The history of Vintage®
The Vintage® guitar brand, guided throughout by the remarkably proactive team at JHS® situated in Garforth, Leeds, England, has achieved more respect in thirty years than some brands could hope for in a lifetime.
Since 1993 Vintage has earned an excellent reputation with musicians around the world since the launch of the very first Encore LTD76, a limited edition run of 300 exotic spec double cut bolt neck guitars in 1994 and the first Encore® Vintage Series VC1 in 1995, receiving first class magazine reviews commenting on their outstanding build, quality, playability, sound and above all…value.
As a brand, Encore, the precursor to the Vintage brand, has started millions of guitar players on their journey. Today, the Encore brand, which covers acoustics, electrics, and basses, is sold alongside Vintage in over 140 markets around the world.
Dennis Drumm JHS Executive Chairman comments, “So, how did it all begin?... Since the heady days of the beat boom in the mid 60’s with the birth in 1965 of the firm John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd., (now commonly referred to as JHS) the creator, owner and worldwide distributor of the Vintage brand, has been at the forefront of bringing affordable guitars to the market.
The company’s founder, the eponymous John Hornby Skewes, was a driven ‘ideas man’ with a keen eye on quality and value, who in the early years was responsible for bringing some now quite funky and collectable 'early days' electric guitar brands to the UK like Kasuga, Terada, Zenta and Hondo which were made by factories which went on to become the producers of some very famous brands, some still active to-day.
During the period towards the end of the sixties, when guitar manufacturing was beginning to move from Japan to Korea to keep costs down, the Korean producers quickly latched on to what was needed and with help from the likes of Jerry Freed and Tommy Moore of IMC in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, the Samick company was commissioned by IMC to produce the original Hondo line of fretted instruments. Hondo was the first of the new wave of offshore brands offering an organised product line with super affordability, playability, and credibility.
By the mid-seventies Hondo had made its way around the world, and in 1976, JHS took the Hondo line for distribution in the UK and Republic of Ireland. The worldwide success of the Hondo line was on everyone’s radar and the market seemed almost insatiable as the guitar continued to grow in popularity year on year on year, which led others to follow a similar path, one of the first of which was the Italian company, Melody, which in 1980 created a range of parabolic moulded back acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars which were of a similar style to the entry level line produced by the Ovation Company in the US called ‘Applause™’.
Melody were commissioned to make a range of parabolic moulded back acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars for JHS, and an appropriate, powerful brand name was required. John Skewes, always possessed of a wicked sense of humour and flair for clever marketing came up with the inspired brand name of Encore, or as he explained it to me way back in the day, ‘…even more applause …’.
Such was the success of the Hondo line around the world, that by the early eighties, we were having issues with supply in the UK, which prompted us to look at expanding the Encore line into electric guitars and basses.
In 1982, JHS launched the Encore Coaster Series of electric guitars and basses, tidily built classic styles, with a distinctive and unique headstock, which due to their hi specs, great playability, and super affordable pricing, very quickly became huge sellers, and set us on the path to designing and bringing to market the products which eventually set us on the path to the Vintage brand. ‘85 saw the Encore Deluxe guitar series, our first foray into putting hi-end components on modestly priced guitars where we use Kahler vibratos, (I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to call them “trems”!).
If you’re not familiar with the differences, Tremolo is modulation of amplitude and vibrato is modulation of pitch. The whammy bar, whichever brand, on whichever guitar, modulates pitch.
Following on were the Contemporary Series in 89/90 and in our 25th anniversary year the Encore Custom Series, with the beautiful SE1, followed on into the early nineties with the strikingly original Encore ‘A’ Series, a four-model range featuring unique double cut bodies and an exotic angular headstock, conceptualised by John Skewes himself.
So even before the launch of the Encore Vintage Series, Encore had built itself a solid reputation as a reliable and innovative ‘entry level guitar’. We’d proven we could crack that nut, but now we wanted to get the attention of more accomplished and discerning players.
The first step, in 1994, was the V6LTD, a beautiful all-natural double cut, with gold hardware, three-layer tortoiseshell pickguard, produced as a limited run of 300, with individually numbered, gasketed neck plate.
With the 1995 Encore Vintage Series we decided to really push the boat out with premium timbers, branded hardware, hi-end pickups, and super classy cosmetics. The overall appearance shouted vintage, felt vintage, looked vintage, so we called it the Encore Vintage Series and boy did it fly.”
Indeed, the Encore Vintage Standard, Vintage Custom, and Vintage Custom Deluxe twin cut, bolt on neck guitars, immediately received the attention the company was looking for. This new line also unleashed an unbelievable blend of style, playability, and incredibly high specifications to guitar players around the world during the mid-90’s…at an unheard-of price point and, even featured the VS10 vibrato from the master of vibratos himself, Trev Wilkinson.
Dennis continues, “Trev Wilkinson always knew of JHS and when we were looking to create the Encore Vintage Series, we wanted a killer bridge that stayed in tune, Trev had just brought the VS10 vibrato bridge to the market, which was a clever combination of his twin post design, with fixed intonation steps, and overall adjustability which hit an amazingly economical price, but still did the job 100%.”
“Anyone can draw around a familiar guitar body”, remarks Trev “But it’s all about building a guitar from the inside out, knowing what goes into the guitar, not just what it looks like from the outside.
People often don’t take hardware seriously, it’s frustrating. I fully understand that players are often more concerned with the visual cosmetics of a guitar, like a fancy maple cap for example, but the reality is, if you don’t have hardware that works, you can’t make a guitar.
