Four decades of guitars from Czechoslovakia.
When I wrote my original article about Eastern European guitars [Guitars
of the Cold War, Vintage Guitar Magazine, January 2002], I was still in
the process of researching the roots of these instruments. In the first
two installments, I had focused on Russia almost exclusively, though I did
mention Jolana guitars briefly. Since then, a lot of new information has
come to light, enough to dedicate this third installment of "Guitars
Of The Cold War" exclusively to guitars built in Czechoslovakia. This
is their story.
The Czech Republic has a rich musical instrument building heritage. The
Bohemia region is renowned for string instrument manufacture. Some of the
world's best violins and cellos come from this part of the world. Petrof
pianos have been built in Hradec Kralove since 1864, Hofmann & Czerny
in Jihlava since 1871. Amati of Kraslice has been in the instrument-manufacturing
business for over 180 years. The company is one of the world's largest brass
and woodwind manufacturers and is known especially for the quality of their
saxophones. There were over fifty different companies producing musical
instruments in Czechoslovakia before World War II.
Czechoslovakia's biggest contribution to American guitar building was of
course made by John Dopyera. Dopyera and his family emigrated from Slovakia
in 1908 and settled in Los Angeles. In a quest for increased volume during
the pre-electric era, Dopyera invented the resophonic (resonator) guitar.
In 1928, Dopyera and his brothers formed a company to produce these guitars.
The company was called DOBRO for DOpyera BROthers, but the word also means
"good" in the Slovak language. Dobro was eventually purchased
by National, which in turn became part of the Valco company, which went
bust in 1968, but that's a separate story. The Dobro brand is currently
owned by Gibson and the Dobro resonator guitar is an American classic. This
tradition is alive in the Czech Republic today as well. The Amistar guitar
company has been producing fine resophonic guitars in Prague since 1992.
After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as a communist state.
In 1948 all private companies started to become nationalized. The last independent
firms were forcibly nationalized by the early 1950's. Once the collectivization
was complete, centralized control was forced on everything and any private
venture was strictly forbidden. No until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 were
there any new opportunities for private enterprise. All guitar production
was likewise centralized. The Ministry of Industry of the Czechoslovak Republic
established one big national company called CSHN (Ceskoslovenske Hudebni
Nastroje, meaning Czechoslovak Musical Instruments) and set a production
plan: so many acoustic guitars from this factory, so many electric guitars
from that factory, and so on.
As we will see, Jolana wasn't the only Czech guitar brand. There were others,
including Resonet, Neoton, Lignatone and others. But these were all just
different brands, produced by various factories in different cities. Technically,
there was no such thing as the Jolana or Resonet guitar companies. The names
were only labels used on certain guitars by one big mother company, regardless
of where they were actually built. Under this centralization, the identities
of the original companies became blurred into one faceless mass, and the
lack of surviving records only adds to the confusion. That is why some Jolana
guitars are marked "Krnov" and others "Horovice", for
example, and that is why it is so difficult to reconstruct the history timeline
The Selmer Futurama guitar, a.k.a. the Grazioso (original ad from Melody
Maker magazine c. 1958).
We do know exactly how the first Czech electric guitar came about. The
year was 1953, the city was Blatna, and the company was the Drevokov Cooperative.
"Drevokov" means something like "Woodcraft" ("drevo"
is "wood" in Czech) and the Drevokov Cooperative was a nationalized
furniture company which specialized in producing wall paneling and other
wood products. That year, the company got a new manager, a certain Josef
Ruzicka. It was Ruzicka's decision to experiment with electric guitars,
and by 1954 Ruzicka and the designer Vlcek produced the company's first
electric instrument. This was a Hawaiian-style lap steel guitar which had
a slotted head with classical-style guitar tuners, and it was the first
guitar to bear the Resonet brand. This model was called the Resonet Akord,
and with it the manufacture of electric guitars in Czechoslovakia takes
Resonet was a name that Drevokov subsequently used on all their guitars.
There was no such thing as the Resonet company, it was just a label. As
it says on a 1957 warranty card, "Resonet: the mark of the first Czechoslovak
electrophonic instruments". Since the name refers to electronics and
electric sound, it is usually found on pickups and pickguard assemblies,
not on an instrument's headstock. Unlike the typical American conventions,
which favor a strong brand identity, it was in fact a common feature then
to have a guitar's model name on the headstock, while the company brand
was marked elsewhere, if at all. This makes sense if you consider that only
one big national company was responsible for the guitars' production, and
the identity of the individual factories wasn't considered to be as important.
Soviet guitars were produced under a similar system and had similar labeling.
