Fender Telecaster, Part I

Go Tele It On the Mountain, Part I
Go Tele It On the Mountain, Part I

Sometimes the most revolutionary ideas are simple. Certainly this was the case Leo Fender’s Telecaster guitar, which was revolutionary in its design and impact, and relatively simple, even elemental. Which is probably why since it was introduced as the Esquire in 1950, the Telecaster has remained in constant production.

That’s a track record equalled only by the Fender Precision, the world’s first solidbody electric bass, which debuted in ’51. The only solidbody guitars that even come close are the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul. Given this success, it’s amazing so few guitars have attempted to copy the Telecaster. So here we will explore the evolution of and variations on its form.

Before we begin let us say we expected to find a fairly straightforward tale with relatively little to say. And while this is true for the first 35 years of its existence, the form garnered considerable attention beginning in the late ’80s, perhaps due to the renewed interest stirred by its creator, perhaps influenced by the burgeoning of the vintage guitar scene. In any case, this month we’ll track the more conservative years of Tele history and next month discuss some of the more spectacular modern interpretations.

The Road to the Telecaster
While the Telecaster was not the first solidbody electric guitar, it was groundbreaking. American guitar manufacturers had begun playing around with the notion of an electric guitar as early as the ’20s. Recall Lloyd Loar’s experiments at Gibson as early as ’24, though the technology was so primitive that failure was almost a foregone conclusion. Kay, the company known as Stromberg-Voisinet at the time, became the first to put an electric guitar into production in ’28; the Stromberg Electro Guitar, the six-string in a Spanish design, the tenor in a two-point Venetian acoustic guitar, both with some sort of pickup. No modern electromagnetic pickups were shown on illustrations at the time, so it has been speculated this may have been some sort of transducer placed inside, perhaps adapting phonograph cartridge technology. In any case, this was greeted with much ballyhoo in the trade press and was immediately picked up by Chicago radio performers. However, news quickly faded and due to performance problems or the Depression (or a combination) Stromberg Electros disappeared with the publicity. Some years later Kay president/namesake Henry K. “Hank” Kuhrmeyer referred to having produced “…several hundred” Stromberg Electros. This no doubt accounts for why no one has as yet turned up one of these rare birds.

Apparently, the Vega banjo company, Chicago, also came up with an electric banjo in ’28, though this got far less publicity and disappeared even faster than the Strombergs.

Modern electromagnetic guitars began life in the early ’30s. To George Beauchamp (Bee-chum), cofounder of Los Angeles’ National String Instrument Corporation (with John Dopyera), probably goes the credit for inventing the modern electric, although Paul H. Tutmarc and Albert J. Stimpson, in Washington state, were also working independently to meet the electrical challenge.

Aloha, Adolph
Hawaiian music, brought to the mainland early this century, was riding a phenomenal crest of popularity since the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. It had been the Hawaiian guitar players, notably Sol Hoopii, who popularized National’s resonator guitars in the late ’20s (Hoopii was the first to record with a prototype National resonator in ’26). With help in pickup design from another National employee, Beauchamp designed his “frying pan” electric Hawaiian guitar in ’31, and received the patent in ’37. Failing to interest his partners at National in his new electric invention, Beauchamp and Paul Barth (another National founder and one of guitardom’s unsung heroes), left National in ’31, and with Adolph Rickenbacher, the owner of National’s tool and die supplier (where resonator cones were made), began Ro-Pat-In (probably standing for “Electro Patent Instruments”) to produce his new frying pan.

The Electro Hawaiian debuted in ’32 and became the first production solidbody electric guitar, as well as the first commercially available guitar with an electromagnetic pickup (an Electro Spanish guitar, a hollowbody archtop with the same pickup installed, was introduced simultaneously).

By the way, Rickenbacher later took credit for inventing the frying pan, but Beauchamp and his buddies did the primary development, and Beauchamp held the patent. Rickenbacher was involved in producing the guitars, but the extent of his contributions to the original idea is unknown.

