Guitars brands that came back from the dead

  • 16 December 2018
  • 300

Guitarists love old gear. Drummers might lust after vintage Gretsch or Slingerland kits, but no one gets more misty eyed than a guitarist when confronted with a golden-age Martin, Gibson, or Fender.

Suppose, however, you're a guitar maker who doesn't happen to own one of those illustrious brand names, yet you still want some rock 'n' roll magic attached to your products? One way is to revive a dormant brand.

Even if its name is only a hazy memory in most guitarists' imaginations, it might still have some fairy dust on its boots. Some have tried it and failed. Others have had more success. Here are a few of them.

Epiphone

This is a bit cheeky, because Epiphone never actually died, although it did get pretty close back in the '50s. Founded in New York by a Greek violin maker and luthier, the Epiphone name came from Epi Stathopoulo, the founder's son and company president. By 1930, and already known as a banjo maker, Epiphone was offering its Masterbilt guitars, and it went on to rival Gibson as the top jazz guitar maker of the era with its Emperor and other archtop models.

Epi Stathopoulo died in 1943, and in 1951 a major strike saw the company attempt to move to Philadelphia. Several key figures in the business didn't want to make the journey, and they became the core of the newly formed Guild company. Epiphone never really recovered from the blow, and the company was sold in 1957 to CMI, which also owned Gibson.

Epiphone shared premises in Gibson's hometown of Kalamazoo, and its guitars from that era—acoustics as well as electrics—are much sought-after today as they were much the same as the guitars Gibson were making in the same town. Gibson may have intended Epiphone to be its lower-cost line, but the instruments were usually superb and had plenty of users in the '60s, the Beatles and the Stones among them.

By the '70s, Epiphones were being made in Japan and were no longer going head-to-head with Gibsons. Following the industry pattern, production then moved to Korea and, by the early 2000s, to China. By now Epiphone was fulfilling the role previously filled by other makers' cheap Gibson copies.

However, a few instruments were made once again in the USA in the '90s, and the brand received a major injection of cool when Epiphones were used by Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, with his armoury including an Epiphone Les Paul Standard, a Sheraton, and a Riviera. Gallagher wasn't alone: other well known players, including Alex Lifeson and Nancy Wilson, also played Epiphones. The guitars are primarily licensed Gibson copies, but Epiphones have somehow maintained a character and following of their own. Truly a brand that wouldn't die!

Shergold

Shergold's guitars share a family likeness with the UK's Burns guitar brand, not least because they had supplied Burns with some woodwork in the '60s. Jack Golder and Norman Houlder, the two founders of Shergold, had also produced Hayman and Ned Callan guitars in the early '70s, but they enjoyed a peak from the mid-'70s to around 1980 with their own Shergold brand, producing some seriously different guitars and basses.

The brand went dormant in the early '80s, although some custom models were assembled from stock parts. A brief revival followed in 1991/'92, when Masquerader guitars and Marathon basses were being sold, but the latest revival came in 2015. In that year, a major UK distributor, which had handled the original Shergolds, worked with luthier Patrick James Eggle to rethink the designs and reintroduce the Shergold name.

Hagstrom

There aren't many guitar companies that can claim Elvis as a user, but the Swedish-made Hagstrom brand can. They can also claim Jimi Hendrix, as he famously used their eight-string bass on Axis: Bold As Love. Add Kurt Cobain, David Bowie, Joe Walsh, and Frank Zappa, and it's clear that Hagstrom had something going for it.

The firm was founded in Sweden in the '30s to build accordions, and Hagstrom added guitars and amps in the '50s. During the '60s, Hagstrom made cheap models sold in the U.S. as Kent (not to be confused with the other Kent brand) and in the UK as Futurama, and these provided starting-out instruments for many players. But it was the Swede and the Viking models that really did the business for the company.

Hagstrom even made the world's first guitar synthesizer, the Swede Patch 2000. It was launched in 1976 and was way ahead of its time, and it failed to make an impact.

Hagstrom production ceased in 1983, when cheap imports overtook the company. The name languished until 2004, when it was revived, mostly for imports, although some models are still manufactured in Europe.

Framus

Germany's Framus brand may have a history that only stretches back to 1946, but from its inception it inherited a legacy of serious craftsmanship. It was the brainchild of Fred A. Wilfer, who wanted to provide employment for German musical instrument makers who were resettled in Bavaria after World War II. Framus quickly established itself with a reputation for quality instruments, and by the late '60s it could claim to be Europe's largest guitar maker.

On offer by Framus was everything from basses (famously used by Rolling Stone Bill Wyman in the band's early days) through archtops, steel-string acoustics, and solidbody electrics. Worthy though they were, they lacked the glamour and glitz of American instruments, and the company fell prey to Japanese imports, collapsing into bankruptcy at the end of the '70s.

The brand's rebirth came about in 1995 when Wilfer's son, Hans-Peter, revived the name. Hans-Peter had already established his own successful instrument venture, Warwick. Notable Framus users today include Earl Slick and Devin Townsend.

Article link: https://reverb.com/news/guitar-brands-that-came-back-from-the-dead