Steel Trappings

More Magnatone

More Magnatone Part II-1

August 3, 2016 • John TeagleInstruments and Luthiers

The series of articles titled "More Magnatone" originally appeared in the March, 1998, and April, 1998, issues of Vintage Guitar and are reproduced here by permission from the publisher and the author. The first series of articles covers Magnatone MOTS amplifiers and the second series of articles covers Magnatone steel guitars. Article section identifications have been enhanced for clarity. © John Teagle and Vintage Guitar.

Introduction Part II

While the focus of this series (see Jan., Feb., and March '98 VG) has been MOTS amplifiers and their matching MOTS Hawaiian guitars, these comprised only the bottom portion of a progressive Magnatone line. To get a feel for the importance of this company in the early-'50s electric market (an era dismissed by many today simply as, "They made some lap steels…"), we need to go all the way to the top of their instrument line before returning next month to amplifiers (in particular, the fabulous vibrato-equipped models of the '50s and '60s). Included this issue are a number of extremely exotic/deluxe/groundbreaking Hawaiian and steel guitars, some with wood bodies, some with Lucite, and some with metal…some with six strings, some with eight, plus 12, 16, 24 and 32-string multi-necks, and a pair of six-stringers without tuner buttons!

Part I: MOTS Finale
In the early '50s, the Magnatone line included economy, standard and deluxe-model MOTS Hawaiians. The short-lived Starlet was added ca. '51 at the bottom of the line and, like the teardrop late-'40s Dickerson Student model, its body lacked a traditional guitar shape. Straight sides made for ease of construction, but the price difference was minimal between the Starlet and the guitar-shaped standard model (Magnatone's Student model). Both instruments had volume and tone controls, the hidden pickup and "Seamless Pearl Plastic covering in Grey, Blue or Black."


While Dickerson had referred to their guitar-shaped MOTS Hawaiian as the Standard, Magnatone used the name Student for their version. In the first few years, it was paired with the M-199 Student amp, as well as the larger M-197 Varsity and smaller AC/DC Starlet amp. These guitars were examined in VG in Feb. '98, but a few missing links have turned up recently… A transition-era purple Leilani (ca. '49 serial #1139) has the new Magnatone body and nut while retaining the Fator-era knobs and bridge. The old LEILANI, MFG. BY GOURLEY label was still used on the headstock, along with a Magnatone serial number plate on the back to confuse future generations.

Emblazoned with an American flag on its headstock, an Amerloha, ca. '53-'54 (serial no. 44519, pot codes 140308), was one of the last guitar shaped Magnatone-made Hawaiians. The features are similar to the ca. '52 Trick Bros. in the Feb. '98 VG. A new shape for Magnatone shows up on a ca. '54 model (serial no. 47877, pot codes 304423). This body shape would be standard for the remainder of the MOTS era, the guitar shape gone for good. The headstock, nut, fingerboard, pickup cover, bridge, jackplate and covering are all similar to the Amerloha. The tuners have the clear buttons of the more deluxe models but are of the era and appear to be original (knobs probably have been changed). These would be the last of the hidden-pickup Hawaiians.


A new steel guitar evolved ca. '55-'56 from the last hidden-pickup Hawaiian guitars, but without MOTS, and called the Varsity. Natural wood was now the standard finish, although a Black Pearl option ($5 extra) was available in the '57 catalog. This was about all that was left of the original model, along with the body shape of the very last version.

Borrowing its peghead from the more expensive Troubadour, the G-70 featured the new chrome all-in-one bridge/tailpiece/pickup/controls/jackplate that wrapped around the end of the body, as seen on all the late-'50s Magnatone steels. Having everything attached to the plate before assembly allowed for more efficient mass production, à la Valco (one of Magnatone's biggest competitors in the student market). A new height-adjustable Fender-style pickup featured a metal cover, although later models had the plastic of the bobbin tops exposed. Gone was the raised handrest and the over-the-strings pickup cover, an unthinkable idea during the Hawaiian era. The bridge and nut were fabricated from a thick metal rod and bolted/screwed to the guitar at either end of the aluminum fingerboard. Position markers on the black board now included silver diamonds, stars, and blocks. The knobs were also new, black with chrome disk inserts on top, complementing the new black tuner buttons. One of these turned up in MOTS with pot codes 140535 and 140540 (serial number not available).


A more deluxe MOTS Hawaiian was offered by Magnatone, the first paired (for a short time) with the Melodier amp (in the ca. '49-'50 catalog). This model should not be confused with the soon-to-be-released metal-bodied Melodier Consolette (see Part IV), and was the obvious predecessor to the Varsity emblazoned model from ca. '51. The ca. '49-'50 catalog model featured two decorative body "points," one to each side, as seen on the later Varsities. A chrome bridge/pickup cover and control panel that covered much of the lower face of the guitar were unique to this short-lived instrument. The deluxe black fingerboard was standard non-Student issue for the era, having a french curve and the name "Magnatone" in script at the pickup end.

The ca. '51 catalog introduced a Varsity Matched Set featuring a revised version of the two-point guitar, "…lavishly trimmed with heavy band-cut and polished Lucite." The extended handrest, tuner buttons, peghead decoration and control knobs were either transparent red, blue or white, depending on the MOTS and the fingerboard was contrasting Lucite, painted white on the backside, with "Varsity" between the end of the fret markers and the pickup. Even the alligator hardshell case had a clear lucite handle. A new "Whisper Sensitive" pickup sticks out of the body in a rectangular MOTS housing, but is hidden under a chrome cover. This cover differs from the Standard version by its lack of flanges on the outside edges, and was screwed into each side of the pickup instead of the face of the body. The bridge and nut are large slabs of polished metal, secured to the body with screws. Unfortunately (unless you actually needed to use them), the pots have been replaced. This was one of a number of short-lived models from the early '50s.


At the top of the MOTS line for ca. '49-'50 was an early version of the long-running Troubadour Hawaiian. This guitar was usually seen in natural finished hardwoods, but could be had with "Seamless Pearl Plastic in striking two-tone color combination" for a short period early on, with six or eight strings. Clear tuners and knobs and the asymmetrical body shape would be standard on '50s models, but the french curve "Magnatone" fingerboard and MOTS were short-lived.


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