Anna Lancaster- Portland, OR
F-70 - LIMITED NUMBER MADE
(YOUR NAME HERE)
F-75 - LIMITED NUMBER MADE
(YOUR NAME HERE)
HISTORY AND FACTS
CONN ACOUSTIC GUITARS--A BRIEF HISTORY
Conn acoustic guitars were made between 1971 and 1978. After MacMillan & Co bought the G. C. Conn Company in 1969 Conn's corporate offices were moved from Elkhart, Indiana to Oakbrook, Illinois, where administrative operations for the guitar line were set up in late 1970. The first employee of the official Conn Guitar division was Jerry Ackley. Jerry, who was a guitar player himself, was hired in August of 1970 and was tasked with building the Conn guitar business--with an emphasis on building upon the relationship that Conn already had with schools, in the brass and woodwind market, to enter the booming guitar market. No guitars were actually made in Oakbrook. Instead they were built to Conn's design standards by contract manufacturers in Japan. Mr. Ackley was responsible for helping design the first models, and setting up contracts, and overseeing production. He chose an established factory in Hamamatsu, Japan (about an hour from Tokyo), Tokai-Gakki to build the first Conn guitars. Tokai already had their own line of instruments--known mostly for their classical instruments. All initial production guitars were made there until at least 1972--and probably afterward as well. Concurrently with setting up production, Mr. Ackley also wrote a book for school instruction called "The Conn Method". This blue-vinyl binder with its comprehensive teaching method was written to bridge the only real gap that existed in the school market by providing a comprehensive teaching method for music teachers--most of whom were only knowledgeable of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. Mr. Ackley left the company in 1972. But during his tenure with Conn, several guitar manufacturers including the famed Matsumoku and Aria factories sent prototypes to Mr. Ackley, in an effort to show their wares for the purpose of gaining some of the Conn business. Several of the prototypes were given to associates, and some ended up in the hands of family members, budding musicians, or even professional musicians, and many are still around--and may not even match any of the current catalog data. It was a time of competitiveness in the guitar industry, and manufacturers raced to make their capabilities known and to gain market share in the booming guitar business. Conn was seen as a lucrative customer, given their their huge distribution network, their reputation, and their long-established relationships.
After 1972, Aria factories (who also produced Yamaha guitars under contract to Yamaha) may have succeeded in gaining some of the Conn business, and may have made several models under contract to Conn (Conn branded). Some sources state that Matsumoku built almost all Conn acoustic guitars after 1972--but this is unsubstantiated. There are few records that exist about Conn's history before 1981 because, according to the Conn-Selmer company, all records of that era 'were destroyed'. Any and all remaining information, including catalogs and brochures about the former company are in the hands of private individuals. Research into 9-year Conn guitar history is somewhat inhibited by these facts, and information becomes increasingly difficult to obtain as former employees of that era are aging, and others are either no longer alive, or may not remember. Additional information may be included in various books that are for sale in the open market.
MADE IN KOREA
In the mid 70's it appears that Conn explored manufacturing in Korea--perhaps to lower their costs as Japanese-made instruments gained a deserved reputation as some of the most well-made and desired instruments to own--and costs likely increased and probably drove Conn--just like other importers from the USA--to seek other sources. Korea had been making guitars for export since at least the early to mid-60's, but the country had a stigma attached--brought about largely by their massive export of cheaply-made, almost toy-like instruments. This was in spite of their impressive guitar-manufacturing capability which coulld turn out quality instruments as well as the cheaper ones. Conn apparently did utilize Korean companies to make some of their instruments, using both some unique model numbers, and some models that were already in their existing lineup. For example, the basic Conn lineup did not include a model C-8, yet that model can be found with the Conn logo and labelling--exactly like the Japan-made guitars, but with "Made in Korea" instead of "Made in Japan". It is also a fact that at least the F-2712--which was an established higher-end guitar made in Japan, was also made in Korea--at least for a short time. The public's negative perception of Korean-made guitars may have diminished interest in the Conn line. Though they do exist, it is somewhat more rare to find Conn-branded instruments that carry a "Made in Korea" label. These Korean-made guitars were never advertised in Conn catalogs. It is likely that Conn wanted to maintain the Korean relationship, because the prices were lucrative, but pasting "Korea" on an instrument that carried the brand of a reputable company like Conn may have hurt their sales.