I was at the forefront designing hardware upgrades from way back in the early 1980’s when I worked with Seth Lover and Leo Fender, I’ve always been of the same opinion, that a guitarist has more to worry about on stage than his guitar and his hardware. This has always been my remit which got me into the industry in 1985 with the first Wilkinson® roller nut.
With the launch of the Encore Vintage Series, we were actually putting better quality hardware and pickups in these guitars at price points that no one could match, all of which helped create the ethic of the Vintage brand which has gone on to be one of the biggest names in the world of musical instruments.”
“The media were all over us”, continues Dennis. “The Encore Vintage Series with a 1995 price point of £199.00, had US alder bodies, premium maple necks, Indian rosewood boards, Grover® 135 vintage tuners, US produced Lace® Sensor pickups and the Wilkinson® VS10 vibrato bridge. This was a real was a real ‘myth buster’, a ‘bubble burster’, and a poke in the eye. Encore Vintage Series was way more “PLUS” than the 1995 £599.00 USA wonder guitar. You could take Encore Vintage VC1 or VC2 guitars to any gig, from the local club to the biggest auditorium in the world and it’d absolutely do the job and again, with a price tag of just £199. I know for a fact that the relatively modest number of folks who acquired one of these guitars are still playing them today. They are “Keepers”.
JHS had now proved they could design and produce world class products under the Vintage banner. With a reputation to build upon, the company looked to the future with a plan to grow and develop lines for acoustic, electro-acoustic, electric, and bass guitars and a superb range of folk instruments.
Dennis explains, “It became apparent that we had the skills and talents to compete in the guitar world on a global basis and having had distribution of various brands snatched away at a moment’s notice over the years at the somewhat capricious whims of various brand owners, it was obvious that the best way to control our own destiny was to continue to develop our own brands.”
Rather than sit back and rest on the success of the brand, JHS and the Vintage research and development team, are arguably one of the most proactive in the music business.
‘Develop’ is an understatement, as line after line of instruments covering acoustic, electro-acoustic, semi-acoustic, solid bodied electric and bass guitars, followed with immense success throughout the late 90’s and into the next century.
Whilst some early models had been produced in Korea, from 2005 JHS and Vintage developed a close working relationship with a very capable and efficient producer in Vietnam and latterly with equally capable producers in China, where today, all instruments are built by production specialists specially trained by the Vintage research, development and production teams.
JHS Managing Director Paul Smith comments, “Working closely with our manufacturing partners in the Far East, we have been able to develop and design instruments that punch way above their weight, always with an eye on the value/quality ratio. Our collaboration with Trev Wilkinson has been an education and a pleasure, and partnering with world leading hardware brands has allowed us to deliver immense value within the instruments we produce.
Our Vintage range of acoustic and electro guitars for instance, have benefitted from a close association with a host of luthiers, designers, and artists. Working with Paul Brett for example, has been a hi-light for me on both a personal and professional level.”
With a keen eye for design and his expertise as a blues historian, English classic rock player and international doyen of the 12-string guitar Paul Brett’s immense knowledge for early style guitars, proved invaluable in designing the Vintage Paul Brett ‘Viator’ and Statesboro’ lines of 6 and 12 string dreadnought, orchestra, parlour acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars.
“The concept of ‘The Working Man’s Guitar’ continues Dennis, “Was something very close to Paul Brett’s heart and during the course of organising some samples for him to review, we got chatting about the concept and realised that we had a close mutual friend, now sadly long deceased, in the English 12 string guitar specialist, the late, great Johnny Joyce.
With Paul’s deep knowledge of and interest in the American acoustic guitars of the inter war era, Stella, Oscar Schmidt, and others, we came around to the idea that with Paul being one of the foremost exponents of the blues 12 string genre, we should cooperate on creating a ‘Working Man’s’ 12 string’, based on those old styles. The result in late 2011 was the launch of the first of several guitars in the cooperation which continues to this day, the Vintage® Paul Brett PB300 and PB30012 six and twelve string guitars.”
“Over the years I’ve gained an immense knowledge of early acoustic and electric guitars”, says Paul Brett. “I was flattered, when in 2010, I was approached by JHS then MD Dennis Drumm who suggested that we should cooperate on designing a 12 string for JHS, under the Vintage brand. I had, and still have a vast collection of very early acoustic guitars from that period, which I still use as a benchmark and which helped me develop the ‘Viator’ travel range of acoustic/electro-acoustic 6 &12 string guitars, the Statesboro’ acoustic/electro-acoustic 6 and 12’s and a host of individual models based on guitars from my collection, including the Vintage ‘Raven’ acoustic.
The theme through the Paul Brett Vintage models is hand-picked tonewoods, superb build, playability, exceptional hardware and once again, the attractive price structure. I have always been an advocate of 'Working Man's' prices and affordability, and you cannot fault Vintage in that area.
I have enjoyed over the years, a very positive and successful relationship with JHS and Vintage and I would like to mention their excellent staff, construction factory and professional attitude.”
English guitarist and composer Gordon Giltrap MBE has been at the forefront of acoustic guitar playing since the 1960s, and also rates highly among the 25th Anniversary list of contributors who, along with British luthier Rob Armstrong designed his own line of highly successful acoustic and electro-acoustic signature guitars, again featuring hand-picked tonewoods and appointments found on guitars arriving way north of the Vintage price points.
