Vega Archtop

Founded in 1903 by Swedish brothers Julius and Carl Nelson—and named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra—Vega was a banjo manufacturer until the Great Depression of 1929, after which its focus turned to guitars.
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Vega introduced the Vegaphone line of carved-top, steel-reinforced-neck models in 1933, debuted the Electrovox electric guitar in 1936, and followed it a year later with an amplifier that could operate on AC or DC. By the late 1940s, Vega had become a major guitar manufacturer and wholesaler with some pretty cool models under its belt, including the Duo-Tron and Supertron, both of which sported tailpiece-mounted controls and output jacks.

A radical stereo model was trotted out in 1959 (with a bizarre pickup comprised of 12 shotgun-shell-sized polepieces), but it wasn’t enough to stave off Vega’s slide into the abyss of unhipness during the 1960s. Acquired for its banjo business by Martin in 1970, Vega was then sold to Korea’s Galaxie Trading Corporation in 1980.

This black beauty from the mid ’40s is a super-sweet guitar that features a V-shaped 20-fret neck, a height-adjustable carved bridge, a trapeze tailpiece, and a hollow body with an arched back. The real showstopper, however, is its pickup, which features two coils with magnetic polepieces surrounded by a large chrome-plated structure. Cool details include knurled height adjusters for the pickup, and the Bakelite volume and tone knobs located behind the bridge. With its low action and flatwound strings, the Vega plays extremely well. It has a naturally warm, woody tone, and when plugged into a good tube amp it delivers a sweet sound with burnished highs, thick mids, and a round low-end. With its flatwound strings, this guitar is a natural for funky jazz or old school blues (raise the action and it would be killer for slide), and its output is strong enough to drive a vintage-style amp—such as the Victoria Double Deluxe I used—into distortion.

Unlike the Duo-Tone and Supertron models, which are fairly pricey these days, these primordial Vegas can be found for reasonable bucks. The owner of this high-mileage model (who bought it from a neighbor more than ten years ago) places its value at around $1,000, which seems about right considering that Duo-Tones are currently going for nearly twice that amount. Moral of the story: If a bargain-priced Vega archtop appears on your horizon, lay down your cash and take it home—you’ll thank your lucky stars some day.