In November 2013, Electra Guitars was ranked as “The #1 Small Guitar Company Making Big Moves” by MMR Magazine. It’s hard to believe it was just eight months earlier that Electra offically launched their comeback. Although seperated by thirty years from the brands departure from the scene, the origins of the original Electra Guitars and the new company bore a striking resemblance.
In 2009, Music Industry veteran and former head luthier at Dean Guitars, Ben Chafin was dissatisfied with the state of the electric guitar market. Having worked with Electra Guitars in the 80’s, Ben remembered how cool and innovative they were. He commenced a trademark search to find the brand’s current owner and an effort to acquire the brand to bring these great guitars back to the market.
It would take Ben three years to navigate various requirements to obtain the trademark. During this time he built guitar prototypes, generated several possible business models, and consulted with Electra Guitars enthusiasts all over the world. He took cues from collectors of the original instruments as well as working guitar players that still used the vintage Electras.
In the Spring of 2012, with the last of the obstacles for trademark application out of the way, Ben Chafin was granted full use of the Electra brand, trademark, and it’s signature “Upside-down, Peace Sign” logo (a creative and unique combination of an “E” and a “G”)
The core Electra team was assembled including the addition of luthier, Mick Donner. Mick brought a wealth of experience having worked at Washburn, Gibson, Peavey, Parker Guitars and Dean Guitars. Also, like Ben, Mick had spent many years working with companies who imported guitars to supplement their USA production. Business leadership was added when Gene Ymiolek signed on as CEO of the company. Also a guitar player, Gene’s successful career in sales, marketing, and business management has spanned more than 25 years.
Since opening their doors, Electra has teamed up with an impressive list of industry stalwarts such as EMG, Floyd Rose, GraphTech, HipShot, TonePros, TonePros/Kluson, and others. It didn’t take long for the innovation in Electra’s DNA to flow with exciting new features like Analog Tone Blend on the Phoenix S, their 5-Way Rotary Pickup Selector coupled with the new Coil Linkage System on the Invicta and Phoenix Bass, and the SWC Neck Connection on the entire Phoenix Series. Much, much more is in R&D and on the way!
Looking back at the original Electra Guitars, over four decades ago, a group of creative entrepreneurs wanted to make state of the art, affordable guitars available to musicians. They decided to pool their talents to create a new line of guitars. The challenge was to design, build and market instruments that were well-built and innovative while still being a great value.
As fate would have it the founding fathers of Electra Guitars would build guitars with innovations far ahead of their time. New switching concepts for pickups, onboard effects and aesthetic upgrades to classic designs, would become the cornerstone of Electra Guitars’ popularity.
In 1975, Tom Presley was hired as Electra Guitars product manager. His vision included guitars with innovative switching combinations of pickups and onboard guitar effects. John Karpowitz was hired to make Tom’s vision a reality.
The first Presley/Karpowitz project was the Super-Magnaflux humbucking guitar pickups. The pickups, along with their wiring assemblies, were entirely US made. These proved to be such an improvement over existing selector switch systems that several Nashville pros started using them in their USA-made guitars. Next was the Tone Spectrum Circuitry. A five-way variation on the Gibson six-way Varitone selector switch. Tone Spectrum provided in- and out-of-phase, series, parallel, and access to two more toggles wired to tone capacitors. This was introduced on the Electra Guitars Omega.
The most enduring innovation came in 1976 when Electra Guitars introduced the Modular Powered Circuit (MPC) guitar. By the mid-70’s, guitarists’ interest in guitar effects was at an all-time high. Presley’s idea was to incorporate the effect units into the guitar. Presley and his engineering team had decided to miniaturize the various effects circuits and encase them in a cigarette-pack-sized block of epoxy (later a plastic case). They put two shielded cavities in the back of the guitar for two sound modules, plus a space for a 9-volt battery. The Super Magnaflux humbuckers were routed through the Tone Spectrum Circuitry, a master volume and a master tone control. Replacing the dual tone toggles were two on/off toggles activating either or both sound modules. The two remaining potentiometers controlled the intensity of the effect. MPC guitar effects modules for Phase Shifter, Dynamic Fuzz, Treble/Bass boost, Tank Tone (fixed wah pedal), Overdrive, Filter Follower, Auto Wah, Tube Sound, Octave Box, Frog Nose (headphone amp) and Compressor were all made available for MPC equipped guitars.
The first MPC guitars bore a strong enough resemblance to a popular US brand that the headstock was changed to the now iconic Electra “Wave” headstock shape to avoid any confusion in the marketplace.
The popularity and subsequent expansion of the Electra Guitars product line over the next few years was a true testament to Presley’s vision and St. Louis Music’s support of that vision. Several more guitars were introduced including the Outlaw (named for The Outlaws who were Electra Guitars endorsees), the 2281 semi-hollow guitar which became known as the “Elvin Bishop” due to its connection to the artist and the Invicta which was another of Presley’s original designs.
Electra’s list of Artist endorsees grew as well. Along with The Outlaws and Elvin Bishop, they added highly revered guitar players such as Leslie West, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer and Allen Collins as well as bass guitar player, Chris Squire.
Many of Electra’s vintage guitars from this era have not only held their value but have appreciated substantially.