I love old vintage guitars, but they’re so dang expensive these days. So instead of shelling out big bucks for a vintage Gibson or Fender, many bottom feeders like me turn to the secondary brands like Silvertone, Harmony, and Kay. But in recent years, even these have skyrocketed in price. What’s a tight-fisted picker to do? Get creative, of course!
I was at a vintage guitar show in Los Angeles about 15 years ago when I spotted an old Supro case hiding underneath a dealer’s table. Whoa—inside was a ’50 Supro Dual Tone. The guitar was in parts, so I had to be careful not to get burned. Almost all the parts seemed to be there except for the original bridge and part of the lower pickguard, which was missing in action. The dealer wanted $125, but I talked him down to $90 and took it home, happy I had something to show after spending a day at a high-priced guitar show.
I took the parts to my favorite L.A. repairman, John Wescott, who shook his head when he saw what I had, mumbling something like “Oh man, here we go again.” He told me to take two aspirin and call him in a week.
When the guitar was ready, I was blown away at the restoration job John had done. For the missing wooden bridge, he installed a used, gold-plated Tune-o-matic. This was a real improvement as it allowed more precise intonation than the fixed saddle that originally came with the instrument.
To replace the missing section of the pickguard, John masterfully fabricated a new piece from another pickguard, carefully cutting the plastic to match the unique swooping design. The only thing he said he didn’t want to do was extend the white racing stripe from the existing pickguard to the newly fabricated section. He said that would cost me way more anyway.
His bill was a bargain at $75, so for a total of $165, I got a cool ’50s guitar. At the time, Supro Dual Tones were priced at $400–$500. Nowadays, these go for $1,200–$1,800. I felt great about saving money, but I felt even better that I’d brought an otherwise unusable instrument back to life.
Bottom Feeder tip #344: Always make friends with a skilled repairman who has reasonable rates. A pro with the workbench can really save the day.
So how do I like it? Old Supros have fat necks, and for the uninitiated this can take some getting used to, but I find it’s actually really fun to play. I just love the guitar’s looks, and the graduated tailpiece on these models is especially cool. But the pickups are the real prize here, and they just ooze vintage tone. It’s definitely a keeper.
1. My 1957 Supro Dual Tone after being rebuilt. Notice the retrofitted Tune-omatic bridge. 2. The lower portion of the pickguard was missing when I bought the guitar. Here’s a close-up of the repaired pickguard with its new control section.
3. Link Wray—a pioneer of electric guitar distortion and instrumental mayhem— with his Supro Dual Tone. 4. Supro outfitted the Dual Tone with a carved, compensated wooden bridge similar to a vintage archtop. Photo courtesy of justgreatguitars.com.
Will Ray is a founding member of the Hellecasters guitar-twang trio. He also does guitar clinics promoting his namesake G&L signature model 6-string, and produces artists and bands at his studio in Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact Will on Facebook and at willray.biz.