Magnatone Guitars!

New for Fall 2013, a complete guide to Magnatone guitars and the stories behind them!

1938-1960 Steel Guitars

1956-1963 Bigsby/Barth Era

1964-1966 Starstream Era


Magnatone guitars:
1964-1966 Starstream Guitars


Beginning in 1963, Estey reinvested their efforts in the guitar market. A new line of guitar amplifiers, the Custom "M" Series, was released. To accompany that line, the Starstream guitar series was launched.

Paul Barth was once again hired for the design work. Rather than a visiting consultancy, Barth was hired full-time. He and Estey chief engineer Tony Price worked together on many aspects of the guitar line. Barth did all the aesthetic design work, and Price designed many of the components, like the patented locking vibrato bridge.

This time around, rather than having the guitars manufactured at another location (as was done with the earlier Barth/Magnatone guitars) , it was decided that the guitars would be built at Estey's Torrance facility. To assist with this manufacturing, Larry Ludwick was hired at the same time as Barth. Ludwick developed the production tooling (routing jigs, etc) to properly shape both the neck and body to exact contours. The working relationships between Barth, Price, and Ludwick was especially good, and Estey quickly had a line of quality guitars in production by late 1964.



The guitars were built from fine grained poplar wood bodies with maple necks and rosewood fretboards. The trim was stainless steel and chrome with plastic fretboards and seven coats of hand rubbed lacquer finish. The pickups were quality Paul Barth designed single coils.

Model         Name List Price Scale Description
Model X-5 Zephyr $170 24" six string with two single coil pickups and a vibrato tail piece and bridge.
Model X-10 Hurricane $220 34" Four string bass guitar, single pickup with volume and tone controls.
Model X-15 Tornado $260 25½" Two single coil pickups with three knobs for volume and tone, two rocker switches and one slider switch plus a vibrato bridge.
Model X-20 Typhoon $290 25½" Three single coil pickups, each with a rocker control switch. Two volume knobs, one tone, knob, a lead/rhythm switch, and a vibrato bridge.



Design work was complete sometime in 1964, and production began at Torrance. These guitars sold moderately well, perhaps better than the guitars produced between 1956 and 1962.

The series name, Starstream, was an idea of Tony Jerome, Estey's resident professional guitar player and consultant. Jerome also worked closely with Chief Engineer Tony Price on Custom Amps for which these guitar were designed to accompany on showroom floors.

Second Generation Starstreams: the G-series guitars


There was a second generation Starstream guitar designed, that might not have ever seen the light of production, or if it was produced, it was done so in very small numbers. This is what is currently known to be the story of those guitars.

In late 1965, Barth, Ludwick, and Price redesigned the headstock to place three tuning machines on one side and three on the lower side such that each string had a straight pull from the the tuning peg to the bridge. The team was excited about this design because it was stylish, unique, and would help differentiate the guitars from the Fender guitars to which the first generation Starstreams bore a resemblance.

The new neck was adapted to the existing Starsteam body to produce several prototypes. These were used in photo shoots, and one of them was given to the Magnatone PR guitarist Jimmy Bryant. To go along with the new headstock design, new model numbers were slated: the X-5 Zephyr was to become the G-5, and the same was applied to the rest of the line to designate the G-10, G-15, and G-20 guitars.

Besides the four solid body guitars, Estey added two versions of a semi-acoustic electric guitar called the A-2 and A-2V, the latter being a vibrato bridge version. It was a thin line, double cut-away, with two pickups mounted on a chromed nickel carrier. Each pickup had a thumb-wheel volume control.

There were a couple of these guitars produced as prototypes, which bore a strong resemblance to some semi-hollow body guitars that Paul Barth's other guitar company, Bartell, were building at the time. The pickups look as if they were Barth's handiwork as well, so odds are very strong that these prototypes came from Barth's shop.

Second generation Starstreams:
This female model was pictured in several advert pieces from the summer of 1966.


