Life as a collector of Electra guitars can be rather bewildering. Life as a collector of a subset of Electra guitars can be rather bewildering. I’m only interested in Matsumoku-built Electras and Westones from the “golden age” of 1976-1985. According to my spreadsheet, I own sixty-seven of them. Sounds like a lot, right? But I’m not close to having one of each. I don’t even have one of each different model, much less one of each model in each color.
I could bore you (further) to death by listing the ones I don’t have. The X910 Explorer clone. The X810 MPC semi-hollow. The Rock Strad. The X635 Special Edition bass. But as of yesterday, I’m one step closer to catching them all. Observe: the XV1RD “Lady”. Rare when it was new, frequently butchered and/or broken in the twenty-nine years since. But this one’s now mine, and I only had to drive three hundred and ten miles to the middle of nowhere to make it happen.
Part of Tom Presley and St. Louis Music’s desire to erase the “clone” image Electra had leaving the Seventies, the Lady was apparently only produced during 1984. Obviously it’s inspired by the Flying V, but it’s restyled for even more glam-rock appeal. Just picking it up makes you want to toss some eyeliner and spandex on before hitting the stage. It’s a close cousin to the reverse Futura, as seen here, played by my friend Mike. Of course, I have both the red reverse Futura and the pearl-white non-reverse Futura:
but it has the eighteen-way switching that’s found on the XV3 Dynasty, X189, and X199/Spectrtum FX models. All three knobs are push-pull. You can run the pickups in any combination, coil-tap the humbuckers, and reverse phase for the Peter Green “quack”. Of course, Fender and Gibson didn’t offer anything like that kind of flexibility at the time. Jimmy Page had most of those options on his stage Les Pauls and he jealously guarded his secrets by hiding the switches under the pickguard. Finally, in 2012, Gibson began offering phase-reverse and coil-tap together from the factory, but they did it by using a horrifying-looking integrated circuit that has no place in a guitar, period, point blank.
In an era where Electra prices are through the roof (one of the X810 MPCs is on eBay for $1,295 right now) it was a relief to find the Lady listed for $150 cash on Craiglist. Unfortunately, it was in West Virginia. This past Sunday, I fired up the Town Car and pointed the nose south through the longest stretch of nothing in particular you can find in the state of Ohio. Just to be safe, I decided to emulate Hunter S. Thompson and bring my attorney with me. Naturally, my attorney is a curvaceous German woman and not a Chicano legal activist, but it didn’t matter because when I got to the seller’s house he was completely cool and the guitar was in better-than-described condition. The bridge is screwed all the way down and the hole for the tremolo arm is broken, but there are plenty of spare parts around to fix that.
The XV1RD’s exposed neck pocket always makes me fear for the playing condition of this model (and the other Electras that use a single-sided neck pocket, like the Dynasty) but the intonation was good and I could bend all the way up the neck. It’s the most ridiculously easy guitar to play you can imagine and the cock-rock body shape has an unexpected benefit: you can play it sitting down. Try that with a “real” Flying V.
I have no illusions about the likelihood of this guitar becoming “classic” or popular any time soon. It will always be a retro treat, to be played and enjoyed with a heavy dose of irony supplements. With that said, if you could only own one guitar and you wanted to be able to play everything from country chicken-pickin to jazz comping, seated or standing, with perfect fretboard access and no weight/bulk issues, this could do it. It’s an eminently practical item, a studio player’s Swiss Army knife dressed up as a one-trick, trick-turning, gimmick guitar. She doesn’t look like a lady, but she is one.