1970s Sano Custom

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw a precipitous drop in accordion sales as the guitar rapidly became a much more popular instrument. A number of European accordion builders – especially Italian ones – responded by diversifying into guitars. The result was a new generation of electric guitars whose aesthetics were influenced more by flashy accordion design than the traditional finishes offered on stringed instruments. Companies like Eko and Crucianelli wrapped their earliest guitars in the same pearlescent plastics used on their squeeze boxes, creating a distinctly Italian design sense. As the 1960s wore on, however, it became clear that players preferred guitars that recalled the expensive American instruments played by many top rock performers. European guitars never made much of a dent in the American market (except perhaps for the Hofner 500/1 “Beatle” bass), and by the end of the decade, many European builders were moving toward more Gibson- and Fender-derived designs in an effort to compete.

However, some European guitars were imported to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were sold under the name of their manufacturer, but a few were re-named by distributors or amplifier companies looking to dip a toe into the guitar market. The Sano amplifier company already had distributing Italian-made accordions, so it’s not surprising that they also distributed guitars from several of the same factories. Sano never showed great interest in guitars; a 1960 catalog lists eighteen accordion amplifier models but only one amp designed specifically for guitars. Rather than build their own – something with which they had no experience – they imported guitars from Zerosette and Crucianelli with their own name on the headstock.

Much like many Japanese guitars of the time, the Sanos were really stock models that differed from factory brand names only by the logo. This is an example of a later Sano instrument, built by Crucianelli and also found bearing the Godwin and Elli names. Those other brands offered the bass as both a fretted and fretless configuration, though all the Sano-branded versions I’ve seen are fretless. It came in two colors, apparently regardless of brand: black, and the superbly-named lobster.

The body shape is a clear nod to the Les Paul basses that appeared around the end of the 1960s. The phase switch may also have been inspired by the complex wiring available on the Gibsons, though Italian guitars already had a long history of myriad switches and buttons. The bass is fitted with a pair of humbucking pickups, a hand rest over the bridge unit, and a separate bridge and tailpiece. Some of these basses featured double arrow fret markers, while others (like this one) have simple block inlays. The fretless versions, regardless of brand, all have fret markers inlayed on the bass side of the fretboard.