DRIFTER - CONTINENTAL BRANDS
So Japan manufacturing continued, and Conn continued the Korean connection by marketing the Korean made guitars under the Continental, and Drifter brands. The Continental brand existed some years prior to the Conn version, but was not related. The Continental and Drifter contracting activity was not managed by the Oakbrook IL facility but was managed instead by the Conn Organ division, located in another Chicago suburb--Downers Grove. Some of these guitars displayed the Conn logo on the headstock. Later ones had a variety of headstock labelling including "Continental by Conn", etc. Most of the labels used for Continental were the familiar gold or silver foil labels similar to those used on Conn brand guitars--sometimes carrying the Conn brand name in addition to the Continental name, and the "Oakbrook, Illinois" printing.. The Continental brand name existed after the demise of the Conn guitar business--but again was not related to Conn The Drifter line continued on into the early 80's using their own unique paper label--oval in shape (similar to the oval Conn labels of 1978/79). Continental and Drifter brands are not the subject of this site and therefore will not be discussed further.
Conn acoustic guitar manufacturing was discontinued after the 1978 model year, and Conn electric guitars
were introduced in 1979 but were only made and sold for a short time. Catalog info for electrics is only available for 1980, and that may in fact be the only year they were made, distributed, and sold.
Like most guitar makers, Conn had their own unique patented acoustic headstock
. Mr. Ackley, mentioned above, devised the first design that was used from 1971 through 1977. The only notable difference between some models was the Conn rosette emblem below the CONN name on the some headstocks, while not present on others. It has been undetermined if there is some specific reason why certain models have the rosette and others do not. See these pictures of Conn's acoustic headstock design without rosette
, and with rosette
. In 1978, the entire lineup of Conn acoustics was re-designed--including the new headstock design and logo
RARE CONN GUITARS THAT DON'T FIT THE NORMAL MODEL SCHEME
It has been stated by unconfirmed sources that Conn occasionally did some market testing by distributing limited runs of new models that never made it into full-blown production, and never made it into their catalogs (in Japan and other countries). Factual data to support that claim has been provided by former employees Jerry Ackley and Fred Evans. One such guitar is the F-60 model--of which one is owned by Ron McCormick
. Only 100 or less of the F-60's were built according to Jerry Ackley. Unlike other Conns, the F-60's were built by the Harptone Guitar shop of Newark, New Jersey, under the ownership of Sonny Burke (later owned by Sam Koontz) and was one of only four steel-string Conn guitar models to feature all solid woods
. Another model, the F-65, was also built there, and thus far only a few are known to still exist--one owned by Anna Lancaster of Portland, Oregon. Another was owned by Fred Evans--a former Conn employee in the Nevada warehouse. Tragically, that guitar was destroyed in an automobile accident in 1976. Other models made by Harptone for Conn were the F-70 and F-75. The F-60 and F-65 had spruce tops, and solid maple backs and sides. The F-70 and F-75 had solid spruce tops and solid rosewood sides and backs. Again, for each of these four models only 100 of each were built.
CONN GUITAR LABELLING
Jerry Ackley devised the first labelling scheme for Conn. And for the first 3 years of production, that original labelling scheme was consistently followed. Mr. Ackley's labelling methodology went like this: Every Conn classical model carried a gold label, and every steel string model carried a silver label. Serialization for these first guitars was actually devised by the Tokai Gakki factory in Japan, and followed a specific type of pattern that is described below, See further explanation below in the serial number discussion (bold print: "The serial numbers of 1971-1977..."). See also departures from the explained schemes--specific to the F-2712 Model--below.