The Resonet Akord lap steels proved to be very popular, and the following
year Drevokov decided to build a solidbody Spanish style instrument, a regular
electric guitar. The prototype for this project was a brand new 1955 Fender
Stratocaster, specially brought in from the USA. However, the Czechs did
not merely copy the American instrument, as they would later do. The Fender
guitar was carefully examined and completely redesigned. The Strat's shortcomings
were actually improved upon in several respects, in particular the controls
and the vibrato tailpiece. The new Resonet guitar had futuristic on/off
pushbuttons for each pickup, which allowed every possible pickup combination.
This was miles ahead of the Stratocaster, which in 1955 had just a basic
3-way switch. There was a single master tone control that worked on each
pickup, while the Strat does not have a tone for the bridge pickup. The
vibrato system was totally re-engineered and was actually more advanced
than the Fender unit, probably the most precise vibrato design on the market
at the time. It pivoted on two posts, as a Floyd Rose would later do, and
had a separate, fully adjustable spring for each of the six strings. The
pickups had individually adjustable pole pieces, which the Fender also did
Other differences included a 3+3 headstock with straight string pull and
a more compact, squared-off body. Similarities taken straight from Fender
included a recessed metal jack cup and the two-tone sunburst finish. Solid
colors such as black and red were also available, though the vast majority
of guitars produced were sunburst. The necks were made from natural finished
beech, without a separate fretboard. The bodies were also beech, though
sometimes maple was also used. This new model was called the Grazioso, meaning
"graceful", and it was a smashing success. At the 1958 Expo, the
model won a gold medal. The Czech electric guitar had arrived!
In late 1957, Drevokov signed an agreement with the Selmer company to export
the Resonet Grazioso guitars to Great Britain. At the time, most British
firms imported guitars from the Continent. Boosey & Hawkes had Egmond
guitars, marketed under the Rosetti brand. Rose Morris had Levin and Goya
from Sweden. John Dallas & Sons had Framus. Selmer itself had Hofner,
but the Resonet guitars were needed as a second line. Selmer renamed the
Resonet Grazioso guitar the Futurama and marketed it as "the world's
most advanced electric guitar". For once, the marketing hype was true.
While the overall construction quality was perhaps no match for Fender,
the actual design was in fact very advanced for its day. It was certainly
a very modern instrument, compared to anything available in Britain at the
time. The new Futurama guitar sold for 55 guineas, including a felt-lined
shoulder strap. A case cost 6 guineas extra. This made the Futurama an expensive,
high end instrument at the time when a Hofner Club 40 could be had for 32
guineas and a Rosetti Solid Seven for a mere 18 guineas. Subsequent Futurama
models were marketed as a lower end line by Selmer, especially towards the
late 1960's, but this first Futurama was definitely upscale.
It is often forgotten that Britain had an embargo on American goods at
the time, which was not lifted until 1959. Therefore, it was impossible
to buy a Fender guitar in Britain, and the Futurama was the closest thing
to a Stratocaster that could be bought. With it, Selmer had the next best
thing. Many influential guitarists owned one, including Gerry Marsden of
Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the young Jimmy Page. But the most famous
Futurama owner was, of course, George Harrison. George used his Futurama
extensively during the Beatles' early career. It was his main instrument
during the group's sojourn in Hamburg and can be heard on "My Bonnie"
and other early Beatles recordings.
Of course, once the embargo was lifted and American instruments became
available, most British rock stars immediately forgot about their Futuramas.
Hank Marvin of the Shadows was soon seen with a special-ordered red Fender
Stratocaster, possibly the first one in Britain, and after that everybody
had to have one. Suddenly, the Futurama wasn't so futuristic anymore. As
the quest for increased stage volume started to gather momentum in the mid
1960's, the Grazioso/Futurama would no longer cut it. The guitar's pickups
were not very powerful, measuring only about 3.3K. According to Grazioso
collector and historian Dusan Palka, this was actually done on purpose at
the factory. In those days before Marshall stacks, most people sought a
clean sound without distortion and guitar amps were of much lower wattage.
People would often plug their guitars into phono inputs of small tube amps
made for hi-fi equipment. Especially in communist Czechoslovakia, where
there really weren't any guitar amps on the market, anyway, when this first
electric guitar model came out. One must remember to keep these things in
their proper historical perspective. It would be unfair to demand modern
performance from a vintage instrument, from another time.
Other innovative Resonet models included the improved and much fancier
Art Deco style Arioso lap steel and the Arco upright electric bass. The
Arioso, introduced in 1955, had an interesting pickup with two reverse wound
coils… yes, the Czechs had independently invented the humbucker and did
not even notice! For some strange reason, this innovative pickup was never
developed further and was never again used on other Resonet guitars.
The Arco solidbody upright bass was another futuristic instrument, many
years ahead of Ampeg (which would not introduce the famous "baby bass"
until 1962) and other similar electric uprights. It had a distinctive angular
shape, an adjustable knee rest and a volume control on the back of the instrument,
for easy reach. The Arco was also imported to Britain by Selmer as the Futurama
Bass, priced at 52 guineas. "Set the pace with the Futurama Bass!"