“When the first GG signature acoustic arrived, I recorded a live video to accompany the promotion”, explains Gordon “I still listen to that track and think as I did then and say to myself, that guitar shouldn’t sound that good…for the price.
I remember looking through the shop window of Ivor Mairants Musicentre guitar shop in London’s West End back in 2008, there was Dennis Drumm waving at me from inside. I went in, we chatted. He was pleased to hear that I’d just recorded with a Vintage Tri-cone resonator which I thought was amazing for the money.
I’d known Dennis for years, first meeting him when he worked in Len Stiles music store in the 1970’s, in Lewisham in Southeast London, where all the big-name guitar players of the day would hang out.
He asked if I’d like to work with JHS and Vintage to create my own signature model. So, we worked alongside my good friend and fantastic guitar maker Rob Armstrong, and designed the Gordon Giltrap Signature model from which, a variety of 6 & 12 string acoustic and electro-acoustic models have followed.
I can honestly say I’m forever astonished at the quality of the products that Vintage create, they are continuing to do the industry a great service by making wonderful instruments available to people with a small budget, instruments that just play and sound terrific for the money. They’re consistent with sound, playability, and construction.”
All models in the GG series, feature high-end appointments including abalone inlays, Gordon’s own choice of tonewoods specifically selected to enhance the guitar’s natural warmth, tight, rich bass, bright powerful midrange, and sweet highs, that sound wonderful in both the acoustic models and the electro-acoustic models fitted with Fishman® preamps.
Friction free Graph Tech Guitar Labs® nuts and saddles are also featured along with gold plated Grover machine heads, chosen for their reliability, accuracy, and smooth performance.
“We’ve been working with JHS for over 40 years”, says Grover® CEO Richard Berger. During which time JHS have been the exclusive distributor in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, installing Grover as original equipment on certain models of their Vintage guitars. We are very pleased and proud they have chosen Grover as one of their OEM suppliers as the Vintage line is so well known for quality, sound, performance and price point. We look forward to working with the Vintage team in the future and expanding the use of Grover machines on new models.”
Dave Dunwoodie, President of Graph Tech Guitar Labs also comments, “We’ve been working with Paul Smith and his team at JHS since 2014. In that time, we’ve got to know the Vintage line of guitars, and we now supply Graph Tech components for a variety of their models.
Two years ago, we needed a good solid bodied double cutaway electric guitar for some of our video demos and Paul offered to send us one of the Vintage ReIssued Series™ V6 models. There’s a lot of gigging guitar players at Graph Tech, including myself, and, when it arrived we were all really impressed with the build, the fretwork, feel, the playability and tone of this guitar.
The icing on the cake was that it was already equipped with some Graph Tech components, so it was out of the box, ready to play, no adjustments necessary and ready to start in some of our video shoots. This is the most 'borrowed' guitar of the 50 or so guitars we have at GraphTech and has played a lot of gigs here in Vancouver, Canada.”
Pick a year, any year between 1995 and 2020, where scores of new additions and upgrades were in abundance. 2003 for example.
“Trev and I continued to natter at trade shows around the world,” says Dennis, “He’d be watching the progress of the Vintage brand and making pithy comments as he is wont to do. I recall there was one particular Frankfurt Musikmesse, 2003 I believe, where we’d finished ‘critiquing’ a new single cut we were showing and as Trev was walking away up the aisle, with his wonderful daughter Kate, I swear blind I could see his shoulders gently bouncing up and down as if he was chuckling at something he was telling her.
I caught up with him and he was indeed smiling to himself. “… So; what’s up? …” says I. He replied with some less that complimentary remarks about our new pride and joy, so I challenged him there and then, that if he was so sure of himself he should come and work with JHS and prove to the world that he and I could ‘build a better mousetrap’.
That is how the relationship began, we signed off on a consultancy on 15th August 2003 and as it says in my letter to Trev then, ‘Onwards and Upwards’, which is exactly where we went.
The Vintage ReIssued™ project was born and we used all of our combined knowledge and desire to do everything right, for the right reasons and in November 2004, the all new Vintage ReIssued line hit the market, caused a huge stir and proved the point that when you use knowledge honestly, it’s possible to produce truly great electric guitars and basses which compete on every level with instruments costing four of five or more times as expensive.” Trev remarks, “I literally took every model in the range, re-worked the designs and dimensions, created a new series of Wilkinson pickups and specified them all with my latest, upgraded them with Wilkinson hardware.”
The Vintage ReIssued™ Series combined JHS’s commercial knowledge and market insight, with Wilkinson’s amazing and encyclopædic knowledge of all things guitar with a genuine desire to do everything accurately, for the right reasons. As a result, those very first ReIssued V52, V6 and V100 models, have since become not only collectable, but the first call for guitarists playing live and in the studio.
Chained to the workbench and fed under the door, Trev Wilkinson was given free rein to let his fertile imagination run riot on the drawing board and in 2007, we launched the TWDA (Trev Wilkinson Design Associates) designed Vintage Advance™ Series under the banner. The Advance Series immediately received critical acclaim within the press and the end user, as the music industry continued to ask, “How can Vintage produce such outstanding instruments at such realistic prices?”
These stunning additions to the now very impressive and expanding Vintage catalogue, set a new benchmark within playability, specifications, and desirability, not only within the Vintage brand but again, showing the world that if one uses one’s knowledge honestly, it’s possible to do so much than is ever expected.
