Wizard of Odd

It’s hard to argue with an acrylic-top guitar when it looks this cool!

The Hagstrom F-11 was built with improbable tone materials, but it still sings with zing.

Growing up in the shadow of the Martin Guitar Factory, I learned a thing or two about tonewoods. Quite a few of my friends got jobs at the factory right out of high school, and over the years, I’ve seen how woods are cured, selected, and cared for. The Japanese factories I’ve visited really took this idea to the next level. I’ve seen curing rooms with classical music being played to stacks of wood. I’ve seen huge storerooms with different woods sorted by age (some well over 100 years old), country of origin, and quality of figuring. Hell, I've even seen logs that were dragged out of Mississippi swamps, shipped to Japan, and cured.

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This body style rivals the Vox Phantom, Gibson Flying V, and Bo Diddley’s cigar box guitars for least-ergonomic-but-most-’60s shape.

With this wacky instrument, the Domino brand set its sights on the California surf scene.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the Ventures, their amazing music, and the impact they made. In case you missed it, one of the band’s founding members, Don Wilson, passed away in January. I was reminded of my interviews with Don and his take on the band’s history and influence. For the uninitiated: The Ventures sound came to embody surf rock and instrumental prowess, featuring driving rhythms and catchy riffs that put the electric guitar out in front. Don and the boys performed their hit song “Walk, Don’t Run” on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show in 1960 and lit the kindling for the first electric guitar craze—with the Beatles creating the inferno a few years later.

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The plastic bridge on this Kent Copa is a limitation, but when it is properly set up this guitar can sing thanks to three Guyatone pickups and a vibrato unit that feels great to play.

The simple design of the Kent Copa was a perfect fit for Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed’s pragmatic, noisy needs.

Are any of you like me when it comes to TV watching? Like, I have cable and I have about five different streaming services, and I barely watch any of them. Seriously, all I ever watch is sports! But I spend so much money on the TV because my wife likes to watch certain things and my daughter likes to watch certain things and my son likes his stuff and for whatever reason they all tell me we need each of these different channels. My wife is always trying to get me to invest in some long series or drama, and I just get bored after a while and drop out. Recently though, she found Todd Haynes’ excellent Velvet Underground documentary, which I totally enjoyed. (Yeah, it wasn’t sports, but there were guitars, history, and great music!)

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The Airline Professional Vibrato was Valco's top-of-the line Res-O-Glas model.

Tonewoods can certainly live up to their reputation, but the Airline Professional Vibrato made a strong case for fiberglass.

Over the holidays, our family got together and talked about normal things—like shopping, movies, and guitars! My father-in-law plays acoustic guitar, and since we live so close to the Martin guitar factory, he has quite an impressive collection. We got to talking about tonewoods and how each of his Martins has a different feel and “vibration” of sorts. One can really dig deep into various guitar tonewoods and how they impact sound. (I once visited a factory in Japan that played classical music in the curing room because they believed that the music would have a certain tonal impact.) But whenever I’m presented with someone who is obsessed with wood quality, I think about the pine, Formica, and fiberglass electrics made by Danelectro and Valco as examples of guitar building that totally ignored the traditional process. So, this month I’m going to tell you the story of a guitar model that’s a great example of how certain guitar makers threw tonewood theories right out the window.

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