Trash or Treasure: Peavey Blues Classic
This all-tube 15" combo from the mid-’90s was produced for just a couple years, but helped develop an amp series that lives on.
I bought this Peavey amp back in the 1990s as a more affordable version of a Fender. (Let’s face it, I was broke.) Doing some quick internet research tells me Peavey still makes amplifiers, specifically the Classic Series, but I can’t really find anything about my Blues Classic. Can you tell me anything about it and what it’s worth today?
Chad in South Carolina
Thanks for the question! I remember those days and the always difficult choice of trying to afford decent equipment or pay the bills. The good news is you happened to find an amp that was a relatively good bargain then, and still is today. Yes, you are correct that Peavey still produces the Classic Series, but let’s go back a bit to explore Peavey’s history and how your amp came about.
Hartley Peavey grew up in Meridian, Mississippi, and after spending time in his father’s music store, he began building his own guitar amplifiers while in high school. In 1965, Peavey decided to go into business himself and founded Peavey Electronics in his parents’ basement. He initially only built PA systems, but after rapid company growth, Peavey began building guitar and bass amplifiers in the 1970s.
Circa 1973, Peavey developed a line of Fender narrow-panel tweed-inspired amps, appropriately called the Vintage Series. These amps utilized 6L6 power tubes and relatively obscure 6C10 preamp tubes. The Vintage Series eventually evolved into what we now know as the Classic Series, with most of the amps utilizing traditional 12AX7 preamp tubes and EL84 power tubes. This is somewhat of an unusual combination, however, since it uses both American (12AX7) and British (EL84) tubes to make a unique sound. Think Fender meeting Vox.
Your Blues Classic has 50 watts output, a single 15"speaker, and the American/British tube combination of three 12AX7s and four EL84s. Italso has two channels, spring reverb, a master volume control, and an effects loop. While there is no directrelative of this amp in Fender’s lineup, it is somewhat similar to an early Bandmaster, Bassman, or a mid-’50s Pro, which all utilized a 15"speaker. Keep in mind that many blues/jazz players choose 15"speakers as they tend to not lose the treble/high-end tones, so it makes sense this amp was coined the Blues Classic.
You don’t see these amps very often, mainly because the Blues Classic was only produced in 1994 and 1995. That said, there are a lot of different Classic Series models out there. The most common/popular model is probably the Classic 30, which has 30 watts output and a 12"speaker, and is similar to a Fender Deluxe. Other models in the series include the Classic 20, Classic 50, Classic 100, and Delta Blues, and all are wrapped with tweed-style covering to project that 1950s look and music style.
When Peavey discontinued the Blues Classic in 1995, it retailed for $800, but you could probably have bought it brand new for about $650 with standard discounts. It’s worth between $325 and $400 in excellent condition today. It may seemlike the amp hasn’t held its value very well, but the reality is that the value hasn’t changed much in nearly 25 years. (The used value of this amp in the mid-1990s was probably between $325 and $400, too.) Most Peavey Classic Series amps are still very affordable today, including the models that were discontinued many years ago. And from what I’ve heard and read, these amps are generally favorably reviewed. Maybe that means it’s a hidden gem? I’m not sure, but it’s reassuring to me that there are still some legitimate deals out there.
Hartley Peavey continues as the CEO at Peavey, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015. The company still offers a full line of guitars, amplifiers, and PA equipment, and continues to innovate within the industry. Like many other guitar and amp manufacturers, Peavey now outsources most of their production overseas, but their headquarters remain in Mississippi.
On The Late Show, Louis Cato Steps to the Front
The self-described “utility knife” played drums with John Scofield and Marcus Miller and spent time in the studio with Q-Tip before landing on Stephen Colbert’s show as a multi-instrumentalist member of the house band. Now, he’s taken over as the show’s guitar-wielding bandleader and is making his mark.
It’s a classic old-school-show-biz move: Bring out the band, introduce them one by one, and build up the song to its explosive beginning. It’s fun, dramatic, audiences love it, and that’s how every The Late Show with Stephen Colbert taping starts.
