500 Words with Adam P Hunt- Tony Zemaitis
500 Words About Tony Zemaitis
Quick, name a guitar maker that made guitars for George Harrison, Greg Lake, Donovan, Peter Frampton, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Keith Richards and Joe Perry.
Your first guess is wrong.
Throughout the sixties and on through the eighties Tony Zemaitis made guitars for the who of rock n’ roll.
Tony Zemaitis (1935-2002) was a British guitar and cabinetmaker that found fame by making high quality custom acoustic and electric guitars and basses.
Each of Tony’s guitars were unique and were often decorated with engraved duralumium tops made by Danny O’Brien.
The duralumium tops served two functions, the first decorative but secondly they acted like shielding for the guitar’s electronics.
Tony would also go as far as have bridges and tail pieces made out of duralumium partly due to the fact that during the sixties and seventies there weren’t a lot of after market parts that were available.
Speaking about “after market” parts pickup availability in England during the sixties and seventies was minimal and even though Tony preferred using Gibson pickups.
Even though Tony was partial to Gibson humbuckers Tony had pickups wound John Birch, Bill Lawrence, Kent Armstrong, Mighty Mite or whatever he could get his hands on.
Ever forward-looking Tony built a “mule” guitar in 1971 so he could test pickups with his own “power booster circuit and sound enhancer”, an onboard, battery operated pre-amp.
There are several rumors floating around about Tony and the first one was he himself didn’t play guitar. That’s false, while not a professional Tony did fancy playing the acoustic.
The second is that his guitars were not well made. Several years ago I talked to vintage guitar aficionado Phil Winfield at Maverick Music and he said that definitely wasn’t the case.
In fact Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones still tours with his 1971 metal front Zemaitis.
When Ronnie joined the Stones Keith Richards fell in love with the guitars and had several made for him too.
As the seventies turned into the eighties Tony’s guitars found their ways into the hands of younger players like James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Frandon of The Pretenders.
Tony’s guitars were still in demand throughout the nineties and were used by Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi.
Tony kept working up until his retirement in 2000 but sadly he passed away two years later.
After Tony’s death his son, Tony Jr., reached a licensing agreement with Greco in Japan where the high-end versions of Zemaitis guitars are produced today.
It’s safe to say that today that there is more Greco made Zemaitis guitars than ones actually built by Tony. That said, the Greco/Zemaitis guitars aren’t simply low cost knock offs, they are extremely high quality instruments.
There is a link to Zemaitis’ storied past because long time engraver Danny O’Brien still engraves the duraluminum elements for the Greco/Zemaitis guitars.
Few guitar companies can boast as enviable of roster of super star players as Tony Zemaitis, hats of Tony.
Adam P Hunt is a freelance writer who has previously written for The Library Journal and Premier Guitar Magazine. We are so happy to have him join us here at Guitar Radio Show.com.