GEAR - The Bizzare story of The Shaggs model Avalon guitar

Ever since Les Paul signed the first major endorsement deal for a solid body guitar, anyone who's ever strapped on a six-string has dreamt that one day they will have a particular guitar that will bear their name.

Most of the time this happens when a popular guitarist signs a deal with a corporate instrument manufacturer, but sometimes an artist just becomes so associated with a particular model that it gains their name. So is the case with the Avalon Shaggs model, seen played by Dot and Betty Wiggins of The Shaggs.




These shaggy-haired girls (hence the unfortunate band name) are arguably the most bizarre musical success story of all time. The group consisted of the three (eventually four) Wiggins sisters from New Hampshire.

Apparently, their father was told by a fortune teller that his daughters would form a band and become famous. Withdrawing them from school and forcing them to take vocal and music lessons, Austin Wiggins eventually payed for them to record the above album. Of the one thousand copies that were pressed, only one hundred were every officially distributed.

In the pre-YouTube age, even a cult following was unlikely, but somehow a copy of the album may its way into Frank Zappa's hands. Frank promptly declared they were better than the Beatles and were his third favorite band of all time. As to their music, it has been described as fresh, naive, creepy, melancholy, brilliant and terrible. Frankly, there is absolutely no way to describe The Shaggs music so I've uploaded a video courtesy of YouTube member hoglevid. You must play it to believe it.




video





Okay, I'll give you a minute to recover from that song. You may be thinking the same thing I am - they had music lessons? The second thing that comes into my mind as I hear their music is the poor engineer who recorded it. What was he thinking? I just picture some old guy with a crew cut and a polite smile - his eyes glued to the recording levels trying desperately to focus on anything but that sound coming through his headphones. At some point, I picture his mind giving up and him thinking - "Please, someone just shoot me!"

Now back to the gear. The Avalon guitars, which were made in the late 60s, are still a bit of an enigma. They're likely of Japanese origin given the over-curved cutaways and headstock. The Japanese companies of the 1960s and 1970s loved this style as they were reminiscent of Moserite guitars which were played by the most popular American band ever in Japan - The Ventures. The guitar could also have been inspired by the Burns Bison



Makers of catalogue grade musical equipment often sold similar gear under different brand names. As to the Avalon brand however no one knows exactly which company made them.

I have heard mixed reviews on these guitars. Some consider them terrible, while others love them. Considering the girls could afford upscale Gibson and Fender amps, this off-brand seems an odd choice. However, when one considers that that Avalon featured a bass done in exactly the same design - the choice of guitar becomes clear. I can picture Austin Wiggins - the girl's father - choosing these instruments for their visual symmetry. This was obviously important to him as the the girls usually dressed alike.


The group's cult popularity, when added to the fact that no one else of any consequence ever played these bizarre looking Avalon instruments, have made the group synonymous with this brand of gear. Both the bass and the guitar are now known to collectors as Shaggs models.

How do they sound un-Shagged?I got this clip from YouTube member Terser, who was able to find a beat up but otherwise intact version of the Avalon



video


Much and all as I may make fun of The Shaggs music, one thing is clear - they will enjoy a musical place in history and a popularity that I'll certainly never attain. And what's the likelihood that there will ever be a guitar that the world associates with me?

4 comments:

  1. Amazing! Saw this guitar in a book years ago about odd ball guitars. Now I have a name for them! The guy in the video stays true to the Shaggs tradition: He doesnt bother to tune the goddamn thang

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  2. Is is possible to tune these guitars? If so, it should be done before recording- unless "The Shags" sound is desired.

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  3. OK, here's the deal. This was actually my first electric guitar. I'd been given 2 acoustic Harmony guitars (a Jumbo and a student size) when I started lessons in 1964. When '67 rolled around it was obvious I wouldn't stop clamoring for an electric and I found this under the Christmas tree, along with one of the larger of the 2 small Kalamazoo amps. I hated this guitar daily (I had been playing Fenders in stores for years by now) the action, build and materials were just horrible. The neck was laminated and felt awful. It sounded like tuna fish cans sparking after being wired directly to a 112 v main. And I remember that the Shaggs had used it but this is the most prominent reminder of why I was so happy to get the brand new Tele from the CBS closeout in fall of '69. Funny thing is, this is the guitar I had when I took my final 2 months of guitar lessons with Jim Mesi. Mesi told me "I'm leaving for LA to do a record in two months, by that time you will know all your bar chords and be able to learn stuff of the radio." He was dead right. The next month Steppenwolf released "Born To BE Wild" and I indeed was able to learn the whole thing off the radio, inclusive of the actual Mike Monarch part in the first register, which I verified when I saw the band at the Memorial Coliseum
    when they toured. (Most people thought John Kay's part was how to play the main riff-it wasn't). Mesi went to LA to do the "Wrinkle" LP with Paul DeLay and (IIRC) Steve Bradley, and I never took another guitar lesson from that point on...

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  4. Very cool story David. Sorry it took so long to post your comment. Not sure how I missed it, but I haven't checked this old blog in a while.

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