Vintage Guitar Magazine
The Alvarez Dana Scoop
by Michael Wright, The Different Strummer
January 2010 Vol. 24 No. 03
The Alvarez Dana Scoop
by Michael Wright, The Different Strummer
There are bad accidents and there are good, or “happy” accidents. Bad ones are when you bend over, your rear-end knocks over your axe, and suddenly you’ve “created” a headless guitar. An example of a happy accident is the invention of the Alvarez Dana Scoop.
As a brand, Alvarez was a name originally used by St. Louis Music (SLM) for its Japanese-made acoustic guitars beginning in 1966; Alvarez-Yairi models were built in Kazuo Yairi’s workshop, while Alvarez models were built elsewhere. Beginning around 1970 – maybe slightly earlier – SLM began importing electric guitars from Japan bearing the Electra brand. Many were made by the legendary Matsumoku Moto plant. In ’83, SLM entered into a joint venture with Matsumoku, and in ’84 transitioned the Alvarez brand to Westone, which had previously been used by the Japanese manufacturer. Matsumoku had started as a builder of sewing machine cabinets, and in ’87, the company was purchased by Singer Sewing Machines. It’s not entirely clear, but Matsumoku may have continued making guitars until 1990. With it went the Westone brand, and SLM’s electric line became Alvarez. During this period, SLM began moving some production to Cort, in Korea.
“Dana” is Dana Sutcliffe, who at age 13 got a guitar with four of the worst pickups ever made. So he set about making his own replacements. Thus began a lifelong interest in electronics, and his subsequent experience with guitars eventually landed him a job at the ill-fated Renaissance guitars. There, in 1978 or ’79, under the supervision of John Marshall, Sutcliffe earned a master’s degree in lutherie.
Following the Renaissance experience, Sutcliffe began repairing guitars, building custom guitars, and developing more pickups, including the active units that would make him famous. He did a lot of work converting Gibson guitars for use by Delaware rocker George Thorogood. One of the people who called on him was the local sales rep for SLM, a non-musician who would seek help in adjusting the settings on his Crate amps. Sutcliffe would use a guitar with his pickups, but the rep returned red-faced, claiming Les Pauls and Strats didn’t sound good at those settings. So Sutcliffe started using those guitars while testing the amps. But it was this sales rep who alerted Tom Presley, guitar-brand manager at SLM, to Sutcliffe and his hot pickups, circa 1987. A relationship between Dana and SLM ensued, and by ’88, Sutcliffe had his own “line” of Dana Westones outfitted in his shop with his electronics.
That was when the happy accident occured. In ’88, one of Sutcliffe’s employees was operating a pin router while working on a Matsumoku-made Westone body. The router hit a knot in the wood near the treble cutaway, damaging the body, which was then set aside. But overnight, another employee put a neck on it. The next day, it became the joke/”gash” guitar. Sutcliffe picked it up, played it, and hear amazing first – and – second string tone with no phase cancelation. He worked with it a little, including expanding the gash – and the Dana Scoop was born. As he experimented more, he discovered that the resonance he wanted only happened when the scoop appeared at the 24th fret.
Since his guitars were part of the SLM Westone line, Sutcliffe regularly attended the NAMM shows as part of SLM’s displays. At the Summer ’89 show, he displayed his new “scoop” creation – that is, until Bernard Kornblum, SLM’s owner, came over and forcefully urged Sutcliffe to put the guitar away. Kornblum had a feeling they could do something with the eye-catching design. Sutcliffe was allowed to show it to guitarists individually, but otherwise it was kept under wraps.
