1962 Premier E-727

1962 Premier E-727

One of the least un-derstood aspects of American guitar history is the role of musical instrument distributors. It’s one thing to be able to manufacture guitars, but quite another to get them to customers, especially in an era when your purchase was likely to be from a local store or teacher (excepting mail order). Enthusiasts often forget that mighty Gibson was, for many decades, owned by Chicago Musical Instruments (CMI), a major distributor, and Fender’s relationship with West Coast distributor Radio-Tel is often glossed over. Indeed, distributors have been responsible for creating innumerable lesser brands, contracting them from independent manufacturers or, less often, owning all or part of a factory. This 1962 Premier E-727 is a premium example of this relationship.

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Premier was a major minor brand owned and sold by the East Coast distributor Peter Sorkin Music Company. Sorkin began as a music wholesaler in Philadelphia in the early 20th century. In 1935, he moved to New York City to join the growing music business, and in the ’40s started the Multivox company to build Premier amplifiers. Amp aficionados know about Premier/Multivox amps and how they’re undervalued because the brand isn’t well known; Premier made one of the better outboard reverb units in the ’60s.

Sorkin branched into electric guitars circa 1946, introducing the Premier 27, a flat-top fitted with a pickup. This was the first of many guitars to be produced for Sorkin by United Guitar Corporation, in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. You may not be familiar with the name, but United’s pedigree goes back to the late 19th century, when the factory was opened by one Oscar Schmidt, an early purveyor of 12-strings who owned the Sovereign and Stella brands and was a key supplier of guitars to Sears, Roebuck and Co. Schmidt became United about the time Sorkin relocated to New York. By the advent of the Premier brand, United was in a class similar to Kay and Harmony of Chicago.

Sorkin/Premier quickly expanded to include archtop electrics built by United. With the explosion of rockabilly in the early/mid ’50s, the Premier line took off, and United-made Premiers (as well as Orpheums made for Maurice Lipsky, another New York-based distributor) became some of the more popular guitars on the East Coast. A distinctive feature of Premier guitars was their crushed-sparkle-plastic pickguards and other trim. Most had single-coil pickups that look similar to P-90s – not bad, but by no means as good.

In the late ’50s, Sorkin’s Multivox subsidiary purchased the Strad-O-Lin factory in New York City. Owned by the Hominic brothers, Strad-O-Lin produced mainly mandolins which still occasionally show up, often worse for wear. Strad-O-Lin had a full woodworking shop and was moved to what would become the Multivox factory on 6th Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets. With the name changed to Multivox, limited guitar production commenced.

At the end of the 1950s, the hollowbody electric still reigned. But, abetted by players like Les Paul, country pickers, and the nascent surf movement, the solidbody continued to make progress. In late 1958/early ’59, Premier announced its first solidbody electric guitars, like the scroll-body style shown here. These were built in the Multivox factory in New York, not by United. 

The Premier “E scrolls” are amazing American-made guitars. Where to start? First is the unique body of solid one-piece(!) mahogany with a carved arch to the top and an unbelievable bound scroll on the upper horn. These were made way before numerical carving machines! Models were distinguished by the number of single-coil pickups – one, two, or three. Pickups were made by Multivox. Being a Premier, it has crushed sparkle trim. And though you can’t tell in the picture, it has a solid one-piece rosewood bolt-on neck with a bound walnut faceplate and rosewood fingerboard with real pearl double-dot inlays. The chunk of rosewood alone has to be worth a fortune!

This is a really fun guitar to play. The pickups are nice and beefy, though as with so many early-’60s guitars, you don’t get a whole lot of differentiation in tone when you switch between them. Slider switches are kind of a drag, but their aesthetics would more than make up for that. There are separate Tone and Volume controls for each pickup, so there’s a lot of tonal flexibility to this puppy. And as for the rock-solid feel of its rosewood neck, only graphite compares!

This particular guitar had been stripped and finished natural when purchased, but there was plenty of original finish remaining in the neck pocket and it was refinished in nitrocellulose lacquer matched to the original Cherry color. The pot dates are for the 40th week of 1962, so it’s from late in the run. The trapeze tailpiece is stamped “Made in Japan,” signaling things to come.

In 1963, Sorkin began sourcing more and more guitar parts from other manufacturers; plastic-covered scroll bodies were brought in from Italy, and more components came from Japan. And those guitars are neat in their own way, but not like these. The Premier brand lasted – at least on paper – into the very early 1970s, but the age of big distributors was over by then, and along with it the days of American-made distributor brands. Japan? Now that’s another story.

How many Premier solidbodies were produced is a mystery, but it’s highly unlikely that Multivox made anywhere near the quantity of a United or Kay. These would show up occasionally during the early 1990s, but not much since. One- and two-pickup models seem to be more prevalent. Nevertheless, any American-made solidbody from before the Beatles is not going to be plentiful. And from an aesthetic point of view, these Premiers are hard to beat! They stand testament to the long-lost glory of the big, long-gone distribution houses that once ruled the guitar roost.

This article originally appeared in VG’s March 2009 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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