By Bob Cianci
The new Supro guitars were unveiled at the NAMM show in Anaheim, California in January 2017, and were one of the hits of this yearly event. Designed by David Koltai, president of Absara Audio, home to both Pigtronix and Supro, and famed British guitar builder Trevor Wilkinson, the line is comprised of the Americana Series, which recreates faithful reproductions of classic Art Deco Supro designs from the early 1960’s, and the Island Series, contemporary new guitars based upon the Supro Ozark model from 1962. David Koltai was nice enough to send an example of each series; a Dawn White Holiday, and an Arctic White Westbury.
The Holiday is a 24.75” scale chambered guitar with a newly developed composite “Acousti-glass” (a type of fiberglass) top and wooden back, joined with five screws and a rubber gasket that runs around the body, rendering the guitar very resonant. The German carve on the top and back is particularly attractive. The thin C shaped neck is joined to the body with two bolts, and features twenty-one frets, plus a zero fret, vintage style tuners, a rosewood fingerboard and pearloid block inlays.
Back in the day, Supro was an innovative company in their own right. Their classic Vistatone single coil pickup, designed by Ralph Keller in the early ‘50’s, has been faithfully recreated here. For years, collectors and players have prized the original Vistatones for their warm and over-the-top snarling output, and Supro has succeeded in reproducing them. The Holiday also sports a piezo pickup hidden in the bridge that can be combined with the Vistatone or used on its own. Each pickup has its own volume control, and there are also master volume and tone controls. A white Deco pickguard with three black stripes, a three-way switch, a Wilkinson vibrato tailpiece, and a rosewood bridge round out the package. The Americana Series guitars are of Chinese manufacture.
From a player’s standpoint, the Holiday is visually striking, totally retro, well balanced and very comfortable to play sitting or standing. The control layout, with three knobs above the pickup on the left, takes a bit of getting used to, but shouldn’t be a problem, once the player gets acclimated. The Vistatone and piezo pickups sound very nice played clean. But when you switch on some overdrive, distortion, or fuzz, they positively howl, sustain adequately, and break up effortlessly, cleaning up nicely when the volume is rolled back.
The Indonesian-made Island Series guitars are equipped with the newly-designed Supro Gold Foil Pickups, also large single coil units that sound positively huge and have very little unwanted hum. The bridge pickup is slightly overwound, and the neck pickup is reverse wound, giving the player quiet humbucking performance when used together.
The bodies are alder and the scale length is 25.5. The chunky, satin finished set neck features twenty-two medium/jumbo frets, a 12” radius rosewood fingerboard and pearloid block inlays. The headstock design is identical to my ’58 Supro Belmont, with the attractive Supro logo on a metal plate attached by two screws. The controls are simple; one volume, one tone and a three-way selector switch. Kluson style tuners, a tune-o-matic bridge and a harp tailpiece round it out.
The Island Series Westbury is a great playing guitar in every way. It came out of the box ready to play immediately, held its tuning, even after being played hard, and it’s ergonomically sensible, attractive and extremely versatile. I could get through nearly an entire gig with this baby. It does everything well. The oversized Gold Foils sound absolutely massive played clean or dirty, and playing was effortless in every respect. The guitar is well balanced, and the oversized strap buttons are a thoughtful feature.
The vintage reissue and newly designed Supro guitars are among the most interesting mid-line instruments I have played in a while, and there’s no doubting the retro coolness factor. Other manufacturers have tried to capture the Supro vibe, but none have truly succeeded until now. However, please be aware that after this writer purchased a white Holiday model, he discovered the guitar needed some TLC to get it truly playable; a roller bridge, a new nut, wiring work, and of course, a good setup, to the tune of $160. Others on TGP have mentioned their Supros played great right out of the box. Your mileage may vary.