Magazine article Guitar Player

Deke the Guitar Geek: 1958 Stratosphere

Magazine article Guitar Player

Deke the Guitar Geek: 1958 Stratosphere

Article excerpt

Although the Stratosphere Guitar Company's most popular guitar is the Stratosphere Twin doubleneck made famous by hillbilly-jazzer Jimmy Bryant, this single-neck creation from around 1958 is every bit as revolutionary. Why? Because it has slanted frets--a feature most people associate with Rickenbacker guitars of the early '70s, and, more recently, Ralph Novax's Fanned-Fret designs.

Some background: Stratosphere of Springfield, Missouri, was a fairly short-lived venture. Inventors Russ and Claude Deaver introduced their Twin doubleneck in 1954, and, by all accounts, were out of business by 1958, after making a total of around 200 guitars. The company's one big marketing push was aiming its guitars at famous country and western players in Nashville and California.

Dating Stratosphere instruments is an inexact science, but it seems the firm had two periods of production. Its first series can be discerned by "Cadillac Grill" pickup covers--a metal cover that enveloped the entire pickup, with slots cut in the top that resembled a 1950's Cadillac grill. It appears these guitars were manufactured in 1954 and 1955, when the first and only Stratosphere catalog was printed.

The second series--from which this month's oddity originates--dates from either 1957 or 1958. While the Cadillac grills are gone, Stratosphere still used many of the original 1955 parts, including volume and tone pots. What differentiates the later line are unusual headstock shapes, gum wood bodies (instead of the walnut and other hardwoods used on the first series), and a large variation in the quality of the maple necks (some are bowed, warped, and virtually unplayable, whereas others are well constructed with a trussrod and skunk stripe, and as solid as any Fender maple neck of the same era). …

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