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A point of view from eastern Europe ...

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by KISSbestfan, Jan 23, 2013.

  1. Hello all !

    As I introduced earlier, I came from Poland, where most people keep saying, that during the time of PRL (People Republic of Poland 1956-1989) having an electric (and bass in consequence) guitar was impossible to have. This is the short story, that describes how the guitar world looked like here, in Poland "behind the iron courtain" ...

    Starting off the early 50's was pretty impossible to have an electric guitar or bass, since it was something new. I talked with one very old guitarist, who said that some students of technic schools were able to use special tools and machines, to create some electric and bass guitars. To built them they got some wood, but some of the guitars were made from old wardrobe. There were no problem for guitar strings, but the bass strings were taken from old piano. The pickup was simply a microphone (or two) from the stolen phone. The frets were made from nails, or just taken from acoustic guitar, like other hardware. So, even during the beginnings of electric guitar boom, we had some people, who made their first guitars. Unfortunately, most of them didnt survived till today.

    During late 50's and 60's a luthier Alfred Kopoczek, started to make guitars under the brand ALKO from the first letters of his surname. He was one of the first guitar developers in Poland. Here (31m) you can see the ALKO bass in the background still being played in the 1970's

    Even tough the iron courtain standed strong, there were also musicians, that actually had guitars from the west. For example Janusz Popławski (member of "Niebiesko-Czarni") has been playing his Gibson Les Paul Custom since the mid 60's. Tadeusz Nalepa has had an original Rickenbacker in the 60's as well.

    Defil kept making new guitars, but after "Samba" and "Lotos" there were mostly less similiar to the western ones. The factory began to produce hollowbody guitars, but most people wanted the solid body ones. During the 70's more luthiers started to appear, and more guitars has been imported to Poland - mostly from neighbour countries, but there were also guitars from Japan. Still Defil was the basic instrument manufacturer.

    The guitars from luthiers workshops were mostly always hand made, and contained hardware from existing guitars (Defil, Jolana). I got a hand made maple Jazz bass in my collection - it looked stunning when I bought him. Everyting looked much like original Jazz Bass, except the pickups (from Jolana Pampero - a bass version of popular Jolana Tornado), and a very crappy bridge. For your interest I can include a photo.

    Some people, that didnt had a luthier nearby, but had a motivation, and knew how to use tools, created homemade electric guitars, also using hardware from existing guitars. There were mostly made to look like Stratocaster or Les Paul, when the bass guitars were mostly stylized for Precision or Jazz Bass.
    Customised Defil Lotos, with new neck - Fender Precision scale

    Time went on, and during the 1980's it was pretty easy to have an electric or bass guitar. Most good known musicians had guitars from the Japan, or USA. Defil as a cheapest alternative, was used mostly in Polish punk rock.

    Defil still carried on, and like most eastern Europe brands, started to produce guitars, that looked more like the western ones. When Musima produced Action Bass (Precision Bass lookalike), Jolana produced Proxima Bass (Jazz Bass lookalike), Defil started to produce Aster Bass (Jazz Bass lookalike, but with Precision pickup). There were 2 versions of Aster Bass - the first one had a standart Fender stylised bridge, the second one a tune-o-matic with string through body system. Both versions were equipped in good quality pickup, with adjustable screws. Sadly, that wasn't enough for many people hungry for the west ...

    After the transformation, in the 90's Poland had no official borders, and so the guitars from the west could have been officially imported. There were very expensive, and much people just couldnt afford it. Defil was still the cheapest guitar maker, but approx 94' was the end of bass and electric guitar production (in the 2002 there was the end of factory). The middle prices, were the luthiers guitars - now their prices jumped far away ...

    The 90's were also the times, when most of the Defil's died by slow and painful dead. Mostly people hated every invention from these times, or just were badly customised.

    The new millenium is the era, when you can buy a very cheap chinese bass - prices starts with 300 PLN, which is about 100 dollars. Mostly everyone can afford a guitar now, and there is no problem with purchasing one. Anyway, peoples choices, made the present situation - the guitars with soul, were replaced by a same sounding chinese inventions, that look like american guitars ...

    The last thing that made the Defil a "bad brand" was the Internet. People who had a bad personal feelings with these guitars always hiperlatived them, as "the worst guitars". Mostly it was all about fat necks, and their delicate fingers, and weak hands ...

    Defil still have bad opinion in Poland, but fortunately, prices of the guitars are growing, like the number of satisfied users. Personally I love every Defil, and I wouldnt change them, for any guitar.