- ran the original ad copy - "Unbelievable, but here's a bass you can
take on a bus, a gigster's dream!"
The Selmer Futurama bass, a.k.a. the Arco (original ad from Melody Maker
magazine c. 1958).
1959 marked the beginning of the end for Resonet. Drevokov got a new director,
a man who did not much care for music. Ruzicka and his team moved to a new
factory in Hradec Kralove. By 1960, the main guitar production gradually
shifted to Hradec Kralove and eventually also to Krnov and Horovice factories,
all three now under CSHN. It is possible to find guitars from this transition
period that don't quite match the specifications. The reason for this is
simple: as the Hradec Kralove factory built the new models, leftover stock
was still being used up at Drevokov in Blatna. The new 1959-60 models from
Hradec Kralove had a rosewood fretboard and the input jack was moved from
the top of the guitar to the bottom edge. The vibrato unit was also slightly
different. This redesigned Grazioso was called the Futurama III in Britain.
A new model was also introduced called the Star I, a much simpler 2-pickup
beginner instrument with a 6-in-line headstock. It had a primitive recessed
vibrato modeled after the Fender Jazzmaster unit and a wooden floating bridge
with small metallic saddles under each string. These guitars were also built
in Hradec Kralove and imported to Britain by Selmer as the Futurama II.
It is interesting to compare the chronology of the original Czech models
and the British Futuramas, trying to keep them all straight. By 1961, the
Futurama III also had a 6-in-line head, and by 1963 it had a different,
smaller pickguard, different pickups with metallic inserts, and a slightly
different overall shape. These later guitars were no longer direct descendants
of the original Grazioso, but rather the various Star series models, very
much down-market and a far cry from the first Grazioso/Futurama. Very soon
it became obvious that these guitars could not compete with the latest British
and continental models, not to mention the newly available Fenders, Gibsons,
Gretsches and Rickenbackers imported from the USA. Quite a few of these
guitars were sold due to their low price (at 25 guineas, half the cost of
the original Futurama) but even as beginner instruments, these 1961-1963
Futuramas left a lot to be desired.
Another interesting instrument from this period was the Pedro six-string
bass, also far ahead of its time. It is extremely rare today and remains
elusive. Very few were produced, as most bassists then probably had no idea
what to do with the extra strings.
Guitars continued to be built in Blatna until 1963, after which Drevokov
resumed the production of furniture. A few left-over parts were assembled
into guitars as late as 1964, and those were the last of their kind. Some
collectors conducted an extensive search in Blatna during the late 1980's
for guitars, parts and historical documents, without success. Any remaining
parts had been picked clean long ago, while all the paperwork was long since
moved to storage and lost among the records of some national archive. In
1964, Selmer discontinued the importation of Czech guitars into Britain,
and the Futurama name was applied to an all-new line of guitars built in
Sweden by Hagstrom. "The world's most advanced guitar" was history.
Early 1960's Futurama II.
Some of the earliest models built in Hradec Kralove bore the Neoton label.
At least one of these was the Cutaway I, which, as the name suggests, was
an archtop with a cutaway. Soon, however, a new name was introduced, one
that we collectors of cheesy Eastern European vintage guitars know and love:
Jolana. Jolana guitars were named after Ruzicka's daughter, Jolana Ruzicka,
much like Gottlieb Daimler named his cars after his partner Emil Jellinek's
daughter Mercedes. The first model to bear the new name was the Jolana Marina,
an archtop electric with two pickups and controls mounted into a triangular
metal pod right where a normal archtop would have a pickguard. This guitar,
introduced in 1960 or 1961, was a full-depth hollowbody with a cutaway and
had Gretsch-like cat's eye soundholes. The guitar came in two-tone red/black
sunburst with a silver sparkle headstock overlay and had the same "Brilliant
Deluxe" pickups as found on the Star I solidbody. The neck was bound
and had diamond-shaped pearloid inlays. The Jolana name was a decal on the
upper bout of the body. The equivalent bass version was called the Jolana
Basora. From the very beginning, Jolana guitars would come in pairs. Practically
every Jolana guitar model had a matching bass.
In 1997, there was an exhibit on the history of the Czech guitar in Prague
at the Muzika-97 fair. The collection of Jiri Tutter - probably the largest
collection of vintage Czech guitars in the world today - was on display,
and the list of guitars from the Tutter collection is probably the closest
thing we have to a chronological list of models. According to this list,
the next few models produced in the early 1960's included the Diskant, the
Basso IV and the Big Beat.
