THE CHICAGO-BASED VALCO GUITAR and Amplifier Company—which made guitars
under the National, Supro, and Dobro names—
offered a lot of cool, fiberglass-molded “res-o-glass” models with neato names such as
Westwood, Stylist, and The Cosmopolitan.
But this weirdo was nameless when it was first
offered in the 1964 Montgomery Ward catalog.
Originally known unofficially as the “J.B. Hutto”
model (named after the famed blues guitarist
), contemporary players now identify it with
Jack White of the White Stripes.
The angular shape is part of what makes this
model unique, but its construction from bright-red
plastic is what’s really striking. The two-piece
body—as with all “res-o-glass” Supros, Nationals,
and Airlines—is screwed together with just
five screws. The body is essentially hollow, with
a narrow piece of maple going down the middle
that serves as the anchor for the neck, pickups,
and tailpiece. One might think that these plastic
guitars would feel flimsy, but with the help
of that strip of wood, this “Hutto/White” model
feels pretty darn solid.
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
Jack White has often said he has to be on the
top of his game as a guitarist to make up for the
“rinky-dink” nature of his Airline. Not being Jack,
I “cheated” a bit by replacing the wooden bridge
on my Airline with a Tune-o-Matic-style bridge.
Now, along with the ever-reliable Kluson tuners,
this guitar can take a pretty good beating and
stay in tune. The 25" neck only has 20 frets (not
counting the zero fret), but this doesn’t impede
playability at all, and, in fact, riffing around on
a well-set up Airline is a very enjoyable experience.
(Be forewarned: This model does not
have a trussrod, so if you find one that doesn’t
play well, you will not be able to make adjustments.)
One less-than-enjoyable quirk is that the
Volume and Tone knobs are positioned right in
the path of my strumming. The Airline’s unique,
round yet chimey sound is informed
by its hollow plastic body and large
Valco single-coils. The clean tone
is almost acoustic-like, but the
distorted sound gets downright
beastly, with tons of sustain and
In 1964, this guitar sold new for $99. But
thanks largely to Mr. White—as well as other
players such as David Bowie, who plays a
similar model—these guitars now fetch anywhere
from $1,500 to more than $3,000.
I paid $150 for mine about 20 years
ago. The salesman who sold it to
me back then asked why I would
even want a guitar like this. I
answered, “Because the headstock
reminds me of Gumby.”
WHY IT RULES
The 1964 Montgomery Ward
Airline is no toy. It looks almost
ridiculous, but it plays quite well,
it’s light, and it has a very unique
sound. The originals are also appreciating
in value. Dig it!