The Advance Series AV1 AV2, AV3, AV4 and AV6, featured solid/chambered/semi-hollow, double/single cutaway bodies and Wilkinson custom wound pickups. These stunning new models had their own unique, individual styling and stand-out features one would only expect on guitars priced completely out of reach of most players, not down here at the mid-price point.
The double cutaway AV6, with all the curves and contours in the right places is a fine example. Loaded with a trio of Wilkinson W90SK stacked soapbar pickups, the AV6 included the now classic Wilkinson designed Vintage ‘roll control™’ offering the ability for each pickup, to be progressively rolled back from double coil to single coil output. Sonic versatility at its best and an exceptionally innovative wiring design that is now incorporated into other Vintage designs and is a core feature found in Vintage’s sister brand, Fret-King®
Once again, Vintage was right on the button launching the highly successful, in house designed, Metal Axxe™ Series in 2003, specifically designed to please the most hardened rock and metal player, featuring guitars that once again punched well above what their prices suggested.
Angry guitars undeniably, and not for the faint hearted, the Metal Axxe Series Razer™, Reaper™, Raider™, Wraith™ and Wraith™ bass with aggressive and outlandish body designs, were ferocious metal-focused thoroughbreds with high output pickups, extremely fast, smooth necks and fingerboards. Floyd Rose® vibrato systems and locking nuts ensured tuning stability when performing the mandatory dive bombs and whammy gymnastics of the day.
“Sometimes it’s all about fun though” says Dennis, “in 2008, came the Vintage® ‘ZIP™’ Series. There’s a very strong argument for the über bold school of guitar design and ZIP™ was just that. Bolt neck simplicity, back to basics design, uncomplicated but oh so useful pickup combinations, and oh so ‘in your face’ cosmetics for infectious tone in a fun, unashamedly ‘kitsch’ package.
By 2006 the JHS stand number was a priority call for the media at trade shows around the world, eager to be first to announce news of yet another Vintage launch. The Vintage ICON™ Series raised enough eyebrows to cause a draught when introduced at both Winter NAMM and Frankfurt Musikmesse in said year. The Vintage ICON Series theme was again, workhorse guitars, with incredibly authentic ‘played within an inch of their life’ relicing, instantly and equally appealing to students and to professional guitar players around the globe.
The Vintage ICON Series gained recognition overnight, including the single-cut ‘Lemon Drop’ loaded with reversed wired, out of phase Wilkinson WVC Double Coil pickups. Why do the WVC’s sound so good the media cried? They are actually constructed to a recipe given to Trev Wilkinson by his pal and ‘humbucker legend’ Seth Lover, for the definitive double coil, hum-cancelling pickup.
“Before, I think, 1995 if you wanted to buy a ‘beat up old guitar’, your only option was to go out and buy a ‘beat up old guitar’”, explains Dennis.
“As the story goes, with the supply of desirable ‘beat up old guitars’ drying up, new build ‘reliced’ guitars began to appear and guitar production followed many other categories such as furniture, clothing, jewellery, architectural accessories and the like, in creating an industry around new old instruments that saved you the bother of dragging a guitar around, for forty years beating it up!
Trev created a process whereby the relicing could be achieved in serial production and in a worldwide industry first, Vintage ICON Series was born, making 'new pre-worn guitars', ‘modern relics’, accessible to a much wider market with all of the hallmark Vintage attributes of style, value, high spec, superb playability and great tone.
Vintage launched its ICON Series in 2006 and then broke the mould later in the year with the introduction of the Vintage ICON Series V100MRPG, an ‘homage’ which ‘doffed it’s cap’, as Guitar and Bass magazine said in its December 2006 review, to a certain guitar which had been in the ownership of both Peter Green and Gary Moore.
The V100MRPG went on to be a classic, accepted by pros, and beginners alike and for Trev and I, it really proved the point that you can create greatness, consistently, but without completely emptying people’s pockets. The Vintage ICON Series has gone on to become the leading exponent of the “new beat-up old guitar”.
Some of the most successful manufacturer and distributor relationships are based on a foundation of solid marketing, leadership, and quality products.
Yoichi Honma, President at Apollon Music, Japanese distributor for Vintage comments, “As you know, Japanese customers are very detail-oriented and will not let the slightest flaw in finish go unnoticed, and Vintage has never had a problem with that. In this day and age of online business, it is commonplace for customers to compare with the competition when choosing a product.
Vintage's design, finish, sound, playability and branding concept are all appealing and they are selling well in physical stores and online. Our customers are always amazed at the price and our best sellers are the VS6V, the V100AFD and the V52 ICON.”
Jarrad Lee, Senior Guitar Product Manager, Rock Shop New Zealand, remarks, “In a market overflowing in well priced ‘familiar shaped’ electric guitars, the ‘Vintage’ brand by John Hornby Skewes has continued to consistently provide us and our retailers with the most innovative and appealing electric and acoustic guitars on offer.
There is obviously a lot of time invested in developing guitars that are not only astounding quality for their respective price points, but that are also unique enough to demand attention, yet familiar enough to translate into sales for very satisfied customers.
In particular for us, the ‘ICON’ Series of reliced instruments has provided a very popular alternative to the many ‘run of the mill’ options available on the market today. We choose to continue to support and grow Vintage guitars here in New Zealand because of these very reasons – Great Guys, Great Guitars, Happy Customers!”
Based in Fort Worth Texas, RBI Music are the sole distributors of Vintage throughout the USA. Rick Taylor Product Manager / Artist Relations consultant explains.
