1962 Vega E-30D

The Vega company of Boston was both highly regarded and highly successful in between the turn of the 20th century and World War II. Their banjos are considered some of the best made during the period, their mandolins are prized among classical players, and their flat-top and archtop guitars compete with the best of Epiphone, Gibson and Martin. They were also a key player in the early field of electrification, putting pickups in just about anything with strings (see my 1930s Vega electric archtop, for example).

However, Vega never fully recovered their innovative spirit (or their sales) after the War. They built some fine archtop guitars into the 1950s, but their focus was increasingly on banjos and guitars were eventually relegated to an afterthought. By the time the firm was bought by Martin in 1970 (in order to capture Vega’s share of the banjo market), Vega was buying acoustic bodies and entire electric guitars from Harmony and slapping their name across the headstock.

While Vega did rely increasingly on parts from other manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s, they still managed to assemble some interesting guitars. This guitar, a 1962 model E-30D, was cobbled together from fairly high-end components. The body was built by Harmony, and while Harmony is remembered mainly for making cheap beginner-level guitars, they did produce a number of finer instruments in smaller numbers. Built of laminated spruce and maple, the outer veneer of wood is quite nice and attractive. The sunburst finish is very well executed; it is tinged a slightly different color from the neck, indicating that it was finished by Harmony while Vega finished their own neck.

The pickups were built by the Franz company of Astoria, Queens, NY. Franz built pickups appeared on guitars by a variety of brands including Premier, Orpheum, Stewart, and even D’Angelico; these particular units are mostly identified with early Guild guitars, which featured them from 1953 to 1963. In fact, the combination of a laminated spruce/maple body with Franz pickups strongly recalls a contemporary Guild X-175; the sound is quite similar as well. These pickups resemble Gibson P-90s both visually and structurally, but there are subtle differences that give them a brighter sound and hotter output than their Gibson equivalents. The bridge is a Hagstrom adjustable unit (another component associated with Guild). The neck was the only major component actually made by Vega. The profile is probably chunkier than necessary given the adjustable truss rod, but its soft V is still comfortable for chording and lead lines.

This combination of parts from Boston, Chicago, New York and Sweden may sound like a jumbled mess, but it actually comprised a well-built, good sounding, easy to play guitar that cost less than several of the bigger names’ equivalent models. Lest we forget, the guitar is also a looker – Vega custom-ordered backwards f-holes on a few models, making them visually distinct from all other brands. The thick burgundy Lucite pickguard was a classy holdover from Vega’s products of the 1940s and 1950s. There was also a version with deluxe appointments, the E-40D, as well as a thinline version (the E-201) and probably others. (Information on Vega banjos from the 1960s is readily available, but little seems to have survived regarding their guitars. I assume that the “D” stood for double pickups and that there were single-pickup versions of each.)

My guitar is as close to mint as you’ll ever find for a guitar in its fifth decade. The only indication of age is the slight thinning of the finish revealing the parallel grain lines in the spruce top. The bridge is all the way down, but curiously there’s almost no gap at the neck joint – not enough to slide a slip of paper through. It plays perfectly as it is, with smooth, low action all the way up the neck. The sound is a classic hollowbody tone, perfect for rockabilly with a little slap-back echo. The neck pickup is great for jazz and blues; the extra treble edge of the Franz pickups avoids the muddiness that often plagues archtops. I have the original green-lined Lifton case, which is nearly as clean as the guitar.