By this time, us audience members have been sitting in Manhattan’s chilly Ed Sullivan Theater for about 90 minutes. We’ve gotten our seats, had a bathroom break after getting settled, and had some fun with warm-up comic Paul Mecurio. The first musician summoned by announcer Jen Spyra is drummer Joe Saylor. Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, he jogs out, gets behind the kit, and kicks off an up-tempo second-line groove. Next comes upright bassist Endea Owens and percussionist Nêgah Santos. The band’s trumpeter, Jon Lampley, is introduced, and he’s brought along his bandmates in the Huntertones as guests, so saxophonist Dan White and trombonist Chris Ott come out as well.
Louis Cato feat. Stay Human "Look Within"
The multitalented Louis Cato leads the Stay Human band through a special rooftop performance of his song “Look Within,” from his album, Starting Now.
The audience is now on its feet, the band’s pocket is thick, and the energy is building. When bandleader Louis Cato charges onstage, he reaches his mic on the bandstand and shouts, “I feel good today!” with explosive enthusiasm and a big grin, and the band launches into Jon Batiste’s “I’m from Kenner.” Cato sings the catchy and gleeful refrain: “I feel good, I feel free, I feel fine just being me / I feel good today.” And the audience is feeling the love. Almost everyone is bouncing and clapping along.
A couple minutes in, when it seems like the song has reached its super-positive-vibe, high-energy climax, Cato shouts into his mic, “How do you feel today, Stephen?” And with that, Colbert comes running out from the middle of the set. Cato leaps from the bandstand toward the host as the crowd explodes. The two grab hold of each other and attempt to spin around, but the bandleader, holding his black-sparkle Tuttle T-style, loses his grip and goes sliding across the shiny stage. There’s a second where both are comically stunned—Kevin McCallister Home Alone-expressions on both of their faces—but Cato quickly jumps to his feet, both he and his guitar unharmed, and runs back to the bandstand, where he keeps the song moving along with his bandmates, who haven’t missed a beat.
All this excitement isn’t even for the TV audience! Colbert is coming out for the un-televised pre-show Q&A. In a few minutes, they’ll do a new taped intro that looks more like what we see every night. But they’ve gotten the crowd energized, and we need to keep it up. They need our energy to do their jobs.
The Late Show Band welcomes a lot of guests up on the bandstand. Here, Cato and Joe Walsh boogie down.
Photo by Scott Kowalchyk
As Cato sees it, that’s what his role as bandleader is all about: keeping the audience engaged and amplifying the drama and action of the show. “That translates to the energy that the viewers get at home,” he explains. “For all of us here, we’re able to feed off that energy and do the best possible show that we all can.”
Colbert agrees with that job description and adds that the bandleader himself has the same contagious effect on his players. “Louis is an extraordinarily gifted multi-instrumentalist,” he says, “whose spirit of creativity and collaboration not only elevates everything the band does musically but inspires me to be better at my job.” He adds, “I’m so happy to call him my friend.”
Beyond his infectious energy and charisma, there are a lot of ways Cato keeps the Late Show Band invigorated from night to night. For one, he keeps the music fresh by tackling a new cover song every day. That doesn’t mean running down rote note-for-note charts. Cato and the band take a reconstructionist approach that fans of his work—whether from his collaborations with artists such as the Huntertones, Scary Pockets, or Vulfpeck, or from his regular Instagram cover-song posts—will recognize.
“Louis is an extraordinarily gifted multi-instrumentalist whose spirit of creativity and collaboration not only elevates everything the band does musically but inspires me to be better at my job.”—Stephen Colbert
On this evening, the band runs through a host of multi-genre reinterpretations during the two-episode taping, including a slow-burning and soulful “Smokestack Lightning,” a New Orleans-style “Down by the Riverside,” and a fingerpicked, acoustic-led take of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” that gets Colbert lip syncing along off camera. On a horn-driven arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” there’s a re-worked bridge that creates a generous feature spot for the guest horn players.
Every arrangement brings a new and unique perspective to a classic track, to ensure the band is “not just a wedding band doing a cover of a song on the radio.” Cato adds, “We’re arranging it and making it our own—because that’s the sonic fingerprint of our show.”