LEGIBLE OR NOT
Every Conn acoustic guitar made from 1971 through 1977bore an adhesive-backed gold or silver label (either very thin foil or thicker aluminum plate laminated to a thin plastic film backing material) mounted to the inside back--visible inside the soundhole. Higher-end Conns that have inside graft strips (2-piece and 3-piece backs) have a heavier label of thicker aluminum--more like the thickness of a credit card or hotel key card, while all other models have a label similar to foil. All 1971 thru 1977 Japan-made guitars have these labels, on which model numbers and serial numbers appear to have been hand written with a ball-point pen--and which most are legible. However, Conn labels are found both very neatly written, or barely legible, and anything in between! This legibility issue stands to reason--try writing with a ball point pen on a piece of aluminum foil. Also, workers who wrote the information were likely unaccustomed to writing English characters. Another problem with model identification: many of the labels on Conn guitars have fallen off over the years, likely due to use of inferior adhesives--making it difficult to identify some models (model identification is still possible in some cases however using the STATS sheet--scroll down). The labels were made of a two-part laminate; a front part that is very thin gold or silver foil, and a backing that is some kind of adhesive-backed thin white thin plastic film. The front foil also seems to commonly separate from the white backing on the foil-type Conn labels. As mentioned, the labelling followed a consistent method for the first three years; gold labels were initially used only on the classical models, and silver labels were used on steel-string models. Evidence of a deviation from this original practice is seen in the variety of silver or gold labels used in later models (mid-1974 and beyond).
A couple of owners have sent pictures of Conn guitars that bear a red paper label--not unlike the ones found on the much-sought-after and collectible Yamaha Nipppon Gakki "Red Label" guitars of the late 60's and early 70's. On the red label Conns the numbers are not hand written but are instead stamped or machine-printed. See more on this below under the subtitle "1978".
The labels on the 1971-1977 Conn guitars divulge both where they were made, revealing "Oak Brook, Illinois, Made in Japan", or "Made in Korea" (very few in Korea), and what year they were made. The 'Oakbrook/Japan' label indicates that the procurement and distribution centers were based in Oakbrook, but that the guitar was made in Japan or Korea. Guitars made in Japan during the 1970's were generally very well made due to the Japanese industry's ever-growing emphasis on defect prevention, consistency in quality and continuous improvement during that time period. A few owners are in possession of known models that carry a "Made In Korea" label. See above -- "A Brief History" for more on this.
The serial numbers of 1971-1977 Conn guitars all consisted of 8 digits--with exception of the limited series of USA-made guitars (made by Harptone). Simple and clean, the Conn F-60, F-65, F-70 carried a 4-digit sequential serial number beginning with 0. I have seen 0204 and 0205 on current owners' guitars posted on this site. Since only about 100 were made (according to Jerry), I have concluded that they serialization started at 0200 and went to 0299. I have no reliable information on this, and Jerry doesn't remember the sequence.
As mentioned, 1971 through part of 1974, Conn guitars carried the year of manufacture as the first and second digits, and the month
of manufacture as the third and fourth digits. A couple of examples are shown here, that show the adherence to Mr. Ackley's color scheme, based on their model numbers. One owner, Charlie Evans, owns a model C-10 (purchased new by his father--photo not shown) which has serial number 71080304--indicating August 1971 manufacture, and the label is gold. To the right, a model F-10 guitar owned by Rev. Christopher Scrivens carries a silver label, and serial number 72032020...indicating manufacture in 1972, and the month manufactured was March.
Still another example below shows a gold foil label on a C-10 guitar made in February of 1974.
