Identifying Old Silvertone Guitars

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Silver-tone is the brand name used by Sears for their musical instrument and sound electronics lines from the 1930s to the early 1970s. The guitars were inexpensive but well-made and were popular with and accessible to novice musicians. The Silvertone name was placed on several models made by Danelectro, Teisco, Kay, Harmony and National. These guitars, which were manufactured in the 1960s, are prized collectibles today. The Silvertone name is still used by the Samick Music Corp. Silvertones continue to be inexpensive guitars. There are many identifying factors and traits for older Silvertones like the aforementioned '60s models.

The first Silvertone model manufactured by Danelectro, in the mid-late '50s, features a "coke bottle" headstock. It has a single cutaway body, reminiscent of the Les Paul design, but thinner. Headstocks on later Danelectro Silvertone models look like a dolphin head. The "amp-in-case" guitar, introduced in the mid-'60s, is known as such because of the built-in amplifier in the carrying case. It has an oblong body similar to a Fender Jaguar, but less refined. The headstock is essentially a large rectangle with a small semicircle cut out of the top. All Danelectro Silvertones have the easily recognisable "lipstick tube" pickups.

The Silvertones made by Harmony in the early '50s have a Les Paul-like body as well, although the body size is smaller. These have simple single-coil pickups in the shape of a bar. The headstocks are basically simple rectangles. Later Harmony Silvertones, from the early-mid '60s, began to look similar to Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters. Some even having whammy bars. These guitars have pickups made by DeArmond that have a diamond pattern metal overlay. The headstock on these is Fender-like but more angular and blocky. Harmony even made some hollow-body archtop Silvertones that mimic Gibson jazz guitars. These come with two or three pickups, also DeArmonds.

Teisco Silvertone models, from the mid-'60s to the early '70s, are some of the oddest. Many models have a fishhook-like headstock. The bodies are often wide to accommodate the more complex electronics. However, they also feature hornlike cutaways. Models will often have four single-coil pickups. The pickguards are unique in that they're metallic and have a striped pattern. Many have whammy bars. Teisco Silvertones are probably the most complex, in that the pickup configuration can create a variety of tones. The hollow-body Teisco Silvertones resemble the Gibson ES-335.

The body shape and size of '50s Kay Silvertones resembles a small dreadnought acoustic with a slight single cutaway. They have large white or cream-coloured pickguards. The pickups are essentially wafer thin when compared to other Silvertone models. The cutaway in the '60s models became more pronounced, and the headstock became an oblong angled block. This era also produced solid-bodies with simple electronics and one fat single-coil pickup. The body shape of these is somewhere between a Gibson SG and a Fender Stratocaster.

National Silvertones, made in the late '50s, reflect the company's expertise with steel guitars and resonator guitars. The bodies are small with smooth, rounded edges. The pickups may look like humbuckers but they are single-coils. Models will have either one or two. The pickguard is designed in a "deco" style and fits the contours of the instrument and its electronics nicely.

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