St. Vincent jams with Louis and crew.
Photo by Scott Kowalchyk
A Lifelong Path
Listening to the story of Cato’s musical life, it seems that this job—with its demand for a blend of careful strategizing and on-the-fly creative thinking, as well as effortless instrumental skills and charismatic showmanship—is what he’s been training for since the beginning.
On the morning of the taping I attended, I meet Cato in his dressing room. Painted with sky-blue walls and a cloud mural on the ceiling, it’s a comfortable place to hang. The bandleader is wearing slim-fit floral pants, a hoodie over a black T-shirt, and a long necklace. He sits across from me on his couch, next to a guitar stand that holds a few instruments—including his Tuttle, a Jesse Stern-built baritone acoustic, and his Univox LP-style—and a ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue with a Universal Audio Dream ’65 pedal plugged into it.
“There’s not a time in my brain when I was not making music in some way or form,” Cato says. His mother, a pianist in the Church of God in Christ, bought her son a Diamond drum kit that he recalls having paper heads when he was just 2 years old, and she started teaching the toddler to accompany her. “I marvel at my mom,” he laughs. “Like, who buys their 2-year-old a drum kit?” After playing those drums every day for a year, he started accompanying her at services.
The family moved around a lot. Cato’s father was in the Air Force, and Louis was born on a base in Lisbon, Portugal, before moving to Dayton, Ohio. Not long after he started playing in church there, they moved again to Washington, D.C., and when Louis was 5 they settled in Albemarle, North Carolina. A few years later, Louis started playing guitar on a “little burgundy sunburst acoustic. Eventually, I busted a string and busted another string and just kept playing with four strings. I delved more into bass from playing bass lines on the acoustic guitar. So, for my 9th birthday, my dad bought me a 4-string bass.”
“I’d show up to Tip’s and we’d do a week of writing sessions with John Legend or have André 3000 in the studio for a couple of weeks.”
While it was strictly pragmatic reasons that initially drew him to the bass, he says his biggest inspiration was the bass player he knew best: his mother’s left hand. Her playing, rooted in the COGIC (Church of God in Christ) style, “involves heavy left-hand bass. I wasn’t as psyched to play bass in church since the way my mom plays is very defined. But eventually I kind of had to learn how she plays. It was always just her and me playing. And I had to learn to move with that and follow that. She’s a great bass player.”
Along the way, Cato picked up more instruments. By the time he headed to Berklee, he was playing drums, guitar, and bass as well as tuba, trombone, and euphonium. “I was going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a large pond of super-talented people who had heard oodles of music I had never dreamed of,” he recalls. So, he decided to focus his studies on the instrument he’d played the longest.
Louis Cato's Gear
A glimpse at Cato’s pedals and amp, which mostly live outside of the camera’s eye, behind his stage monitor.
- Univox LP-style
- Tuttle Custom Hollow T
- 1961 Gibson SG reissue
- Martin OM-28
- ’65 Fender Princeton Reverb reissue
- Boss FV-500H Volume Pedal
- Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
- Dunlop Cry Baby
- 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre
- J. Rockett Archer
- Truetone Jekyll & Hyde
- Xotic RC Booster
- MXR Carbon Copy
Strings and Picks
- D’Addario EJ16 (.012-.053)
- D’Addario EXL110 (.010-.046)
- Dunlop Max Grip .88 mm
Cato completed just two semesters—fall ’03 and spring ’04—before deciding to concentrate on playing the gigs that were paying his bills. “My rationale was, much to my parents’ chagrin, here’s an opportunity where I can keep learning on the job and be working my way out of the debt I went into in this year.”
Gigging with wedding and church bands gave the multi-instrumentalist an opportunity to keep all his instrumental and vocal skills alive. “My oldest daughter was born soon after that,” he recalls, “so I felt really, really aware of how lucky I was, how lucky any of us are, to make a living and support a family as a musician.” Cato spent five years in Boston, playing various instruments in gigging bands, and he frequented local institution Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club, just two blocks down the street from Berklee, “for self-education and inspiration. When that felt like I hit a ceiling, I looked at where I could go to continue my inspiration and working on the kind of projects I wanted to be working on, and that led me here.”