National Rejection
In Seattle in 1930, Paul Tutmarc, a Hawaiian guitarist and pedagogue, set up a studio. Tutmarc was facile with both Weissenborn and National-style guitars. He set up a sound lab in his basement and began experimenting with electrification in ’30 by fixing the transducer from his telephone handset. Later in that year he hooked up with an electronics buff from Spokane, Washington, named Albert J. Stimpson and together they developed a large horseshoe electromagnetic pickup. With the help of a teenager named Bob Wisner, who did radio repairs at a local shop, they adapted a radio to become a guitar amplifier. Tutmarc eventually tried marketing instruments featuring the invention.

Another National alumnus, John Dopyera, provided the next entry. In ’33, Dobro purchased the rights to the Tutmarc/Stimson pickup from Stimpson and introduced its All-Electric – basically a resonator guitar with a pickup assembly replacing the cone assembly. Stimson’s pickup was arguably the first commercially available modern pickup. Unlike the Electro design, Stimson’s had the magnet inside the guitar body, under the strings. The All-Electric was replaced by the Dobro Electric Resophonic in ’34, followed quickly by the cast aluminum electric Hawaiian in late ’34, and a Dobro Spanish Electric guitar and mandolin in ’35, at which point Dobro merged with National, becoming National-Dobro. The Stimson-powered Dobros inspired the company’s National and Supro brand from ’35 on.

Also in ’33, Lloyd Loar reentered the game with his strange Vivi-Tone Spanish guitars. These also featured magnets in the body, but operated on the strange principle of having string vibrations transferred to a metal bar which then disturbed the pickups’ electromagnetic field. Vivi-Tones were less than enthusiastically received and by the end of ’33 the company was no more.

By ’35 it was clear electrics were the wave of the future and everyone began jumping on the bandwagon. Gibson introduced its first Hawaiian lap steels in ’35, with electric Spanish archtops in ’36. It was also in ’35 that Electro created a Spanish-shaped Bakelite electric guitar, the Electro Spanish Guitar Model B, often considered to be the first production electric Spanish solidbody guitar. Actually the Model B was not really solid since it was hollowed out from behind to decrease the weight. This was not a popular guitar and had little impact. By ’40 virtually every American manufacturer (with the possible exception of Regal) was offering electric guitars, mostly Hawaiian lap steels and/or electric archtops.

In ’39, Leo Fender opened a radio repair and record store called Fender Radio Service, in Fullerton, California. Here he brought together sound electronics and music, and later became acquainted with Clayton Orr “Doc” Kauffman.

Virtually all musical instrument manufacturing stopped during World War II and most companies did not resume until ’46, often using parts leftover from before the war. It was just at war’s end, in ’45, that Leo Fender and his friend Doc Kauffman decided to start the K&F Company to build and sell K&F-brand lap steels and amplifiers. Wary of the long hours and worried about losing money, Kauffman left the partnership in ’46 and Fender Electric Instrument Company was born. Fender’s Organ Button, Princeton, Deluxe, and Dual 8 Professional lap steels and the now-legendary tweed-covered amplifiers were introduced in ’46.

That Fender first focused on electric laps and amps reflects the curious contrasts of the contemporary Los Angeles music scene. As we’ve seen, Hawaiian music was still big, and indeed, had contributed greatly to the development of electric guitars. But Hawaiian musicians were not Fender’s entire market. In fact, just before the war, the major L.A. Hawaiian stars, Sol Hoopi, Bernie Kaai, and Dick McIntire, had fallen in with the Dickerson brothers and were endorsing laps and amps that would, after the war, evolve into the Magnatone brand.

Fueling the Bakersfield sound
A new sound was developing in and around L.A. Folks from the south, west and southwest had begun migrating to the Golden state during the Great Depression of the ’30s…the Dust Bowl and all that. The explosion of military industry in California during the war hastened the influx. The new residents brought their hillbilly and western swing music and began to evolve what would become country and western music, the so-called “Bakersfield sound.” The newly transplanted hillbilly music collided with the L.A. Hawaiian music scene, which, as we’ve seen, had contributed so much to the development of electric lap steel guitars. Hillbilly musicians began to incorporate the wistful, lonesome sound of the steel guitar into their music. Many of them played K&Fs.

