Silvertone revisits a classic with improvements that enhance its stability and versatility.
Silvertone spent decades maligned as the ugly duckling on the electric guitar and amplifier pond. Because Silvertones were relatively affordable instruments sold by Sears, Roebuck & Company from the 1930s through the early ’70s, they were viewed as stepping-stones to the Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, or Rickenbacker you’d get when you got serious. But since the ’90s, many vintage Silvertone guitars and amps (typically those built by Harmony and Danelectro) have gained the respect and collector attention they always deserved.
With all this renewed interest, Samick revived the Silvertone name. And in the past year, they’ve started to revisit some of the Silvertone brand’s most loved designs. One of the most interesting original offerings, the 1423 (also branded as the Harmony Jupiter H49), was made from 1959 through 1962 and it’s the inspiration for the guitar reviewed here.
The designers behind the original twin-pickup 1423 likely used Gibson’s Les Paul Jr. as a point of departure. And at a glance, the new 1423 looks like a straightforward reissue. It’s got the same single-cutaway body as the original with a sharp-looking black sparkle finish and white binding with a fine black pinstripe. A white, foxtail-shaped pickguard is home to five black knobs and a chicken-head selector switch. The rosewood fretboard is dressed with classy block inlays and the classic, slight, and snaky Silvertone script logo adorns the headstock.
However, there are a number of differences—both cosmetic and structural—between the 1423 and its predecessor. Most significantly, this version is a mahogany solidbody with a four-screw, bolt-on neck, where the original was a semi-hollow with a three-screw neck. The original included a rosewood archtop-style bridge, but the new version has a Tune-o-matic-style bridge (with a retainer wire) that provides better adjustability and intonation.
DeArmond silver-foil pickups were standard on the early 1423, and the reissue comes with Duncan-designed humbuckers that bear a closer resemblance to Gretsch Filter’Trons than the DeArmonds.
Less significant details include a white plastic nut in place of an aluminum nut. Closed-back tuners with chrome knobs replace the old open-geared machines with white plastic buttons. And this version has a pair of chrome strap buttons instead of a single white endpin, so you wont have to tie your strap off at the headstock. Also, the trapeze tailpiece on the reissue uses a slightly different design—a raised diamond for embellishment instead of three horizontal lines.
Overall, our 1423 is a solidly built guitar. The 20 frets are well dressed, if just a tad jagged at the edges of the fretboard. The neck fits snug in its pocket and the finish is free of defects. Shipping a guitar in the dead of winter is always tricky business, and guitar’s travels through the cold probably helped undo the factory setup to some extent. As a result, there was a little fret buzz on notes below the 5th fret, but raising the action using the bridge’s thumbwheels was a simple fix.
Being semi-hollow, examples of the original 1423 fall in the vicinity of five pounds, but our reissue is more substantial at seven pounds, 14 ounces. It’s still very comfortable to hold and feels compact and well balanced. The neck has a very comfortable C shape. Unfortunately Silvertone ditched the chunkier neck profile we saw on the prototypes, but this current profile is a nice compromise, neither too thin nor too cumbersome. Gibson players in particular will feel very much at home with it, particularly given the 1 11/16" wide nut and 24.75" scale length. Despite the less-than-ideal setup, the guitar plays very well—a definite improvement over a typical, well-used vintage Silvertone.
The controls on the 1423 include volume and tone for each pickup, a 3-way selector switch, and, for the middle position only, an almost Rickenbacker-like blend knob that rolls off the highs and boosts the mids. The knobs fall in a straight line—blend, volume, tone, volume, tone. As a player accustomed to the layout on twin-pickup Gibsons, this arrangement felt peculiar at first. It was somewhat distracting to have to reach down toward the lower bout to work the tone and volume knobs, which, incidentally, did not have the most satisfying taper.
The Silver State
Plugged into a Fender Blues Junior, the 1423 has a rich, woody sound that’s very vintage but with more modern, robust output and a lot less noise. In general, the pickups have great clarity, note separation, and detail, and even without the blend control, they offer a surprisingly wide range of timbres, from dark, jazzy tones on the neck pickup to brilliant twang on the bridge pickup. Both pickups pair well with grittier, wide-open amp settings. The 1423 also sounds very rich in lower tunings—with and without distortion—and the guitar loses none of its luster or capacity for detail in dropped tunings.
Given such a nice sonic palette, I was initially skeptical of the need for the blend control, but came to find it pretty useful. By manipulating the knob while playing, which is easy to do thanks to its proximity to the bridge pickup, you can get a convincing rotary speaker or wah-like effect—and it’s a lot of fun too.
Silvertone’s 1423 might have an old-school look, but it lacks a little of that vintage feel that makes old guitars seem special. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering that the originals weren’t always the most stable instruments. If the Silvertone lacks vintage authenticity, it’s capable of producing a very broad range of really nice sounds, and you could make it your main—or only—stage guitar just as readily as, say, a favorite Telecaster or Les Paul Jr. For just around five hundred bucks, that’s a pretty decent return on your investment.