By that time, Cato’s friend Meghan Stabile, had moved to New York and created the promotion and production company Revive Music, which was dedicated to the kinds of jazz and hip-hop collaborations he wanted to pursue. Cato moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn, with his band Six Figures— “There were six of us; we did not make six figures!”—and would head back to Boston each weekend for the gigs that were paying his bills. Eager to soak up the New York scene, he’d return to New York on Sunday nights and go directly to jam sessions.
All that time back and forth on the Northeast Corridor paid off. A self-described musical “utility knife,” Cato’s multi-instrumentalism, as well as his talents as a songwriter, arranger, producer, and engineer, made him a major asset as a collaborator, and the New York scene took notice. Soon, he established essential connections that would affect his career, forming “an instantaneous brotherhood that continues to this day” with producer Kamaal Fareed, aka Q-Tip. “Through that, I ended up really delving into a lot of relationships and credits.”
The two artists worked on high-level collaborations that not only bolstered Cato’s reputation but served as a major piece of his education. “I’d show up to Tip’s,” he explains, “and we’d do a week of writing sessions with John Legend or have André 3000 in the studio for a couple of weeks. Sometimes things would come from it, and sometimes nothing would come from it. But being in the creative process on that level in a trusted space was invaluable for me. I learned so much.”
Outside of Q-Tip’s studio, Cato was learning from plenty of masters, mostly from behind the kit. “It’s really special when you find yourself learning things you connect to,” he says about his work alongside artists such as bassist Marcus Miller, keyboardist George Duke, and guitarist John Scofield. “And I learned so much about myself from connecting to some of these people.”
Back in 2015, Cato received a phone call from pianist Jon Batiste. The two had never met, but Batiste rang him up about a mysterious project—a theme song for a TV show that he couldn’t disclose. “I had a wisdom tooth appointment back in Boston, and I got a random call,” Cato remembers. “I think his exact words were, ‘I’d love to have your ears on it.’ And I followed my gut, rescheduled my trip, stayed in New York an extra day with an abscessed wisdom tooth.”
The two got together to co-write and produce “Humanism,” which would become the theme song for the Stephen Colbert-hosted Late Show. Batiste played piano, Cato played the guitar, bass, and drum parts and “put on my editing hat.” They brought in Joe Saylor—who would become the show’s drummer—to play tambourine, as well as saxophonist Eddie Barbash. “After the session,” Cato remembers, “I went back, got my wisdom tooth out, and went back on the road with John Scofield.”
Three of the four go-to guitars Cato uses on The Late Show: a black Tuttle T-style, a cherry-red Gibson SG, and a Martin OM-28.
At first, Cato played the multi-instrumental role of his dreams, attempting to surround himself with every instrument he could play. “That lasted about three days before reality set in,” he laughs. “Slowly, one by one, things started disappearing—a floor tom going away here, a Pro Tools setup going offstage there. Eventually, as the band formed out, I moved around to what was needed. I was the utility guy—played a lot of kazoo, a lot of cowbell.”
While on the road drumming with Sco’, Cato got the invite from Batiste to join the show’s band, Stay Human. “It was a huge life shift for me,” Cato explains. “I was making really good money on the road with really good musicians, which was really fulfilling. And I took a chance. I loved the idea of being a part of something creatively from its inception.”
Eventually, Cato settled into a more consistent electric bass role, until Batiste brought in upright player Endea Owens, and he moved to guitar, where he’s mostly stayed. When Batiste left the show last year, Cato took over as bandleader—officially starting this season, back in September—and decided he’d lead from his role as guitarist. “Of all the places I occupied,” he says, “guitar was the easiest and most natural to me to lead the band, in the energy. From behind the drums, it’s a different thing, and we’ve done it when Joe was out. But it just was a really natural progression.”
Same Show, New Job
In just a few months, Cato’s new role as bandleader has had an impact on the show. The renamed Late Show Band’s engine seems to be burning on a new kind of fuel. And it feels as though that energy is coming directly from Cato.
