1950s Premier A300

Premier guitars were "catalog" instruments in the most literal sense: the brand name was owned and distributed exclusively through Sorkin Music Company catalogs. As with so many catalog brands, the Premier brand name was just a label slapped on guitars sourced from other manufacturers. They carried Multivox tags, but even that was misleading; Multivox was a company set up by Sorkin to build amps (and later pedals and synthesizers) but Multivox had little or no direct impact on guitars.

While most catalog brands were built by the various mass-producers in Chicago, Premier guitars of the 1950s all came from the United Guitar Company of Jersey City, NJ. The United factory was capable of turning out some very nice instruments indeed - John D'Angelico used their bodies for many of his electric guitars - and the Premier name was applied to the mid- and upper-grade United products. Premier archtop guitars tended to feature laminated woods with high-quality maple veneers, DeArmond and Franz pickups, and extensive use of glitter-infused plastic. They were a major step up from the average Kay or Harmony-built instruments both in terms of playability, sound and appearance, perhaps not quite up to Gibson or Guild's standards but comparable to Gretsch in build quality.

Premier catalogs always focused on electric guitars and amps, though the occasional bass, lap steel and flat-top acoustic can be found depending on the year. This guitar is an A300, which was built at least from 1956 to 1959. The same instrument could also be purchased with a magnetic pickup at the end of the neck, called the E300, in imitation of contemporary acoustic-electrics by Gibson, National and Martin. The A300 is a fairly conventional dreadnought, built of spruce and mahogany with an X-braced top. It's essentially Premier's take on the Martin D-18 or the Gibson J-50, though the arched back must be derived from Epiphone and/or Guild. Many former Epiphone employees went to Guild after Epiphone closed their New York factory in 1953; it’s conceivable that a few others went to United across the river. The A300 listed for $145 plus case in 1956, rising to $157.50 in 1959, which put it in between the cost of a J-50 and an SJ.

Most Premier guitars are relatively rare (the exception being the Bantam series of small electric archtops), but these acoustics are particularly unusual. This is the only one I've seen outside of catalogs, even in pictures. It's mostly original save for the bridge pins, the neck strap pin (a later addition), and a brass plate that someone installed to reinforce the bridge plate. It's missing the Multivox serial number tag from the back of the headstock, but otherwise it's intact. The binding is original, which is rare for a United-built guitar; usually their celluloid parts crumbled over time, an affliction shared by several other builders from the NYC area that must have used the same plastic supplier.

The playability is similar to other United-built guitars: the neck has a chunky U profile with a 1 11/16" nut and a 24 3/4" scale. The frets are small but well-dressed, and the big neck lends itself more to chording than fingerpicking. The sound is unlike a Martin or Gibson: the guitar has average volume with the usual dreadnought boom in the low end, but with remarkably clear highs that remind me more of Taylor.

 

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