Zemaitis and Teye Guitars

Zemaitis and Teye Guitars

“Lick Of The Week” with Keith Amyx

A fun little boogie in E!

Tab is included at the end of the video, take a screenshot and save if that's helpful. Enjoy!

Zemaitis and Teye

The story of another renowned guitar maker parallels the narratives of many of the (other) best makers in the world. As a child he deconstructed his toys and built his own.  He grew up to be a cabinet and furniture maker and an amateur guitar player. 

Legend has it that Tony Zemaitis built his first acoustic guitar because he couldn’t afford to buy one.  Or he couldn’t find one that was suitable to his liking.  Either way, he was a late teenager or around the age of 20 when he took matters into his own hands. 

That was the mid 1950s and by 1965 Zemaitis decided to pursue guitar making full time working from his home in Balham, London.  Along the way his “prototype” acoustics were sold to family and friends just to cover his costs.  He also became quite adept at building 12-string acoustics and musicians started taking notice of his guitars at gigs around town.

One of his most famous 12-strings is “Ivan the Terrible” made for Eric Clapton in 1969.

However, Zemaitis is best known for his metal topped electrics.  Experimenting with a way to suppress the 60-cycle hum from single coils, Zemaitis put a simple aluminum top on one of his prototypes and it was a success.

For “production” Zemaitis took it another step further and hired his engraver friend Danny O’Brien to freestyle some artwork on the metal front. That was around 1970. 

The rest is history. Tony McPhee bought his first ornate metal-topped electric.  

Ronnie Wood bought the second.

It was not in Tony’s humble personality to spike the ball.  But to spike the ball he went on to create electric fronts completely covered in a mosaic of pearloid tile and abalone.  

Fame and guitar elites did not dissuade Tony from his laurels.  The material and construction he used for electrics was uniform regardless of the customer’s name, consisting of a three-piece mahogany body and three-piece mahogany neck.  Always a glued neck.

Tony retired in 2000 and passed away two years later.  The same year a deal was struck between Tony’s family and Greco (Kanda Shokai Japan) to launch Zemaitis International.  The brand and ornate aesthetics continue to this day. 

Tony’s legacy also lives through a similar style of build from a luthier named Teye Wijnterp. Wijnterp was gigging with two custom Zemaitis’ when in 2004 his new bass player pointed out he may want to reconsider based on their value.  After Teye did some investigating he agreed, even the new Japanese built Zemaitis’ were going for more than he paid for the original custom ones.

Teye Wijnterp, teyeguitars.com

Teye decided to build his own version of a Zemaitis, a wood bodied guitar with an ornate aluminum front. Lacking any professional tools, he had to buy a drill press and Dremel tool just to get the ball rolling. That was in 2004, but it wasn’t his first. Teye’s first guitar was built with his father in 1981.

Building in his spare time it took approximately 10 months from start to finish.  After that, Teye went to work on a second guitar which only took a couple of months to build after an extensive planning process.  Guitar #2 was finished in 2006. 

After a steady stream of custom orders started coming in Teye assembled a team to help him build and Teye Guitars was born. 

Beyond the aesthetics, there is some clever passive circuitry in the guitars. Originally it was a “Mood” control which morphed into the “Mojo” control. There’s so many tone combinations the company published a tutorial :-) if you are interested.  

Teye Guitars are made in Nashville. All of them are incredibly beautiful and this one in particular caught my eye… (they all did). 

Teye Jazz Cat Specs: Etched plating with turquoise mosaic, Korina body with flame maple front and back, Korina neck with ebony fretboard, TV Jones Powertron PAF’s, Two volume controls, 1 master tone, and 1 master “Mojo”

As you can imagine these guitars get pricey, the least expensive Teye guitar starts at $3,400 and goes up to $12,000.  Then there are the “Contact Us” prices :-).  Below (center) is one I recently found at Lane Music in Nashville and it’s the 20th guitar built by the company, entirely hand made. MRSP $12,000.

20th guitar built by Teye (centered), $12,000
Teye production guitars at Lane Music
Teye production guitars at Lane Music


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.