“In 2015, I took over the artist relations and press work for Vintage here at RBI Music, signing up a bunch of players to take the guitars on tour and get the brand name up and out there.
I immediately liked the ICON Series. I could see the growth and the competition with other brands and distressed guitars, but there wasn’t anything out there at the time and still isn’t at this price point, that’s as good as Vintage within distressed guitars, the whole range is incredible.
I often get asked what our best seller is, that’s easy, it’s the V100AFD by far, I can’t keep them in stock, it’s been that way almost since day one.
We’re out here in the desert in Fort Worth, Texas and it’s hot, so we check each one as they arrive, just in case there’s been any movement in shipping, but these guitars arrive and are ready to gig straight out of the box. This of course evokes confidence for the store owner and the customer.
My pitch from day one has been why take a very expensive or rare guitar on the road, when you have an option like Vintage that sounds just as good as a guitar four times the price or more. A lot of people are picking up Vintage electric and acoustic guitars, they’re liking this brand and we are also selecting a lot of new Vintage dealers.
When I was looking how to define the Vintage brand for the US market, I came up with the tag line, ‘Guitars built for the working musician’, which pretty much sums it up.”
Some of the most hardworking big names in the music industry are proud to be associated with Vintage. Midge Ure OBE, singer-songwriter, producer, front man for Ultravox is also a fan of the Vintage ICON Series and the Vintage ReIssued Series, as he explains.
“I’d read great reviews about Vintage guitars in various music magazines. People I respect and admired were also talking about them, so I looked up JHS the distributor and gave them a call and asked to try out a few.
I’d just arrived home after a UK tour to find they’d sent several which included the V100 ICON ‘Lemon Drop’ and V100 ICON Gold Top, both of which I instantly fell in love with.
It was the classic case with both guitars, where you just feel like you’ve put on a pair of slippers you’ve had for years. They just sat in my hands and when I plugged them in, they did exactly what I wanted them to do.
JHS then came back to me and asked if Vintage could build my own Midge Ure signature model. I started talking about how I’ve always liked the look of the Gold Tops from the early 1950’s. I’d tried several but couldn’t get on with the trapeze tailpiece.
So, I started working on designs with Trev Wilkinson, and I came up with an idea of fitting a Vibrola tailpiece that you’d normally fit to a flat top guitar on the Vintage V100 which has an arched top. After a little redesign and routing out the body, it all slotted into place and performed with precision, accuracy, and tuning stability.
I did think we’d have a problem with the pickup choice as I wanted the sound of a P90 and a humbucker in both neck and bridge positions. Trev amazed me, he just said that’s ok, I can fit a set of Wilkinson stacked WP90SK pickups with the Vintage Roll Control system.
Both pickups perform as classic sounding double coil pickups, with one of the tone controls wired to roll off one stack back to a single P90 or as a blend halfway between the two, or a full blown double coil. I was delighted when Vintage launched my V100MU signature guitar.
I have original models, but like so many players these days, I really don’t want to take them on tour, they’re just too precious, I’d be devastated if they got lost or damaged.
I’m still using the Vintage Lemon Drop today as my main stage guitar, it’s all gone full circle, and even though it can be replaced, I’d now be devastated if anything happened to this one.
I’m so pleased with my signature V100MU, I took it on a world tour which included Australia and New Zealand just before lockdown. It’s a joy to play every gig and if there’s a room full of guitar players, it gets passed from one to the other and they can’t believe it. My signature model and my Lemon Drop just seem to have been with me for years.”
Having worked and toured with a host of high-profile names in the rock world including Humble Pie, Peter Frampton, Samson, Bucket’s Rebel Heart and as a long-time member of Bad Company, UK guitarist Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, is one of many ICON endorsees.
“I was introduced to the Vintage ICON Series guitars at the Frankfurt Musikmesse several years ago”, says Dave, “Where I was shown the ICON V52 and the ‘Lemon drop’. I found the necks on both guitars so smooth and silky, they looked fantastic, played, and sounded incredible. I just could not believe it when they told me the price, I signed an artist deal there and then and ordered both models. When they arrived I more or less went straight out on tour with drummer Kenny Jones’s band The Jones Gang, where they performed so well, especially on the album of the same name.
Not long after I toured with Paul Rogers, I played with Brian Howe’s Bad Company based in Florida. We played a lot of shows, many of which were fly-gigs. By then I’d acquired an ICON Paradise/AFD which also plays like dream. I flew with several Vintage ICON guitars, whilst they are precious in their own right, they are replaceable and take away the worry of travelling with irreplaceable instruments.
As a touring musician on the road all the time, I must say, I can’t fault JHS and Vintage for their artist back up and support, if ever there’s problem, they’re on it straight away.”
The Vintage® ICON Series™ V100 'Lemon Drop' has become a classic in its own right, alongside the innovative Vintage® ICON Series™ Thomas Blug Signature V6 which featured another ‘Wilkinson-first’ wiring system that recreates this world renown guitarist’s treasured 1961 double cutaway guitar.
“I was demoing at the Frankfurt Musikmesse one year, playing my original white ’61.” Thomas Blug explains. “Just before one particular set, I noticed my prized guitar had vanished and in its place was a white lookalike model.
I had no choice but to go ahead with the demo, all the time grief stricken regarding my guitar and where it was! Halfway through the set, Trev Wilkinson appeared around the corner with a huge smile as he held up my ’61, I was so relieved.
It was of course a ploy to see what I thought of his new creation and if I would be interested in working on a prototype signature model, which would go into production as the Vintage V6MRTBG Thomas Blug Signature guitar, complete with a very convincing distressed white finish.
