Plastic guitars – a potted history
By Anthony Clark
Posted 23 August 2012
Judging by our web stats, the story I posted yesterday about the prototype Perspex Fender guitar stirred the inner musician in a good few of you. In fact, page views show that you lot are currently more interested in music than you are in the latest BPA scare.
How very sensible…
So, given that many of you are closet strummers, I thought I throw together a few words on the history of the plastic guitar.
The Dan Armstrong – as favoured by Keith Richards
It all started back in the 1950s when a luthier called Mario Maccaferri used his knowledge of guitar design to create a cheap but reliable plastic instrument. Introduced in 1953, production lasted right through until 1969. The original owner’s manual contained the following helpful words: “DO NOT drop it on a hard surface…it will break.”
And just as the old fashioned-looking Maccaferri guitar went out of production Ampeg introduced a clear space-aged acrylic-bodied guitar and bass design by Dan Armstrong.
Although short-lived – the two models were only available from 1969 to 1972 – the instruments got celebrity back from the Rolling Stones. Both Keith Richards and Bill Wyman sported the see-through guitars.
Fender had produced a one-off Stratocaster entirely in clear plastic back in 1957 for display at a trade show. It was never intended as a production model despite it looking rather handsome, an accolade that probably can’t be applied to the see-through, no-name Fender from 1972 currently up for sale on eBay.
Despite being viewed as commercial failures by the big brands, plastic guitars continued to be produced in the Far East, including clear copies of Fender Stratocasters and the defunked Dan Armstrong – kitsch instruments that embodied a certain Punk/DIY ethic.
But as so often happens, tastes change and in recent years the plastic guitar has made a comeback. Ampeg has reintroduced the Dan Armstrong Plexiglas to widespread acclaim – even Keith has a new one
I recently tried one out but the weight put me off – it weighed like a boat anchor… but it did look unfeasibly cool!
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