Drop dead, new old stock guitar, amp and accessories.
A guitar time capsule discovery. While out trolling the flea marts, pawn and antique shops today, Jon and I ran into this absolutely beautiful 1967 Tesico EP-7. It came with its original matching Checkmate 12 amp, guitar strap and cables. It was entire ’67 Teisco electric guitar starter package, minus the original gig bag (but the seller might have had that hanging around, too). Even though the set was 45 years old, the guitar and amp were as new as the day they came out of the Teisco factory. Someone must have received the set back in ’67 and then locked it on a closet. The nitrocellulose finish was perfectly glossy, the chrome was gleaming, and the rosewood fingerboard and brass frets appeared to never have been played before today. We did hear some hum coming from the solid-state Checkmate 12, but that may have been caused by the super-cheap unshielded guitar cable we were using. The EP-7 sounded just “OK” through it’s little solid-state amp. But when we plugged it into a ’47 Harmony tube amp, those two single coil pickups really began to shine. We were impressed by this little guy. It was the find of the day, and maybe the year.
From its humblest beginnings, to becoming the most produced, most purchased, and most played guitar in America during the 20th Century. From the factory in Chicago to the working plains of Texas and Oklahoma, to the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana Bayou, back to the blues clubs of Chicago, and then the garage bands of the 60s, this little birch box guitar was there.
This is the ubiquitous Silvertone 605 flattop acoustic guitar sold by Sears in catalogs and stores from about 1948 to 1970. It’s a 3/4 size all-Birch ladder braced body with a Cherry-burst finish, a solid Maple neck (no truss rod) with Ebony stained fingerboard, small brass frets, a carved hardwood nut, Waverly-type open tuners, a floating wooden bridge, a metal tail piece, and stenciled (!) Silvertone logo on the headstock. The “binding” is simply paint. No pickguard – not even a painted on one! The scale is about 25-1/4 inch. Built like a tank!
These simple little Birch boxes take you back to early days of the Delta Blues. Think of guys like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson. Although they probably never had one of these Sears models from the Catalog, they played something quite similar. And for today, think of new folk artists like Mumford and Sons.
Similar to it’s parlor cousin, the Stella H929 built by Harmony in their Chicago factory, the 605 was a simple no frills instrument targeted to the entry level player on a tight budget. If you ordered one of these from the Sears Catalog in the 50’s, it would arrive in a cardboard box with a set of plain steel strings, a string for a strap, and a brief instruction book.
More Damage than Good?
Unfortunately, these Sears guitars might have done more damage than good! Due to the crude factory setup, high action, and an inexperienced user, these guitars were quite hard to play right out of the box. So, who knows how many young aspiring guitar wannabes were discouraged and eventually quit? But, in the hands of an experience player, these little gems still have potential to create some nice bluesy tones. Especially with a slide.
This particular 605 was built in 1956. When it arrived on the doorstep (eBay!), the neglect of its previous owner was obvious. The strings were rusted, the tuners were frozen, the bridge was wrong, and the intonation was way off. A “pluck” and a “boing” was about all she had for sound. But physically overall, this instrument of almost 60 years was in great condition and the Cherry-burst finish was pretty. I slapped on some new strings and then moved the bridge to get (mostly) correct intonation. Well (sigh), the high action was still there but still quite playable. And tuned down to D, and using a slide, this guy can sound pretty darn good.
I think in the future, we’ll will try a bone nut and a real bridge with a real saddle, to see how it might improve? So check back for another posting.
From the 1956 Sears & Roebuck Catalog: “Silvertone flat top guitars… carefully constructed from choice, select woods. Great ‘party makers,’ deep mellow tones — fine for vocal accompaniment.”
A Very Long Run
Noted for its popularity, low cost, and longevity, the Silvertone 600 Series enjoyed the longest run of any guitar series in the Sears Catalog during the 20th Century. The 605 appears in the oldest catalog that I have, which is a 1950. But according to Randy at Silvertone World the 605 began its run as early as 1948, and appeared continuously in every annual catalog until 1967 (19 years), at which point Sears just changed the model numbers from 600’s to 1200’s, and continued selling them through 1970. With a 1948 catalog price of $8.95, it was Sears lowest priced guitar, and therefore extremely popular. The Silvertone 605 was built for Sears by the Harmony Company in Chicago, Illinois. It was very similar to it’s Harmony cousin: the Stella H929.
