I figured I’d keep with the fiberglass guitar theme and profile a Supro Dual Tone this week. This model marks a significant shift in the Valco guitar line of the early 1960s and features some interesting design features that were to become the norm for the next few years. Let’s examine!!
As you peruse the Supro catalogs of the early 1960s you’ll notice that the headstock shapes and the logos start to change. The now-famous “thunderbolt” logo arrives in the early 60s, and this (often called gumby) headstock comes along as the “glass-fiber” models are slowly introduced. 1961 marks the initial transition to fiberglass guitar models, and the Martinique guitar was one of the first. Not all guitars featured were made of fiberglass, but by 1963 many were. Interestingly, reading the catalog descriptions it becomes evident that Valco used a lot of different terms to describe fiberglass. They used words like “resoglas”, “polyester glass”, “fiberglas”, “space-age glass”, “hollow-glas”, and “glass fiber.” Whatever they called it, fiberglass was being used extensively after world war II in many applications such as boat and car bodies. Someone at Valco must have seen an opportunity, because they were the first to use fiberglass for guitar bodies. In fact, the awesome Scott Freilich of Top Shelf Music told me that
Valco started with fiberglass in the 50’s with their Zorko upright bass. I use one on a regular basis, and I’ve attached a photo. Valco sold the design and company, ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to Ampeg. It became the basis for the Ampeg Baby Bass.
Something else Scott told me about is Valco’s theory on electronics.
Unlike Fender and Gibson, Valco more associated control knobs with switch positions rather than individual pickups. In a guitar with a saddle pickup (something they developed in the 1930s based on coils mounted in the bridge base and magnets hanging down from the underside of the saddle), the selector switch actually selects different tonal options rather than specific pickups. On the early version of the Coronado (black, full depth single cutaway archop with 2 face mounted pickups and one in the bridge) the only accessable controls were the master volume and 3 way “tone” selector switch. Mounted in the face of the body were 6 set screws, a pair for each switch position, that allowed for pre-set volume and tone settings for each of the switch positions. Tone controls often were bass roll off rather than treble roll off, and like some Rickenbackers, there is often a preset r/c network that rolls off the low end (and output) before the sound gets to the jack.
I just want to say thanks to Scott for sharing this information and thanks for being so nice!! Now why don’t one of you go to his site and buy one of his guitars!
Valco seemed to feel strongly about the durability of guitar finishes (I wonder if this was an early complaint of many guitar players?) because earlier they used a plasticized “no-mar” finish on the wood-bodied Dual Tones. The fiberglass guitars are also described as having a very “durable” finish. Other possible reasons for the fiberglass switch could include its light weight, cheaper cost, and quicker build times. To be honest, I don’t know for sure!! Maybe using fiberglass was just a way to stand out from the crowd?
So, getting back to the Dual Tone….this model made its first appearance in the 1963 Supro catalog. It was described like this:
All New Fiberglas Body
Powerful twin units with separate tone and volume controls. Instant 3-way switch selects Bass-Unit only—Treble Unit only—or both together. Master volume control.
Exclusive Kord-King neck has the easy to play 24 3/4″ scale. The comfortable 13 1/2″ x 18″ body is finished in Arctic White. Chrome hardware — Bound inlaid fret board, instrument offers an excellent tone range—from deep bass to bright treble—Beautiful sustain.
In 1963 the 1524G Dual Tone cost $137.50 and a hard shell case was an extra $45. In 1964 the model number changed to S424 and cost $159.50 with a hard case costing $49.50. Finally in 1965 the price dropped to $149.50 and a hard “flannel” case cost $24.50. Alas, 1965 was the last year for the fabulous Dual Tone as the entire Supro model line went through another transformation and guitars like the Lexington became available in 1966. Of course, my title for this article comes from the descriptions of white finishes for the Dual Tone. They came in either Arctic White, or Ermine White, meaning only white finishes were available!!
In 1964 the catalog shows pickups with cool art deco graphics painted on, and in 1965 the catalog pictures shows black binding and more art deco pickups. The original Dual Tone line dates back to their introduction in around 1957 (and the cost was $149.50!!) and seemed marketed as the most popular Supro model. That popular theme continued as the 60s rolled around and the fiberglass model was introduced. I’d agree with that popularity theme since I see more Supro Dual Tones for sale than any other vintage Supro model. Of course I love the famous Link Wray album cover with him holding a 50s Dual Tone. In fact, that’s the first time I’d ever seen a Dual Tone, albeit a wood bodied model!
I love the Dual Tones for a whole bunch of reasons, from the great tuners, to the light weight bodies. The fiberglass bodies are easy to take apart and perform maintenance, and the pickups sound awesome! I’ve covered the possible issues with the Kord King necks in my other articles, but overall they hold up pretty well. The bodies also hold up well, aside from the surface cracks that can appear. One thing I notice with this era from Valco is that the binding gets sort of weird. Check out the picture below.
The binding often gets many cracks and looks real brittle but does hold up. In comparison, my Airline from the 50s has binding that looks like new! The binding material must have changed along with the body material!
The pickup switching is totally easy and Dano figured out how to flip the pickup magnet polarity so that the in-between setting is hum-cancelling. Sorta cool!! Dano also did a re-fret on this guitar, and did his usual “spiritual” set up and wiring work. The man is like a guitar shaman or something!! If you have a Valco guitar, be sure to send it on down to Happy Guitar Repair, Dano’s the best with vintage Valcos!!
I got this particular guitar about 6 years ago and pretty much just fell in love. Of course, these models are getting harder to come by and are getting stupid prices, but whaddya gonna do? You can thank Jack White! And that darn Dan Auerbach started using a white Martinique a few years ago during the Brothers tour and, well, you can now forget about finding an affordable specimen ever again!
Now I know you want to hear what this sounds like, so again I have Mike Dugan playing mine a bit. But I also thought I’d include some other videos for a nice variation! Enjoy!