In the late 1950s, the launch of the satellite Sputnik scared the pants off America and inspired a race to catch up. We pulled ahead with the TeleStar I satellite, developed by Bell Labs and launched in 1962.
TeleStar was a superior communications device, and it was accompanied by rock instrumentals by the Tornadoes and the Ventures, which helped reinforce the technological pride. Shorthand for “high tech,” the Tele-Star brand showed up on a variety of consumer products, including a line of Japanese-made guitars that debuted in the U.S. in 1965.
With offices on Broadway in New York, the Tele-Star Trading Corporation was begun by Maurice Laboz in around 1965 and concentrated on relatively humble low-end guitars (and drums), produced mainly by the Kawai company. While most Tele-Stars were forgettable, in ’66, the Professional Solid Body Speckled Electric line debuted, a series of downsized, shortscale guitars and basses with turned-in, pointy horns inspired by the styling of the Burns Bison.
These Tele-Stars would still have been fairly undistinguished if it weren’t for their natty sparkle (or “speckle”) finishes. Unlike the sparkle finishes of the ’50s, these were basically solid color finishes with little flecks of metallic chips imbedded in the spray. Without stage lights, which would really bring out the glittering effect, the finishes are fairly subtle until you get really close.
The Tele-Star Speckles came in quite a range of colors, including black, cream, gold, silver, blue, and green. Other hues may have been produced, as well. Perfect for the King’s comeback concert!
Tele-Star Speckles were otherwise typical of other Japanese solidbodies of the time, with from one to four single-coil pickups controlled by sliding switches. Multiple-pickup models had a rhythm/lead switch that let you bypass the controls for “blazing” solos! The rosewood fingerboards had block inlays, but they were, alas, plastic! Most models were equipped with Jazzmaster-style vibratos. Both thin oval pickups and larger rectangular units were employed, only the latter providing any kind of respectable output.
The Speckles were re-named Sparkles in ’67, but were essentially the same guitars. That year, the Tele-Star company was probably purchased by the Music-Craft Electronic Corporation and moved downtown. By ’68, the combination of changing tastes and declining markets ended the run of the Tele-Star Speckle/Sparkle Professionals, though the brand muddled on. In the early ’70s, the New York warehouse had a fire and the company relocated to Secaucus, New Jersey. From that point on, Tele-Star abandoned guitars and switched its focus to musical accessories. Circa 1982, Maurice Laboz sold the business to Fred Gretsch, Jr., son of the founder of the more famous guitar company.
Many ’60s Japanese guitars offer more potential than their sometimes awkward appearances suggest, especially with a good setup. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with most Tele-Stars, which remain solidly in the beginner category, although the Speckles might give you a good romp through a version of “TeleStar.”
Whatever the limitations these guitars may have as players, the sparkle finishes are very cool artifacts from the heyday of the ’60s guitar boom.
A 1967 Tele-Star 5004 Professional Solid Body Sparkle Electric Guitar.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.