When we talk, the guitarist is deeply engaged, in a kind of hyper-focused way that is not intense but more casually un-distractable. He brings that same focus to the show. While Colbert delivers monologues, Cato is zoomed in on the host, listening to every word, often riffing around on his guitar to contribute musical commentary. During interviews, he’s taking cues and following the tone of the conversation, looking for ways to adapt.
The bandleader gig requires loads of big-picture improvisation, but also lots of prep. Cato explains that each week he makes a set list, but the band will react and make changes in the moment. “My job ends up being a lot of judgement calls that affect the flow of the show,” he says. “We have a group of compositions we wrote for the show that can complement different moments. If there’s a major energy shift in an interview that takes a turn or something happens in the day, like a tragedy, we’ll call one of the songs we wrote for the show for a moment such as that. Recently, we had a guest on that started improvising a song. So, I have on our in-ear mic and call out the key and start playing, and we all jump in, and now we’re doing this instead.”
Cato poses with his black-sparkle chambered T-style, made by Tuttle. “When I’m checking off core priorities in sound,” he says, “if I’m going for rhythmic things, I go to the Tele.”
Photo by Scott Kowalchyk
Watching the Late Show Band in person, I see this play out as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explains the steps the U.S. can take to avoid a recession. It’s a heavy and heady conversation, and, frankly, it’s anything but fun. Cato knows he’ll need to pick the audience back up. As he watches from the bandstand, he gives tempo cues to the band, who nod along, so they can effectively shift the energy and get the audience re-focused for the next guest, actor/director Sarah Polley.
As a guitar player, Cato says he sticks to playing things that feel most natural to him so he can concentrate on his bandleading duties. He adds that he considers himself more a rhythm guitarist than a lead guitarist. (It’s worth noting that his delineation is more conceptual than musical: Cato is an inspired and dynamic melodic lead player, but his deeply rooted phrasing and feel is at the forefront of everything he plays, so the rhythm-first thing applies to it all.) “This is not a space as a guitar player where I’m jumping out of the box trying any and everything and exploring,” he explains. “You get to some of those places. But for me, it always has to start from something I can do while leading the band and reading the energy and making judgement calls.”
“We’re arranging it and making it our own—because that’s the sonic fingerprint of our show.”
That rooted, pragmatic ethos applies to the gear he chooses as well. “I never was a big gear person,” he admits. Luckily, he has Late Show Band tech and informed gearhead Matt Mead to help him keep his pedalboard well-stocked. “There’s so many things I’m learning about the job and trying to keep straight in my head that this ends up getting the short end of the stick, and it wouldn’t work if there was not a Matt Mead to make up the rest of that stick and make it sound good.”
“The show throws a lot of curveballs,” Mead points out. “He steers the boat as far as the tones he’s looking for and if there’s a particular sound he’s looking for. Sometimes, I’ll recommend stuff and say, ‘Hey I notice you’re doing this, maybe we should try this.’”
Cato’s collaboratively curated pedalboard is pretty simple at its core: It starts with a Boss FV-500H volume pedal, a Boss TU-3, a Dunlop Cry Baby, and 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre. Cato shows me how he uses the latter for more traditional, Hendrix-style playing, but he points out that the band plays a lot of montunoes, and he tends to use the octave pedal for those. For drive, he uses a J. Rockett Archer and a Truetone Jekyll & Hyde, which are followed by an Xotic RC Booster and an MXR Carbon Copy, all into a Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb reissue, and powered by a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power Plus.
In live performances outside of The Late Show, Cato uses various guitars, but says that the studio’s cold temperature doesn’t do many favors for instruments such as his Gibson Luther Dickinson ES-335 or some of his acoustics, so he’s careful when selecting which guitars come on stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater. The three guitars that most commonly appear on the show are his black Tuttle Custom Hollow T, a cherry red Gibson SG 1961 Reissue, and a Martin OM-28.
Another guitar that sometimes appears on the Late Show is his LP-style Univox, which I ask Cato about in his dressing room. “If I need to be altogether comfortable,” he explains, “I pull out the Univox, because it’s my earliest guitar. I’ve had this since high school.”