The Diskant was an archtop electric, similar to the earlier Marina but with
a more conventional control and pickup layout. It was available in sunburst
and cherry, and did not have the silver sparkle accents. The Basso IV was
the bass equivalent of the Star I (the Futurama II). Introduced in 1960,
this was the first solidbody bass made in Hradec Kralove. It was a simple
instrument featuring 2 pickups, a 4-in-line headstock, and an archtop-style
floating bridge. It is unclear whether this bass was ever imported by Selmer,
as every Basso IV that I have seen is marked Jolana, not Futurama. The extremely
rare Big Beat was an experimental model that had a built-in speaker and
amplifier in a detachable pod, powered by an onboard battery. Reminiscent
of the most bizarre Wandre creations, this oddity was produced very briefly
Late 1960's Jolana Tornado.
1963 was also the year that Jolana introduced its most famous model, the
Tornado. The Tornado was extremely popular in Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union throughout the 1960's and 1970's. It is a large double-cutaway thinline
electric with semi-hollow center block construction. It features a 6-in-line
headstock with the distinctive Jolana shape, a bolt-on neck, a Melita-type
bridge with a flip-up mute attached, and a Bigsby-style vibrato. The unusual
construction of these guitars involves a large pickguard covering extensive
routs in the body. The guitar is stuffed to the gills with electronics -
three single-coil pickups, lots of oversized military-grade wiring and nine
different pushbuttons, knobs and roller switches. A Tornado can produce
a very wide range of sounds, though the controls are rather idiosyncratic. The overall feel
of the guitar is rather clumsy, but given a chance, its little oddities
grow on you.
The Tornado, like most subsequent Jolanas, has one neat little feature:
the bottom strap button screws out and turns into a handy little screwdriver.
Ever needed to adjust pickup height or fiddle with a loose input jack in
the middle of a recording session? With a Jolana, there's no need to run
around looking for tools. The original gig bag for these guitars is also
very unusual. It comes in two pieces; the first piece is a sleeve that fits
over the neck, and then the main second piece zippers over it. It looks
just like a shopping bag a babushka would take to the market, except that
it has a guitar neck sticking out of it!
Like most Jolana models, the Tornado had a matching bass, called the Pampero.
Tornado was also the first Jolana model to feature a standard input jack.
Prior to that, all Jolanas had a DIN-5 plug receptacle. In those days, European
guitarists would need to own both types of cables when they traveled, because
one never knew whether the club sound system would be configured to accept
the DIN-5 or the newer quarter-inch plug.
The strap button unscrews and becomes a handy little screwdriver - an
exclusive Jolana feature!
The late 60's
The late 1960's was arguably Jolana's heyday. Now operating from three
different factories in three different cities - Hradec Kralove, Krnov and
Horovice, all of course under CHSN - Jolana produced several popular and
innovative models. Quality was reasonably high for these inexpensive guitars,
and the brand built up a reputation among Eastern European guitarists second
only to the Germans. In those days, with most Western guitars being both
unavailable and unaffordable, Musima guitars from East Germany were considered
top of the line, but Jolana ran a close second. Untold thousands of Jolana
guitars were exported to the USSR and other Eastern Bloc nations and often
turn up there as used guitars even today.
Besides the Tornado, there were several other thinline models. The Special
and the Rubin were similar to the Tornado except for cosmetics and pickup
variations. The Special was basically a Tornado with a different headstock
shape and slightly different, simplified controls. It only had only one
soundhole on top, a squared-off head, four control knobs (Gibson style)
and a slightly smaller pickguard. From a few feet away, the two guitars
were hard to tell apart. The Rubin, introduced a bit later, in the early
1970's, had replaced both the Tornado and the Special. It had a more conventional
layout with two pickups in trapezoidal metallic surrounds, controls mounted
in a matching metal strip, Telecaster style, plus a 3+3 headstock and a
very cool pickguard made of clear Plexiglas. This model did not have the
vibrato, though apparently one was either available as an option or was
a popular retrofit. Like the Special, it only had one soundhole. One often finds these guitars
trashed and modified, as many had been abused by hard rock groups in the
1980's, when the demand for guitars far outpaced supply and anything a young
punk could find was pressed into service. But a clean early example can
still be a lot of fun, especially for playing the kind of 60's pop music
they were originally designed for.
The respective bass versions were the Studio, the Rubin and the Kolorbas. The Kolorbas,
like the Rubin, was often available in various fun colors such as bright
red and powder blue. The Kolorbas ("Color Bass") models had controls on a metal plate, like the
guitar, and a 4-in-line headstock. The Rubin was an exact bass version of its
namesake guitar, complete with the metal pickup surrounds and clear Plexiglas
guard. It featured a 2+2 head, a slightly
different tailpiece and conventionally mounted controls. The Studio bass
was similar, except for different
pickups and yet another, pointier 4-in-line headstock shape. In c.1972,
the Kolorbas was replaced by the Rubin Bass,
The main difference between the Rubin and the Kolorbas
was the neck. Besides the headstock difference, the Rubin also had a slightly
thicker neck and newer, classic chrome Jolana tuners. The Kolorbas neck
had a better feel, but was saddled with dinky little old-style tuners with
plastic buttons that tended to crack. The Rubin also lacked the gold crown
decal found on the upper horn of the Kolorbas. All three models - the Kolorbas,
the Rubin and the Studio - were otherwise very similar.