As a provider of amps and instruments, Fender found himself active in the local music scene, providing sound systems for local gigs. This visibility would result in some curious turns that led to development of the Telecaster and involved a fascinating nexus between television, automobiles, and country music.

Prior to the war, the hot medium was radio. Large national networks developed in the late ’20s; CBS, NBC and ABC broadcasting live dramas, comedies, game shows, and musical variety shows from studios in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and other cities. After the war, the networks couldn’t unload their radio stations fast enough as they scrambled to embrace the next big thing. Four networks, the previous radio barons plus DuMont, transferred the old radio programming to the new medium. Among the TV programs popular in the later ’40s were the old “Barn Dance” shows featuring the down-home sounds of what we now loosely call “country and western.” Increasingly, the musicians played electric instruments. After all, you really couldn’t have an amplified steel guitar without electrifying and amplifying the rest of the guitars.

Of Oldsmobiles and feedback
Apparently, there was a popular late night barn dance show on local television in Los Angeles, sponsored by a big Oldsmobile dealership. In a curious way, this led to the invention of the Tele!

The guitar players on this TV barn dance played hollowbody archtops with pickups mounted on or in them. They had terrible feedback problems, and tried all the usual things, but nothing worked.

The problem was brought to the attention of the guy who increasingly supplied amps to these musicians – Leo Fender, and it was the effort to solve the feedback problem that led him to create a solidbody.

Fender and Bigsby
Fender wasn’t the only one working on a solution. One of the hottest pickers in town was Merle Travis, who’d gotten an idea for a guitar when he was a teenager. With the help of a pal named Paul Bigsby, who made a name for himself designing pedal steel guitars, Travis built a guitar in ’48.

The Bigsby/Travis was a neck-through with hollow wings. Apparently, Leo Fender borrowed Travis’ guitar and took it home to study. For many years Bigsby is reported to have thought Fender had expropriated his ideas. It’s a bit hard to see how the two relate, unless it was the solid wood under the pickup that gave Fender the idea of making a solidbody. Aesthetically speaking, Fender’s Telecaster and Bigsby’s Travis guitar are eons apart, and Leo’s pickups and bolt-on neck were unique innovations certainly not reflected in the Bigsby design.

Fender, Esq.
In any case, Fender conducted his experiments and his first solidbody, originally called the Esquire, entered production in 1950. It was distributed by F.C. Hall’s Radio & Television Electronics Company (Radio-Tel), which later would buy Electro (the first solidbody maker) and change the name to Rickenbacker.

The Esquire had a slab (non-contoured) body with hard edges, a sort of squarish outline with a little curve where the upper bout met the neck pocket, and a single-cutaway horn jutting out the treble side. The maple neck with a squiggly little six-in-line headstock was bolted into a pocket in the body with four bolts. The neck was a solid chunk of hard maple and rather than mess with a fingerboard, the frets were laid right into the maple front. A large black pickguard covered much of the front under the strings. Volume, tone and three-way toggle sat on an oval metal plate. Single-pickup models had a slanted single-coil set into a slot on the bridge/tailpiece assembly. Twin-pickup models had a second single-coil tucked in a the end of the fingerboard. On one-pickup models the toggle let you preset or bypass the tone control.

Fender’s new creation caught on like a California wildfire. It gave players a high, twangy sound that cut through. And best of all, it didn’t feed back!

“Lawsuit” guitar…sorta
Sometime in late 1950, Fender re-dubbed the two-pickup Esquire the Broadcaster – a fitting moniker. However, early in ’51 Gretsch objected because they had a line of drums called Broadkasters. Fender said, “No problem,” and the legendary “No-Caster” was born. This came about basically because the folks at Fender, not wanting to trash a supply of headstock decals, simply took a scissors and cut off the “Broadcaster” part of the logo. No-Casters were made only for a brief while in ’51 until Leo, still thinking about the television angle, came up with the name Telecaster. Very soon thereafter Fender picked up its first big-name endorser, country-picking ace Jimmy Bryant.

