An internet search for “Rex guitars” will turn up a fair – if confusing – amount of information about the brand used on budget guitars and banjos made by Gretsch beginning in the early 20th century.
On and off from the mid 1930s until the mid ’50s, Gretsch subcontracted construction of Rex instruments to Harmony and/or Kay – most were acoustic archtops and flat-tops. By ’56, Gretsch was selling single-pickup solidbody electrics called the Rex Silver Streak and Rex Hawaiian, both made by Kay. But this Rex guitar has more to do with Queensland than Queens, the borough (Gretsch was just south of Queens, in Brooklyn).
Actually, this Rex has more to do with Melbourne, Victoria, just south of Queensland, but certainly in Australia! Rex guitars and amplifiers were the product of the Lamberti Brothers company, founded by Frank and Anthony Lamberti in 1946. Details are spotty, but it appears that Frank emigrated from Italy to Australia as a teenager in the ’30s. He got work at Astor Radio, taking night classes in radio engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. After World War II, he joined his brother, Tony, a carpenter, to start the company, Frank serving as engineer, Tony a musician who supervised manufacturing.
The initial focus of Lamberti Bros. seems to have been on building Rex and Eston-branded tube amplifiers, though some sources mention early banjo-mandolins and guitars, as well. Frank concentrated on the chassis while Tony finished cabinets. By the late ’50s, the Lamberti empire had expanded to include a retail music store, a music school, and their own record label, Melodiana, to promote local Italian musicians. Eventually, they were involved in importing, selling, and distributing musical instruments, Italian records, home appliances, and televisions. Lamberti Bros. manufactured amplifiers and guitars at its subsidiary, General Music Company. Other instruments, including guitars, were imported from Italy, Japan, and Taiwan using the brand names Rex, Eston, Electa, Canora, and Boston. Lamberti Bros. also distributed instruments by Fender, Epiphone, Ibanez, Rogers, Ludwig, Pearl, Tama, Selmer, and D’Addario.
Rex amps with various output ratings included the AG-6, Mascot, and Bassking, the latter being the most popular. Cosmetically, they tended to follow a Fender look.
Lamberti Bros. instrument manufacturing at General Music ceased in 1974, due to high labor costs, but importing and distributing activities continue to this day.
According to Frank’s son, Joe Lamberti, the guitar seen here was built in Australia by the General Music Company. Presumably, it had a model designation, though none appear. It also has no serial number and the pots have no visible date codes. Based on overall design (which in size and shape is very similar to early-’60s Kay and Harmony solidbodies) plus the tuners, thickness of the neck, pickup designs, and sound, this one dates to ’64, though it could have been made earlier or slightly later.
The overall build is impressive. The set neck is three-ply maple (using different cuts) with mahogany divider strips; there is no visible truss rod. It’s what used to be called a “baseball bat” neck, with a thick, rounded-C profile (to carry those heavy gauge Black Diamond strings…or whatever they used in Australia back then), about 11/2″ thick including fretboard, all the way up the neck. The radius is a fairly flat 12″ with a wide 2″ nut. Despite the small body, the scale is fairly long at 26″. The core of the body appears to be solid maple with a veneer of tiger maple front and back.
The covered tuners look very European but don’t appear to be Van Ghents, the most common type on ’60s Euro guitars. Similar buttons were used on other Italian guitars, so, given the Lambertis’ strong Italian connections, these may be of Italian origin. And maybe it’s because the guitar comes from the Southern Hemisphere, but the tuners tighten and loosen in the opposite direction than on most guitars! The bridge/tail is a curious wraparound design that brings to mind the old Danelectro designs.
The single-coil pickups originally had covers – you can see where they were in the wear on the pickguard. Reports say that Frank Lamberti aimed for a clean, hi-fi sound with his amplifiers. These pickups are not especially powerful, but they are very clean with a good frequency response, consistent with Rex’s amplifier goal. The electronic components are particularly interesting. The pickups are mounted directly onto the body under the pickguard (which would decrease feedback) and the wiring harness was assembled on a metal plate that was turned over and screwed into the body cavity.
This guitar would look swell and fit right in with a surf or early-’60s pop band. You probably wouldn’t find it in the hands of Jimi Hendrix or Michael Bloomfield late in the decade!
It’s unlikely Rex guitars were exported, at least not outside of the Oceana region. This guitar turned up years ago in a music shop in New Jersey – another example of guitars that returned in a G.I.’s duffel bag after a tour of duty in the Pacific!
When General Music Company closed shop in ’74, a number of nearly finished amps were locked in the warehouse, where they sat until a few years ago. Resuscitated and completed in original vintage vinyl, they were offered for sale and revived interest in vintage Rex amps among Australian musicians. Lamberti Rex guitars (and other Australian brands such as Maton), on the other hand, remain pretty much hidden in the shadows of Gretsch’s better-known Rex budget line – and certainly under the radar in the vintage market.
This article originally appeared in VG’s March 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.