6 '60s Guitar Concepts That Never Caught On

Scan the current roster of Fender and Gibson's reissue models, and it's pretty clear that the late '50s and '60s remain the most celebrated and replicated eras in guitar history. This was the period when the true OG electric guitar innovators were in their primes and could seemingly do no wrong with every new concept they brought to the instrument.

A deeper look at the period, however, reveals just as many misses as hits. Beyond the drawing room floors littered with abandoned body shapes and pickup schematics, there were plenty ideas that made it all the way to production but never became part of the guitar design continuum the way the humbucker pickup or Bigsby tremolo did.

Even in their own time, some of these ideas were probably seen even as little more than novelties or marketing gimmicks designed to move a few more units. Others can just as accurately be viewed as earnest attempts to give musicians a broader palette of sound and new means of musical creation.

Whatever their motives and origins, an examination of some of these would-be breakthroughs provides a fascinating insight into how guitar makers approached their products in this period. Today, we're taking a closer look at six such innovations from a decade that saw it all.

Rickenbacker Convertible Comb

When people describe Rickenbacker, they typically use words like "Beatles" and "Jangly." Inextricably linked to the jangly reputation is the popularity of the brand's iconic twelve-string. In step with the British Invasion and the California folk rock scene, twelve-string electrics were all the rage in the '60s with many top brands of the day offering twelve-string takes of their most popular designs.

Around 1966, an enterprising musician named James E. Gross approached Rickenbacker with a clever "comb" contraption that pulled down half the strings on a twelve-string guitar to allow it to be played as a six-string. Rickenbacker used the device on three "Convertible" models, the 336/12, 366/12, and 456/12. These guitars were never produced in very high numbers, and were phased out entirely by the mid-'70s.

First Generation 6-String Basses

'63 Fender Bass VI

Not to be confused with latter six-string basses from the likes of Alembic which added an extended low B and high C string, the '60s saw the spread of a new format of bass which lowered the register of a standard guitar down one octave. Similar in form to the shorter-scale baritone guitar, these six-string basses look like guitars but with a longer scale length, usually around 30-inches.

Though Danelectro had introduced its six-string concept bass in the '50s, the '60s saw several larger brands gives it their own spin, most notably Fender which launched its Bass VI model in 1961. Gibson's take, EB-6, was built using both ES-335- and SG-style body-shapes, while the Rickenbacker 4005-6 favored the 4005 bass and 360 guitar shapes.

At this point, the electric bass guitar was barely a dozen years old and you have to imagine that from the perspective of Fender and these other builders, working with a whole new variation on the guitar concept really wasn't that novel of an idea. And for as compelling as these instruments look, they failed to strike a chord with bassists or guitarists of the day, and were phased out by the early '70s. The Bass VI has, however, been reissued as a Fender and Squier model in recent years.

Onboard Fuzz Circuits

Onboard Fuzz Controls

Today, the whole idea of a guitar effect is more or less synonymous with pedals. In the '60s, when effects were in their infancy, this wasn't yet the case and there existed a number of guitars and basses with built-in fuzz circuits.

Fuzz is, after all, the simplest effect circuit, and cramming a basic fuzz effect into a guitar cavity is not all that demanding of an engineering feat. Notable examples of this concept include several Vox bosses such as the Constellation, as well the forward-thinking Musicraft Messenger which was also built out of aluminum.

Certainly, the idea of onboard effects hasn't gone away, and there are still many custom and cutting-edge guitars that include all manner of onboad tone shapers. Yet like the other entries on this list, the fuzz-loaded guitar never really made it to production in a standardized, widespread way.

The Guitar Organ

MCI Guitorgan M340

A couple steps further out there than the onboard fuzz effects is the concept of the "guitar organ." In short, guitar organs are guitars designed to emulate the sound of an organ, which were far more popular in the '60s than they are at present. This was accomplished by loading the guitar body with an organ engine that was triggered by ground contact with the frets, the way a keyboard key triggers sound on a regular organ.

This technology was originally developed by a company called MCI in Texas who retrofitted hollowbody Japanese guitars with what they called "Guitorgan" electronics. Soon thereafter, Vox produced it's own Guitar Organ model – the V251 – that they marketed heavily in the UK and US. These and later guitar organ concepts from the '70s included other effects and rhythm functions in an attempt to bring the all-in-one music making capabilities of an organ to the guitar.

These instruments were notoriously temperamental and maintenance-intensive, and never sold especially well. While the Guitorgan or Guitar Organ are probably not primed for a comeback anytime soon, the recently popular B9 and C9 Organ Machine pedals from Electro-Harmonix can be seen as modern heirs to their lineage.

The Guild Kickstand

Guild T-200

As far as innovative guitar concepts, this one is about as simple as it gets. Guild include a hinged piece of metal on the back of its ambitious T-200 Thunderbird model which could be extended and used as a kickstand for the guitar.

The Guild kickstand was a clever idea to be sure, but as evidenced by the number of Thunderbirds with repaired neck joints, it was not especially reliable. Notice that the fresh reissues of the Thunderbirds do not include this supportive contraption.

Gretsch Back Pads

'63 Gretsch White Falcon

More than most makers in the '50s and '60s, Brooklyn-based Gretsch was never afraid to toy with flashy new aesthetic and functional features. This was the brand that launched the sensational White Falcon and Round-Up models in the '50s and was even so bold as to use fake F-holes on many hollowbody models in the '60s.

Also in the '60s, Gretsch began shipping guitars with vinyl pads on the back of their bodies, which were ostensibly intended to offer players a more comfortable playing experience or perhaps protect from dreaded belt buckle-rash. Beyond this ergonomic function, the back pads also concealed a removable plate on the back of the guitar where the pickups and electronics would have been originally installed.

Gretsch was not the only brand to work with this idea, and you can also find vinyl or leather back pads on basses from Vox, for example. The idea, though, is closely associated with Gretsch and was initially added to their flagship White Falcon in 1960.

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