In the late ’60s, when Domino guitars were fading away, tube amplifiers were out of vogue. Old technology, man! Cool bands played through solidstate amps that delivered lots of clean power with none of that awful tube distortion. Cool bands played through Standels and tuck-and-rolled Kustoms. Entire bands were run through a single 350-watt Mosrite monster.
Coming out of the late-’60s affection for transistors was the Acoustic Control Corporation, which specialized in what were, for the times, pretty advanced solidstate amps. However, in ’72, Acoustic introduced its one and only guitar and bass design, the Acoustic Black Widow, which represented a fascinating foray into the world of guitar manufacturing.
The Acoustic Black Widows were particularly interesting because they really went in the face of trends of the times. Black Widows were likely designed in the U.S., but the majority were built in Japan (though Semie Moseley said he built the final 200). The Black Widow shown here is Japanese, and I have personally held a Black Widow guitar with slightly different features and a feel that is unmistakably Mosrite. What made these so curious was that, while most American importers and manufacturers were rushing headlong toward the copy syndrome, the Acoustic Black Widows were unique, designed with certain technological objectives in mind.
Guitars and basses were equal double-cutaway solidbodies looking like an enlarged Les Paul Junior. Cutaway horns were flared, the wide lower bout was oval-shaped. Bodies were black-lacquered maple, with a German carve around the edges. The black-finished maple neck was bolted on, with a wide, triple-bound center-peaked headstock that was kind of a cross between a Kay and a Gibson. The logo was all lower case. The neck had a zero fret followed by two octaves of frets in a rosewood fingerboard on the guitar, 20 frets on the bass. Position markers were mini-dots. Strings passed over a fine-tune bridge to a large tailblock placed further back, designed to increase sustain. These were not instruments for the timid. The guitar had a whopping 27″ scale, while the bass logged in at 31.” The guitar had two humbuckers with chrome sides and a black plastic insert, with 12 poles, a three-way select, and two volume and two tone controls. The bass had one humbucker with eight poles in the center position, with volume and tone. Jack was front-mounted, and they came with a plush-lined hardshell case. The guitar was equipped with Grover Rotomatic tuners, while the bass came with Grover bass tuners. By ’74, the bass tuners had been changed to Schallers. Knobs were brushed aluminum. The most striking feature of the Black Widows was a red leather pad on the back of the guitar, attached with snap-on fasteners, stitched with a “black widow” pattern.
Toward the end of the run, the Black Widow guitar got an endorsement from jazz fusion great Larry Coryell, the only big name player to align himself with these guitars.
The Black Widows exhibit a surprising quality for their time, far in advance of comparable Japanese guitars. The pickups were fairly high-output for the time, hovering around seven ohms resistance. While they look unprepossessing, when you pick one up you feel in the presence of a solid guitar worthy of respect. The guitar and bass were still offered in the ’74 Acoustic catalog, but disappeared by ’75 as the copy era finally triumphed. Acoustic would continue to make amplifiers, but would never return to the guitar business. Acoustic Black Widows were not produced in enormous quantities, so they are relatively rare, but they turn up with some regularity if you keep your eyes open, mostly because few people pay attention to them. Expect to pay much more for a Moseley version, if the seller knows what he’s got. Most folks don’t know what they are, and they shouldn’t cost you a fortune, even though they represent an interesting punctuation point in American guitar history.
Ca. 1973 Japanese Acoustic Black Widow Guitar.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’98 issue.