Slightly more upscale was the Alexandra. This was Jolana's best thinline
model. It featured a slightly wider body with more traditional, Gibson-style
contours, two pickups, a vibrato, a small archtop-type suspended pickguard,
master volume and tone controls, a pickup selector switch mounted in the
lower horn and a 3+3 headstock. Basically, it was a very conventional ES335-style
guitar with few idiosyncratic features. The Alexandra was also the only
one to be available as a 12-string. The bass version was called the Alexis. Another thinline model made in the mid-1960's was the Graziella. The Graziella
was a two-pickup model with a switch on the lower horn, a crown decal on
the upper horn and a suspended pickguard of white pearloid plastic. Compared to the other Jolana thinlines, the Alexandra and Graziella are fairly rare.
Occasionally, one comes across a Jolana thinline that seems to be a strange
mix of parts. Such guitars have common Jolana features but do not match
the specification of any specific model. This often happens because many
parts were interchangeable and it was easy for a Tornado owner to put an
Alexandra neck on their guitar, or for a Rubin owner to retrofit a Tornado
vibrato onto a Rubin, and so on. Some examples also show up with a non-vibrato
tailpiece and a simpler bridge without the attached mute, when they originally
should have had both the mute and the vibrato. Adding to the confusion is
the fact that this was also done at the factory! Jolana would occasionally
ship batches of "floor sweep" guitars made up of various leftover
parts whenever a model was discontinued.
Changes in a model design and specifications would also be made without
notice. Sometimes, a very minor difference could mean a new model name.
This can be explained by the realities of command economy under communist
rule, when a factory's only goal was to meet the production plan, without
any concession to the laws of supply and demand. The company's management
could easily report having introduced new models if they had to meet the
quota, without actually doing anything but altering some cosmetics and giving
the instrument a new name. In Russia, "Tornado" practically became
a generic name for any hollowbody electric guitar made in Czechoslovakia,
because nobody could be bothered to keep up with these changes.
Jolana's solidbody guitars of the 1960's were mostly part of the Star series,
each new model given a new Roman numeral. The original Star I was introduced
in 1959 as a cheaper alternative to the Grazioso and was exported to Britain
under the Futurama brand, as mentioned above. Several subsequent Futurama
models were also re-branded Jolana Stars. The early Stars were very simple
instruments, but starting with the Star VII, these guitars began to acquire
fanciful colors and shapes. The guitars were now available in dark metallic
blue, greenburst and silver. Hardware remained primitive, but cosmetics
were fun. The last of the line were the Star IX and the Star X, both introduced
circa 1968. The Star IX reintroduced the unusual quadrilateral body shape
of the old Arco stand-up bass, now as a guitar. In Russia, this model was
nicknamed "The Screwdriver" because of its shape, which resembles
a more equal-sided, squared-off Vox Phantom. The Star X had a very futuristic
"Jetsons"-like double cutaway body and a built-in fuzztone effect.
Most of these models also had bass equivalents, many simply called Basso
or Star Bass.
The Alfa was another solidbody electric from 1965 with some unusual cosmetics.
The headstock, the general body shape and the hardware are all typical of
the various mid 1960's Jolana Star series models, but the three piece pickguard
is straight out of the Burns design book, and the decorative stripes are
pure Hofner. Decorative stripes? Look closer, and you'll find that these
are actually two banks of switches! Another, fairly uncommon model was the Hurricane, which was basically a solidbody version of the Tornado, with the same exact wiring and controls. The bass version was called the Typhoon.
While not as popular as the thinline models, Jolana solidbodies of the 1960's
were still very well received at the time. Not because they were anything
special, but because the demand for guitars was great and nothing better
was available. Unlike in the West, the Eastern guitar boom continued into
the early 1970's. These guitars sold in large numbers and remain fairly
common in Europe and Russia. The Star IX and Star X are the exception; these
are rare and very collectible today. The Star IX is easier to find, but everybody loves its crazy shape and it is therefore seldom offered for sale. The Star X is the rarest one, because this model was never exported.
Late 1970's Jolana Diamant. This is the first version with the "Gibson"
In 1968, Gibson reissued the Les Paul guitar, which had been out of production
since the early 1960's. This was noted by Shiro Arai of Aria and subsequently
by several other Japanese companies, who started producing their own "reissues"
of classic American designs. The copy era had begun.
By the early 1970's, Eastern European guitar companies also began to build
copy guitars. Copies were never made in the Soviet Union, where they didn't
even build any electric guitars at all until the early 1970's. Soviet guitars
were all original designs - and suffered for it - right up to the end. The
Czechs, however, kept up with the times. In the 1950's, they took an American
guitar, the Fender Stratocaster, and re-designed it. In the 1970's, they
merely copied. Innovation, it seemed, was a thing of the past. In 1972 and
1973, Jolana introduced several models that were clearly copies of Gibson,
Fender and Rickenbacker.
