1958 Supro Console Sixteen

The Supro brand name was introduced by the National-Dobro Corporation to sell its less expensive electric instruments. The first Supro Spanish and Hawaiian guitars appeared in 1936, and the brand would thrive until the bankruptcy of Valco in 1968. (The modern Supro line of amps bears no relationship to the original brand name). By the end of the 1930s, a pattern was established that would last for the next 30 years: Supro guitars and amps would generally be more affordable than their closest National counterparts, but built to similar quality and sometimes incorporating features not found in any National. Supro instruments were sold through a much less exclusive network of dealers than National, and as a result they have acquired a name recognition that surpasses their “superior” siblings.

The original National and Dobro companies produced the most popular and most imitated acoustic Hawaiian guitars ever made, and Valco was no slouch when it came to their electric successors. Indeed, lap steels are among the most highly regarded of Valco’s products, regardless of the brand name on the headstock. The more affordable steels still command a respectable price considering their ubiquity, and the higher-end models usually match the equivalent Fenders and Gibsons in appraisal. This is particularly true of the National Grand Console, one of the staple steels of the 1950s.

While some Supros were more or less re-branded Nationals, many represented totally unique designs in the Valco line. When the Supro equivalent to the National Grand Console was introduced in 1958, it featured a radically different body design. In place of the National’s conventional all-wood construction, the Supro 1475B Console Sixteen featured two wooden necks connected by three chromed metal rods that ran all the way through each neck. It’s not obvious why this design was chosen; it doesn’t have any advantages other than its unique aesthetics, and I don’t believe it could have made construction any cheaper. The Supro was cheaper than the National – $175 vs $235 – but the difference was likely due entirely to the more “exclusive” name on the National.

There were differences between the pickups as well – the National had slanted units under enormous covers, while the Supro featured 8-string versions of the Alnico V pickups found on many Spanish-style guitars. The difference in tone proved to be minimal. The Supro has a more refined sound than its cheaper cousins with the famous string-through pickup, but it can still be raw and biting when required. Although it is a single-coil pickup, it has excellent hum rejection and sounds wonderful either overdriven or clean. The guitar has plenty of sustain and a surprising level of output, making it an excellent instrument for rock and roll as well as country music.

The controls are fairly conventional – one tone and one volume control, each located at the end of a neck, plus a neck selector switch. The switch is mounted on a plastic “bridge” that spans both necks. Each neck features Valco’s usual plastic nut and combination bridge/tailpiece, and the fretboards are similar to ones found on a variety of Valco steels.

My guitar is in excellent condition and is all mostly original. The tuners are replicas of the original Klusons, and it came with non-original wooden legs. The legs were originally `sold separately, so it’s possible that the original owner opted for cheaper off-brand legs instead. I prefer to use a table-type keyboard stand anyway, mainly because it frees up more space for my feet underneath. This is my primary gigging steel; it’s reliable and versatile, and it usually turns a few heads as well due to its unique appearance. Aside from a broken name badge, it’s in excellent condition; it came with the cleanest original Valco case I’ve ever seen. There is some slight deterioration of the chrome plating, but otherwise there is little wear to be found. I previously owned a Supro Console Eight, and liked it so much that I traded it for the double-neck version. The Console Sixteen is a rare bird because it was produced only briefly; it first appeared in the 1958 Supro catalog and last appeared in 1959.

 

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