Originally the second knob on the Tele was a “blender” control, but in ’52 it was changed to a true tone control. In ’54 the original Bakelite pickguard was changed to a multi-ply plastic. The Tele continued production more-or-less unchanged until ’83, with no significant additional models introduced until the late ’60s.

The Telecaster was a big success, and it put other guitar manufacturers on notice. Virtually everyone plunged into the race for a solidbody electric guitar. In ’51 Valco rolled out its first bolt-neck National Cosmopolitan and Supro Ozark guitars, both also slab-bodied with single cutaways and single-coil pickups. Kay followed quickly with its little single-cutaway guitar, chased from behind by the mighty Gibson organization, which introduced its Les Paul in ’52.

No really sincere flattery
It’s curious the model chosen for emulation by virtually all manufacturers was the Les Paul, even though Gibson did not invent the general shape. Almost no one tried to imitate the Fender Telecaster early on.

One company clearly influenced by the Tele was Carvin, founded in around ’46 by Lowell Kiesel, who designed and manufactured bakelite lap steels until a problem with arose with his distributor, who had exclusive rights to sell Kiesel laps but was carrying and promoting other brands at Kiesel’s expense. Kiesel couldn’t sell his laps through anyone else. He got around this by combining the first names of his sons Carson and Gavin and changed the brand to Carvin. In ’55 Kiesel designed and introduced the SGB solidbody, a cross between a Tele and Les Paul shape. It had lots in common with the Tele, including the squarish sort of outline and a plain, slab body with a bolt-on neck. Even the six-in-line head resembled the Fender. This sported two AP-6 single-coils controlled by volume, tone,, and a three-way toggle. Unlike the Tele, it had a rosewood fingerboard. The primary departure from the Tele form was a big point stuck up on the upper bout. This is definitely funky and distinctive, but it does tend to jab.

The first generation of Carvin SGBs lasted through ’61, and was replaced by a design again influenced by Fender – the Stratocaster. But apart from the Carvin, and unlike most other guitar models, Fender had the Telecaster field to itself for almost two decades. The Tele continued to be popular with only minor changes (a rosewood fingerboard option and bound-top Custom model added in ’59).

Paul Barth’s natural music
The venerable Tele also had a design impact on the third generation of guitars introduced by the Magnatone amplifier company in ’61. Called the Golden-Voiced Magna-Touch guitars, these were designed for Magnatone by Paul Barth, one of the originals at National (he worked on Beauchamp’s frying pan)! Barth remained active in music and become involved in a Hawaiian music organization known as the Natural Music Guild (some of the new Magnatones were marketed using that name. Barth’s Magnatones had a modified Tele-style single-cutaway shape and were basically hollowbodies. They included the Deluxe Model 200 with two pickups, two volume and two tone controls, three-way select, and sunburst finish, the 150 with a single neck pickup guitar, one volume and one tone control, and the 100, a 3/4 size with one pickup finished in off-white. The headstocks were three-and-three with a slight flare at the base and a slightly concave top, not dissimilar to Danelectro’s “coke bottle,” in streamlined form. Fingerboards were bound rosewood with 22 frets and dot inlays. Tops and backs were bound. The pickups were small single-coils, with chrome sides, black top inserts, and poles exposed. Neck joints featured a neck-tilt adjustment. These guitars lasted until ’65.

By the mid ’60s a vigorous business in forging American guitar designs had sprung up in the Philippines, home to the enormous Subick Bay naval base, and a major stop for GIs returning from Japan and Viet Nam. Information about these curious guitars has only recently been discovered, explaining some of the weird instruments that turn up, suspected to be of Japanese origin. Basically, these Filipino makers (usually just a few people in a garage) would get copies of American guitar catalogs and make their own versions, often down to using logo decals or inlays. The biggest giveaway on these Filipino forgeries is that the Philippine Islands have no maple, so everything is made out of mahogany. For a good Fender maple neck, they simply bleached mahogany!! Filipino forgeries encompassed a host of Fender and Gibson designs. It is not known if Teles were copied, but the probability is high. If you find a Tele with a bleached mahogany neck/fingerboard and other details that are not quite right, you’ve got one. By the way, I have one of their mid-’60s Jazzmasters and it is not a bad guitar, by any means. It just ain’t a Fender! The Filipino forgery business thrived at least into the mid-to-late ’80s.