The biggest hit from Jolana's copy era was the Diamant, the first communist
"Gibson". Built in Horovice, this was a direct copy of the Les
Paul Custom. The Jolana "Les Paul" had a bolt-on 22-fret neck
with a 628mm scale, plus other typical Jolana features such as an aluminum
nut, a zero fret, the ubiquitous four-way rotary switch and the bottom strap
pin that unscrewed into a handy little screwdriver. The pickguard was permanently
screwed to the body, instead of being suspended over it on a bracket. Other
than these minor details, the Diamant was a fairly close copy of the Les
Paul, right down to the celluloid binding, pearloid block inlays and "open-book"
headstock. Most Diamants were black with white binding and therefore reflected
the "Black Beauty" vibe quite nicely. The top was moderately arched
and had the standard Gibson configuration of two humbuckers, four control
knobs, a tune-o-matic bridge and a stop-tail. The feel of the instrument
was also very Gibson-like, solid and substantial. The letdown was in the
wood. The body was made of alder capped with a beech plywood top, a far
cry from the Gibson standard of mahogany and maple. Needless to say, the
sound suffered in comparison.
The guitar came equipped with a pair of "Spektrum" humbuckers.
The big chromed rotary switch had three marked positions, "1"
for the neck pickup, "2" engaging both pickups, and "3"
for the bridge pickup. Turning the switch away from the three marked positions
shut the guitar off. But in any position, the humbuckers sound more like
underpowered singles, thin and brittle. It is something of a shock to plug
in such a Gibson-ish instrument and get a totally unexpected sound that
is much closer to a slinky thinline warble than a crunchy Les Paul bite.
This model's poor reputation today stems mainly from the Diamant's vilification
by the punks and headbangers of the 1980's, who were disappointed by its
completely un-Gibson-like sound. Despite its businesslike looks, the Diamant
is totally unsuited for hard rock unless the pickups are replaced, and even
then this poor man's Les Paul would lack sustain because of its construction.
Taken on its own merits, however, the Diamant is not a bad guitar. The 3-piece
neck is very comfortable, the oversized Tesla control pots seem to last
forever, and overall this is one instance where Jolana has actually left
its arch rival, Musima, far behind with their Deluxe 25 Les Paul contender.
The Diamant is no match for any Gibson, but it would certainly give any
bolt-neck Asian copy a good run for the money, even today. In the 70's,
when the classic Les Paul design was at the peak of popularity, it was something
of a revelation to many.
The Diamant had remained in production for almost two decades. It remained
in the line-up until the very end (1989) and a very large number of them
was produced. Its official price in the USSR in 1989 was 435 rubles, including
gigbag, strap, cable and a spare set of strings. The cable was coiled like
a telephone wire, which was de rigueur in the 1970's. Like the Model T Ford,
the Diamant was available in any color as long as it was black. As such,
it was the most generic Jolana, but also one of the better models in terms
of overall playability. Occasionally, examples do show up in sunburst and
other colors, but these are pretty rare.
Early examples have a script "Diamant" logo on a Gibson-style
"open book" headstock, as well as a plain neckplate and the rotary
switch. Later models from the 1980's have a thicker block logo, with a big
solid "Jolana" and a small "Diamant I" underneath. These
guitars have a different headstock shape with a center peak instead of a
dip, as well as a regular 3-way switch and a fancier neckplate, also stamped
with the Jolana logo. The Diamant I was in reality the Diamant II, considering
that it was a cosmetic update of an earlier model, but such inconsistencies
in model numbering were common. Of course, there was also a matching Diamant
bass, which was short-scale and looked just like the guitar, except that
it only had two control knobs instead of four.
The Diamant Bass.
The 1970's and 1980's
One of the earliest Jolana copy guitars was the Iris, which was based on
the Fender Telecaster and was produced in Krnov. This guitar had either
one or two slanted single coil pickups, a slightly elongated pickguard and
a single decorative soundhole, like the Tele Thinline. The bridge was the
standard Jolana floating bridge, modified to work on a solidbody, and the
tailpiece had an "ashtray" cover. The pickup switch was a four-way
rotary, also typical of Jolana. The positions were neck, bridge, both and
off. The fretboard was beech, stained to look like rosewood. Everything
else was very Fender-like. The Iris proved to be quite popular and remained
in production well into the 1980's.
There was a matching Iris Bass, also with the soundhole, which was even
more popular than the guitar and served as a basic workhorse instrument
for an entire generation of bands throughout the 1970's and early 1980's.
The Iris was arguably the best solidbody bass available in Eastern Europe
during those years. It is also quite an interesting design concept: this
is what the single-cutaway Telecaster bass might have looked like, had Fender
chosen to really make one in the 1970's, instead of merely reissuing the
early double-cutaway Precision as the Telecaster Bass. Early examples had
pickups with eight pole pieces and a metallic cover over the bridge pickup.
