Fascinating Instruments from Our Collection: Greco/Zemaitis GZ-2100 WF Guitar

In the late ‘60s, and ‘70s, if you were an American guitar player that just got the  “big check”  from the record company, you sober up you go out and buy a ‘Burst right after. A 1958 through 1960 sunburst Les Paul, that is. You were instantly in the cool guy club. Burst’s carried a whopping price tag back then. You could expect to pay about $3,000 for a nice one.

However…
On the other side of the Atlantic, a similar rite of passage was performed.

  1. Big record company check or signing bonus for joining the Stones or Rod Stuart’s band, for example.
  2. Pub
  3. More Pub
  4. Go see Tony Zemaitis and get yourself a custom guitar. If you were lucky, he had one or two built and ready to sell.

As Americans, we just wondered what the heck the Stones or the Small Faces were playing. Or. what is that jumbo acoustic that George Harrison has? If you are a guitarist, you may already be an admirer of Zemaitis guitars. You may have also seen them and have no idea what it is. Back in the ‘70s, info did not travel so fast. In this case, Zemaitis Guitars enjoyed having ‘Burst status in Europe, and having relative obscurity in the states.

Mr. Tony Zemaitis was said to be an extremely nice guy when you got to know him, but could also be as cranky Richard or Sammy Ash if you catch them on the wrong day. He built guitars for the stars, or anyone who had enough money to pay for one. Extremely flashy, the electrics featured engraved metal tops (done by Danny O’Brien, the gun smith down the road), pearl mosaics, and elaborate body inlays. The acoustics were also a sight to be seen, featuring super-duper jumbo bodies with heart-shaped sound holes and smiley face bridges. Many also had abalone or pearl inlays and rosettes.

Notably, the Deluxe Duralumin bridge gave the electrics a unique tone and nearly infinite sustain. It’s ornate and crude all at the same time. Tony made 1,950 guitars before he retired in 1998. It is said that Eric Clapton offered Tony one million dollars to create just one more guitar, and was turned down.

Tony Died in 2000, but thankfully, the legend lives on through Tony’s creations and designs, and production continues through Zemaitis Japan. As I stated above, in Europe and Asia, Zemaitis Guitars are worshiped at ‘Burst status.

The Greco/Zemaitis pictured here is as familiar to Europeans as Kardashian posteriors are to Americans, but is “Obscure du Jour” to most of us outside of the true guitar aficionado. Zemaitis also built what he considered to be a “student” or more affordable model. Enter the wood front—all the quality, vibe, and tone, but with no sea shells or full metal engraved tops. Still a very flashy guitar, it boasts a three-piece flamed maple top and mahogany heart inlays on the body. Also featured are the proprietary Zemaitis deluxe bridge and tail. The wood selected for this guitar is top-notch, too. Beautifully flamed maple as well as mahogany quarried from Honduras (the most highly regarded source). George Harrison sported a wood front quite a bit like this GZ2100, but no two guitars ever left Tony’s shop with identical appointments. On this side of the Atlantic, a truly rare and obscure find.  If you need to be the only guy at the open mic night with something truly special, this is for you. Obscurity does not mean of lower quality. I’d stand this guitar up with the best of them. You can be in the company of the legendary guitarists that don’t have Zemaitis on their obscure list.

Just to name a few devotees:
Ronnie Wood, Keef, Clapton, Harrison, Hendrix, Joe Walsh, Richie Sambora, James Hetfield (a new MIJ version), James Honeyman Scott (Pretenders’ founding guitarist), Ronnie Lane (Faces), Greg Lake (bass version), Gilby Clarke, Joe Perry, Paul McCartney, Rich Robinson (obscure Stones cover band called the Black Crowes), Dave Edmunds (Rockpile), Jim Cregan (Hot legs era Rod Stuart). The list goes on like a who’s who of British guitar gods.

Maybe the Zemaitis, Greco Zemaitis, and Zemaitis Japan will no longer be obscure to you!

This Greco/Zemaitis GZ-2100 WF Guitar is currently on display at our Sam Ash Music Store located in Huntington, New York. To make a purchase or to learn more about this exact guitar, please visit the Greco/Zemaitis GZ-2100 WF Guitar page on our dedicated Sam Ash Used Gear Website.