We worked together to include dummy coils, the 'Bukka™' switch and Wilkinson WVS pickups a combination of which, delivers incredibly accurate authentic tones that are akin to my ’61.
I take both on tour and have often reached out to pick up the Vintage V6 instead of my ’61, the playability and tone are outstanding. Once you have trust in a guitar you can do what you like.
It’s the same with the Vintage V6 Thomas Blug 'Summer of Love' signature guitar, which has been described as ‘a psychedelic tone machine that evokes the spirit of rock and roll in the late Sixties.
This is exactly what I wanted this guitar to represent, my own interpretation and a hit on the incredible music of Jimmy Hendrix. I’d been performing with the white V6 playing and recording a tutorial DVD of his music, so I thought what can I do next with this theme?
So, I took the original V6MRTBG with the same distressed and wiring features, added a reversed headstock and it became a flower designed guitar based on the model he played at the 1967 Monterey festival.
I travel a lot with my Vintage guitars which takes out the worry of travelling with my ’61, I’ve said it before and will again, the only difference between the two guitars is around $20,000.00!”
Graham Oliver guitarist with Graham Oliver's Army also comments, “The whole band are gigging with Vintage guitars around the world, including Gav Coulson who plays a Laguna Blue V6M24 which I call the Blue Meanie and Steve Dawson plays a Vintage V4 bass. I was so impressed with Gav’s model that I ordered the same V6M24 finished Daytona Yellow, which I call the Yellow Peril.
This has been my main stage guitar for a while now, it goes everywhere with me. We have a huge following in the Far East, Japan for example, and when we travel these distances, I’ll take the Vintage every time. It’s built really well and can handle the knocks of a full blown, hard rocking tour and come back in tune night after night. I’ll also take it on short haul flights which can be just as worrying for musicians and their instruments.
We use a lot of hired gear when we are flown out to shows, so I’m not sure what I’m going play. It’s often different at every gig, but the Yellow Peril has the same Graham Oliver sound whatever amp I use, it plays and sounds so good every time, I love it.
The Wilkinson Double Coil pickups literally speak for themselves, plenty of power with a great versatile tone which stays in focus even when I back off the guitar’s volume control for lighter arpeggio fills. I can be a bit heavy with the vibrato some times, but I don’t have any tuning problems, the twin pin Wilkinson VS50IIK vibrato bridge is as stable as they come, amazing really as it’s not a locking system.”
UK singer songwriter/solo artists, Carrie Martin says: “Talking Vintage guitars is always easy for me because I love these guitars with a passion, what’s not to love? They ring out forever. Plugged in they are arguably the best sounding acoustics in their field and easily rival the more expensive higher end acoustics. Having been introduced to Vintage by my mentor Gordon Giltrap and becoming part of the team, it wasn’t long before I investigated all of the GG and Paul Brett range.
My main guitar on stage is the Vintage GG2000DLX electro-acoustic, but I’m totally besotted with the six string Vintage ‘Viator’, a tiny travel guitar with a huge personality, which has inspired some of my best original work.
The support I get from Vintage as a company is priceless to me, I've had the joy of including some great players within the Vintage family, Elliott Randal, Dave Colwell and of course Gordon Giltrap have all played on my albums. Joining Vintage at NAMM Jan 2020 was the biggest thrill for me, I’m totally proud to be a part of the team.”
Over the years, JHS have continued to work at close quarters with skilled craftsmen within the Vintage research and development team, maintaining consistency throughout. Whilst assuring the last guitar out of the container when it arrives is as good in every shape or form as the first one. JHS have also had the uncanny foresight to stay ahead and survive all musical trends along the way. The Vintage ‘Viator’ travel guitars for example which, like the company’s line of soprano and concert ukuleles, have sold in their thousands.
Let’s not forget the Vintage Paul Brett Statesboro’ acoustic and electro- acoustic series of dreadnought, orchestra and parlour guitars in Whisky Sour finish, which proved a best seller and number one choice during the 2020 lockdown period, as thousands of people took the opportunity to learn an instrument.
2020 also witnessed new and exciting lines launched at Winter NAMM, with the music world’s magazine editors, film crews and dealers eager to get facts and figures on the latest Vintage lines. Lines including the Vintage® ProShop™ Unique™ Series featuring popular models put through the hands of the finest Vintage craftsman, with wear and tear patterns accurately placed to match that of a guitar owned and played for decades, with all cosmetics literally undertaken by hand. Every finish is a unique one-off, with various weathered distressing processes that give new guitars a killer vintage look, the Vintage way.
The new Vintage line of Joe Doe Guitars also launched at 2020 Winter NAMM and had the same enormously high degree of interest. In limited edition runs, each guitar is indeed a one off, and based on the chassis of the highly regarded Vintage® V6™, V52™ and V72™.
“It’s not easy to come up with something different in the guitar world”, says Ben Court, the creative genius behind every Joe Doe guitar.
“I’ve always loved guitars that tell a story, there are so many iconic holy instruments, the guitar Jimi Hendrix set alight at the Montreux festival and BB King’s Lucille for example, they all have great stories and not just a sum of their parts, they all have a reference.
This is what I’m trying create in my designs. I imagine the character who would have owned a particular guitar, who they were and how, where and when they played it. You can read in-depth stories on the website describing each one, the Lucky Buck, Lucky Betty, Punkaster, Jailbird, and Salty Dog for example, then the aesthetics, the artwork and construction all become self-explanatory.