The line proliferates
Other than these examples, the Telecaster form didn’t receive any serious attention until the end of the ’60s, when Fender began to expand the Tele line and the Japanese copy era sprang into being. Certain Fender curios were produced during the ’60s, like the mahogany-bodied models from around ’63 or the short-lived paisley-finished Teles of ’69. The first real change in the Telecaster line came in ’68 when Fender introduced the Thinline Telecaster, a semi-hollow version with an f-hole, sort of the parting shot designed by Roger Rossmeisl. The following year (’69) Fender debuted the wonderful Rosewood Telecaster, a variation made of solid rosewood based on a design made for George Harrison. The Rosewood Tele lasted only until ’72, replaced by the neck-humbucker Telecaster Custom. In ’73 the Telecaster Deluxe (twin humbuckers) bowed. All of these received the attention of copiers.

The Japanese began making electric guitars in the mid ’50s, primarily by Gibson Les Pauls, ES-175s, and ES-335s. By the guitar boom of the ’60s, Japanese guitars had become more influenced by Fender’s Jazzmaster. As the ’60s progressed, the Japanese became increasingly interested in making guitars that looked similar to those made elsewhere. As early as ’64, copies of the Burns Bison were being marketed as Ibanez guitars and with other brand names. By ’67 a spate of Japanese guitars debuted, clearly inspired by such stalwarts as the Vox Phantom, the EKO violin guitar and bass, and the Mosrite Ventures (and Joe Maphis). These maintained a little distance from the originals, but the people who marketed the originals were keenly aware the imitations were meant to compete.

The copy era
The breakthrough occurred at the NAMM show in ’68, with the fateful meeting between Shiro Arai and the newly reissued Gibson Les Paul Custom. Mr. Arai, head of Arai and Company, makers of Aria, Aria Diamond, and Arai Diamond-brand guitars, as well as guitars sold under other importer names, saw the new Custom and was surprised. He didn’t think it was still being made. Upon learning it was a copy of the original Les Paul, he had a brainstorm.

Returning to Japan, he had his designers concoct their own copy of the Black Beauty. It had a bolt-on neck and a number of deliberately different features (including a blade pickup design), but it was a copy. In ’69, these Arias (also sold carrying Merson’s Univox brand name) began to enter the U.S. Ibanez copies soon followed, and the copy era had begun.

Aria’s Les Pauls were accompanied by another copy (maker unknown) called the National Big Daddy, imported by Chicago’s Strum & Drum, which purchased the National brand name at the Valco/Kay auction in ’69. The Big Daddy hit the market in late ’69 and was the most heavily promoted of the early Les Paul copies. Following on its heels was the Lucy, a ’70 a copy of the Ampeg Dan Armstrong, again available in several versions, including Aria, Univox, Electra (St. Louis Music) and Ibanez.

The advent of the copy era in the U.S. wasn’t so much an avalanche as a stream. Japanese manufacturers tended to focus on Gibson products or hot new guitars like the Ampeg or Guild’s SG-100. Just as when the Telecaster was introduced, Japanese manufacturers mostly ignored Fender in the early years of the copy era, at least in terms of exports. As early as ’71, Univox debuted Arai-made copies of Fender basses, with Fender-style guitars trickling behind.

