Avalon AV-T2

SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT THE guitars played by our heroes. Whether we’re talking about vintage Les Pauls, Stratocasters, Rickenbackers, or Gretsches, you can literally find entire books devoted to their history. Not much has been written, however, about the mighty 1968 Avalon AV-T2, made famous by the Shaggs.
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This “band,” made up of the Wiggins sisters from New Hampshire, recorded an album back in the summer of ’69. That record, Philosophy of the World would have (should have?) stayed totally under the radar if not for the fact that Frank Zappa once declared in a Playboy interview, “The Shaggs are better than the Beatles.” Hmmm. One thing is for sure: The incredibly strange, atonal, arrhythmic tunes on Philosophy are completely devoid of cliché. If your interest is piqued (and how could it not be?), have fun researching this bizarre group that appears on the favorite albums lists of guitarists as diverse as Kurt Cobain and Ronnie Montrose.

Okay, on to the guitar. At first glance, it’s a cheapie, made-in-Japan, ’60’s solidbody, probably produced by Kawai, Teisco, or maybe Tele-Star. It has two single-coil pickups, a 3-way selector switch (conveniently located in the strum path on the pickguard), two volume and two tone knobs, and a surfacemount whammy. Even though it didn’t catch on—which is probably why there is so little information available about this guitar company— this model was built to be more than an entrylevel student guitar. The headstock has a beautiful mother of pearl inlay logo. The pickguard and back plate are made from high-gloss chrome plated steel, as are the pickup rings, bridge plate, tuners, Strat-style output jack, and the ingenious towel-rack string guide on the headstock. The AV-T2 is finished in a righteous tobaccoburst on a figured flame maple top. The bridge sports six individual rollers and the neck plate has five set screws. Not exactly a kid’s guitar!

Here’s what you don’t see at first glance: This guitar actually plays quite nicely. It has a skinny, multi-laminated “propellerwood” neck with jumbo frets, super-low action, and a tremolo that’s very user-friendly and smooth. Plugged into the clean channel of my old Boogie, the Avalon gives good surf, partly due to the smoothness of the trem system, but also thanks to the tone of the single-coils, which— although not particularly unique—are quite musical, falling somewhere between a Tele and a Jaguar. With distortion, you can get a tone reminiscent of Jimmy Page’s Silvertone work with Led Zeppelin.

With all of the lore surrounding the Shaggs on the 40th anniversary of the release of their first album, this weird guitar isn’t easy to find—and isn’t cheap—but well worth the hunt, although any of us would be hardpressed to duplicate the magic of the legendary Dot Wiggins.