Vintage Vault: Teisco Spectrum V

August 12, 2010

gp0810_riffs_spect_nrTEISCOS SUCK, RIGHT? Everybody knows they were never meant to be much more than an attempt to cash in on the guitar boom of the ’50s and ’60s. With very few exceptions, they were sold as affordable department store guitars. And even though they served as the first electric to many guitarists, they were never really meant to be actual “players,” were they? Well…

The Spectrum V was Teisco’s serious attempt at breaking into the pro market of the mid ’60s. There is a very good reason this is considered by many to be the holy grail of collectible weirdo guitars—because it’s frickin’ amazing.

When talking about the forward-thinking features found on this ax, you gotta mention those five buttons. Because of the clever switching matrix, you can get a ton of pickup combinations—I lost count after 20—which range from very familiar to freaky-but-cool, out-of-phase banjos. Then there’s the stereo aspect. Unlike most stereo guitars that simply send the signal of the neck pickup to one output and the bridge pickup to another, the three Spec V’s pickups are split. The left sides (or bass strings) go to one output and the right sides go to the other output—great for the solo guitarist with a flair for the absurd.

And get this, the surface-mounted tremolo doesn’t have springs! Instead, it uses two 1"x3" tensile-strength strips of metal— the strings attach to one end and the bridge to the other. Admittedly, you won’t be able to go dive-bombing, but it works amazingly well along the lines of a Bigsby.

The appointments on this guitar are unlike any other guitar in the Teisco line. The body is reminiscent of a German carved top. The neck inlays and binding are fancy. The three logos, which unfortunately are missing from my guitar, don’t match any other Teiscos, which explains why I have not been able to find replacements. In a recent eBay auction, a plastic pickguard logo sold for $350! Even the enclosed tuners are unique to this model. Yup, they built this one from the ground up. And even though mine has been beaten and robbed, it still plays and sounds great.

Guitarists as diverse as Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler have used Spec Vs. In the ’90s, there was a Teisco Spectrum V reissue, but it kinda came and went with a whimper. Nowadays, both the reissues and the originals from the ’60s command great dough. They are not cheap or easy to find, but if you want to own a collectible weirdo that you can actually use, hunt down one of these futuristic guitars from 50 years ago.

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