However, the domestic market was another situation. Simultaneous with the leap to Les Paul copies, some Japanese makers began producing pretty high-quality Tele copies. One of these was the Burns SG-28, a handsome copy with two rectangular single-coil pickups arranged in a typical Japanese layout rather than in a Tele-style configuration. Although the bridge pickup was mounted in a separate piece of white laminated plastic that surrounded a fine-tune bridge and a separate, covered tailpiece. Fuji Gen-Gakki, maker of many Ibanez guitars, also introduced a pair of Tele-inspired Greco-brand instruments in ’68. The KF-190 was a Tele with two single-coils (not Fender copies) mounted on the laminated pickguard. These had a fine-tune bridge and a Japanese Bigsby-style vibrato, with a three-and-three headstock. An accompanying KB-165 was a Tele bass with a single pickup in the middle. While these were not exported to the U.S, at the time (as with other domestic Japanese guitars of the period) some may have made their way in the duffle bags of returning GIs.

Some crude, downsized Japanese Teles turn up occasionally, some as Silvertones. Most were finished in a cream color and date from ’68/’69 or the early ’70s, but we have been unable to document their pedigree. These were clearly exported to the U.S. and would no doubt have contributed to the impression the Japanese were producing cheap copies out of the gate. This perception would hang on for decades, but the reality would change quickly.

The Flood
In ’72, things seemed to click for copies, and full-blown lines sprang into bloom. As part of this proliferation, almost simultaneously a host Telecaster copies emerged. Strum & Drum introduced its National FT 440-2 Finger Talker (cf. “Fender Telecaster”), a swell little cream-finished Tele with a maple board and chrome cover over the bridge/tailpiece. By ’72 Aria was offering two Teles – the Model No. 1582, a regular Tele, and the Model No. 1592, a Tele Custom.

St. Louis Music (SLM) also joined the fray in ’72. SLM had relied on Kay products beginning in the late ’50s with its Custom Kraft brand name. Valco products began to appear in the mid-’60s with the same brand name. SLM began importing bizarre guitars carrying the Apollo name in around ’67, just before Valco/Kay blew up. Its ’70 lucite guitar was known as “The Electra” guitar, and became the brand name for SLM’s copy era. The Electra line of around ’72 or so consisted of two Tele copies, a solid (Ivory White 2248WC, Jet Black 2238WC, Natural 2253WC) and a semi-acoustic thinline with an f-hole and high-gloss chestnut finish, sort of a cross between Rossmeisl’s Tele Thinline and the Rosewood Tele.

It’s probable Ibanez was also offering Teles as early as ’72, especially since Fuji Gen introduced a version as early as ’68. Certainly, examples of Elger-brand Tele copies exist that appear to be of this vintage. In the late ’60s, Hoshino, the parent company that owns the Ibanez brand, had begun buying into Elger guitars made in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, owned by Harry Rosenblum, who operated Medley Music store. By ’71, if not before, Hoshino had acquired a half-interest in Elger and had asserted its Ibanez brand name for use by the company, although occasional brief runs of Elger-brand guitars would be produced over the next few years. By ’73 Ibanez offered the No. 2368F, a copy of the Thinline Tele with a neck humbucker and f-hole, and by ’74 was selling three No. 2352 solid Teles in standard, one-humbucker (copy of the Tele Custom introduced in ’72) and twin-humbucker (copy of the Tele Deluxe, introduced in ’73) configurations.

In May of ’72, a portentous advertisement appeared in The Music Trades. In an ad stretching across the top of a two-page spread, drawn cartoon-fashion with a jet soaring from Japan to the United States, the headline read, “Kasuga Guitars Come To America.” Kasuga was a guitarmaker established in Nagoya, Japan, in the late ’60s. In ’67, Tommy Moore, the successful musical instrument merchandiser from Ft. Worth, Texas, and one of the founders of Hondo, visited Japan in order to strike up a guitarmaking deal. With only a voucher of credit in his pocket and no contacts, Moore hooked up with a Mr. Kaku, who steered him to Tokai Gakki. Tokai had become very successful in Japan making and marketing the Pianaca, a keyboard harmonica used in Japanese schools. On December 15, 1970, Moore and Tokai Gakki entered a joint venture called Tokai USA Inc., and Tokai began making private label and OEM guitars.

Tokai quickly found it couldn’t keep up with demand, so it found a factory that could meet its quality standards: Kasuga. Another joint venture was established between Tokai USA and Kasuga called Kasuga International. Marketing offices were established in Singapore, Zurich, and Frankfurt. In ’72, these guitars began to come into America.

