Crank a small amp and the gold-foils in this Audition solidbody will gladly scream.
We used to have an excellently eccentric local public access channel in our area, and the recording studio was just a little ways from my house. Some of the touring punk bands as well as local ones would play live on the channel, and let me tell you.… It was so awesome. The performances were the stuff of legend. I can remember one particular band playing where a song culminated with the singer hammering a long nail into his nose! (My wife and I share these crazy experiences, and our kids are always shaking their heads at us, unable to comprehend that VHS era.)
Now, there isn’t much evidence on the internet regarding our local public access channel, but you can find some totally rad old clips of bands, acts, and weirdos from all over the U.S. One of the legendary public access moments was when a California band named the Mummies played on a San Francisco show in 1991. My goodness, that band was rocking out. Please search out the video and watch how much abuse a Farfisa organ can withstand.
The Mummies were part of a cool late-’80s garage revival where energy, rawness, and lo-fi were all the rage, and bands were embracing the forgotten guitars of the past—like J Mascis and his Jazzmaster and Kurt Cobain and his Jaguar and Mustangs. Later, Jack White did the same with his Airline. Of course, the raw-er you wanted to go, the more obscure you had to go. Old Sears amps, ’60s import guitars, and insane import fuzz pedals were just sitting on music store shelves gathering dust back in the late ’80s. Bands like the Mummies, who were considered “budget rock,” could indulge in all sorts of musical experiments on the cheap. In that public access video, guitar player Larry Winther can be seen playing an old Framus guitar running through a Silvertone amp. Bet you never tried that combination!
If budget rock sounds appealing to you, then let’s travel back in time to the budget department store chain, Woolworth’s. The guitar brand for those stores was Audition, and the early models were just the gnarliest sounding axes ever. Exhibit A is this here guitar made by the Zenon Music Company in Lake Suwa, Japan. Zenon’s foray into electric guitars counted this early Audition as its flagship of sorts, and this model was one of the first Zenon electrics to be seen in the states. And just like Jack White’s Airline, man, you had to fight this guitar to play it!
Appearing right around 1965, this particular guitar was called the ZES-70T in company literature. It sported a robust neck (no adjustable truss rod), a non-adjustable plastic bridge, a tremolo, and two non-adjustable pickups (I used little rubber washers to raise the bridge unit on mine). The electronics layout had two tone knobs, one volume, and two pickup switches. But the true beauty of this guitar were those gold-foil pickups. There were a lot of variations on the gold-foil designs (which were copied from American DeArmond pickups), but the ones in this Audition were special. Played through a nice old Fender amp, they’re okay. But if you plug this guitar into an old Ampeg or Gibson amp, then you’re getting somewhere. An old Valco or Danelectro amp would put you right in the center of thrash city! The sound I always liked with this Audition was to use an amp-switching pedal and use two amps: one for loudness and semi-clean tones and a smaller amp that would be dimed for distortion. You don’t even need effects pedals.
“An old Valco or Danelectro amp would put you square in the town center of thrash city!”
I’ve spoken about Zenon guitars in the past, and what I’ve always liked about the design are the wavy pickguards that kind of match the flow of the guitar shape. Today, I was even searching around online and saw a bunch of this same model guitar selling rather cheap. Of course, each one of these guitars is like a snowflake and no two play the same—but they do sound the same. The one I had was worked on extensively and had a refret, and I miss it terribly sometimes. Especially when I see bands like the Mummies going insane on public access. I should totally start my own show. I think the Mummies are still playing concerts!
Humble 1960s designs are reborn in a high-performance boutique gem.
The latest model from Portland, Oregon, based luthier Saul Koll is an upscale tribute to down-market American guitars of the 1960s. As such, it’s part of an emerging trend among boutique luthiers: re-envisioning the funky budget guitars of the past as immaculately crafted, high-performance instruments.
According to Koll, the Super Cub shares “aesthetic DNA” with the Harmony Bobkat, Epiphone Wilshire, and Gibson Melody Maker. Back in the ’60s, these were considered relatively humble models for beginners. Both Hendrix and Springsteen played Wilshires in their youth, while Billy Gibbons started out on a Melody Maker. Nowadays, though, they’re often embraced for their innate warts-and-all coolness. For example, Annie “St. Vincent” Clark has recorded amazing things using her Bobkat.
The Super Cub’s curiously cubist headstock is an obvious Bobkat reference (though it pays homage to Kay and Custom Kraft designs, too). And while the Cub’s body features Koll’s signature “Glide” shape, that offset, double-cutaway design isn’t worlds removed from the Bobkat’s silhouette. Meanwhile, the Cub’s sides are rounded relative to other Koll models, much like the Bobkat and Wilshire. And like the instruments that inspired it, the Cub has a thin, light body. It’s a svelte 1 1/4" thick. Players who prefer lighter/smaller instruments are likely to be happy here.
