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The Curious Phenomenon of Mutt Guitars

Valco Mutt guitar

This Valco “mutt” guitar was built with leftover parts at a Japanese factory, including an old tremolo, random pickups and switches, and a bridge that makes it difficult to intonate.

When you’ve built your entire life around guitars, our columnist says, it’s shockingly easy to connect their history with just about anything—including dogs.

I was talking to my wife the other day about selling guitars. My daughter wants a car, so I’ve been unloading a few nice electrics on fellow collectors with the hope that I can get my girl something safe to drive. My wife and daughter were joking about how much guitars are a part of our lives, and how I can connect anything to guitars, design, and music.

Seriously, you can present me with just about any topic and I can probably wrap some guitar lore around it. My wife asked if I had ever connected guitars and animals, and I got to thinking about it. Maybe I had? But, just to show her I can tell a tale, this month I’ll be writing about our dogs and “mutt” guitars!

So, back in 2015, I was searching a pet-finder website, looking to add a dog to our family. The kids wanted a dog, and even my wife, who has awful allergies, accepted the fact that we all had a lot of love to give to a pet. I was searching adoption agencies, primarily looking for a dog that didn’t shed, when I happed upon the cutest little puppy! His name was Bucky, and the story went that he and his littermates were born in a barn in Ohio. The mom had passed away shortly after giving birth, so the litter was being rescued by a local adoption group. I started to fill out the forms and do all the paperwork to get little Bucky, but then I saw he also had a brother that hadn’t been adopted! So along with Bucky came his brother Brody, and that spring, we welcomed two of the sweetest little boys into the family.

These two were trouble from the get-go, but we loved them, and I have to say that the year we got them was one of the best years of my life. The boys looked pretty similar, each having a light tan color; almost vanilla. But no one could figure out what breeds they were. Like, they were total mutts! Some terrier, some poodle, some hound? We heard it all. In the end, it really didn’t matter, because these mutts were ours, and we were gonna love them, no matter what.

Okay, so back to guitar land. This topic got me thinking about “mutt” guitars. See, back in the day, a lot of guitar factories all over the world would try to use up parts. The CBS Fender era was a notorious time for strange designs that were meant to use up stock. The Japanese makers did the same, with similar results, but a little more extreme. All the time, I see guitars that had left a factory with a mixup of parts, and sometimes I’ll see something that I’ve never seen before. These “mutts” can perplex and bewilder collectors because it seems like some of these were one-offs.

“The CBS Fender era was a notorious time for strange designs that were meant to use up stock.”

Take, for instance, the mutt I’m presenting here. The body and neck are from the late-’60s Valco run of guitars, known as Lexingtons. I’ve written about Lexington guitars before and how much I like them, but this guitar is a total weirdo. Why? Because the pickups, electronics, and tremolo are all Japanese sourced. Which begs the question, why are we seeing a factory stock guitar with a mix of such disjointed parts? Well, these were the mutts!

The Valco company, located in Chicago, was in the final years of production, and started sourcing out bodies and necks to Japan. In other words, those parts were made in Japan, shipped to the U.S., and Valco would then put on their U.S. parts and pickups. But this strange bird was finished off in Japan—which is where I found this guitar—using a super old tremolo, the odd switches, rando pickups, and a really basic bridge that didn’t allow for any intonation. How did it sound? Meh. How did it play? Meh. It was simply a hastily made guitar, using up leftover parts.

Mutt guitars are a real mixed bag. Some are okay, some are amazing, and some are real stinkers. But there is some fun in finding these rarities. If you have the time, the search is the greatest thrill, just like finding two good dogs. This one is for my mutts, Bucky and Brody!