    The last word I'd like to say, is that even tough we can buy almost every guitar now, some of them, are still way too expensive. For example, I'm in love with Rickenbacker bass. I really cant afford even a Rick copy, so I decided to make my own Rick. I got the neck, and the wood for the body, and maybe during the summer, Ill start to make it. Anyway, this way of getting the guitar, you always wanted is not very often seen here, most people just dont mind the look and the sounding, only to get the bass that has a good opinion on Polish music forums (and most of them I find just ... ugly).

    SO that would be all from me. A history has turned 180 degrees. When you wanted a bass guitar in the 50's you had to make it, you mostly couldnt buy it. Now you dont have to make it, you can buy loads of them, if you got enough money. I wrote that story, just to show a differences between the west and the east. We actually HAD guitars, and possibilities to create them - the main thing were the people, who wanted just anything from the west.

    I hope you liked it, and hope to hear your thoughts !
  2. Ivan R

    Ivan R

    Jun 8, 2012
    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.
  3. Yes, nice post. Thanks for sharing. I spent time in Slovakia in 2006 and Albania (yes, Albania) in 2011, and am going to spend time in Latvia later this year. I have always found eastern Europe to be very interesting. I would definitely like to get to Poland - been close, but not there.

    All that said - this bass kicks some serious butt anywhere:

  4. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Very cool. I would like to have that Alko. Looks really cool.
  5. j.kernodle


    Nov 23, 2008
    Charleston, SC
    wow. very cool history there. I'd love to see a nail fret guitar.
  6. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis
    Thank you very much for the perspective. Good luck with your Ric build. If you need any measurements or specs, I'm sure many Ric owners here ( myself included) would be more than happy to help.
  7. Teacher


    May 3, 2012
    I know absolutely nothing about this subject, and thank you for posting this! This will only add to the body of knowledge about bass guitars around the world. Thank you and good luck to you!
  8. Teacher


    May 3, 2012
    Chuck3: I agree about that bass! It looks like Rickenbacker (think 4000), Fender, and Gibson had a baby together.

    KISSbestfan: I forgot to add that I'm also a HUGE Kiss fan. Keep on rockin' brother!
  9. DaRQsiDe


    Jan 17, 2008
    Istanbul, Turkey
    Really nice article!!! :-D

    I would think it would have been done, but really, how did guitar spread around the world? What was the pathway (like The Silk Road) did the guitar take through decades to be the most popular instrument on the world?

    Google be my ally!!!
  10. smcd


    Jun 28, 2009
    Boston, MA
    Fascinating thread! Thanks for posting!!
  11. IngerAlb


    May 11, 2007
    Yeah, some Jolana and Musima guitars ended up around these parts as well (Romania).

    I guess it's the same story for most (if not all) eastern EU countries that were under USSR influence: ppl had no access to the products made in the West (since the communist parties that were in command made sure any foreign influence would be censored) so they were forced to "replicate" them with whatever mats they could find. Or buy russian instruments that were built like their tanks: designed to last forever, but crude and ugly as hell and - preferably - way bigger & heavier (weightwise) than the original (especially the amps & cabs - you really don't know what "fridge" means before lugging a "made in USSR" rig) :)
  12. Geroi Asfalta

    Geroi Asfalta

    Aug 23, 2011
    I love eastern European music (DDT, anyone?). I would love to get one of the handmade basses, for awesome factor. I've always found the odd old instruments very cool.

    And now I must make an electric balalaika
  13. wednesdayagain


    Sep 28, 2012
    Very interesting read. :)
  14. odin70


    Dec 26, 2007
    Thank you!
  15. Hi!

    I think it's the same story in the GDR til 1989:
    the few music professionals had american or japanese instruments - for a lot of money.
    They paid 20 or 30 times the price we paid in western Germany for it.

    The GDR guitars and basses were all crap, didn't hold the tune, microphonic pickups, bad playability.
    It was about the standard of the guitars of the 50s from West-Germany, Framus, Hofner etc. it was all crap.
    Try to play one of those today, and you possibly break your fingers.

    But there is one thing in guitars of Poland, CSSR, and Germany of the 50s: the design is fantastic.
    So: to me, no guitars for playing but for hanging them on the wall.

  16. odin70


    Dec 26, 2007
    GDR = DDR = Eastern Germany (1949 - 1990)
  17. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Awesome OP! Loved it! More more more!
  18. Or as some used to say: SBZ = sovjetisch besetzte Zone = russian occupied zone.

  19. A wonderful overview of something I knew nothing about. This is an excellent contribution to the forum. Thank you for writing it up so well.
    The look of the ALKO bass is fantastic.
  20. lomo

    lomo passionate hack Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2006
    Superb, interesting post renews my love for TB!!!