The 605’s solid Birch top has a Cherry-red sunburst finish. The sides and back are also solid Birch, which gives this guitar it’s woodsy tone. The floating bridge is a hard-carved, sanded and stained piece of hardwood (probably also Birch). The tail piece is of punched steel with a nickel finish. The set neck is solid piece of hard Maple. The fingerboard is just the face of the same solid Maple neck and is Ebony stained to appear as Rosewood. The dots in the fingerboard are painted. The frets are brass and quite small. The darkly stained head stock has open tuning machines, three per side, with white plastic buttons. The top of the head stock is simply adorned with a stenciled Silvertone logo, which is the older 1950’s style logo.
Silvertone 605 Specifications and Features
Model #605 (Tobacco-burst finish), #603 (Blonde, or natural, finish), became the #1200 in fall 1968 thru 1970.
Size/Scale: Standard size (sometimes referred today as 3/4 or “parlor size”); 24-1/4″ scale; 18 frets, neck meets body at 12th fret.
Body: Solid birch top, sides and back. Ladder braced top. Painted edge binding and soundhole. No pickguard. Hardwood strap button.
Neck: Solid Maple, non-reinforced, set neck with ebonized (stained) fingerboard, painted position markers 1-3/4″ wide at nut. Hardwood (birch, poplar or maple?) nut.
Check out this very cool, nicely restored, Harmony Stella from the 1960′s. Rebuilt with Martin-style X-bracing by Barton Lane Guitar Company. This guitar is on ebay right now at: 1960′s STELLA HARMONY guitar w/ Martin 0-18 X-bracing!!. This auction ends March 26, 2011 15:50:27 PDT
NOTE: Guitar sold at end of auction for $356.
Text from original auction:
Rebuilt Harmony Stella. Martin 0-18 X-Bracing. Barton Lane Guitar Company.
Here is a really cool 1960’s Stella guitar made in the USA by Harmony.
This guitar was professionally repaired/restored by the Barton Lane Guitar Company.
They rebuilt the top with Martin style forward shifted, tapered X-bracing (these guitars were originally ladder-braced) and also put a small, pre-war style, maple bridge plate in place of the original, extremely large mahogany one. The back, sides, and top, are all made of solid birch.
The many cracks in this instrument were all professionally repaired.
I imagine that this guitar sounds worlds better than it did with its original, heavy, ladder braces.
This instrument sounds REALLY COOL!! It would be ideal for a folk or blues guitar picker/strummer. The tone is reminiscent of an old Gibson L-00 or maybe a Martin 0-18.
This story began a few days after Christmas when my son and I stopped into one of Portland’s music shops, Trade Up Music, to browse the used gear. After checking out Trade Up’s nice selection of guitars, my son spotted a small, funky, beat up amp sitting atop the other guitar and bass amps. It was a simple square box, somewhat plain in appearance. The original green vinyl covering was stretched in a few places and had a few tears. The speaker fabric was splattered with paint and a had hole in it! Because of those “faults,” my son thought it had a certain cool factor and retro personality. And it had tubes inside! Cool… a little tube powered practice amp. Or maybe he could use it on stage, or for recording.
Taking a closer look, I could tell it was one of those unimpressive department store amps of the late 1960’s or early 70’s. Basically the kind of stuff we ran away from (but in reality was all we could afford!). It was a Sears amp, model 5 XL to be exact. Well I thought to myself, “A Sears amp? No way.” Musicians didn’t buy these. Only parents bought these cheap amps, paired with an equally cheap electric guitar, so their kids could start their own noise brigade in the garage.
Anyway, knowing nothing about this amp, I grabbed my smart phone and quickly Googled the amp’s name while still in the store. Not much was found, except for some less than glowing information and commentary found at Silvertone World (a great site, by the way). Still scratching my head, my son decided to buy it for less than $90 cash.
Once we got this guy home and plugged into Jon’s modified tele, all my doubts were replaced with astonishment. What unexpected sounds came zooming out of that plain green box! Jon cranked the volume and the tone knobs. The tubes went into overdrive: somewhat snarly and raspy but under control. Subtle highs, growling midrange, and a whole lot of solid bass. Who knew?!
Have a listen…
Who knew there was an real unexpected Tone Gem hiding underneath that Sears label and ugly green vinyl?