Later models featured blade pickups, same as those found on the guitar,
and dispensed with the cover, which was, granted, quite useless.
The Jolana Galaxis of the late 1970's took after the Fender Stratocaster.
This model copied the basic Strat outline, but wreaked havoc with the hardware
and electronics. The vibrato tailpiece, recessed into the body, was the
same primitive Japanese Jazzmaster copy found on the early 1960's Star I,
while the bridge was the standard Jolana floating type. The guitar came
equipped with two oversized double-blade humbuckers called the "Sapphir",
each with its own volume and tone controls. The 6-in-line headstock had
a "towel bar" string retainer, as also found on the Star I and
some early Japanese guitars. The bass version had the exact same pickups
as the guitar, while the bridge, the tailpiece and the "ashtray"
cover were the same as those on the Iris bass.
Another similar model was the Disco, which was a copy of the Gibson RD.
Other than the body shape, it was exactly the same as the Galaxis, with
the exact same pickups and hardware. Very cheesy. The Galaxis and the Disco
were probably Jolana's nadir, as these models showed no design innovation
whatsoever and featured decades-old technology. Construction quality also
suffered during the early to mid-1980's, right at the time when it was becoming
easier to buy a used Western guitar behind the Iron Curtain. It is very
difficult to find anything in those guitars that has any link, however tenuous,
to the original Grazioso, which was as fresh and innovative in its day as
these Jolanas were stale and dated.
Other models available included the Vikomt, the Jantar, the Proxima (another
stratozoid) and the Onyx (styled after a Gibson Sonex, of all things). In
the mid-1980's, the last new models were introduced, including a more exact
approximation of the Stratocaster (actually called the "Jolana Strat"
on the headstock, trademarks be damned!), and the D-bass, which was modeled
after a Rickenbacker. These were worthy replacements for the Galaxis and
the Disco, especially the D-bass, which was well-balanced and overall, a
good quality instrument. The most luxurious, modern Jolana bass was the
Superstar, introduced late in the decade and modeled after the Peavey T-40.
But the handwriting was already on the wall. Jolana guitars could not compete
on the open market and the brand would not survive the fall of communism
in 1989. The last Jolana model was the Syrix in 1992. These were built in
cooperation with Kramer, using some Kramer parts.
Early 1970's Jolana Iris Bass.
Common Jolana features
The most interesting and innovative feature found on Jolana guitars is
the strap button that unscrews to become a little screwdriver, as described
above. As far as I know, this is an exclusive Jolana feature that no other
brands have. It is always fun to demonstrate to someone who has never seen
it before. Another common Jolana feature is the combination of aluminum
nut and zero fret. The nut has two small stalks on the bottom that fit into
grooves on the neck.
A neat touch is the Art-Deco style tuners with distinctive grooved buttons.
These are heavy, with chrome over solid brass. The early models are open-gear,
later ones are enclosed with stamped metal covers. Some of the covers are
plain; others have the letter "J" stamped on them. The Art Deco
grooved buttons, however, have remained the same throughout the company's
history. While no match for modern sealed tuners, these were by far the
best tuners on the Eastern European market at the time, far better than
anything found on Musima, Orpheus or the various Russian guitars.
Practically all two-pickup Jolanas feature a four-way rotary switch with
a chicken-head knob. The positions are neck, bridge, both and off. This
"varitone" with the stand-by mode is a very common Jolana feature.
Models with more than two pickups usually have pushbutton switches for turning
each pickup on and off individually. While somewhat cheesy, this allows
for every possible combination and a wide variety of sounds. Jolana pickups
were never anything special, but the wiring and electronics are always solid
and extremely well-made. The Tesla potentiometers, found inside every Jolana,
almost never wear out. These guitars were built to last, even when construction
quality suffered. The wiring of those models that have multiple switches,
built-in effects or other extra components can be fascinating in its precision,
complexity and heavy-duty overkill.
Jolana bridges are also atypical. Most of them are of the floating type,
even on the solidbodies. The top part is clearly based on the Gibson Tune-O-Matic
bridge, with its individually adjustable saddles. However, instead of the
little thumbwheels that adjust height by pushing the two bridge sections
apart, Jolana bridges have oversized threaded shafts that work like a clamp,
pushing against the top of the guitar. Another unique feature is the Jolana
non-vibrato tailpiece, which has six individual stalks (four on the basses)
for each string. There is no top cross-bar. While this does not serve any
practical purpose, it is a very distinctive design that's unique to Jolana.
Some 1970's models feature a more typical trapeze tailpiece with the letter
"J" on it, but these are not as much fun visually.
Dating Jolana guitars
Most Jolana guitars do have a serial number, usually pressed into the wood.
However, there is no way to accurately use these numbers in dating a guitar.