Cory Wong "Lunchtime" - The Late Show's Commercial Breakdown
When musical guests visit The Late Show, they get the full-band treatment from Cato and company. Here, Cory Wong sits in for a rhythm guitar showdown of the highest level.
Back when he first got the guitar, Cato remembers, it was in rough shape, desperately in need of wiring and pickup repairs and a new set of tuners. It stayed that way until he was in Boston. When he picked up a wedding band gig playing trombone and guitar, he was lucky enough to have a roommate who could get the Univox performance-ready by replacing the original tuners with locking units, cleaning out the electronics, and swapping the pickups for a pair of Seymour Duncans.
“I didn’t even know there was a such thing as a professional musician.”
But Cato says that even before those repairs, he’s always “loved it because it’s all I had. I remember I was playing a little Vox amp, and this guitar had a feeling out of that amp. This guitar just became home base and felt super natural to my fingers. If I need to just not be thinking at all, this is home.”
Did he ever dream he’d be on television every night, holding this Univox and chumming with a late-night host? “Never! Not once!” he says. “It was just a product of my nurture growing up in a small town. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a professional musician.” And yet, Cato pursued music as fully and single-mindedly as he could. “I just knew that I liked it and felt connected to it.”
Trash or Treasure: G&L HG-2
Swap my motorcycle for your guitar? Sure!
I received this guitar in 1989 as a birthday present from my dad, who traded his Honda motorcycle for the guitar and a Marshall amplifier. I have had it ever since, and play it regularly. I know there were not many of these made, so they have at least some limited collectors’ appeal, but I wonder if it is actually worth anything? The guitar is all-original, with typical scuffs and scratches that a teenager would inflict. It has a date stamp on the neck, of June 21, 1984, and on the body, of March 1, 1984. It’s small, light, and easy to play, which is why I have kept it around. What do you think?
Robert in Apex, North Carolina
Nice guitar and great story. Dads can be the coolest, right? In reference to the guitar being “small, light, and easy to play,” that doesn’t surprise me since Leo Fender was a pioneer in the electric guitar industry and he obviously knew what he was doing. That said, legend has it that Leo never learned how to play guitar.
In 1965, Fender sold his enormously successful company to CBS due to health concerns, and signed a 10-year non-compete clause as part of the deal. Leo’s health improved and he consulted for Fender after the company’s sale, but he largely remained out of the guitar business until the mid 1970s, when his non-compete clause concluded.
Along with longtime friend and associate George Fullerton, Leo started CLF Research in 1975 and began building instruments for Music Man (another company started by ex-Fender employees). The relationship between CLF and Music Man eventually went south, however, and CLF stopped building guitars for them in late 1979.
In 1979, Fender, Fullerton, and Dale Hyatt (another longtime Fender associate) started a new guitar company called G&L. G&L stands for George and Leo. Fender served as president and provided the designs and technical insight, Fullerton ran production, and Hyatt oversaw management and sales. Until Fender’s passing in 1991, G&L produced approximately 27,000 guitars with monthly production not reaching more than 800 instruments. It was during this time that Fender took his guitar innovation to another level and patented several new designs. As Fender was famously quoted in G&L literature, “G&L guitars and basses are the best instruments I have ever made.”
The HG series consisted of the HG-1 (one pickup) and the HG-2 (two pickups), and were only produced in 1983 and 1984. So, the date stamps on your guitar coincide with production dates. It’s estimated that just over 100 total HG models were ever produced, with less than five of them being single-pickup HG-1s. The HG series guitars were similar to the more common SC series guitars, but featured G&L’s Magnetic Field Design (MFD) humbucker pickups. The MFDs utilized a ceramic bar magnet with soft iron poles, rather than the more traditional alnico magnet.
Only about 100 of G&L’s short-lived HG-2 were made. The model features an offset maple body, a bolt-on maple neck, and the company’s Saddle-Lock bridge and MFD humbuckers.
