Building this guitar was probably one of the most fulfilling musical experiences of my life. I’m serious! I felt such pride putting this guitar together, sourcing all the parts, and laying out the design. It’s definitely my favorite guitar and it’s the one I use most often, mainly because of the sense of accomplishment I feel for creating this darn thing! I’m also very proud of the guys who started creating these fiberglass bodies again, and their great website is here at Guitar Kits USA. Before I praise these guys, let me tell you a little about the Valco fiberglass history and my back story with these guitars.
Being born in 1973, I was able to just catch the tail end of affordable vintage guitars. There were so many guitars I saw in my youth that I would sooner laugh at than consider great guitars. These “plastic” guitars were one of those weirdos that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around (I don’t think many players of the 1960s could either) at the time. I always figured I’d break them! I saw two of these in the late 80s, early 90s (a map and this body style, often called a Jetson or Hutto model), and I recall the prices being $400 for the map style and around $300 for a white, three pickup Jetson model (with a factory Bigsby!!!). I would have never guessed that just a few years later Jack White would buy one of these from Jack Oblivian and these Valco fiberglass guitars would be worth thousands. There’s whole lots that isn’t fair in life. Some big things, some little. Just two of the little unfair things is that the Oblivians never became as huge as the White Stripes, and the other is that these guitars are now super expensive! One day I’ll research and write about the Valco fiberglass guitars, and figure out who designed these radical things, but for now I’ll just give you the basics. These “fiberglas” models began replacing and mixing with regular wooden guitars around 1962 and lasted until about 1967. They were made in Chicago by the Valco company, and the Airline branded models were sold through Montgomery Wards stores and catalogs.
In their day, the fiberglass models didn’t sell too well, and as the 80s came around everyone wanted super-strats and neon colors and solid state amps. Guitars like these Airlines could be had on the cheap if you could find them. As with the other Valco guitars, the necks didn’t have truss rods, but the pickups sounded great and the guitars were easy to take apart and repair. Around 1994 I bought two solid wood body Supro guitars and right around 1998 I bought my fiberglass Supro Dual Tone. I soon became so hooked on the sound of these Valco guitars that it was like an addiction! But I was a poor college student with virtually no income, so I slowly watched the prices creep up and up and by the time I had a job, these guitars were just about out of reach financially for the average player. There are plenty of players and guitar nuts that all bemoan the high prices on vintage guitars, and it often seems like that 1% that’s often talked about when it comes to the wealthy in America also applies to collectors who’ll shell out huge amounts to own a rare guitar. So it goes, and thankfully I’ve gotten to the point in life where I’m not bothered by who can afford what. But luckily for all of us the boys over at Guitar Kits USA noticed a disparity and decided to help all us out!
Whenever I email the crew over there I always talk with a nice guy named Dan, and basically what Dan and the guys decided to do was reissue these fiberglass bodies as kits. The idea is just great, and it seems to me like they’ve been in business now for at least four or five years. I’m so glad to see a company resurrect guitars like these with success, and what I also like is that these kit guitars are so customizable. For my build, I decided to use three vintage Valco pickups, and thankfully the guys at Guitar Kits make reproduction pickup mounts (Valco pickups are slightly longer than standard humbuckers).
I always liked the shape of the Jestons guitar but I never liked the placement of the tone and volume knobs, which rested right in the way of my strumming, so I configured my Jetsons build with just a simple master volume and tone knob. The pick guard, neck, tone switch plate, and tuners came from Mike Robinson at My Rare Guitars. The pickup surrounds, binding, and tailpiece came from Guitar Kits.
The bridges on these guitars are the floating kind, but when you find your scale length you can pin it if you choose. The hard part is finding an arch top bridge with a flat bottom, or you can just fashion one like Dano did for me. I bought the bridge and base for about $10, and Dano sanded the rosewood base so if fit fine on the flat top. He also rounded off the edges for a clean look!
I designed the layout which was totally satisfying work. It was like making your own custom shop guitar to your own specs!!! Guitar Kits gives a nice packet of instructions, and using that as my guide, I was able to drill all the holes for pots, pickguard, and pickups. I also aligned everything so that it would be true to the angle of the neck. Mounting the internal wooden blocks was easy, but a little messy. Simple epoxy holds everything in place and I like how the neck is attached internally for a clean look. All that was left to do was wire everything up, and again, I left it up to the Valco master himself, Dano Dave D’Amelio!
Guitar Kits provides foam rubber strips for a snug fit, and once everything is mounted and the epoxy is dry, it’s time for the rubber binding that goes around the two body pieces and creates a nice seal. This was the hardest step for me!! Because the body has a lot of angular lines, you have to make a lot of cuts in the binding so it relieves the kinks that occur. It’s tedious, but well worth it for a nice look. I think they now offer a simpler stick-on binding now.
My end result was a guitar that sounds like the vintage original and looks like a vintage original. I am still so happy with this guitar of mine and I encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to check out Guitar Kits and try your own build. So far they have three body styles (the map body coming soon), and offer most of the components you’ll need to complete your build. For under $300 you can have your own fiberglass guitar! How about that for American ingenuity and affordability?!?! Lastly, check out Mike Dugan having a grand ol’ time tearing up my Res-O-Glas build. Fun for days!