Premier Western Special E726 Solid Body Electric Guitar (1959)

Premier  Western Special E726 Solid Body Electric Guitar  (1959)

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Item # 8228
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Premier Western Special E726 Model Solid Body Electric Guitar (1959), made in New York, NY, natural lacquer finish, mahogany body, rosewood neck, original black hard shell case.

This scroll-body Premier guitar is one of the coolest and quirkiest 6-strings to come out of the New York area, and also one of the very earliest solid-body designs from the East Coast segment of the industry. After Leo Fender's introduction of the Telecaster and Stratocaster in the early 1950s, many of the other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, including Gibson, Harmony, Kay, Rickenbacker, Magnatone, and even the conservative Vega company.

For some reason the New York area builders (Gretsch, Guild, and the soon-to-expire Epiphone operation) avoided these new-fangled solid-body electrics altogether. Although Gretsch claimed their "Jet" line as solid, they were actually little hollow-bodies in disguise, as was Guild's elegant M-75 Aristocrat.

In 1958, into this breach stepped the Peter Sorkin company, one of the city's larger Jobbers. Sorkin was by then a well-established distributor in New York City, and in the late '40s began to more aggressively promote their own often unique in-house brands, the flagship of which was Premier. Top of the line in Sorkin's catalogs, early Premier amplifiers were offered in a variety of sizes and often eye-catching styles, and soon became a well-known fixture -- on the East Coast, at least. Soon after a line of hollow-body guitars was added, which were also visually distinctive to put it mildly.

These were actually built by the United Guitar operation in Jersey City, but fitted out with eye-catching sparkle-themed pickguards and knobs. They were pitched as professional grade instruments, fitted with high quality hardware including pickups sourced from DeArmond and Fransch Electronics in Queens, NY. Sorkin also established a satellite company named Multivox as an electronics supplier, and the guitars have this name on the stamped plaque on the back of the headstock.

Mid-1950s Premier-labeled, United-built guitars were generally similar to Gretsch products, primarily full-body electric archtops and small "Bantam" models akin to the Guild M-75. By 1958, Sorkin dared go where those other local outfits did not -- into the solid-body realm. By this point the Les Paul and Harmony's Stratotones had been on the market for 5 years or so, making it hardly a new idea! Still, Sorkin did not copy any of these existing designs; in fact, the instruments they marketed are quirky and very original with a unique look and feel.

The 1958 Sorkin catalog featured these new Premier solid-body guitars listed in four finish options and available equipped with one, two, or three pickups. They were certainly visually striking; Premier's trademark glitter pickguard and sparkly knobs were retained, and most had gold-plated hardware. Despite these eye-catching touches, the body itself was the most visually interesting element. A Gibsonesque mandolin-style scroll was carved into the upper bass bout, while the cutaway below curved downward in a gentle arc. The top was bound into the scroll area, accented with a celluloid dot in the center. The back was dressed away somewhat like what Fender had done with the Stratocaster in 1954, making the guitar more comfortable to play.

The very first such Premiers had set-in necks, but the company almost immediately went to a Fender-like bolt-on design to simplify production. Another unique feature is the neck itself, carved from SOLID Brazilian rosewood, which for this often terminally penny-pinching company was quite the luxury. The earliest 2-on-a-side headstocks had a backwards pitch; by the time this guitar was made, it had been changed to a flat-cut Fender style, which required the rather prominent flat-plate string retainer seen here. The neck itself has a chunky round-backed profile, substantial but still quite playable; there is no truss rod, so the relative thickness was probably a good idea. The headstock is adorned with an engraved and painted Premier logo and torch emblem.

Prices on these models originally ranged from $145.50 to $230.00, which put them in the same league as many Fender and Gibson models -- these were not cheap guitars. This Model E726 with two gold-plated pickups and the “Western Special” natural mahogany finish listed at $179.50 plus $32.50 for the "deluxe" Fender-style case. The Bigsby "True Vibrato" tailpiece and "dogbone" bridge were an optional catalog accessory and are factory-fitted.

This particular tailpiece is a rare early solid-body Bigsby variation with a flange on the back edge that engages the rim of the body. This was catalogued by Sorkin as adding a whopping $55.00 to the list price. Pickup selection is achieved via a 3-way rotary switch topped by a gold lever that looks like something from a period science fiction film. The pots have ink codes dating to the 42nd week of 1959, so it's likely this guitar was assembled and sold in early 1959.

Despite their local origins, we rarely see these early Premier solid-bodies. It is not sure exactly where they were actually made. Some claim they were also the product of the United Guitar factory in Jersey City, while others point to the old Strad-O-line workshop on 17th street and 7th avenue in Manhattan, also used by Sorkin. Wherever it was birthed, this is the nicest example of a 1950s "scroll guitar" we have ever had, in the rare "Western" finish with the additional advantage of the factory Bigsby tailpiece and bridge. These models were built into the mid-'60s, but later examples were assembled from imported parts and have neither the quality nor class of the first models. This is a wonderful and historic guitar, and has remained here in the New York area since its birth in 1959!
 
Overall length is 37 9/16 in. (95.4 cm.), 12 5/8 in. (32.1 cm.) wide at lower bout. Scale length is 24 1/2 in. (622 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This Premier is a very clean and all-original example -- actually, the nicest of these that has ever graced our threshold! It is fresh out of a Brooklyn basement where the original owner's family had it carefully laid away for many years after his passing. Fortunately this period of storage had no ill effects on the guitar; it shows neither moisture nor dryness damage. In fact, when we opened the case it was still strung with enormously heavy 1950s flat wound strings -- and was pretty much in tune!

The only repair is that the sides of the headstock have been re-bound, the original celluloid strips having shrunk up and pretty much peeled off, as is sadly common with New York-made guitars of this period. The rest of the binding is amazingly intact with just a few light spots of shrinkage and no deterioration. The finish shows small dings and dents but no major wear, with some buckle wear on the back into but not through the lacquer, and light pickmarks on the upper bout by the trademark scroll. The gold plating is still shiny with light wear and actually appears to be much better quality than, say, Gretsch would have used!

This guitar is a better player than most of these; the rosewood neck has stayed straighter than many and the frets show only minimal wear. The pickups have a distinct sonic character not unlike a brighter P-90; combined with the big solid rosewood neck, they produce a rip-roaring growl when cranked. Most of these Premiers have a simple wooden bridge, so the metal Bigsby unit is definitely a tonal advantage to this particular guitar. We couldn't ask for a much better original example of a 1950s Premier, complete in the original Sorkin hard-shell rectangular case, which is also quite well-preserved. Excellent + Condition.