Electric guitar

Vintage Teisco Spectrum electric guitar

Recently, my son and I discovered a passion for collecting sports cards. I remember being a young boy and riding my bike to the corner store where I chased my dream of finishing the 1985 Topps football card set. This summer we cycled my old map collection, and he and I visited local map shows and conventions. If you haven’t collected cards since the 80s, you’re going to be surprised. There are a multitude of different card manufacturers and different series within each annual cycle, as well as hard-to-find variations. It’s mind-boggling. We really dug a particular Topps baseball set because it’s modeled after the 1952 card design – you know I love vintage – and each pack has a chance, albeit a slim one, of including a card Low number Mickey Mantle. This card is super rare, but every time we open a pack there’s this thrill that just makes me smile.


It reminded me of the days when I was really looking for weird and rare guitars. I often showed things I had never seen before, but I was constantly looking for a particularly elusive Teisco. Just as rare as this Mickey Mantle card, the Teisco Spectrum 5 was almost impossible to find. And man, did I try. Then I got a phone call one day from a friendly Texan who would contact me from time to time when he came across some cool material. Well, he had found the impossible for me. My example has been used and abused, but it’s all still there in that blue Lake-Placid glory. Teisco produced them in red and white, but blue is more common. In fact, in all my years of research, I have never seen a vintage Spectrum in white.

There are all sorts of features that I love about this guitar, such as the “parachute” fingerboard inlays, German carving, triple binding, and 4×2 headstock design.

Introduced towards the end of 1966, the Spectrum 5 was a very ambitious guitar that carried an exorbitant retail price of $375 at the 1967 Bennett Brothers (aka blue book) catalog. This price kept this guitar out of reach for most players, and that’s probably why it’s so hard to find today, but they were sold in both catalogs and department stores.

The Spectrum 5 was one of the first models built by Kawai after buying Teisco and moving production to Hamamatsu, Japan. The catalogs spoke of a durable finish using seven coats of lacquer and a solid, thin laminated ebony neck, with the wood also featured on the fingerboard. My example has a maple neck with a rosewood top, so…variations!

The complex electronics was a first for Teisco. Besides the unique volume and tone knobs, the Spectrum 5 has push switches that allow for different sound combinations. Each pickup is a single coil that is “split” – there are two jacks for stereo playing, using two amps. Basically, the low strings go to one amp and the high strings to another. The tremolo bridge was also a brand new venture, and the model’s tremolo cover is as rare and sought after as the guitar itself.

Teisco built the Spectrum 5 in the early 1970s with a few different variations, and retail prices dropped to the mid-$100s. There are all sorts of features that I like, such as the “parachute” fingerboard inlays, German carving, triple binding, and the 4×2 headstock design. These guitars are a pleasure to play and transport as they are lightweight and balanced. For cons, I never liked their sound. To my ears they sound thin – it’s total garage sound. Pickups need a serious kick via pedal booster, overdrive or crank amp.

The Spectrum 5 is an apt name because of the five brightly colored switches, which are really weird. The combinations are difficult to explain because they are preset tone options. For example, on the red switch, it takes a treble coil from the bridge and a bass coil from the middle. I think that’s a big reason why these guitars don’t sound great – everything is preset and almost every combination is weird. And you can only use one switch at a time. They’re spring-loaded, so when you press one switch, another pops up.

If you dig the tone, then you’ll probably find a lot to like about these commands. I like to have it around like a work of art… like a rare card.

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