Though they might not represent the high-water mark of electric-guitar design from a playability or performance standpoint, there’s no denying that vintage Supro guitars have style. They’ve certainly become collectable, too and over the years, have found favour with an array of artists from Jimmy Reed to David Bowie and Dan Auerbach.
Whenever classic instruments and amplifiers are being recreated, the current custodians of the brand are faced with a dilemma – should they remanufacture exact replicas of the originals, or should concessions be made to playability and practicality? And how do you do so without sacrificing the vibe and idiosyncrasies that are key to the brand’s appeal?
In the case of the 1296 Silverwood, Supro has veered towards the latter. We think it’s a good call. There was definitely a ‘more is more’ attitude towards electric-guitar marketing in the late 1950s and early 60s and as a consequence, many original Supro guitars were blighted by a plethora of oddly placed and fairly impractical knobs and switches.
Here, things are simplified, with a single three-way pickup-selector switch combining with master volume and tone controls. The output jack has been shifted from the top to the side of the three-piece solid mahogany body and to our eyes, the German carve around the front and back edges is much less pronounced than that of vintage examples.
Perhaps the most significant departure is the change from the original two-bolt arrangement to a set maple neck. This comes with added binding for the classic asymmetrical headstock and the rather nice pau ferro fingerboard. We’re impressed with the tuner buttons, headstock and switch plates, as well as the art deco-style ‘S’ cutout tailpiece with its aluminium anchor block.
The rounded pickup rings are a creditable nod to the past, too, but the Telecaster-style knobs are more of a curveball. Tune-o-matic bridges clearly weren’t a vintage feature, but it’s undeniably preferable to the original wooden jazzbox-style bridge.
The finish quality impresses, with a very smooth gloss that doesn’t appear too thick. It enhances the mahogany, especially on the rear of the body. The back of the neck is black and there are hard transition lines at the headstock and heel as the finish goes from gloss to satin. There are several colour options to choose from and this model is also available with an ash body and attractive natural finish.
The Gold Foil pickups are an update on the Clear-Tone pickups of old – they’re humbucker sized and their heights relative to the strings can easily be adjusted with screws on the treble and bass sides.
The Silverwood has a medium weight, balances nicely on the strap and lap and plays like a professional-quality guitar. Its C-profile neck retains a fairly consistent depth and, with medium-jumbo frets, the feel is more contemporary than vintage.
The unplugged tone is full, warm and displays impressive natural sustain. There’s no excessive treble and the upper mids have a quacky woodiness that we tend to associate with certain Gibson models. There’s also a very even response all along the fingerboard.
There’s much to like about this guitar, but the pickups are the main event. It’s an unusual combination of hi-fi clarity and lo-fi attitude that gives the Silverwood bags of sonic character.
The bridge unit combines full-bodied low midrange with quacky upper mids and a wiry extended treble. It’ll do country, edgy blues and even garage punk with a touch of overdrive assistance. Over on the neck unit – or position one on the ‘tone switch’ – the tone is just as bright, but there’s a warmer and rounder quality that encourages jazzy chord voicings and mellower blues phrasing.
We often find that brightly voiced ‘hi-fi’ pickups fare better with clean tones than overdrive. Perhaps it’s the extended treble and fast response that can get a bit spiky with square waves. Happily, these Gold Foils have no such issues, because they respond to overdrive by easing into a natural compression. One might compare them to DeArmonds when played clean and P-90s when dirty, but there’s a distinct treble sheen and openness that makes the Gold Foil tone unique.
Combining the pickups leads to a slightly phase-y midrange scoop that emphasises the snarl and addictively boxy twang. With a thumb pick, a hint of overdrive and the tone control backed off a smidge, it’s just about perfect for old-school rockabilly and Chet picking.
Sonically, it’s all good, but the one-size-fits-all factory nut is lacking in finesse and we have concerns about the pickup-selector position. It’s a nod to the National Glenwood (another guitar with Valco heritage) and shifting the Silverwood’s switch from its original position below the bridge clears space for the volume and tone controls. Even so, it can be awkward to use.
Clearly, vintage Supro guitars have provided inspiration for a lot of contemporary guitar designers. With its Gold Foil pickups and modernised fittings, some members of your audience might even assume that the Silverwood is a recently conceived boutique guitar. Instead, it’s a product that ticks many of the boutique boxes, yet is available at a much lower and very tempting price point.
- PRICE £1,049
- DESCRIPTION Solidbody electric guitar. Made in Indonesia
- BUILD 3-piece mahogany body with front and back German carve and edge binding, maple set neck with medium-C profile, bound pau ferro fingerboard with acrylic block inlays and 22 medium-jumbo frets
- HARDWARE Supro tailpiece, tune-o-matic bridge, 3-on-a-plate Kluson-style tuners
- ELECTRICS 2x Gold Foil pickups, master volume, master tone, three-way selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 629mm/24.75″
- NECK WIDTH 43.2mm at nut, 52.5mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 21.5mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35mm at nut, 51mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 3.53kg/7.8lb
- LEFT HANDERS No
- FINISHES Transparent Red (as reviewed), Daphne Blue, British Racing Green, Ash Natural
- CONTACT jhs.co.uk, suprousa.com