More is always better, right? Eleven is better than 10 on an amplifier, three pickups are better than two, and so on! That’s the promise of the seven-string. So when Jimmy Page showed up onstage in the ’70s with a doubleneck guitar, crowds went wild. Strum rhythm parts on the 12, break into a solo on the six, and people think you’re a genius! And how did he play 18 strings at once! That’s no doubt the premise behind this remarkable España 6/12 doubleneck guitar from circa 1970.
It’s not clear when the first doublenecks were made, but it didn’t happen until guitars were structurally sound enough to carry two arms. The concept may be related to the development of the lyre-guitar in the latter 1700s/early 1800s. Scholars had begun to rediscover the ancient world and its culture. This included learning about ancient instruments such as the kithara and the lyre, two related harp-like instruments with two arms coming off the body and strings tied to a crossbar at the top, with no neck. Luthiers took this concept and adapted it to the newly popular guitar by adding a support arm and brace to carry extra strings, either as sympathetic vibrators or as an extension of the bass, for chording. Today, we generally know this as the harp guitar. At some point in the 19th century, examples appeared with two necks, leading to the modern doubleneck.
Harp guitars were popular in mandolin and banjo orchestras of the 1880s until just prior to World War I. At that point, doublenecks all but fly off the radar until the electric age and Western music in the 1950s, when notable performers like Joe Maphis and the Collins Kids wowed crowds with hi-jinx on two necks, playing custom instruments by the likes of Semie Moseley and Carvin. Permutations included both six- and 12-string necks, as well as a six-string and mandolin neck. Very rarely, two six-string necks show up, or a six-string and bass neck. In 1958, Gibson began making the doubleneck used by Jimmy Page. A number of Japanese manufacturers made knock-offs of the Gibson version in the ’70s, but the form tended to recede after that. If you’ve ever hefted one of these, you know you better have a strong back! And if you’re going to jump off an amp and do the splits, you ain’t going to be carrying a doubleneck!
Early lyre and harp guitars were, of course, acoustic, but in modern times the concept has been almost entirely electric. Which brings us to this very unusual España 6/12! Because this guitar has lost its label, there are very few clues regarding the date.
España was a brand name used primarily on acoustic guitars sold by Bugeleisen & Jacobson (B&J), the once mighty New York music distributor. The exact history of B&J is a bit fuzzy. They come into view in the ’30s but may have been around much longer. It appears they got out of the music business in the mid ’70s. A few years ago (at least) the company was still in business in Canada selling sporting goods, with no memory of their musical past.
B&J’s involvement with España goes back to the Folk Revival of the late ’50s and the emerging Baby Boom. Folksingers played guitars and banjos (long-neck banjos after Pete Seeger, because bigger is better, right?).
This interest sparked a mad dash to supply instruments, and the legendary “guitar boom” was underway. American guitar manufacturers, especially the large mass manufacturers such as Harmony and Kay, couldn’t keep up (most folks couldn’t afford a Gibson or a Martin back then). This opened the door for enterprising importers to find alternative suppliers, and in the late ’50s that meant Europe. The first significant European imports were Goya guitars made by Levin in Sweden. By the early ’60s, two other European brands joined the fray, EKO made by Oliviero Pigini in Recanti, Italy, and España, made by Landola in Finland.
Landola, or actually its predecessor company, was founded by the Mattson Brothers in Pietarsaari, Finland, in 1942, as a guitar distributor (among other things). Following World War II, the company began manufacturing guitars that hit the market in ’46. The company made a variety of products but concentrated on guitars alone beginning in ’56.
In 1963, Landola went to the Frankfurt Music Fair, offering its guitars and carrying the España and Val Dez brand names. Based on the few examples encountered, España appears to have been the premium line, while Val Dez was the budget. At Frankfurt, they apparently met with representatives from B&J and the American part of the España story began.
Like many – though not all – European acoustics, Españas are characterized by very lightweight construction. This is a godsend when you’re talking about a doubleneck! Better European acoustics tended to be made of very nice ribbon mahogany (as opposed to the rosewood favored by American makers). The top is a beautiful, clear German spruce inlaid with a nice abalone crown logo and bound in natty green and white line purfling. The necks are glued-in mahogany with rosewood fingerboards and pearl dots. This has its own hugger-mugger hardshell case.
This guitar plays really nicely, with a firm, crisp, bright tone more typical of mahogany. If you were looking for a primary axe, this might not be your first choice, but, like when Jimmy brought out his doubleneck, you could certainly expect to stop the show with this puppy!
Whether or not this dates from 1970 is anybody’s guess. It’s hard to imagine this from the early ’60s. By the mid ’70s, B&J was no longer importing Españas. Somehow, 1970 seems about right.
It’s difficult to say how rare this is. It’s the only one we’ve ever seen, and it’s not in any of the catalogs we’ve encountered. But it most certainly is cool. After all, more necks are better, right?
This article originally appeared in VG October 2009 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.