Reboot Guitars: Vintage Brands Come Back to Life

6.11.2018 by Bbop the Goat

Like many people with GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome), you’ve probably had your eye on a few old Teisco, Harmony, Supro or Airline guitars on eBay over the years. With cool looks and cheap prices, these cheap vintage guitars, originally sold through mail-order catalogues, sometimes look too good to be true. And then they arrive and you figure out they are unplayable. That’s why the idea of “re-issues” using modern components seems like a good idea.

Like Hollywood filmmakers, who seem to be scrambling to re-make every good old (and no so old) film, guitar makers are also coming down with the remake fever. Though guitars like Airline, Supro and Kay were overlooked for many years, there has been a resurgence in interest by collectors, perhaps partially because of their use by Jack White and other popular guitar players.

Many brands have been “re-launched” in recent years, though usually by a totally different company and often selling totally different products. The most recent additions come from a company called Bandlab Technologies based in Singapore and involves two iconic names: Teisco and Harmony.

Harmony was one of the biggest names in guitar production in the US up to the 1960s, and though many models were cheap student versions, a few Harmony guitars are true classic guitars. The re-issues focus on 5 models, plus updated versions of Harmony amplifiers. There isn’t that much information available yet, but the guitars certainly look good at first glance.

Yes, the idea of a new version of a Teisco “shark fin” that actually works is very exciting. But don’t get your hopes up, this re-issue is so far only offering Teisco-branded effects pedals, which we have never actually seen on the vintage market. In short, it seems to be an effort to use an iconic name to sell new products. Let’s see if some guitars appear in the near future.

A 1960s Teisco "Shark Fin" K4L

A new Teisco guitar would have to compete with Eastwood Guitars, who already offers a remake of the Teisco Spectrum that looks pretty impressive.  Eastwood was the first company to take this trend mainstream, offering a very respectable and fairly priced line of remakes. They initially focused on the Airline “reso-glass” guitars from the 1960s and then expanded to reproduce a wide variety of models from Supro, Mosrite, Teisco, Vox and others. Eastwood sells their guitars online, and those who play them say they they are great. We also love how they offer other instruments including tenors, baritones, basses, mandolins and mandolas.

 Vintage Harmony H78, most associated with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Eastwood also makes a version of this guitar.

A few years ago a new brand called Supro released a remake of the classic Supro amplifiers, which we reviewed positively. They later added guitars like the iconic Dual Tone used by David Bowie and Link Wray – even though Eastwood was already offering their own remake of the Dual Tone.

Left: 1961 Supro Dual Tone. Middle: Eastwood Guitars Airline Twin Tone. Right: New Supro USA Dual Tone 

Among other re-issues: Vox guitars were made by Korg from 1998 to 2014.

Silvertone Guitars are made by Samick Corporation.

Danelectro Guitars are already in the second re-issue. The first one lasted from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s. Now more recent models have come around, called DanGuitars, though a huge line of Danelectro-branded effects continues to be made by a different company.

Kay Guitars have been re-issued by (it seems) the same company, or its descendants. They have some great-looking basses and hollowbody guitars. Kay guitars were originally sold through catalogs; these new Kays are fittingly sold on amazon.com.

Kay Vintage Reissues: Jazz II and Jazz Special Bass

All of these are iconic brands from the 1960s, now being made by a totally unrelated company.  For the most part they are designed in the USA and made in factories in China or Korea. Though that certainly does not make them “authentic”, it is the same as the current Gretsch offering, and you could argue that the current Fender reissues have nothing to do with the originals, either.

We haven’t found any of these re-issues at local stores in Europe for testing yet, but there is no denying they look great. Let us know in the comments if you have played one.

What about just getting an original Teisco? Maybe the price is low enough to take a chance, especially if you have some guitar repair skills. Just be careful when the seller says, “it will make a great slide guitar”.