From the idea on paper to the finished product is a challenge, but from the start, I’m already streets ahead working with exceptionally well-built models that already play and sound superb. Each guitar is themed with an original story, with custom artwork, related details and Wilkinson hardware throughout, and arrives with an individually numbered authentication certificate and extra special ‘case candy’.
I can’t thank JHS and Vintage enough to let me push out the boundaries of custom guitar designs on what are already classic models.”
As a testimony to their success within guitar craftsmanship, to celebrate a milestone in the company’s history and to honour their 25th anniversary, Vintage have launched three electric guitars, built on a solid foundation of classic Vintage designs, time-tested Wilkinson hardware and hand-picked tonewoods.
With a limited worldwide production of just 100 guitars each you’ll have to be quick to get your hands on one of these celebratory masterpieces.
The Vintage 25th Anniversary Series, V6HSVB, V100SVB and V75SVB, represent that of an experienced design team who, after a quarter of a century of loyal support wanted to give something back to Vintage guitar fans and collectors who have waited anxiously for the launch of the new and exciting, 25th Anniversary Series.
Looking stunning with a striking two-tone Silver Burst finish, all three guitars are based on the very popular Vintage V6, V75 and V100 models, uniting all the innovative incarnations that have made these models not only Vintage classics in their own right, but also the number one choice for a countless number of guitar players around the world, favoured for their consistency within superb playability, exceptional tone and innovative hardware designs.
Each Limited-Edition model in the exquisite Vintage 25th Anniversary Series, comes complete with a Vintage 25th Anniversary embroidered canvas gig bag and certificate of authenticity.
Looking back now, the big question is, did JHS ever think the Vintage guitar brand would grow into a highly successful worldwide name in the music industry?
“Well, yes, really”. Says Dennis Drumm. “As far back as the late sixties, when JHS was still a relatively new enterprise, the Government slogan of the day for business was ‘Export or Die’. There was Governmental financial support to help businesses do just that, so that’s exactly what we did and have been an active worldwide exporter ever since, and with just a few exceptions, have exhibited at every single Frankfurt Musikmesse and Winter NAMM show ever since, along with regular attendance at Messe Shanghai, and ad hoc attendance over the years at shows in Japan, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Czech, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, and others. Also, our export team regularly travels the world visiting our customers.
We’ve always ensured that the Vintage brand has a broad range of styles to choose from, whether you’re a jazzer a country guy, blues, rock, pop, standards, punk, new age, whatever genre of music you’re into, there’s a model which suits and let’s face it, these days, with the possible exception of country music, there’s no real pigeon holing and players will play whatever style of instrument they get on best with.
It’s gotta look good, sound good, play well, be an object of desire, and a working tool and most of all, be ‘a keeper’. Based upon conversations I’ve had with countless players over the years, I’d say the Vintage brand appeals on lots of levels.
There’s an appeal for the younger folk, first and second time buyers, where we deliver an amazing instrument at birthday party money, teachers love Vintage ‘cos the intrinsic quality helps a starter progress and looks/sounds the part.
Semi pros love ‘em ‘cos whatever their main instrument is, they can have ‘the other styles’ with credibility and without breaking the bank. Pros and collectors love ‘em ‘cos they can leave their ‘Closet Classics’ at home and take a Vintage out which absolutely does the job, but they don’t have twenty thousand quid at risk on a pub gig stage.
I know for a fact that a lot of the pro’s which use Vintage love them because, almost in an ‘anti-brand’ kind of Vibe, JHS is a great company to work with and they know that if they’re playing say a V1003 on stage at Madison Square Gardens, they know the guitar is gonna do the job, but they also get a buzz out of knowing the kid in row three who aspires to emulate his or her hero, can afford to go into a music store and buy the very same V1003 they’ve just seen on stage, which can’t be said if our hero was playing a super high end, custom shop, multi thousand dollar piece.
Actually, the loyalty and love for the brand which I’ve experienced with players of all ages I’ve met over the years, is astonishing and speaks to the honest way Trev and I have approached the project. To this day, the social media channels are awash with positivity, which I have to say is very heartening.
Yes, occasionally we’ll come up against a little unhappiness, but to this day, as brand owner, I am 100% happy to chat to anyone about any aspect of Vintage and I love to make people happy.
Trev and I have always figured that there are two ways to build a guitar. You either build down to a price, or you follow the Vintage path and set your benchmarks as high as possible and let the price more or less fall where it lands.
A guitar is the sum of its parts and the labour it costs to put it together. We’ve never taken the path of trying to pull cost out to get down to a price. The opposite in fact, we’ve always started with the ‘wish list’ of parts and materials, using all the ‘correct’ timbers for the model, premium tuners, pickups especially created for the particular guitar, premium hardware with unique features and a build process which gives quality and consistency.
Never have we specified a guitar we’d like to have a resale price of say, £399 and gotten to the point where we’ve had to say, ‘… something’s gonna have to go’.
2020 saw the start of a collaboration between Vintage and Joe Doe Guitars to create limited edition guitars “art” guitars, conceived by designer Ben Court which are some of the most fun things we’ve ever done with guitar design, each one a unique design, limited edition guitar with a fantastic ‘back story’
We’ve spent years listening to suggestions from players all around the world and every year, we produce new classics, offering ever more choice to players and make sure the 'heart and soul' of the Vintage® brand is innovation, excellence, value and fun.