During the development of the new G-series, Estey President Jack McClintock moved the entire Torrance operation to Harmony, PA. Barth, Ludwick, and Price were all offered jobs in Pennsylvania, but only Price accepted. All the prototypes for the new G-series guitars were shipped to Harmony, including the A2 and A2-V guitars. Without the guitar production expertise of Barth and Ludwick, Estey needed to make other arrangements to produce the semi-hollow body guitars. In late spring 1966, Price took the new head stock design to Europe looking for a subcontractor to build a hollow body electric Starstream guitar. Here is his account of the trip:

"The solid body guitars were designed by Paul Barth, who was in my department. He was a real nice, quiet guy, considerably older than me, with lots of practical experience. We came up with a special head with 3 keys each side, and straight string pull. I took the head design and went to Europe looking for a subcontractor to build us a hollow body electric guitar, and selected Framus Werke in Germany. I stayed a month until they produced a couple of prototypes. We took initial orders for a few hundred and placed that order on Framus, but then after they stalled around we found they had stole our design and used it themselves." - Tony Price



The Framus built prototypes ended up being two six strings and a twelve string. They were shipped to the US, but did not arrive in time for the Chicago 1966 NAMM show. Instead, Estey took the A2 and the other G-series guitars to Chicago and displayed them for distributors and dealers.

By September (a solid two months after the NAMM show), Estey had taken orders for almost 900 G-series guitars, but had yet to produce a single guitar. They still had a stock of over a hundred of the X-series guitars that had been built in Torrance, and outstanding orders for the older design only numbered 20 or so.



Estey eventually had some hollow body electric guitars made in Italy, although it's not clear if these were done in significant enough numbers to be considered production or if they were done as prototypes like the Framus Werke guitars from the previous year.

These were very likely made by ZeroSette in Castelfidardo, Italy. Initially, I thought they were Crucianelli built, but after further examination it is clear they completely match all Zero Sette characteristics. ZeroSette made reeds, accordions, and guitars. The company dates back to 1945 when Luigi Giulietti of New York's Giulietti Accordion Co. established an accordion factory in Castelfidardo.


At right is a ZeroSette built guitar that recently surfaced in Wisconsin. Below is an Italian solid body guitar with the new headstock which also recently surfaced via email from Giorgio Tsaldarakis in Italy. This guitar is quite a mystery. The "M" logo looks to be an Estey originally design, and the pickguard is similar to the US-built Starstreams but certainly not exact. The bridge, pickups, and tuners are all Italian, in fact, other than the pickguard and the headstock most of this guitar is identical to some of the solid body Goya guitars that ZeroSette made in the late sixties.

This would have been after 1966 (when Price left Estey, see below) but before 1968 (when the Magnatone brand was discontinued).



Barth comes to Harmony

Soon after the 1966 NAMM show, Tony Price reconsidered his decision to live in the remote hard-scrabble town of Harmony and took a job with ESB, Inc. in Mexico City. After Price left, Paul Barth reappeared at Estey. McClintock must have finally convinced him to come to Harmony to help get the new guitar line back on track.

McClintock extended a similar offer to engineer Jim Evans, who like Barth initially, declined the Harmony move. Evans was eventually persuaded, like Barth, but in Evans' case, it was only for a brief consultation to help fix initial production issues with the new travelorgan M-101. Evans, unlike Barth, accepted the Harmony invitation only for a brief visit to determine the problems, and to chastise materials managers for not having proper climate controlled storage leading to corrosion of parts prior to assembly. Evans refused to relocate, but his engineering skill was of such value to Estey that he was named Estey's West Coast service manager, and remained in Los Angeles.

Estey decided to eliminate the Magnatone name on amplifiers and guitars around 1968. The various attempts to build new models of guitars since arriving in Harmony never really worked out.

Paul Barth did re-enter the picture briefly in Harmony. Although he initially declined to leave southern California in 1965, McClintock eventually pursuaded Barth to move to Harmony and help get guitar production off the ground (this was probably in 1967). Besides a short stint at Estey (as a consultant or employee, I'm not sure which) he also set up a small guitar shop in town. He didn't stay long. He and his wife to returned to southern California by 1970.

The Magnatone name was discontinued in 1968 or 1969, although Estey continued on with organ production. In the early seventies, the Harmony facility was shutdown by a new owner and moved to New Kensington, PA. All old stock, including complete guitars, amps, sub-assemblies, tubes and transformers were offered to the public in a liquidation sale. some of the Starstream guitars might have even been old stock brought over in 1965 from Torrance.




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