Beginning some time in 1974, Conn made a change in the serialization structure. Coincidentally it appears that little to no guitars produced after 1974 had silver foil labels. It appears that about that time, Conn may have switched exclusively to gold foil labels. The serialization occurred, going forward, but it appears that they may have had some silver foil labels "left over" when they began using the gold ones. Some Conn Acoustics still have silver labels as late as 1976--indicating that the gold were probably "phased in" once the silver labels were depleted. Unfortunately, reliable history on this aspect of the labelling is not available at this time. The only evidence that bears out the above information is that which has been accumulated from Conn owners.
As seen in the third picture below right, the serialization change involved the use of the first two digits to indicate the week of manufacture (01 thru 52), and the 3rd and 4th digits as the
year. In the example, 40770052 reveals that the guitar was made in the 40th week
of 1977. The 0052 is thought to be the 52nd guitar made, but this is still being verified. This photo is from my own Conn F-15. As you can see, it is loosely secured, and coming off--as is characteristic of many Conn acoustic guitar labels.
Lyon & Healy first established the same type of serial numbering used by Conn in the late 19th century, and many manufacturers, including Japanese and Korean, adopted similar serial number schemes. Many, including Fender, Washburn, Takamine, Godin, and others still use this type of date-embedded serializing system today.
DEPARTURES FROM THE EXPLAINED SERIALIZATION
There have been several labels presented by Conn owners that seem to deviate from the above explanation for post 1974 serialization. Ironically, and although this is not understood, the deviation or departure seems to be unique to the F-2712 series. Three separate owners of a model F-2712 had labels that appeared to begin with an 8. In one or two cases, high-resolution close-up photos of these labels were studied and found to be other numbers. For example, on label thought initially to be 87760561, and later found to be 51760561. In another case, a serial number that appeared to be 87760197 was determined to be 27760197. In another case, and owner submitted a rather unfocused photo that appeared to clearly be a 87750051, and that one (with the typical dark line at the lower left of the upper circle of the '8' could not be discerned from an actual number 8. It is odd how only the F-2712 models have displayed this bad numbering, but at the same time, it is conceivable that an individual who was writing labels for a period of time had some difficulty with writing fully-legible characters. It would be no different than you or I trying to reconstruct Japanese characters without proper and thorough training. I spent some time in China, and took a year of Mandarin in college when I returned. I can relate first-hand to how difficult writing the proper character can be without instruction and without much practice. This issue remains one that I have spent countless hours studying, and have decided to abandon--given that I cannot speak firsthand to the individual who wrote these numbers, and thus am only able to speculate on this seeming departure from the normal serialization scheme. I have provided a visual rationale here
(<< click) but beyond this I have no plausible information.
It appears that a new serialization system was put in place some time in 1978--coinciding with
the redesigned headstock and what appeared initially to be a re-energized and revitalized effort to capture business. This effort was cut short by the decision to disassemble the acoustic guitar business after the 1978 model year. The serialization system for at least part of the 1978 models departed from the common prior system and no information is available at this time about the structure or meaning of the serial numbers for that model year. The label for 1978 models departed from the notorious "it fell off" label to a more reliable paper label that seems to stay on. An example is shown at right. Serialization etc. changed, and many model numbers changed.
Additional information on post 1977 labelling:
Some time after the 1978, some Conn acoustic electric guitars that were similar in construction to Ovation (a composite back) appeared, and had a red paper label--not unlike Yamaha's notorious Nippon-Gakki red label FG models
that were used in the same time period (1970's).
The Conn red labels that have been seen contain similar information as the gold and silver foil labels, but instead of having model and serial numbers hand-written, the red labels were apparently applied with an ink stamp or machine, making them much more legible and less-susceptible to "mistaken identity" than prior labelling. Little is known about these "mystery" Conn guitars, but Thanks to Mel Davis
of Parlin, NJ for providing photos and information that identified this later guitar and labelling.
Public domain, Chrstopher Scrivens, Mel Davis (Red Label), William Coleman, Rick Duley, Don Hebert, Ray Schreiner (1978 Label)