The following week, Kornblum and Sutcliffe agreed to develop the guitar for SLM. Kornblum had been urging Tom Presley to consolidate the electric guitars under the Alvarez banner, but Presley – and more importantly, pro guitarists – wouldn’t have it. However, the Scoop was a radical new idea, and it might just carry the change. Sure enough, the Alvarez Dana Scoop was introduced at the ’92 NAMM show, where it won the “Guitar of the Year” award. Rockers loved it, and a number of custom guitars were built, including one for Eddie Van Halen and three for Lita Ford, who endorsed the model. That year, the guitar was played by Marc Ferrari in the movie Wayne’s World, and it took off. Cort required a bit of time to get everything right, but by ’93 they were making what Wayne himself might grinningly call “Excellent!” Scoops.
Soon, SLM wanted more. So Sutcliffe set about designing the L.A. Scoop – a Strat-styled guitar – and the Nashville Scoop – a (what else?) Tele-styled model. These were made from 1992 – ’94.
Unfortunately, just as things looked brightest, the ride began to skid off track. Sutcliffe began paying more attention to projects with Crate and Ampeg than with Alvarez. Then, SLM began making changes he hadn’t authorized; the Modulus Graphite necks and the three-coil Tri-Sonic pickups were not his ideas. Cort, by the way, had purchased Mighty Mite pickups, so the Tri-Sonic was probably a descendent of the three-coil Motherbucker. Money issues began to come up, and in ’94 Sutcliffe attended his last SLM sales meeting. By ’95, the Alvarez Dana Scoop was history.
Alvarez Dana Scoop guitars are not especially rare, but they have a fairly rabid following. Between 2,000 and 3,000 regular Westone-shaped Scoops were produced, along with another 500 to 700 of the L.A. and Nashville variants. There were quite a few custom-made, as well, including many with graphics and carvings. Not a bad run for an accident!
“Much press has been given to the late Alvarez Dana Scoop over the years. It is now starting to appear in guitar history books. This article attempts to clear up any misconceptions about the instrument before the rumors become myths.”
– Dana Sutcliffe
Dana Sutcliffe and an employee originally designed the Alvarez Dana Scoop in his guitar shop in the late 1980s. Not to be forgotten are the people who worked at the shop during the guitar’s developmental years. Their support kept the dream and focus alive.
The original prototype looked identical to the first production models except it had a reverse headstock and a steeper angle to the neck joint.
The President of St. Louis Music (Alvarez is a division of St. Louis Music) had the creative vision to bring the product to the market place. His discovery of the instrument is a whole other story.
The Alvarez product manager gave the guitar its name “The Scoop” after the instruments radical cutaway. The original name was the “Gash Guitar.” Thank heaven for marketers!
Patent Pending production of the guitar was started in January of 1991. There were four Korean built models. Two of the instruments had maple necks and rosewood fingerboards. Their colors looked almost identical to one another, Metallic Blue and Black. A white model with a graphite neck was also produced. Lastly, there was limited production of an all-natural maple body and neck model. Many of those bodies were highly figured. All the bodies were made of sugar maple and featured Floyd Rose Licensed tremolos. The electronics featured two Dana designed pickups in a hum bucking single coil configuration. These ran in series with Dana’s Harmonic Enhancer electronics. Each instrument had one Volume and one Enhancer control.
In 1992 Dana Sutcliffe and his partner were awarded a US utility patent for the guitar’s functional cutaway design.
Earlier in 1992 the Alvarez Dana Scoop was voted “Guitar of Year” by Music and Sound Retailer Magazine. This coveted industry award is presented yearly during the Winter NAMM Show.
The LA and Nashville Scoops were designed to conform to a more conservative guitar buying public. The smaller size Scoop was to accommodate the larger body mass. Even though the patent was granted on the basis of having improved access to the strings at the base of the neck, the true function of the Scoop was that it improved the instrument’s sustain and resonance properties. It eliminated phase cancellation between the neck and body resonance. The guitar body size determined the size of the scoop.
The graphite neck used on early models and the Tri-Force Pickup used in later versions of the Scoop were produced against the designers’ wishes.
Early production models never met the designers’ specifications 100%. Which is an even further testament of the Scoop’s resonating enhancement properties. Several years later the specifications on production models gained the designers’ praise.