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Wizard of Odd

The vintage Diamond models offer kitsch—and a strange charm.

I’ve had so many guitars pass in and out of my house that I often forget some of the cool little gems that I’ve owned. And I mention gems because, during a recent pawnshop crawl, I happened upon one of the cool, old Aria Diamond guitars with the rhinestone “gem” inlay. Finding these Diamond guitars back in the day was like hitting the guitar lottery! You just felt lucky with a diamond-head guitar.

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When Louis Cato received this Univox LP-style as a gift in high school, it needed some major TLC. A few years later, it got some practical upgrades and now makes regular appearances with Cato on The Late Show.

Photo by Scott Kowalchyk

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.

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While most are only familiar with Paul McCartney’s Violin Bass, the German manufacturer has long been held in high regard for their various instruments.

I’m probably late to the game for most of you, but I finally got around to watching Get Back, Peter Jackson’s excellent Beatles documentary. Throughout the doc, I was keeping an eye out for interesting guitars (like George Harrison’s Fender Telecaster made almost entirely of rosewood) but was dwelling quite a bit on Paul McCartney’s Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass. The German-based Höfner Company made a lefty Violin Bass for McCartney back in 1961, while the Beatles were playing regularly in and around Hamburg. I found it so interesting that McCartney continued to favor the guitar, even though the band could afford and play just about any instrument available during that time. In fact, in those early Hamburg days, Harrison played a Höfner President and then a Club 40, which John Lennon also played. Even Stuart Sutcliffe had a Höfner 500/5.

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Shortly before Danelectro went bankrupt, this solidbody designed by session guitarist Vincent Bell added some upscale flair to the Coral line.

Danelectro guitars and amps have long held the interest of so many players because of their quirky designs. The prolific New Jersey-based company, started by Nathan Daniel in 1947, used unique materials—from Masonite for bodies to surplus lipstick tubes for pickups—to create their instruments while staying on budget. With prices just about any player could afford, Danelectro guitars—and those sold under other retail-catalog brand names across the U.S., such as Sears’ Silvertone—had a strong impact on the arc of American music.

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This vintage LG120T wasn’t in production long, but its movable neck pickup still might seem like a fresh idea.

So many novel guitar ideas have been forgotten to time. If you’re a guitar designer and you think you’ve come up with some epic concept, chances are that someone somewhere already tried it. This month, I was thinking about a rare vintage Guyatone that featured a design that still seems novel when builders toy with it today: the movable pickup.

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