Improving the Past
Unlike its ’60s inspirations, the Super Cub is an exceedingly high-performance instrument.
The set neck, with its 22 medium-jumbo frets and relaxed C shape, is a joy to play. The ends of the expertly installed frets are rounded to pearly smoothness. The lower cutaway lets you access the 22nd fret as easily as the first, with no need to stretch out of position. Despite the six-on-one headstock, the neck is set into the body via a clean, comfy joint. The bone nut is a beaut. Unplugged, the guitar’s tone is complex and rich in sustain, thanks in part to the spiffy Schroeder bridge.
The Super Cub’s cosmetics are a delight. Staring into the black-sparkle nitro finish feels like gazing at the stars on a dark night. Lovely single-ply binding complements both the starry black body and the golden-brown mahogany neck. The curvaceous aluminum pickguard evokes mid-century modern coffee tables and swimming pools. It looks magnificent surrounding the custom Curtis Novak silver-foil pickups. Transparent plastic knobs complete the Space Age effect. And while there are position markers on the neck binding, the fretboard is free of ornamentation.
Though other pickup options are available, the pickups in our review guitar are reportedly copies of the foil pickups in some Japanese Guyatone models. These seem to be customized versions of Novak’s Guytone NB model, with silver foil embossed with the Koll logo. I’ve never used original Guyatone foil pickups, so I can’t address the historical accuracy of Novak’s replicas. But I can tell you that these “silver-foils” sound cool and unique, and that they’re largely responsible for the Super Cub’s distinctive voice.
Like other reproduction gold-foils I’ve spent time with recently (Jason Lollar’s version and the Roadhouse models in recent Supro guitars), the Guytones have a bright, almost acoustic-like high end—only more so. Clean tones have crisp, decisive attack with bold, clangy overtones, as heard at the start of the demo clip. It’s a spectacular tone for fingerstyle picking, vintage R&B, and maybe even for jazz.
Those highs never seem shrill—probably because they’re grounded by round, warm lows with rock-solid fundamentals. The unrestrained treble can sound at times like a direct-recorded guitar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you told me the riff at the clip’s 01:20 mark was a blend of miked amp and DI signal, I’d believe you. With heavy overdrive and fuzz, tones get loose and spattery in a bitchin’ punk rock way. Dig the sheer mass at 00:29.
The Super Cub features a Les Paul-style 3-position selector switch. Each pickup has its own master volume, while the single tone knob affects both pickups. A high-end G&G deluxe hardshell case is included.
I love the Super Cub’s unique voice and modernized retro styling. The guitar is light, comfy, and ridiculously fun to play. Its tones are surprisingly versatile, ranging from authoritative and articulate clean tones to brash, punky chunk. The only stumbling block for me is the price, which seems lofty despite the instrument’s distinctive design and fine hand workmanship. Still, Koll’s Super Cub is one of the most appealing and inspiring guitars I’ve encountered lately.
Watch the Review Demo:
Offset meets Teisco meets Danelectro meets Tele, anyone?
Recorded with an Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX into a Catalinbread Topanga, a J. Rockett Audio Archer (set to clean boost), and an MXR Reverb routed to a Jaguar HC50 miked with a Royer R-121 and a Goodsell Valpreaux 21 miked with a Shure SM57, both feeding an Apogee Duet going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Bridge position.
Clip 2: Middle position.
Clip 3: Neck position.
Some might find Schuyler (pronounced “Skyler”) Dean’s goal of combining the lo-fi tones of vintage Teisco gold-foils with the basic character of Jazzmaster pickups rather niche-y. Personally, I find the concept more intriguing than, say, yet another PAF-style humbucker. But I’ll admit I was skeptical: Gold-foilsare a bit of a bandwagon thing now. It didn’t help my cynicism when I learned these single-coils use large, 1/4" ceramic bar magnets rather than thin rubber magnets, like original Teiscos.
All that incredulity melted away minutes into testing the pickups, though. They really do capture much of the clear, resonant chime in a good, mellow pair of JM pickups—particularly in the middle position, which adds lovely, subtle grit to the squishy, hollowed-out tones that define the offset Fender.
Meanwhile, the neck unit has an even hollower sound that’s dusky, throbbing, and enveloping in much the same way as an old lipstick pickup. Perhaps the most wonderful surprise, however, is that, through a hard-working tube amp, the bridge pickup has the delightful snap, and tough-sounding twang of a kick-ass old Telecaster pickup in the same position.
Authentic tones? Ehhh … considering the recipe here, that’s probably a dumb question. But they are indubitably delicious.
Test Gear: Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX, Jaguar HC50, Goodsell Valpreaux 21, Catalinbread Topanga, Jordan Fuzztite, J. Rockett Audio Archer, PureSalem Pink Beard, Drybell Vibe Machine, Ibanez Echo Shifter, MXR Reverb.