The HG-2 features an offset maple body with double cutaways, a bolt-on maple neck, a 22-fret maple fretboard, six-on-one-side tuners, and G&L’s Saddle-Lock bridge (vibrato optional). The two MFD humbuckers are governed by a volume knob, a tone knob, and a pickup switch mounted on a half-moon shaped panel. The HG-2 was available in various colors, though it’s unknown how many different colors exist.
Based on G&L’s 11-year production of around 27,000 instruments, the HG series guitars made up about a 1/3 of a percent of all G&Ls built during Fender’s tenure. In other words, it’s a rare instrument, and G&L guitars from this era are quite collectible overall. Today your HG-2 is worth between $1,750 and $2,000, in very good condition as described. This value is also based on your guitar being all-original. Hopefully you’ll keep it that way no matter how much you play it!
After Fender’s death, his wife passed G&L on to John C. McLaren of BBE Sound, and they continue to build G&L guitars in the U.S. and overseas for their Tribute Series import line. I don’t know enough about motorcycle values to determine if your dad got a good deal or got swindled, but, in my opinion, you got a piece of history and a great guitar to play for years to come. Hopefully your dad never regretted his decision!
Sources for this article include researcher/historian H.L. Garrett and G&L: Leo’s Legacy by Paul Bechtoldt.
Trash or Treasure: Framus Strato Super
They may not command the price or popularity of some other ’60s vintage guitars, but these solidbodies from Germany have a solid footing in guitar history.
I enjoyed your recent article about the Italian-built Eko 500 and wanted to know if you could shed some light on my favorite (make that only) German guitar in my collection, a Framus. I think it’s from the 1960s, but there isn’t a model name on it anywhere. I’m curious about the history of this guitar and what it is worth today.
Edwin in Hartford, CT
Thanks for the kind words about my Eko article. There are certainly a lot of cool guitars across the pond! Framus’ history begins at the conclusion of World War II, and the division of Germany into two distinct sides: East and West. Framus founder Frederick Wilfer was from Schönbach, a musical community with many established violinmakers, in the Eastern part of the country.
At the end of World War II, Wilfer realized that his homeland was going to fall under the control of Russian forces, so he made the move West, to Bavaria. And in 1946, he founded the company under the name Franconian Music Production Fred Wilfer Investment Trust, in Erlangen, which became a central location for displaced instrument makers from Schönbach. The company only offered violins at first, but soon evolved into guitar making.
Production increased rapidly, and the Framus factory expanded several times by the mid-1950s. Framus built thinlines and archtops initially, but solidbody electrics arrived in 1958 just as rock music was beginning to take off.
Since many American servicemen were stationed in Germany during the 1950s, and brought their American music with them, it gave Framus a head start on where guitars were going. By the 1960s, Framus was producing a variety of electric, acoustic, and bass guitars, and distributing them worldwide.
Your Framus is a Strato model, officially called the 5/155-52 Strato Super in factory literature. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what the company was going for in the name. It features a solid, unspecified-wood body with sandwich construction, a rosewood fretboard, a tremolo, two single-coil pickups, and was available in sunburst (most common), blue, red, or beige finishes. We know it was produced in the late 1960s, but exact dating by serial numbers only exists for a few Framus hollowbody and classical guitars of the era.
Framus also produced several other variations of the Strato model during the 1960s, with most of them being slight variations of a double-cutaway solidbody with two pickups, like yours. They also offered a three-pickup configuration with their higher-end Strato de Luxe series, which included the elaborate Golden Strato de Luxe, with gold hardware and onboard organ effects.
Framus continued to build instruments into the 1970s, but due to pressure from Japanese and other Asian manufacturers building guitars for much less at the time, Framus filed for bankruptcy and ceased all production. In 1982, Frederick Wilfer’s son, Hans-Peter Wilfer, started his own bass-gear manufacturing company called Warwick. And after establishing Warwick, Hans-Peter reintroduced the Framus guitar trademark in 1995. Today, the Framus and Warwick brands are like a one-two punch, offering quite a wide variety of guitars and basses.
Whatever the reason, we don’t typically hear much about guitars from this era that were built in Germany. Hofner is probably the best-known German guitar manufacturer, thanks in part to Paul McCartney playing a Hofner bass early in his career. Since most vintage Framus guitars are generally priced at less than $1,000, that makes them a relative bargain when it comes to guitars from the 1960s. Given that your Super Strato is in excellent condition, its current value is between $650 and $800. And since it’s your favorite German guitar in your collection, it sounds like a treasure to me.
