Emerging guitar builders wanting to cash in on the electric-guitar boom of the ’50s and ’60s, had to contend with a market that had been cornered by Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, and Rickenbacker. Or had it? One way for a company to attract new customers in a far out and groovy way—and avoid trademark disputes with bigger, more established manufacturers—was to offer what was essentially a basic guitar, but with a different shape or funky finish. Teisco had many guitars they hoped would catch on in that way. Which brings us to the Banjitar…
Well, it looks like a dang banjo! But it ain’t! It’s a fairly regular electric guitar. Psych!
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
After Teisco merged with Kawai in the mid-1960s, a lot of the brand’s build aesthetics improved, and this little beauty has a really cool carved top with triple binding. The back of the guitar has a beautiful tobacco stain on book-matched maple. The neck, like many European guitars of the day, is one of those multilaminated jobs, often referred to as “propellerwood.” It’s super strong, and thought to be more durable than just one piece of maple or mahogany. The fretboard on this 26-fret freak is a nice piece of Indian rosewood, the neck is skinny, and the frets are dressed nicely. The trem works like a sluggish Bigsby, but it’s adequate for mild surf bending.
The pickups are loud and voiced very differently from each other. The bridge pickup produces a lot of high end, but it’s not too screechy, while the neck delivers a mellow sound that’s good for strumming. With distortion added by an amp or a pedal, both pickups get magical. The bridge pickup is so microphonic that it almost sounds like it has reverb on it. The neck pickup is a bit more manageable, and, together, they team up for a great garage vibe—kind of like something Jack White would love to wrestle with. Both pickups have on/off switches—which are really cool for stutter effects on power chords—and a spring-loaded button on the bridge pushes a foam mute under the strings. So the Banjitar can sound like a banjo—sort of…
Like any Teisco, if it’s stock and plays halfway decently, it’s usually worth a few bucks. But the market on these whack jobs is all over the place. I got mine a while ago from Craigslist for $300, but I have seen people asking up to $2,000 on ebay, and one sold for $600 two years ago on reverb.com.
WHY IT RULES
In this day of actual electric banjos—check out Dave Ristrim with Luke Bryan—you can use the Banjitar to fool audiences into thinking you’re going to unleash some furious country pickin’, but instead you can get all metal or something on them. The fun never stops!
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