Supro Americana Series Martinique & Sahara Review

The reborn 60s brand follows up its range of killer amps with the original plastic fantastic punk and blues machines. Ed Mitchell finds out what gets Jack and Dan so excited…

Rebooted US brand Supro has jostled its way into our good books with a series of splendid valve amps in recent years. Easy on the eye, and forever tied to first album-era Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page, these amps are the descendants of the once affordable but well-respected backline originally built by Valco in Chicago.

Now, the pawn shop prize Supro guitars of the 60s are also back, with a brace of new Chinese-made models that includes the single pickup Sahara and a reissue of the Martinique model championed by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

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Both guitars feature a clam-shell design, with a front and back screwed together to make a kind of lightweight, semi-acoustic calzone. Original Supros had a ‘Res-O-Glas’ back and top reinforced with internal wood blocks to provide an anchor point for the pickups, tailpiece and a bolt-on neck. Some late models were tweaked with a chambered mahogany back and a Res-O-Glas top, and that’s what we have on the spec sheet of these reissues.

SuproThe Res-O-Glas top is now ABS plastic [aka ‘Acousti-Glass’] with a flawless Wedgwood Blue Metallic finish on the Sahara, and Ermine White on the Martinique. By 1966, Supro guitars sacrificed originality for a Franken-Fender direction – the earlier Res-O-Glas models were more innovative in terms of construction but the body is obviously informed by the Rickenbacker Combo 600. The genius was that Valco could recreate German-carved contours using inexpensive moulded fibreglass. No craftsmen or chisel required.

The join between the two halves of each body is dressed-up with a rubber seal – white on the Sahara, black on the Martinique. The guitars share an old-school compensated rosewood floating bridge, anchored with a pair of small screws for added stability.

The ball-ends of the strings on the Sahara are anchored with a dobro-style tailpiece, while the Martinique has a robust bent steel unit topped with what looks like a block of billet aluminium with cutouts to hold the strings in place.

Both guitars have a bolt-on maple neck with a slim D profile, a rosewood ’board playing host to 21 medium jumbo frets, plus an extra zero fret. The necks are held in place with only two large bolts, but the heel does sit tightly in a deep channel in the body, so stability is good.

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The distinctive Supro headstock is complimented by some lovely, tulip-buttoned tuners

While the Martinique thumbs its nose at the Sahara’s simple dots and unbound ’board and headstock with deluxe block inlays and white binding, it has the same vintage-style tuners. The latter features the three-on-a-plate format, and tulip buttons that feel as good as they look.

In Use
These are essentially semi-acoustic guitars, so there’s enough air knocking about inside to produce a decent blast of volume before you even trouble your amplifier.

Both come loaded with Supro’s Vistatone pickup – one for the Sahara; two for the Martinique. The original Vistatone has a cult following, and the humbucker-looking single-coil reboots here are faithful reproductions of what Ralph Keller designed for Valco in 1952.

Plugging in the Sahara, we find the Vistatone isn’t far away from a fat Tele pickup. It’s bright and jangly without being shrill, and it warms up considerably when you back off the tone control. The Martinique offers a spot on impression of the Sahara in the bridge position but you get other voices to explore thanks to the three-way selector switch and dedicated volume and tone controls for the front and back pups. Cleans are bright and punchy – likely thanks to that mahogany and plastic combo.

The twin pickups give the Martinique a bit more versatility

But we didn’t come here to talk about clean tones. As Jack White and Dan Auerbach have taught us, the Vistatone thrives when exposed to germanium-fuelled fuzz. What’s great about these pickups is they allow you to rock out without sounding like a metalhead. There’s plenty of grunt but the fat single-coil voice allows for great note separation and you get a rough edge that’s more White Stripes than Joe Bonamassa.

Flicking to the middle or bridge position on the Martinique adds girth to the fuzz while unleashing more unpredictability in the harmonic delivery. Pull the fuzz intensity back a bit and let the guitar and your right hand control the dynamics and you’re in classic 60s garage territory.

While the Sahara is basically a one-trick pony, the versatility of the Martinique is boosted by a piezo pickup system with its own volume and tone controls. The tone won’t displace your D-28, but it is a lot of fun. Think of it more like an ancient resonator sound than authentic acoustic impersonator and you’ll see that, in the right hands, this thing is a terrific lo-fi punk-blues machine.

Both Supros have faithful repros of the firm’s 1960s Vistatone pickup

Let’s be honest, us retro-philes are as much buying into the looks as anything else. If you don’t get that itch when you come across colour-matched bodies and headstocks, sexy yet impractical vibrato units or a guitar crowded with twice as many control knobs as it actually needs to function, well, you’re never going to take the thing home.

The new Supro models scratch that itch, but they back up the throwback aesthetic with quality construction, better than 60s playability and some damn good pickups. Given that 60s survivors will set you back a fortune nowadays – if you can find one – these guitars represent a good deal. In other words… Supro. Smashing. Great.

Key Features Supro Americana Series Martinique
• PRICE £1,099
• DESCRIPTION Semi-hollow 6-string electric guitar. Made in China
• BUILD Chambered mahogany back with moulded ‘Acousti-Glass’ ABS plastic top, chrome bent-steel tailpiece, anchored rosewood bridge, bolt-on maple neck with bound rosewood fingerboard, block inlays, 21 medium jumbo frets with zero fret, black single-ply scratchplate, vintage-style tuners with large tulip buttons
• ELECTRICS 2x Supro Vistatone single coils, plus piezo pickup
• CONTROLS Master volume, volume and tone for each pickup, three-way toggle switch, piezo pickup volume and tone
• LEFT-HANDERS No
• FINISH Ermine White (as reviewed)
• SCALE LENGTH 629mm/24.75”
• NECK WIDTH 43mm at nut, 52mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 18mm at first fret, 22mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 36mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 3.2kg/7.10lbs

Key Features Supro Americana Series Sahara
• PRICE £649
• DESCRIPTION Semi-hollow 6-string electric guitar. Made in China
• BUILD Chambered mahogany back with moulded ‘Acousti-Glass’ ABS plastic top, chrome dobro-style tailpiece, anchored rosewood bridge, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, dot inlays, 21 medium jumbo frets with zero fret, white single-ply scratchplate, vintage-style tuners with large tulip buttons
• ELECTRICS 1x Vistatone single-coil
• CONTROLS Master volume, master tone
• LEFT-HANDERS No
• FINISH Wedgwood Blue (as reviewed)
• SCALE LENGTH 629mm/24.75″
• NECK WIDTH 43mm at nut, 52mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 18mm at first fret, 22mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 36mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 2.7kg/6.13lbs
• CONTACT John Hornby Skewes 01132 865381 www.suprousa.com

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