Eko’s “Celluloid” ’60s Basses

Cool or Gaudy?
Eko’s “Celluloid” ’60s Basses

By the early 1960s, Europe’s industrial bases had mostly recovered from World War II. Many musical-instrument manufacturers stuck to products popular in their respective countries, but some were innovating, especially those building solidbody electric guitars.

Instrument photos by Willie G. Moseley. Instrument courtesy of Joe Cutthroat and Chris Smart. The Eko 1100/2 and its mother-of-pearl back.

Oliviero Pigini founded Eko in 1959 to make accordions before an abrupt decline in interest pushed the company into guitar production; its earliest stringed offerings included acoustic flat-tops and archtops, jazz boxes, solidbody electrics, and a few basses.

Early promo referenced their Italian manufacture – a brochure from the England-based distributor Dallas used phrases such as “…styled the Italian way, which has set the post-war fashion from clothes to cars!” and “Consider the buzz-free fingerboard laminated with woods air-dried under the Italian sun.”

The new solidbodies had “glitter finishes vacuum-bonded on to smooth streamlined bodies.” Basically, Pigini was taking leftover sparkle and pearloid accordion material and attaching it to wooden guitar bodies. The earliest incarnations had push-button pickup controls and rollers/thumbwheels for Volume and Tone controls on the upper bass bout.

By the time Eko’s 500- and 700-series guitars were shown in a 1962 catalog, Volume and Tone controls were traditional knobs in traditional locations, while pickup switches remained upstairs. The 500 had a slightly-offset shape a la Fender’s Jazzmaster, while the 700 had a map-shaped/triple-cutaway silhouette with a knee notch on the lower treble bout (it debuted around the time of American instruments such as the National Glenwood).

Two Eko basses sporting flamboyant plastic finishes were also proffered in ’62. The 1100/2 had the 500 body (1334" wide, 17" long, and 158" deep), while the relatively-rare 1150/2 was a violin-shaped instrument (1112" wide, 18" long, and 158" deep).

The 1100/2’s pushbutton pickup controls.

While the 1100/2 was promoted as matching the 500-series guitars, the 1150/2 did not have a guitar counterpart, just as the model 700 guitar did not have a bass sibling.

The basses had a 30″ scale on a bound neck with 20 frets and pearloid markers on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, and 12th frets. The headstocks had silhouettes coordinated with their body styles – the 1100/2’s being bound and Fender-like (four on a side), the 1150/2’s a scroll. Truss rods could be accessed through a three-screw plate on the front of the head.

Both had two pickups touted as “double-polarity” (indicating a humbucking design). The four switches on top were labeled “M” (both pickups), “1” (neck pickup), “2” (bridge pickup) and “0” (off).  Electronics were installed through a top-mounted pickguard that was usually five-layer with a tortoiseshell pattern and the edges of the celluloid were covered with a gold strip along the rim of the body. Color options were listed as “NO” (hazel top, mahogany back), “MB” (white mother-of-pearl top, black back), “TA” (silver-sparkle top, black back), “TB” (blue-sparkle top, black back), “TO” (gold-sparkle top, mother-of-pearl back), “TR” (red-sparkle top, mother-of-pearl back), and “RN” (brown-striped top, striped-mahogany back).

Basses in Eko’s ’64 catalog.

The ’63 brochure showed solidbody guitars and basses with traditional finishes while the availability of accordion finishes was nebulous – the text touted “celluloid-covered bodies” (saying nothing about colors of the tops and backs), and RN was no longer an option. The lack of specificity may have hinted the celluloid series was available with any combination of colors, though it’s doubtful Pigini was offering a pick-and-choose concept. Three new basses – two hollowbodies and a solid “all-wood” model – were shown, and others listed including the 1100/2 and 1150/2 “celluloid” models.

Eko’s ’64 catalogs used color illustrations and the two celluloid basses were back on display; the 1100/2 illustrated as “3 Dimensional – Peroxlin (Mother of Pearl)” and “Double Cutaway Style fully covered with Peroxlin.” Electronics, dimensions, and hardware were unchanged.

Catalog images courtesy of Steve Brown.

The 1100/2 shown here is a definitive example if Eko’s celluloid instruments, sporting a blue-sparkle top and white mother-of-pearl back separated by the gold strip. Sparkle/pearloid models were out of Eko’s catalog by ’65. And while their wild aesthetic debuted at the front edge of the “guitar boom,” the garish instruments didn’t carry over into the phenomenon.

One might also speculate just how the 1150/2 affected the design and development of Eko’s violin-shaped 995 bass (VG, February ’11), which debuted in the mid ’60s and became one of the company’s best-known instruments.

While Eko’s sparkle and pearloid solidbodies aren’t memorable in terms of tone, they often lead discussions about the aesthetics of ’60s kitschy (and now retro-cool) instruments.

This article originally appeared in VG February 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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