A few months’ gigging, recording and everything that goes with it – welcome to Guitarist’s longterm test reports
Crap! And, indeed, double crap! It seems our-old-versus new Supro comparison has taken a turn for the worse. As part of our brief for the Long Term Tests we supply the pictures, and while setting up a couple of shots for my last instalment, I had my ’68 Supro Stratford lent up against a similarly aged Watkins Dominator. But, as I went to check the image I’d just taken, the ’68 slipped forwards on the laminate-wood floor and came crashing down on its back with a sickening thud. I stood open-mouthed to see, as the dust settled, my vintage beauty in two pieces. The new Black Holiday – on a stand – looked on as I picked up the pieces.
The impact had pulled the neck away from its four fixing screws, stripping the threads in the maple neck. It could have been worse I reassured myself. In reality it was an accident waiting to happen, as to create enough neck pitch to clear the surface-mount pickups there’s a sizeable wedge-shaped shim in the neck cavity; it means the lower two screws only screw into the neck a minimal amount.
Under the eye of luthier Chris George, we pondered the repair, eventually deciding to drill the lower two screw-holes further into the neck, installing longer screws. We also included an additional thin conventional shim just to increase the neck angle slightly and get a little more air over those pickups. The repair improved things – the Stratford was playing better and I felt confident that the neck and body were fixed.
But while the old Supro was waiting for its hospital slot, the new one stepped up. Before the accident, I’d been enjoying its old-school charms, not least as a slide guitar, but with a gig upon me, I needed to tune it in more and concluded the pre-carved wood top on the bridge wasn’t helping. Swapping it for a Gotoh tune-o-matic was simple and I guessed where the wooden foot should sit and screwed it tight to the body.
I dropped down a string gauge to .010s and reset the intonation and action noticing that the truss rod needed a small tweak to remove the excessive relief. I rechecked the pickup heights, then plugged in only to find the bridge pickup wasn’t working. I thought it might be the three-way lever switch but, as we remarked in our original review, there’s no way to access the electrics unless you take the whole sandwich-style body apart. It was working; now it wasn’t.
Retracing my steps, I realised the only thing I’d done was to, via the unique height adjustment (the outer pole pieces), raise the treble side of the bridge pickup barely a millimetre. I lowered it back to where it was and the pickup worked. Whether there’s a short wire inside I have no idea, but I wasn’t going to take the guitar apart to find out.
On reflection, our-old-versus-new Supro challenge hasn’t been about which is ‘best’, it’s been a journey into the unknown. From playing old examples and modern prototypes at David Koltai’s Supro HQ in Long Island, through to evaluating the new Island and Americana models, chancing across our ’68 Supro Stratford, uncovering ‘new’ pickup designs that were conceived in the 50s, not to mention tracking down recorded examples like J.B. Hutto and the electric blues of early 60s Chicago, it’s been about restoring a valid sound that has been overlooked.
Supros have their quirks but they remain a treasure trove for any player looking for different sounds. For a (mainly) hassle-free experience we recommend the new versions; if you’re prepared to look around, and maybe employ a pro to sort any issues, the old ones (at least the less popular models) are out there at far from ‘vintage’ prices.
“Our challenge hasn’t been about which is ‘best’, it’s been a journey into the unknown”