This will be the last part in this series (for now!) and our guest this time is the very cool Microfrets guitars from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Reminiscent of some Gretsch and Gibson semi-hollow bodies, these guitars employed building techniques and designs that were way ahead of their time.
The company was founded in 1967 in Frederick Maryland by a Mr. Ralph Jones. His early designs were pretty funky – strange semi hollow and full hollow body shapes with “cosmetically altered” Gretsch/DeArmond DynaSonic pickups. The first model was known as the Orbiter, check it out!
The Orbiter was the first electric guitar ever made to feature a built in wireless FM transmitter. During this time period, FM stations were mostly empty, so it was a great idea!
Another “ahead of its time” feature found on all Microfrets guitars was the officially dubbed “Micro-Nut”. It had single rollers for each string, and the G string roller was offset – to provide perfect intonation. LSR Roller nut anyone?? Buzz Feiten tuning system? Yea right, this is way cooler!
Microfrets guitars also of course, had a vibrato tailpiece, known as the “Calibrato”. It was a Bigsby style tailpiece, but again featured some new innovations – you could individually adjust the string tensions on the tailpiece to keep it perfectly in tune when in use! This would keep the strings in “relative tune”, like the Steinberger Transtrem, only decades prior !
The bridge saddles could also be locked into place for stable intonation. TonePros, i’m looking at you now!
The early bodies were in some ways similar to the Valco manufactured fiberglass guitars, they had a center gasket and two pieces of wood, “sandwiched” together. Later on they got rid of the gasket but kept the sandwich construction techniques. Like below!
In the early 70s, newer models arose – usually dubbed the Style 1, 2, and 3. The funky body shapes gave way to more elegant and familiar designs. The Gretsch/Dearmond pickups were replaced with uniquely designed Bill Lawrence pickups. They looked and sounded similar to P-90s – very clear and clean but high output.
We had a Microfrets Stage 2 guitar here at the store briefly, and it was an incredible guitar! The necks are very slim and fast and the fretboard has a nice loose radius for a curvy feel which added to the vibe and mojo of the guitar. The pickups pretty much handled whatever you threw at them, from Jazz, to Indie Rock, and beyond!
These guitars are becoming more collectible, but generally a fair price for one would be between 800 and 1300 depending on model rarity and condition. Only about 3000 were made so if you find one at a fair price, definitely grab it!