Saturday, February 15, 2014

1960s Teisco Del Rey ET-220 Electric Guitar Review

Aloha!

I love funky old Japanese guitars, and when I had the opportunity to buy a new old stock Teisco Del Rey ET-220 electric I jumped at the chance. It was my first chance to play one that had not been beaten to death or modified beyond recognition.

Teisco is an acronym for “Tokyo Elecrric Instrument and Sound Company.” The company was started in 1946 and started to sell instruments under this brand name in 1964. In 1967 Kawai bought the company and discontinued the Teisco name overseas in 1969, and in 1977 for the Japan market. Teisco keyboards were sold until the 1980s. Since then they have attained a cult-like following, particularly with their Spectrum series instruments.

The guitar we are looking at here today is a ET-220 that was built in the late 1960s. It was sold to Faust Music in Wisconsin, and it was put away in the basement until the store went out of business last year. It is unmolested and unmodified with the exception of new strings and a fresh set-up.

This is a small guitar with a short-horned body that is closer to that of a Fender Musicmaster or Mustang than a Stratocaster. The body appears to be made of mahogany, and it is shot with a subdued tobacco burst finish. The silver aluminum pickguard does not go with this color combination very well, but it is original to the guitar. The neck pocket is huge, so much that there is only clear access to the first 14 frets.

The 24 ¾-inch scale neck also appears to be made of mahogany (three pieces) and it is capped with a rosewood fretboard. There are cool-looking fret markets on the edges of the fretboard, which are unlike any other guitar I have seen. There are 20 frets and the fret wire is pretty small. The headstock still has the often missing Teisco Del Rey badge, and it is equipped with cheap open-gear tuners. The nut and fretwork are still in good shape, and it appears that the craftsmen did a nice job 40+ years ago when they put it together.

The rest of the hardware consists of a crude top mount three-spring tremelo with a nifty folding cover and the longest arm I have ever seen. The adjustable bridge is separate from the tremolo, and is not exactly the beefiest thing I have ever seen. The chrome on these parts is pitted, so it must have been a bit damp in that basement.

One of the best parts of this guitar is the electronics package. There are two smallish humbuckers that have their own tone and volume knobs as well as ON/OFF toggle switches. This nice combination, and it is handy to be able to shutoff both of the pickups when putting it on a stand.

Set-up was a breeze. The strings install easily through the tremolo, and the bridge has only one saddle, and there is no provision for adjusting intonation. Also, the factory tuners are kind of crummy to use, though they seem to hold well enough. No wonder so many of these guitars have been modified! The truss rob is adjustable at the heel with a truss rod wheel – the earliest instance of this I have seen. Maybe Musicman was not the first to come up with this innovation…

This ET-220 is fun to play. It is compact and very light, and I have always enjoyed hacking around with shorter scales. The neck has a beefy V-profile and although the factory frets are not very tall I do not have any problems playing it in rhythm or lead roles. I do not generally use a whammy bar very much when I play, but when I do on this guitar it does not break strings, though it does drag it a bit out of tune.

Its tone is naturally warm and can get quite gritty if it is pushed hard. As expected, the neck pickup is warm sounding, and the bridge pickup is bright quite bright and aggressive. The tone knobs make all the difference in the world on this instrument, and it seems at its best when the treble is backed off. Output is not super-hot, but it would still be a good axe for blues, rock or punk. It is certainly not the best guitar I have ever played, overall it gets the job done and is fun to mess around with. Of course if I could only have one guitar this one would not make the list.

I think my friend Morrow put it best when he said Teisco guitars “…can be truly gawdawful or at best not bad.” This ET-220 is not bad, and I am happy that I got my hands on it. This being said, if you are thinking of getting one you had better play it first to make sure you are not getting a dud.

Mahalo!

3 comments:

  1. My first guitar was a Teisco tulip-bodied model with a s single gold-foil pickup mounted in a black pickguard with painted and impressed floral design, and a sunburst finish. Though it had the Teisco crown badge on the headstock,
    the neck was made of a good 25-30 laminations like a Framus or one of the stratobond Martins. (It wasn't anywhere near as good as, say, a Kubicki.) No adjustable truss rod and similar inadequate tuners and primitive bridge. I think the body of mine was plywood.

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