Trash or Treasure: Eko Sparkle Top
Has a reader’s investment in a funky, vintage Italian solidbody been profitable, or will it need to cook longer?
Back in the early 2000s, I bought this Eko sparkle-top guitar as a quasi-investment (’50s Strats were too expensive for my blood), thinking it fell into that cool 1960s guitar movement, with an awesome finish. I really don’t know much about Eko guitars, except a web search says they are still around, but how has my investment done over the past 15 years?
Jim in Toledo, Ohio
No doubt this is a cool-looking guitar (and a great color), but coolness rarely translates into desirability and collectability. That’s such a rare combination to find on vintage guitars. You are also correct that Eko is still around today, nearly 60 years after they began building guitars. So, let’s talk a little about the company’s history and how your investment is doing.
Eko’s history as a guitar maker started in 1959, but the company’s founder, Oliviero Pigini, was involved in the Italian music industry for many years before that—most notably with accordions. When World War II came to a close, many of the accordions Pigini was making were sent to America for distribution. One of those distributors was Lo Duca Brothers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which sold accordions, sheet music, and other musical items, but had also expanded into guitars and amplifiers by distributing the Magnatone line by the late 1950s.
When Pigini sensed the guitar boom coming, he started out by building traditional acoustics and small archtop guitars in Italy. As the electric-guitar market began to grow, the company looked to produce solidbodies as well. So, Pigini traveled to the U.S. and teamed up with the Lo Ducas to develop a line of electric guitars. The Lo Ducas acted as technical designers and provided input on Eko designs, and Eko continued to build the guitars in Italy with Lo Duca Brothers serving as the exclusive dealer in the U.S.
Your guitar, the 500/3V, comes from Eko’s popular 500 series produced in the early 1960s. There were quite a few variations of the 500 series, including different pickup configurations and the option of vibrato or non-vibrato. Because model names were based on their configuration, we know by name that your 500/3V has three pickups and a vibrato tailpiece. And with sparkle finishes, mother-of-pearl backs, and an abundance of switches, I think there’s little doubt that an accordion-making background influenced the design!
As the 1960s progressed, Eko moved towards more traditional finishes on their guitars, and they also built guitars for other companies, including Vox and Goya. By 1967, Eko had established dealers in nearly 60 countries, but it was also the same year Oliviero Pigini died from a heart attack.
When the guitar market began to soften in the late 1960s, and competition increased from Japan and other countries, Eko (along with many others) felt the pinch. Some companies went out of business or moved production overseas, but Eko instead scaled down and cut back on the number of models they offered. They were able to stay in business and focused more on keyboards and organs.
A mother-of-pearl back isn’t something one sees often, or ever, but it certainly hints at the accordion-design roots behind Eko.
The company’s popular line of Ranger acoustics came out in the 1970s, and artists such as Gerry Rafferty, Jimmy Page, and Mike Rutherford were all seen playing Eko guitars. Eko continued to produce guitars until 1985, and, remarkably, all in Italy up to that point. Oliviero’s brother, Lamberto, later took over the company and, with plans to revive the Eko brand, he released a line of Czech Republic-built guitars called “Eko’s Back” in 2000. Since then they have slowly increased production and reintroduced the Eko brand to consumers and artists alike.
I’m guessing (and hoping) you paid $500 or less for this guitar in the early 2000s. Today this guitar is worth between $700 and $850 in excellent condition. Looking back at historical pricing, it really hasn’t changed much in 15 years. Investing in guitars—or practically anything else—is more luck than science at times. Collectible guitars need a combination of desirability, originality, and uniqueness. (Think of ’58 to ’60 Les Paul ’bursts, which have all three.) Eko built a lot of guitars and your model certainly looks a lot like another brand’s guitar. And while the finish is cool and the pickup configurations are innovative, it hasn’t reached collector status today. Still, you have an interesting piece of history that at least is holding its value!