The popular revival in recent years of some of America's great, unsung guitar and amp brands has been a most welcome development. Thrust back into the spotlight by players like Dan Auerbach and Jack White, classic Chicago-built "department store" brands like Airline, Valco, Danelectro, Silvertone, and Kay have all seen renewed interest from guitarists and collectors alike. Long overshadowed by Fender and Gibson, these were the guitars of regular working Americans, as well as plenty of professional blues and rock guitarists, and many of them were of extraordinary quality. A few of these brands have been rebooted in recent years, but few have garnered as much excitement in the electric guitar community as Supro.
Supro has become one of the more beloved offshoots of the venerable Chicago-based Valco company, with the closely related Airline brand being the other one. Supro's unique and strikingly sexy guitars, featuring the fat, chimey sounding "Vistatone" single-coil pickups and semi-hollow "reso-glass" bodies, hold a distinctive place in electric guitar history. Supro has recently been re-launched by the team at Absara Audio (also the team behind Pigtronix effects) to lay claim to this rich tonal legacy. The new Supro began by reissuing some of the company's classic amps, which we at PGS and Tone Report Weekly have reported on extensively, following up with reissues of Supro guitars at NAMM 2017. The company was kind enough to send us a passel of these guitars to check out, and I was able to spend some time hanging with the lovely and beguiling Martinique, part of the Americana Series.
The original Martinique was one of Supro's top-of-the-line instruments, outfitted with a pair of Vistatone single-coils, a relatively complex switching system and the company's patented "Silversound" bridge pickup, which was an early forerunner of the modern piezo. Supro's new reissue retains all of these features, making for an extraordinarily versatile guitar that is a veritable playground of sonic delights. Like all the guitars in the Americana Series, the Martinique is also a proper art deco masterpiece with a mahogany neck, block-inlaid fretboard, a compensated rosewood bridge, semi-hollow mahogany back, an "Acousti-glass" top, 24.75" scale length, and a zero fret, just like the originals. With its Ermine White finish, stair-step tailpiece, and artfully adorned pickup covers, the Martinique is also a stone cold stunner. Yowza!
The team at the new Supro did a commendable job of staying faithful to the original Martinique design while updating construction and components to modern specs. It exudes quality from the get-go, and I personally found not a single thing to complain about in regards to fit, finish, or hardware. The joints were tight and precise, the fretwork was beautiful, and the appointments all looked and felt totally solid. Nut work is often a sticking point (literally and figuratively) with new guitars, but with the zero fret arrangement this is not an issue, as the nut functions more as a string guide and thus does not require the same precision filing as a typical nut to do its job properly. That said, the factory setup was perfect, and intonation was bang on. The Martinique tuned up quickly and pretty much stayed that way.
Sonically, this guitar is both extremely satisfying and, at least at first, mildly bewildering. Even with a little prior instruction from PGS’s own Andy Martin, who got first whack at it, it still took me a bit to familiarize myself with the intricacies of the switching arrangement. Essentially, each pickup has an independent volume and tone control located right above it, including the piezo in the bridge. The three-way switch then selects between the bridge piezo by itself, a blend of piezo and magnetic pickups, and in the upper position, the magnetic pickups by themselves. If you want to get the bridge Vistatone by itself, for instance, you have to flick the three-way up, and roll the volume all the way down on the neck pickup. Not every player will appreciate this functionality, but many will realize its benefits in the many-hued tonal blends this arrangement allows.
Switching considerations aside, I have to say that the pickups in the Martinique sound really great. The piezo does a good job of picking up the considerable acoustic resonance of the instrument, and some really interesting layered tones can be conjured up when it is blended with the magnetic pickups, adding detail, complexity, and dynamics to the sound. The Vistatones are the real stars of the show, though, in my opinion. Though they are humbucker-sized, they are indeed single-coils, and they have a near-ideal blend of characteristics, including a fat, thumping bottom end, raunchy mids, and chiming, detailed treble frequencies. To my ear, they lie somewhere between a vintage PAF and a P-90, which is a great place to be. With all these sounds on board the Martinique could be a great do-it-all instrument for stage or studio.
What we like
What's not to like? This guitar grabs one's attention right away with its distinctive curves and art deco appointments, and keeps it with superb playability and a wild and colorful array of on-board tonal options. The Supro Martinique is a guitar you'll keep coming back to.
The control and switching layout, though ultimately quite useful, will probably put some players off. If you're the type to get fits from anything more complex than a Strat with a five-way, then the Martinique might not be for you.