Ca. 1950 Magnatone Jeweltone
World War II creates a convenient division in musical instrument history. Guitars from the 1930s were hardly monolithic, but their cosmetic styling was generally traditional even when their construction was innovative. Starting in the late 1940s, there was a distinct push toward the use of synthetic materials and non-traditional appearances. Plastics were the new Jetsons-esque materials of the future. Compare a pre-War Gibson EH-150, decorated with a sunburst finish and multi-ply binding, with the white and coral stylings of the Ultratone that replaced it in the late 1940s. Even though the latter wasn’t built of plastic, the opaque finish suggested it.
Once guitars were no longer required to show off the wood underneath the finish, all bets were off. Fender encased the functionalist Telecaster in a transparent blonde. Gibson, at the behest of Les Paul, capped his signature model in gleaming gold. Gretsch sprayed bright orange and green finishes on its archtops and then used sparkle-embedded plastic to cover the Silver Jet. Many lap steels (and some Spanish guitars as well) were wrapped in pearloid plastic that has come to be affectionately called MOTS – Mother Of Toilet Seat. Magnatone was one of the biggest users of MOTS, producing thousands of steels and amps covered in several shades of pearloid but mainly concentrating on light blue. However, it appears that Magnatone had bigger ideas where plastics were concerned.
At some point around 1950, Magnatone introduced the Jeweltone line. Built primarily of Lucite with an aluminum core, they were probably the only Magnatone products ever built without any wooden components. The Jeweltone steels were available in single and double-neck models, with six or eight strings per neck. Almost all known examples are single-necks, and the majority seem to have eight strings. The catalog offered 22.5” and 25” scales, but I have not come across any with the longer scale. They came in three colors combinations: most are “Ruby Red and Crystal [clear]”, while some are “Sapphire Blue and Crystal”. This is the only example of “Onyx Black and Opal White” that I have seen.
While the red and blue plastics are transparent, the centers of the bodies are still opaque due to the layer of aluminum. However, between the transparent plastic and the shiny metal inside it, the steels seem to glow in the right light. The black and white version, on the other hand, is completely opaque. While it doesn’t have the same Jolly Rancher-esque quality as the red and blue versions, it does strike me as a bit more classy; however, that may be due largely to its vague similarity to early National New Yorkers. Magnatone certainly put some effort into all three color schemes, matching the control knobs and tuner buttons to the rest of the plastic. The pickup was identical to that used in a number of Magnatone models at the time, with magnetic slugs surrounded by the coil. The sound is fairly similar to other higher-end Magnatone steels of the day, with moderate output and a warm, rounded tone.
Nobody knows exactly how long the Jeweltone series were produced or how many were built. Magnatone appears to have given them their own serial number sequence, but, as with other Magnatone serials, no date chart is available. The Jeweltones were intended to be the top of the Magnatone line, but their weight and cost may have deterred many buyers. The use of transparent Lucite was extended to other Magnatone steels, but only for decorative elements such as pickguards and tuner buttons. By the mid 1950s, with the introduction of new models designed by Paul Bigsby, Lucite was apparently dropped altogether.