1968 Micro-Frets Wanderer

The mid to late 1960s saw a boom in new guitar manufacturers, particularly for moderately-priced instruments. Within just a few years, Ovation, Kustom, Ampeg, Murph, Musicraft, Kapa and many others began building electric guitars; within a few more years, most had either left that market or gone out of business entirely. Some of them offered unique features, like acrylic bodies or aluminum necks, whose innovations failed to catch on. Among this group of relatively short-lived companies, nobody offered more new ideas than Micro-Frets.

The company started producing guitars in 1967 and folded in 1975 – a longer run than many of its competitors. Micro-Frets was the brainchild of Ralph Jones, whose talent for engineering unique features resulted in high-quality guitars that were unlike anything else in a crowded market. The Micro-Nut allowed for adjustment at both ends of the string, which resulted in superior intonation. The Calibrato was not quite as stable as a locking vibrato system, but it was still ahead of anything else in its time. The top and back of the bodies were carved out from the middle, creating thin and lightweight guitars that still resonated well. Perhaps the most remarkable feature was an FM transmitter built into some guitars that allowed them to be played through nearby radios in addition to conventional amplifiers. The company was among the first to offer basses in multiple scale lengths, and an early ‘70s price list appears to indicate that two neck profiles were available on guitars. With a small factory, they could afford to operate as something of a custom shop.

Micro-Frets guitars evolved over time, with some models being replaced by others and a few general trends that apply to all their guitars. Early examples had the two halves of the body joined with a gasket, which was soon replaced by an internal clipping system (as on this guitar). The last examples had the two halves glued together, so the seam is only visible upon close inspection of the wood grain. The gasketed guitars had four controls with roller knobs suspended between two pickguards; they were also fitted with DeArmond pickups. Early clipped-bodied guitars like this one feature three roller knobs and DeArmonds. Soon, these pickups were replaced by unique units designed by Kent Armstrong and built in-house by Micro-Frets, and the controls were changed to more conventional knobs and switches.

This DeArmond-equipped Wanderer is a relatively early Micro-Frets guitar, but not quite one of the first. This body shape is more commonly seen on the Calibra models, which appear to have replaced the Wanderer when the Kent Armstrong pickups were introduced. There is another difference between them: the Wanderer’s body is made of maple, while the Calibra is made of poplar. Micro-Frets decorated these early non-vibrato models with a large metal “M” across the body, a metal disc on the headstock, and an abstractly-shaped soundhole. The Wanderer came optionally with an FM transmitter; this particular guitar was not fitted with one. The symmetrical body was less wacky than some of Micro-Frets’s designs, but the greenburst finish still catches the eye.

 

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