils, with the magnets laying side-by-side with the coil rather than underneath.
I always get a little tickle when I come across the word “craft” spelled with a “K.” Like Kustom amps, Old Kraftsman guitars, and these Custom Kraft guitars … it’s as if the “K” meant business!
It seems that if you were in the business of selling guitars back in the day, then you really needed a good catalog designer and some far-out guitars with extreme names. Do guitar companies even make catalogs anymore? I don’t know, but I do miss paper!