The Devil in the Details – 1964 Teisco ET-440 Electric Guitar

Teisco ET440 1‘Wonderment’ is probably too light a word to describe the first Teisco ET-440 I ever saw.  I still remember it clearly, as it was way back in my early teen years.  Occasionally a few of us would venture out to local flea markets, antique shops, and swap meets to search out all kinds of treasures.  But there was this one particular old mall, full of second hand shops.  And in that mall there was a store called (as I remember) “Grendel’s Lair.”  It might have been called something different, I just can’t recall.  But what I do recall was this long hallway leading to the store, covered with old 45 records and magazines.  Entering the store, I was greeted with heavy cigarette smoke and almost constant rockin’ tunes playing from an old record player.  Man, I wish I could go back in time to that store!Teisco ET440 2That store had such an assortment of items it was mind-boggling!  Records, magazines, antiques, guitars, amps, stereos, juke boxes, and toys, all dating to the 70s or earlier.  This eclectic mix of goods seemed to reflect the personality of the people who owned the store.  As I remember, they were much older than me but seemed to be leftovers from the 50s. I think there was a guy residing behind the large counter, but I remember the lady who always seemed to be there.  She was like this combination of poodle dresses, black-rimmed cat glasses, and saddle shoes, but there was always like this punk edge about her.  It’s hard to place, and maybe my mind was just hazier back then, but I remember most folks seemed to be slightly scared of this skinny old gal.  Anyway, it was in this store that I saw the first Teisco ET-440.  This was early on in my weird guitar days, so I didn’t realize that this model was sort of special in the lengthy catalog of Teisco guitars.Teisco ET440 3Teisco was probably the most popular Japanese guitar name back in the 60s.  The company had been importing guitars to the USA since the late 50s, but in early 1964, Teisco guitars started to really flood the American market.  Then in late 1965, Chicago Musical Instruments became the exclusive importer of Teisco instruments.  This is when the guitar buying public started to see the more familiar striped pick guards and shark-finned K guitars.  But going back to 1964, this ET-440 model appeared.Teisco ET440 4

The grey “battleship” pickups were really unique and very short-lived, only appearing on Teisco guitars for a year or two.  And this ET-440 was the only one to feature four of the buggers!  These are good sounding pickups that were found on a few guitars from this period, including the ET-320 and the EB-200 bass guitar.  In Japan, the model names/numbers for these same guitars were different, but either way you slice it, they all featured these cool pickups.Teisco ET440 5Back when I saw that first ET-440 at Grendel’s Lair, I noticed the pickups.  Teisco was perhaps the first Japanese electric guitar maker to feature four pickups, and I just thought the model was the coolest darn thing!  But I also noticed some crack lines in the pickup housing.  And here is where the faults of these battleship pickups came to light.  Back in the 1964 catalog, this model was the most expensive model pricing in at $150.  But the devil was in the design of these pickups.  In the Japanese catalog, Teisco touted these models as “worry-free” since the pickups were housed in a molded resin.  But over time, the mold would often shrink and crack.  Because of the design, if the pickups failed, they were often impossible to repair.  Teisco probably realized this, because these pickups were gone and replaced with the square-polepiece models that were found on most Teisco guitars from late 65, on into the later 60s.Teisco ET440 6

I never did buy that first ET-440 back then, but I did come across this one and was real happy with the sound.  Whenever you come across these pickups, be sure to check for functionality.  This particular ET-440 that I bought had some interesting painted pick guards that gave the guitar a cool look.  But in the end all these guitars had the silver, metal pick guards.  So hey, if you want to take a chance on one of these rare guitars, good luck!  If the pups are working, it’s all worth it!




8 thoughts on “The Devil in the Details – 1964 Teisco ET-440 Electric Guitar

  1. Mike Rothbauer says:

    I have a red ET-440 with the square pole pick-ups, the same shape headstock and the metal pick-guard which has alternate chrome and frosted stripes. I got the guitar for Christmas, 1965. The guitar was ordered from the Bennett Bros. Catalog out of Chicago. I remember falling in love with that guitar when I saw in the catalog. If 2 pick-ups were good and a Strat had 3, then 4 had to be really great. What did I know, I was 14 years old and wanted to play guitar so-o-o bad.
    A few years back, I had a friend of mine who is a guitar tech, go over this guitar, clean & polish, restring, set the neck and adjust the harmonics and once it was set-up correctly, this guitar’s neck action is as good as any Strat. The single pole pickups are kinda noisy and with 4 of them, there is very minor changes in tone from the bridge to the neck pick-ups.
    I have watched Ebay for a number of years watching for another Teisco like mine, but so far I have not seen one exactly like mine. Oh, I’ve seen a few that were close, a sunburst version like yours or a different tremolo tailpiece or a different shaped headstock or a different pick-guard or whatever… but none just like mine and to me, that qualifies it as unique and very special to me.

  2. Tryggvi says:

    Had this guitar in the early 90s. Was my main player for about 3 years until it died in a car crash. Was an awesome guitar and I used all of the pickups, switching them on and off for an incredible variety of sounds. Had the best whammy that I’ve ever used.

    I still have all of the hardware somewhere in my storage, including the gray pickups. And they’re not cracked! My plan has always been to use them in some sort of project guitar. Maybe one day…

  3. Raymond Conklin says:

    Grendel’s Lair?
    Was this somewhere in the Catskills?
    I think I visited this antique mall many years ago, or at least something very much like it.

  4. Don says:

    I just purchased an ET-440 for 70.00. It has larger pickups then the one above and also has a tremolo bar and a buffer at the bridge. However it was stored for many years with the strings in tune and the neck is a bit warped. And there is a three way switch marked Rhythm, bass, and Solo that does not work. But we plugged it in and even with all that needs to be adjusted it sounded fantastic. Now it is time to try to find the proper switch and hope the truss rod doesn’t snap when I attempt to straighten the neck. I saw the exact same guitar on Ebay asking 600.00 or best offer with a cracked head stock. Wish me luck in straightening the neck. I don’t think the switch will be a problem. I can’t wait to see what it sounds like when properly set up.

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