The Italian guitar builders of the 1950s and ’60s were ahead of their time. I remember lamenting as a kid that my favorite psychedelic bands played such bland-looking guitars. The light shows, the fashions, the album covers and the amazing music were all so forward thinking, but more often than not the guitars they used were tobacco sunburst Gibson ES-335s and Gretsches. Occasionally, someone would wield the teardrop-shaped Vox VI and, of course, Cream-era Clapton had his Gibson SG painted in psychedelic colors by the Dutch design collective the Fool.
But let’s face it: If any of those musical visionaries had played the Italian-made Meazzi Hollywood Zodiac featured here, that brand would today be cemented in rock and roll history. Like the Hagstrom, Vox, Framus and Italian EKO guitars of the era, this Meazzi played and sounded great.
The shape says it all. It’s like a calmer and more elegant reversed version of Yamaha’s mid-’60s SG2C, a.k.a. the Flying Banana. But shape aside, this is a straight-ahead, no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes workhorse. Not being guitarists, the Meazzi brothers outsourced their early design work to the visionary Antonio Wandrè Pioli, who was known for his highly original shapes. From the early ’60s forward, they commissioned the Polverini brothers of Castelfidardo, Italy. This is one of their builds.
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
First and foremost, this guitar has a singularly unique voice, thanks to its pair of single-coil pickups with global volume and tone knobs. The bridge unit is super bitey and punchy, and while the neck pickup has some of the same aggressive features, it can easily be mellowed out by using the nicely voiced tone knob. The pickup selector’s middle position is awesome and sounds almost out of phase. All three sounds work well either clean or with distortion, retaining a uniquely snarky punch.
But while this guitar sounds exotic, the build is solid. The black-lacquered maple neck sports beautiful walnut binding and a rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and a zero fret. The surface-mounted tremolo system is quite smooth and accurate to retune. Meazzi had its own version of what we now generally refer to as a Tune-o-matic bridge, with one smart tweak: The bridge has six adjustable saddles and a small lever near the low E that can be toggled to free up the saddles for intonation changes, then locked securely back into place. Nice! The open tuners have tulip-shaped buttons, much like Hofners of the same period, and the whammy bar boasts the guitar name, beautifully inscribed into the highly polished chrome.
When new, the Meazzi Hollywood Zodiac retailed for about half of what a Fender Telecaster sold for. My friend bought the guitar shown here from an Italian seller at auction last year for $1,100, but other models from the same line have gone for twice that.
WHY IT RULES
It has a unique shape and sound, it’s easy to play, and it’s light! While it looks slightly quirky, this elegant build is very practical, and also looks great when hanging horizontally.
Thanks to Doug Agnew for the loan of this groovy guitar!
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