What is Supro?

Supro is a full-line MI manufacturer of electric guitars, tube amplifiers, pedals and accessories with a history dating back to the dawn of the electric age.

When and how did Supro begin?

Supro is truly one of the oldest American electric guitar and amplifier brands. The story of how the brand came into existence back in 1935 is told most eloquently in this excerpt from the February 2017 issue of Music Trades Magazine:

“The Supro story traces back to Los Angeles in the early 1920s. Big bands were in vogue, and George Beauchamp, a local guitarist, was tired of getting drowned out by the horn section. In frustration, he began discussing the need for a louder guitar with John Dopyera, a Czech immigrant who ran an instrument repair shop. Dopyera was sufficiently intrigued that he began trying to find a solution. Inspired by the resonator head of a banjo, he inserted a spun metal cone inside an acoustic guitar and attached it to the bridge, creating the first resonator guitar. There was enough interest in the prototypes that in 1925, he partnered with Beauchamp to launch the National Stringed Instrument Company. Demand for the new resonator guitars was brisk, but Beauchamp began experimenting with using electricity to make guitars even louder. His tinkering sparked a heated debate that upended the company. Dopyera argued that electrified guitars were ridiculous and that Beauchamp’s experiments were a waste of corporate assets. Beauchamp countered that an electro-magnetic guitar pickup had unlimited potential. The arguments escalated until 1927, when Dopyera stormed out, taking his four brothers with him to launch the competing Dobro Company. Dobro and National filed suits and counter suits, sapping the resources of both companies. In 1931, a frustrated Beauchamp quit National and enlisted Adolph Rickenbacker to build his new “electric guitar.” In 1935, using Beauchamp’s patented pickup, Rickenbacker introduced what many say was the first commercially available electric guitar, a lap steel dubbed “The Frying Pan.” National and Dobro both fell on hard times during the Depression, and to avoid bankruptcy, the Dopyeras merged the companies, creating National Dobro. In 1935, Louis Dopyera, along with employees Vic Smith and Al Frost, took control of the business, renaming it Valco Manufacturing. Like Beauchamp, their goal was to harness the hot new technology of the day—electricity—to redefine the guitar. Products bearing Valco’s inhouse flagship “Supro” brand name— and its distinctive lightning bolt logo—appear at this crossroads, as early as 1935.”

Read the full article here:

Who is Supro? (Who are the people behind the brand?)

Supro was revived in 2014 by David Koltai and Brian Bethke of Absara Audio. Known for their award-winning Pigtronix pedals such as the Philosopher’s Tone and Infinity Looper, Absara Audio partnered with former Fender amp design guru, Bruce Zinky, to recreate the Supro tube amplifiers that were originally made in Chicago during the guitar boom from the mid-50s up through the late 1960s. Absara Audio has experienced significant grown since the re-launch of Supro at the 2014 Winter NAMM show, now employing 25 people, operating out of a 15,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Port Jefferson, NY. From the amp and pedal builders to the salesmen and customer support team, nearly everyone working at Supro is a musician in some capacity, including the founding partners.

How did you get started building guitars?

By 2017, Supro tube amps were selling through music stores all over the world and had started appearing on stages with Aerosmith, Guns N Roses, The Cure, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Simon and many others. At this point, Absara Audio unveiled an ambitious line up of solidbody, set-neck guitars developed in collaboration with California-based luthier Glenn Sweetwood, pickup expert Ken Calvet and famed hardware designer, Trev Wilkinson. The new Supro guitar models incorporate design cues drawn from historic body shapes, vintage pickup designs and the wealth of Art Deco-inspired aesthetic elements found in the original instruments.

What inspired you to begin and what inspires you continue?

Absara Audio founders David Koltai and Brian Bethke began their journey in the musical instrument business in 2004, launching the pedal company known as Pigtronix. At that time, many industry leaders in the realm of guitar effects had abandoned analog design in favor of digital modeling. Pigtronix was inspired by the idea that although we live in a newly digitized world, the future of music could actually be analog! In the early days of Pigtronix, Koltai befriended former Fender amplifier designer Bruce Zinky, becoming industry allies and even sharing a NAMM booth for several years. Ultimately, Pigtronix was able to acquire the Supro trademark from Zinky along with his treasure trove of intellectual property, while simultaneously hiring Zinky to recreate the Supro Thunderbolt, Dual Tone and Coronado amplifiers. Public response to the reissue of Supro amplifiers was nothing short of overwhelming and the subsequent move to full-scale production transformed our company from a small pedal-building operation into one of the largest tube amplifier manufacturers in the USA.

Understanding the legacy of the Supro brand, where it came from and who used the original amps and guitars over the course of the past 85 years, is a forensic exercise that leads down many inspired musical paths. From Jimmy Page’s iconic Supro amp tone on Led Zeppelin I, to the chiming melody of Blind Melon’s hit “No Rain”, Supro has been one of the ultimate “secret weapons” for studio recording. The sounds made by Supro amps and guitars are part of the essence of rock & roll music. Our mandate at Absara Audio is to capture that magic so musicians can plug in a brand new Supro and Discover the Legend for themselves.

How would you describe a Supro guitar to someone new to the brand?

The new Supro guitars are retro-modern works of art that fuse the sound and looks of the 60s with modern construction techniques and select tone woods to create the best instruments ever offered by this historic brand.

What components, designs, techniques etc. make Supro guitars unique? (Physically, what makes a Supro a Supro?)

Supro developed a wide range of unique guitar shapes during the electric guitar boom of the late 1950s into the 1960s. The most iconic models being the student model Ozark played by Jimi Hendrix and Joe Perry, the single-cut Dual Tone played by Link Wray and David Bowie and the double-cut Silverwood played by Jimmy Reed. These three vintage shapes form the basis of our inspiration for the current Supro guitar line. Along with the vintage body shapes and overall styling, we have meticulously re-created the Ralph Keller-designed, over-sized single coil pickups found in the original Supro guitars. Although now mounted in a standard humbucker casing, the pickups used in new Supro guitars contain vintage correct construction including the unique pole pieces, bobbin and magnetized steel baseplate. The look and sound of today’s Supro guitars is spot-on vintage, while the satin neck finish, 12” fretboard radius, updated hardware and ergonomic body contouring help to enhance player comfort and increase playability compared to the Valco-made Supro guitars from the mid 20th century.

What inspires your creative process? (What ideas and/or principals guide your design and construction? Ideologically, what makes a Supro a Supro?)

Supro HQ is an environment that is full of people who are passionate about making music. The vibrant working environment and constantly changing dynamics that result from growing a successful business in the music industry is a constant source of inspiration for all of us.

What is the spirit of Supro?

Rock & Roll.

Where does Supro go from here?

We’re going to play a gig.