Ca. 1959 Premier E722 "Solid" Electric Guitar

This guitar offers an excellent study of the complex relationships between brand names, manufacturers and distributors in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Peter Sorkin Music Company was the distributor for a variety of brands over several decades. Information on the company’s history is sketchy, but it seems to have grown out of a music store in Philadelphia and eventually moved to New York City. At some point, probably in the late 1940s, the company established Multivox as a manufacturing subsidiary to build amplifiers for Sorkin’s various brands. The most famous of these brands was Premier, which represented the top of the line in Sorkin catalogs. Premier amps (which bear no relation to the still-extant Premier drum manufacturer) remain notable for their eye-catching appearance, quirky designs and warm sounds.

Equally quirky and eye-catching was the line of Premier guitars launched sometime in the early to mid-1950s. Initially, these were archtops of various sizes and levels of trim, and even the cheapest models showed some degree of visual flair. Despite bearing a serial tag bearing the Multivox name, these guitars were actually sourced from the United company of Jersey City, NJ. United built high-quality guitars for a variety of brands, including S.S. Stewart, Orpheum and even renowned luthier John D’Angelico (who affixed his own necks to United bodies to create his student-level guitars). United sold the same bodies and necks to multiple distributors, but the Premier-branded ones were among the most visually remarkable. They featured pickguards and made of clear plastic with embedded squares of shiny plastic, causing them to sparkle as the light moved. Highly ornate knobs and lots of chrome and gold plating completed a somewhat gaudy look. Pickups were sourced from DeArmond and Franz, and the electronics fairly high-end for the time.

The late 1950s saw the introduction of Premier solidbody guitars. In keeping with the brand’s image, these were ornamented with glitter and shiny hardware; the most memorable feature, though, was the body itself. A mandolin-style scroll was carved into the bass bout near the neck, while the opposite cutaway seemed to melt away in a whimsical fashion. Binding on the top accentuated the scroll, while a belly-cut on the back (clearly influenced by the Stratocaster) made the guitar comfortable to play. Early versions had set necks, but the design quickly switched to a bolt-on design.  The guitars were available in four finishes and with one, two or three pickups; the three-pickup models featured extensive controls and a second sparkly pickguard. Prices ranged from $145.50 to $230.00, which put them in competition with a number of cheaper Fender and Gibson models. A Bigsby vibrato was available for an additional $55.00; more unusual options (for the time) were a Tune-O-Matic bridge for $13.50 and enclosed tuning gears for $15.00 extra. My guitar, with two pickups and the “Ruby Special” finish, cost $184.50 plus $32.50 for its deluxe case in 1959.

Remarkably, the nut was not correctly placed relative to the frets, which caused intonation problems so severe that the guitar was rendered nearly unplayable. This has been rectified by extending the nut over the board toward the first fret, and the guitar now intonates correctly. The construction of the netck is totally different from the other United-built guitars that I've owned. United normlly used maple for their necks, but this guitar’s neck is a single piece of Brazilian rosewood. It also lacks the truss rod normally found in United necks, and is much beefier to compensate. (The catalog description of an “Extra slender, fast action neck” was an outright lie even by the thick-necked standards of the 1950s). While having the depth of a telephone pole, the neck is not particularly wide; combined with the ultra-smooth texture of finish on rosewood, this makes the guitar surprisingly easy to play. The oversized cutaway allows for excellent access to the upper frets.

The guitar employs the same pickups found on contemporary Premier archtops. These were built by the Franz company of Astoria, Queens, New York, and can also be found on Guild, Vega, Orpheum and D’Angelico guitars from the same period. They resemble Gibson P-90s both visually and structurally, though minor differences give the Franz units a brighter, more cutting sound. The solid mahogany body gives a darker sound and sharper attack than the Franz-equipped archtops I’ve played. The overall tone is unique, and consequently difficult to compare to famous guitars; my best description would be somewhere in between a Telecaster and a Les Paul Special.

Overall, my guitar is in excellent condition. It has suffered from the same problem as most other United-built guitars: binding rot. As with Gretsch and Epiphone guitars of particular eras, the plastic used for binding deteriorates over time, shrinking and crumbling to the point that it eventually falls right off the guitar. The binding has been replaced as a result, and the local finish touch-up deliberately yellowed to blend in with the rest of the instrument. The wiring was also been re-done by a previous owner (to the original spec) as it had deteriorated. Otherwise, the guitar is reasonably clean for its age. It has moderate finish checking all over the body, but only a few scattered dings.

 

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