In December, ’72, an ad touted the Kasuga line, copies of the most popular Gibson, Fender, and Martin acoustic and electric solidbody designs. Presumably these included Telecasters. These were sold under the Kasuga name (briefly; a notice of Kasuga acoustics appeared in Guitar Player in September, ’72) and carrying the monikers of various importers, as in the ’60s.

In December, ’72, U.S. Musical Merchandise published its new Sekova catalog, replete with a full line of copies, including its Sekova version of the Tele, probably produced by Arai.

Americans Get Into the Act
It’s interesting to note that during the ’60s, few Japanese manufacturers sold guitars under their own brand names in the U.S. Teisco came in as Teisco Del Rey, which was close, and occasionally other guitars came in with their own names – Yamaha and Suzuki, for example. During the copy era this model changed and Japanese makers increasingly used their own brand names (e.g., Arai, Ibanez). Distributor brands such as Conrad (David Wexler) continued, but now side by side with Japanese brands. Even more curious, American manufacturers got into the act, briefly introducing their own copies.

Martin joined the copy bandwagon around ’70 when it introduced its Sigma line of guitars made in Japan. This wasn’t really so much a copy situation as it was making a marketing decision to increase its market share by selling its own budget models. However, in ’73 Martin debuted a line of Sigma solidbodies manufactured in Japan by Tokai. These generally had generic three-and-three heads, and included the Sigma SBF2-6, a Telecaster with a bound rosewood fingerboard, block inlays, and twin humbuckers like a Fender Tele Deluxe. These probably lasted about a year, because by early ’75 promotion of Sigma solidbody electric copies had ended (though, of course, Sigma acoustics would go on to earn respect in their own right).

Guild, too, introduced a line of copy electrics in ’73 under the Madeira moniker. Most of these had distinctive rounded-crown headstocks, though some featured exact duplicates. It’s not known for sure if this line included a Telecaster copy, but if you find one, you’ll know from whence it came. Like Martin’s Sigmas, Guild’s early Madeiras lasted only about a year, and were not being promoted by early ’75.

Oh you stud, you!
American amplifier companies also got caught up in the craze. Ampeg, which had been victimized early on by the copies of its Dan Armstrong plexiglas guitars, debuted its Stud line around ’73. These were copies of Gibson’s SG, Fender basses, and the Fender Tele. Ampeg’s version of the Tele was known as the Ampeg Heavy Stud GEH 150. This came in a natural finish with a wide three-and-three head, chrome hardware, pearloid pickguard, and neck humbucker/bridge single-coil, like a Tele Custom. These had rosewood or maple fingerboards with dot inlays. The series appears to have lasted about as long as other American imports, being gone by ’75.

Also it was in ’73 that W.M.I. essentially made its transition from the Teisco Del Rey name to Kay. The earliest Kay copy guitars were based on Gibson’s SG and EBO bass, but by ’74 Kay had introduced the K-22T, a Telecaster with a Strat-style head, two humbuckers and a Bigsby copy. These were offered probably for the next few years.

By the Spring of ’74, other companies, like Morris (Moridaira), had joined the frenzy with full lines of copy guitars. Indeed, the copy guitars had made great leaps forward in quality by this time, and a host of brand names sprang up, most distributed regionally by local music dealers. Gibson bore the main brunt of this copy assault, with Telecaster copies relatively less popular. But if you find a Tele copy by Bradley, Penco, or anything else unusual, it’s probably from the mid ’70s.

High-water mark
Perhaps the apex of the copy era is seen in the ’74 Ibanez price list, which offered no fewer than five “Telly” copies, dwarfed by the list of Gibson knock-offs, but significant. These included the Model 2352 in blonde ($180), Model 2352 Custom in black with neck humbucker ($210), Model 2352 DX in walnut with twin humbuckers ($245), Model 2368 Thinline in mahogany finish ($199), and Model 2384 Thinline in natural ash,

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