2020, the 25th Anniversary year of Vintage saw the realization of the ProShop® concept, where all those years of listening combined with the immense skills, talent and imagination of players and the Vintage® design and workshop team were put to work to create ProShop® Uniques, one-off individual guitars created to showcase the brand and give Vintage aficionados the opportunity to own a totally individual Vintage creation.
The 25th Anniversary year was celebrated by the introduction of a very exclusive limited run series of three models, a V100, a V6 and a V62 in a stunning anniversary silver burst. Due to the overwhelming response and demand around the world for these models, Vintage later released another limited edition of a V6HM, VS6 and a VJ74 bass, within the celebratory year in 2021.
I share the Trev Wilkinson mantra of ‘Quality is Consistency’ and that’s certainly what he and I achieved with the Vintage project, working together to create a successful worldwide guitar brand which quite simply does what it says on the tin, and we will always be ‘onwards and upwards’, producing new classics, offering ever more choice to players and continuing to listed hard to what players around the world want."
The next three years, 2020-2023
Nothing stands still at Vintage Guitars. The relatively modest formal launch at NAMM 2020 of Vintage ProShop®, which had grown initially out of two threads, the skills and talents of the UK master builders at Vintage UK, producing very limited numbers of one off guitars for players, and the amazing Artist Recipe guitars that were being produced in the US by two of the best master builders ever, garnered attention and accolades at Winter NAMM 2020 which further solidified Vintage’s reputation as a serious player’s instrument.
After two years of development and countless individual builds on both sides of the Atlantic, for players from all genres of music, Vintage® upped the ante in mid-2023 with the build and completion of a full production facility at its Garforth, Leeds, home and the formal launch of the UK Vintage ProShop Custom-Build™ programme, which gives players access to an online build configurator where they could easily and quickly specify the Vintage ProShop Custom-Build guitar of their dreams and have it built for them in the UK. The US ProShop too continues the tradition of creating custom built masterpiece guitars for US players.
You can check out some examples of the builds which have taken place here; ProShop and here; US-ProShop
We all have a love for our history, and there is definitely a time to bring back the big beasts from times gone by. Metal, in all its wonderful forms being such a huge part of guitar music, demands exceptional guitars, which play supremely, speak in voices, and make an indelible visual impact. In 2022, having revisited its early millennial archives The Vintage team and resurrected the oh so successful Metal Axxe series, in the modernised form of the Vintage VMX Series, featuring the darkly black and brooding V100VMX, the aggressively styled VMX Raider and the outstanding VMX Warp, an asymmetric offset fixed neck whammy loaded shred beast which wouldn’t be out of place on Qo'noS.
2022 was a busy time in the Vintage R & D department, with several major projects on the go, including the launch at Summer NAMM for the Vintage Mahogany and Historic series of acoustic guitars, which brought that key attribute of the Vintage brand, value, to two series of acoustic and electro acoustic guitars which performed like instruments from a much higher class.
Just in time for Christmas, Vintage Coaster™ Series arrived, based upon established Vintage classic styles, in outstanding colour combinations, with great features and featuring pickups designed by none other than Alan Entwhistle. Available as instruments of complete outfits, Vintage Coaster Series, just like those amazing 1982 Encore Coasters, will be starting off a whole new generation of players on their musical journeys with typical Vintage authenticity, great playability, and peerless tone.
2023 rolled around, the spring arrived, and NAMM 2023 provided the platform for several big Vintage reveals.
With offsets the de rigueur style of the Indy and surf players, Vintage ramped up the selection of its popular V65 to include a dozen variants, in ReIssued and Icon versions, with and without vibrato.
Always good at listening to its loyal fan base, Vintage rewarded its aficionados with increased choice across its V100, VSA500 and V4 models, even launching a V51, ( the clue is in the number), possibly the most revered of basses on the planet.
Vintage has always had a strong relationship with the artist community, with many players of note contributing to the conceptualisation and design process. UK journeyman guitarist Paul Rose partnered with JHS to launch not one, but three guitars at NAMM 2023, the V6 and V66 Paul Rose signature Vintage guitars, super cool lightly distressed finishes, classic specs with 7 ¼” radius boards, and the outstanding Fret-King® Eclat Custom Paul Rose Signature, a masterpiece of style, function, tone and feel.
What else could there be? Well, more of course. Winter NAMM 2023 saw the launch of the latest cooperation between Vintage and UK based guitars designer and screen playwright, Ben Court, a master of storytelling and designer of some of the coolest guitars ever seen, Joe Doe by Vintage, a limited range of guitars which are works of art, each with its own story.
The arrival of the 2023 Joe Doe by Vintage collection caused a big stir. With guitars with monikers like, The Gambler, The Gas Jockey, The Hot Rod, and the truly gorgeous Lutetia, Joe Doe’s first bass, this limited-edition collection will find homes with discerning collectors and players who like to make a statement.
Could there be more? Rounding off the 2022 R&D blitz was the NAMM pre-launch of the Alan Entwhistle designed Vintage REVO Series, Retro Vintage Originals from the master of blending the coolest stuff from the early era of the electric guitar with the most modern player attributes. Keep an eye out for more announcements in the Fall of 2023.
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Browse through 25 years of Vintage electric and acoustic catalogues HERE.
Our good friends at 'Vintage Guitar Players' Facebook group have also put together two amazing Encyclopaedia Vintannica brochures detailing Vintage instruments since their inception in 1995.
Electric Edition V2 2022 HERE
Acoustic Edition V2 2022 HERE