Even if any records were kept at the time, none survive today. The numbers
themselves are random and do not have any consistency. For example, an early
Tornado can have a four-digit number that's actually higher than the number
on a much later Iris, and the difference can be measured in only hundreds,
despite a decade-long gap between the manufacture of the two instruments
and presumably tens of thousands of guitars produced in between.
It is possible to narrow down a guitar's age by comparing the number to
the numbers of other instruments with known years of manufacture. If the
serial number is more than four digits, it is also indicative of later manufacture.
It also helps a little to know where the number itself is stamped. Most
1960's models were stamped on the back of the headstock, while on most 1970's
and 1980's guitars, the serial number can be found on the back of the neck
at the bottom, right above the neckplate. However, there are many exceptions,
as nothing with these guitars was ever fully consistent.
Other clues would be script versus block logos and plain neckplates versus
neckplates stamped with the Jolana logo. The latter features are found on
later models. Otherwise, it is necessary to simply learn the chronology
of various models and their features. There is no sure-fire way to date
The Jolana logo, as seen through the soundhole of the Iris Bass.
Occasionally, an even more obscure oddity would show up alongside the better
known Resonet and Jolana models. AXA, Lignatone and Broyer guitars are instruments
that do not fit into the general timeline.
The AXA, appearing briefly in 1962, was nothing but a converted Cremona
acoustic fitted with an electric pickup. Cremona, in Luby, was the largest
producer of acoustic guitars in Czechoslovakia. It is unclear where these
electrified Cremonas were made, but one source mentions the maker being
sued by Cremona.
The Lignatone brand appears on cheap acoustics and electrics of similarly
obscure origin. The one Lignatone acoustic guitar I have seen, a late 1960's
model, was an unplayable student-grade plywood horror from the absolute
bottom of the barrel. Lignatone electrics are much rarer, but just as cheesy.
The Broyer was a line of fine archtops from the early days, before the communist
takeover. Nothing is known about these guitars, except that they were made
by a small company better known for their violins. That part of Europe has
always had plenty of violin makers, some of whom would periodically branch
out into producing mandolins, banjos and guitars. If a totally obscure and
off-the-wall, but good quality archtop shows up from Eastern Europe, it
was probably built by one of these numerous small string instrument manufacturers
from Bohemia and Sudetenland.
After the fall
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the national CHSN company
fell apart. Its various, formerly state owned factories have either regained
their original identities as smaller private companies, or stopped producing
guitars altogether. This was the end of Jolana. The Cremona Luby factory
was re-established as a private company, now called Strunal. They still
produce inexpensive, low to mid-quality acoustic guitars, as they have done
The Horovice factory re-emerged under its original name, Delicia, and continues
its tradition of string instrument making that dates back to 1920. In the
early 1990's, they struggled on for a while under a deal with Kramer. At
the time Kramer was courting Russia and Eastern Europe with such instruments
as the Gorky Park signature model, but they were having problems of their
own and would soon be as extinct as Jolana. Later, Delicia had produced
a line of Epiphone guitars for Gibson that were available exclusively on
the European market. Today, they build world-class electric guitars and
basses under their own brand. They also continue to produce accordions,
which has been their main product all along. In fact, under communist rule
the factory was known as "Zavod Harmonika Horovice", with the
emphasis on "Harmonika", but these days the company is simply
A new company emerged called Furch (pronounced "Foorkh") in Velke
Nemcice, near Brno. Frantisek Furch started out as an underground luthier,
building guitars for fellow musicians during the 1980's, when private enterprise
was outlawed and skilled craftsmanship was sorely lacking. Furch developed
an excellent reputation by word of mouth and his instruments were in great
demand among Czechoslovakia's top guitarists. Today, Furch is a small independent
company that builds quality high-end acoustic guitars. Furch guitars feature
an innovative bracing system developed by the company and are one of the
best values in Europe today.
As far as vintage guitars go, the Czech Republic is no different today than
the rest of Europe. Gibsons and Fenders bring a premium, while an old Diamant
or Tornado would most likely bring a nostalgic smile.
An interesting and unexpected development came in late 2003, as Delicia
reintroduced the classic Jolana brand to the European market. The new Jolana
guitars are a world apart from the old communist-era models. While a Tornado
is still a hollowbody thinline and a Diamant is still shaped like a Les
Paul, these are high-quality modern instruments, not the ugly ducklings
of yore. These short-lived "reissue" Jolanas were discontinued
Czech guitars are not commonly found in the USA, though occasionally one
comes across an old Jolana on eBay or elsewhere. Well, now if you see one,
you'll know where it came from.
Sources, links, acknowledgements and special thanks:
Ward Meeker, Dusan Palka, Steve
Russell, Studio 1525, Cheesyguitars.com,
© 2003 - 2008 JunkGuitars.com. All rights reserved. This article originally
appeared in the November 2005 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine.