conn guitars Unofficial web site
CONN VINTAGE GUITARS UNOFFICIAL SIT ©2007-2022
This is a NOT FOR PROFIT site. All information is provided free of any charge to the public as a community service. Site is best viewed on a PC or Laptop using Microsoft Edge, and Windows 10/11.
Content from all pages of this site is copyright, but you are free to download for personal use except if otherwise specified, and as long as acknowledging this site as the source.
None of the information can be redistributed or copied for the purpose of selling, or placed on a site that charges a fee for accessing it.
This site is devoted to Conn vintage guitars (1971-1980), but also contains some links that lead to some other brands. I am by no means an authority on any other brand than Conn. Even with Conn, I am not an authority, but probably know more about them than any other resource you will find, because I have literally spent years and countless hours researching the brand. Several owners, whose names you will see on this site, have contributed information. Thank you to those owners who have contributed information.
CONTENT: HOW TO UNDERSTAND LABELS / SERIAL NUMBERS, ANOMALIES, STREET PRICES
ORIGIN OF THIS INFORMATION
I have spent a lot of years researching various brands of vintage guitars. I was "away" for a while, with life taking me in a different direction after spending my teenage years playing guitar in a band. About 30 years later, I had a renewed interest and wanted to learn acoustic guitar. While deciding to look at a guitar to buy, I found so many brands I was not familiar with, and had no clue what brands to look at and what brands to stay away from. This was a personal venture, and I was not seeking to become an expert, but just to be knowledgeable enough to an imformed buyer. After 3-4 years amassing an extensive amount of information in spreadsheets, in notebooks, etc. I decided to share this information in a web site to help others who might be looking for the same kind of information. THIS WEB SITE IS AN OUTGROWTH OF THAT RESEARCH. Many of the resources I consulted were created by people just like me who sought to learn what they could about a certain brand or brands. When I started research, I was surprised to find acoustic guitars were made by C.G. Conn for a period of time in the 1970's. I was equally surprised by the lack of information available on the brand. As I remember, I was intrigued about Conn because I was a parent volunteer with the local high school band, and Conn was a major brand of brass and woodwind instruments. So although I started out researching many brands, I soon began focusing solely on Conn. Since some of the information on other brands may be useful, I included a page for some of those brands--with links to more authoritative sources.
SOME ADVISE: USE CAUTION WHEN BUYING AN INSTRUMENT OVER THE INTERNET
Condition of an instrument described in an auction site is solely in the eyes of the seller--who may or may not be qualified to state true condition. Condition cannot be assessed by photos or from an owner's description. Many sellers admittedly are not knowledgeable of the multiple issues that can exist with a used instrument. Even the most well-meaning seller may inadvertently cause serious problems by doing what might seem like a good thing. Example: An owner gets "busy with life" and puts their beautiful vintage Conn 12-String guitar in the case and in a cool dry closet. It sits there for 15 years. Finally the owner decides to sell the guitar. They look it over--noticing how clean and shiny it looks. They advertise it as a beautiful instrument (which it IS), but don't have the knowledge to look at whether that constant pull of the now brittle strings for 15 years may have permanently warped the neck, or caused bracing internally to detach, or caused a bulge (bellying) in the top--that permanently affects the "action" or playability of the instrument. A well-meaning seller may not recognize that they are selling a would-be gem that is actually useless as a playing instrument without haveing some significant repair work done on it (at a significant cost). So be careful purchasing a used instrument without being able to see it up close, or buying from a reputable dealer or knowledgeable source.
I DO NOT PROVIDE ESTIMATES OF VALUE FOR GUITARS REQUESTED SOLELY by EMAIL. HERE IS WHY:
Estimating the value of any used or vintage guitar is more complicated than what you might realize. There are many factors. First there is the "ball-park" value for an instrument, based on the current market value. But then there are factors with the condition that are not always obvious when looking with a trained eye, and knowing what to look for. Condition in one person's eyes might be inaccurate in another person's eyes. Most owners looking for value don't realize that value includes string condition, internal bracing condition (detached, broken, warped), bellying, warped neck, raised frets, etc. Such things may not be "visible" in only photos. To estimate value of any guitar I need to have it in my hands. Otherwise I could have an angry seller blaming me for a dissatisified buyer who finds the guitar unplayable or finds undisclosed problems.
So please just do not ask me what your Conn guitar is worth. I won't respond.
HISTORY AND FACTS
CONN GUITARS--A BRIEF HISTORY
Conn acoustic guitars began production in 1971 and continued through 1978. MacMillan & Co bought the G. C. Conn Company in 1969, and moved Conn's corporate offices from Elkhart, Indiana to Oakbrook, Illinois where they hired Jerry Ackley to get the business up and running. Below is the orignal building at the Oakbrook location (current-day).
Click to see map of the Headquarters
Administrative offices for the guitar operations 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 setting up and building the Conn guitar business--with an emphasis on building upon the established "rent to own" network that Conn already had with schools in the brass and woodwind products. Conn was a well-known and established brand, and saw opportunity in 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 to design the first models, and for setting up a contract with an overseas manufacturer, and overseeing product import. He chose an established guitar factory in Hamamatsu, Japan--an hour from Tokyo (see map below),
Tokai-Gakki was the factory who was the first 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--history after 1972 is vague). Concurrently with setting up production contracts with Tokai-Gakki, Mr. Ackley also wrote a book for school instruction called "The Conn Method". This blue-vinyl binder with its comprehensive teaching method (and accompanying 33-1/3 LP,
(and later cassette) was written to bridge the only real gap that existed in the school market by providing a comprehensive teaching method for music teachers--assuming that most were only knowledgeable of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. Essentially, music teachers would learn guitar as they taught it.
JERRY ACKLEY'S C-60 PROTOTYPE
Tokai actually built a prototype classical guitar for Mr. Ackley before actual production began, and as he was developing the lesson materials for schools. It was a prototype C-60--which he still has today. Below are photos of Jerry's original prototype C-60. Classical instruments were the primary focus when the business began.
ABOVE: Jerry Ackley's Conn C-60 Prototype. Front side shown. Solid spruce top.
ABOVE: Jerry Ackley's Conn C-60 Prototype, from rear (solid rosewood).
ABOVE: In this photo you can see the headstock of Jerry's prototype. The final design for the headstock looked much different.
After Jerry established the business, he left Conn in 1972 to pursue other ventures. But during his tenure with Conn, several guitar manufacturers including builder Tad Adachi, and 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. Jerry gave several of the prototypes to associates, and some to family members, budding musicians, or even professional musicians, and many are still around--and probably do not match any of the current catalog data. These were all high quality solid wood instruments, most of which had no branding shown on them.
THE 70'S GUITAR REVOLUTION
What began in the mid- to late 60's with the new style of rock and roll music, the 70's were a time of competitiveness in the guitar industry, and manufacturers--in Japan especially--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 as a quality instrument maker, their readiness to spend the cash, and their long-established relationships.
After 1972, Aria factories (who 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 the 9-year Conn guitar history is somewhat inhibited by these limiting factors, 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--many of which have been consulted (but probably not all).
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 cheaper 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 - MARDAN BRANDS (I know very little about these other Conn sub-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 previously 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). Mardan was another brand that was actually conceived by Dan Henkin. Dan and his wife Mary, owned C.G. Conn Corporation during most of the 1980s. The Mardan name is a combination of their first names (Mary - Dan). The guitars were made in Japan--likely at Tokai Gakki--who also made the Conn branded guitars from the 1970s. It is thought that the Mardan brand is one of the rarest of the Conn brands. There simply are not many of them around. Mardan, Continental and Drifter brands are not the subject of this site and therefore are not be discussed further. However, information acquired may be published at a later date.
Conn acoustic guitar manufacturing was discontinued in 1979, and Conn introduced electric guitars in mid to late 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) approved the first headstock design that was used from 1971 through 1977. One minor difference between some models is the rosette icon below the CONN name on some headstocks, while not present on others. It has been determined if there is some specific reason why certain models have the icon 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.
CONN GUITARS THAT DON'T FIT THE NORMAL MODEL SCHEME
OTHER CONN PROTOTYPES
Conn may have occasionally done some market testing by distributing limited runs of new models, some of which 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 limited production model is the F-60 six-string guitar--one of which one is owned by Ron McCormick. Only 100 of the F-60's were built according to Jerry Ackley. Unlike other Conns, the F-60's were built by luthier Sam Koontz of the Harptone Guitar shop of Newark, New Jersey, under the ownership of Sonny Brooks. It was one of only four steel-string Conn guitar models that featured all solid woods. Another model, the F-65 twelve-string guitar, was also built there, and thus far only a few are known to still exist--one owned by myself (thankyou Phil), one owned by Anna Lancaster of Portland, Oregon. Another was owned by Fred Evans--a former Conn employee in the Nevada warehouse, but 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. All of these models (F-60, F-65, F-70, F-75) were built in 1971 by Harptone and each was limited to a production run of 100. 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. Other luthiers including luthier Tad Adachi, built limited runs and sent them to Jerry Ackley in an effort to gain some of the business from Conn. Some of these one-of-a-kind models can be seen in the photos section. Others are in the hands of owners to whom Jerry gave them, and are not included here. They may or may not have had the Conn logo.
CONN GUITAR LABELING
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 various departures from the explained schemes.
Nearly every Conn acoustic guitar made from 1971 through 1977 bore 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 either (a) a heavier label of thicker aluminum--more like the thickness of a credit card or hotel key card, or (b) model number stamped into the wood heel block (inside where the neck is mounted to the body). Almost all other models have a label similar to foil. Those 1971 thru 1977 Japan-made guitars that have the labels, on which model numbers and serial numbers appear, seem to have been hand written with a ball-point pen--and which most are legible. Conn labels are found both very neatly written, or barely legible, and everything in between! This legibility issue stands to reason--try writing with a ball point pen on a piece of aluminum foil.
LABELING ON "HIGH END" MODELS
Stamping of the heel block (inside the guitar) was used on some of the high-end Japan-made, and USA-made Conn guitars (Models F-28, F-29, F-31, F-35, F-60, F-65, F-70, F-75)--while others in the same model range had labels.
LEGIBILITY OF LABELS
Workers who wrote the information were likely unaccustomed to writing English characters (see more below). Another problem with model identification using the foil/aluminum labels: many of the labels 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 most cases using the STATS sheet--scroll down). The labels were made of a two-part laminate; a front part that is very thin gold (classical) or silver (steel-string) foil, and a backing that is some kind of adhesive-backed thin white 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).
RED PAPER LABELS
A few owners have sent pictures of Conn guitars that have a red paper label--not unlike the ones found on the collectible Yamaha Nippon Gakki "Red Label" guitars of the late 60's and early 70's. On the "red label Conn" the numbers are not hand written but are instead stamped or machine-printed.
See more about paper labels (and this red label) below under the subtitle "1978 LABELS".
The foil or aluminum 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.
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 (about April or so), Conn made a change in the serialization structure. Coincidentally it appears that few guitars produced after 1974 had silver foil labels. It appears that about that time, Conn may have switched exclusively to gold foil labels. The modified serialization occurred, going forward, but it appears that they may have had some silver foil labels "left over" just before 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.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE ABOVE SERIALIZATION
Some labels presented by Conn owners 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 some of the F-27 and F-2712 series. Several owners of a model F-2712 and some who own F-27 models have sent photos of labels that appeared to begin with an 8. In one or two cases, high-resolution close-up photos of these labels were studied and first thought to be other numbers. For example, on label thought initially to be 87760561, and later thought to be 51760561--indicating week 51 of 1976. In another case, a serial number that appeared to be 87760197 was considered possible to be 27760197. In another case, an 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' couldn't be discerned as any different
than an actual number 8. It is odd how only the F-27 and F-2712 models have displayed these exceptions to the standard 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, 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 1978, some Conn acoustic electric guitars that were similar in construction to Ovation (Ovation uses 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) Phil Fragale - F-31 (Stamped in heel block--no label).