What’s the Deal with Vintage Italian Guitars?

The budget vintage market can be a minefield. You probably thought Teisco del Reys looked cool when you saw Mac DeMarco with one, but now that high action is cramping your hands, you’re not so sure it’s for you anymore. Finding the right balance of comfort and cool on a dime can be a precarious game of trial and error, but in the carousel of vintage guitars in and out of our doors everyday, one persuasion has definitely been standing out in the shop.

The only axe with onboard speed dial.

If you have a taste for the bizarre in guitarland, chances are you have come across an Italian guitar. Back in the days before budget instruments were churned out by the millions in Korea, Indonesia and China, a majority of the import-grade guitars were made in Italy, Germany and Sweden. These countries were trying to tunnel out of postwar economic destruction and turned their factory skills to tchotchkes and musical instruments in the 1950s and 60s. There was likely no better way to prove you were on the right side of the Iron Curtain than mass production.

Anticipating the polka craze of 2025.

Like their countryman Ferrari and Gucci, style became a hallmark of the Italian experience. These certifiably strange creations each have their own balance of looks and practicality, and share DNA with some unlikely sources. Simply put, many vintage Italian guitars were built from a surplus of accordion parts. National flagship guitarmaker Eko was founded in 1959 and took up residence in a former accordion factory, utilizing a leftover stock of pearloid, push buttons and slide switches on their range of guitars and basses. If you have ever asked yourself why some of these instruments look more like midcentury appliances, this might fill in some gaps. Many of these guitars were imported to the United States by the Lo Duca Brothers of Milwaukee, who cashed out on the accordion craze when The Beatles blew into town.

Owning an Italian guitar significantly decreases your chances of selling out.

At one point in the 1960s, Eko was the largest guitar builder in Europe, manufacturing close to a half million instruments a year. They were so successful, they were contracted by Vox in the UK to build their range of guitars and combo organs, many of which are damn near identical to their Eko branded counterparts and since have earned a legion of devotees somewhere downstream from Anton Newcombe. While Italian mass production was in full swing, the country wasn’t without its artisans. The elusive Wandre guitars approach being more sculpture than instrument, with some of the most truly wild designs and price tags you’ll see in this business. 

Wandre Davoli, or flying bottle opener?

With so many thorny paths to style and tonal bliss on the vintage market, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re not at the bottom of the heap with an Italian guitar. These instruments are surprisingly good players when compared to Silvertones and Teiscos of the same age and price range, and will definitely turn a few heads on the bandstand. You don’t have to be a psych rock purist to get down with retro buttons and built in effects either. Sometimes luck (and timely copy) affords you the opportunity to hop on a trend before it starts, and you might just be rewarded for socking one away while you still can. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: