Shaftesbury was the house brand for UK music distributor Rose Morris. It was applied to amps, effects units, drums and of course guitars. The Shaftesbury 3261 was one of the very first models (alongside the twelve string 3262 and 3263 bass) to sport this marque, the range being first demonstrated in August 1968 at the British Musical Instrument Trade Fair. It was available from Rose Morris into the early 1970s.
Rose Morris were famously the UK's exclusive Rickenbacker dealer, however the arrangement seems to have finished sometime around early 1968 (read more about this here). With customers coming to the Shaftesbury Avenue store looking for Rickenbackers, but sales not taking place (either due to lack of stock, long lead times on orders, and comparatively high prices) it is not surprising that Rose Morris decided to create their own versions. And by all accounts they sold pretty well. It would seem that this was the first direct copy of a Rickenbacker guitar? The 3261 was based on the early Rickenbacker 360 - two pickups and no tremolo, and with the pointed horns. This was the iconic style made famous by Pete Townsend and George Harrison - and as of mid-1964 no longer available from Rickenbacker. The Shaftesbury models did have the "cat's eye" style sound hole, rather than the f-hole more usually associated with Rose Morris export Rickenbackers.
Incidentally, Rose Morris had been using the model code 3261 for the imported 4005 basses just a year earlier. Why they reused this code is unclear, especially with such a short time gap. It certainly seems odd. One might assume some confusion was desirable and intended?
From the 1968 Shaftesbury catalog
A special tone aperture is incorporated within the body of each model to ensure the best possible combination of acoustic resonance and electronic clarity. The slim, double cutaway bodywork has a distinctive shaded finish-ranging from black at the edges through red and orange to a week which golden centre. Matching finished neck fitted with fast action rosewood fingerboard and good quality nickel threats. The all-metal covered machine heads are specially geared for fine tuning. Super sensitive adjustable pick-up units with separate pole pieces. Each unit has separate volume and tone controls; pick up tone selector and overall balance controls are also provided.
Initially, these guitars were produced in Japan, to a fairly high standard. The Japanese guitars had a set neck, and 'staple' type pickups. Exactly where in Japan these were made is unknown, but with Rose Morris' existing relationship with Aria, it is quite probable that these were made at the Matsumoku plant. The Barney Kessel-style 3264, available at the same time, seems also to have been produced at the same plant. But by 1970 production had moved - this time to be made by Eko - another company that Rose Morris distributed - in Recanati, Italy. These Eko Shaftesburys were quite similar, but had a bolt-on neck, and shared the same Eko hardware, including 'Ferro-Sonic' pickups as most late sixties Eko and Italian-made Vox guitars.
Precisely when this model was discontinued is also a little unclear. It was certainly still available into 1972, but, based on price list inclusions, discontinued at some point before early 1973. However it does seem to have been revived (along with the 3263 bass at the end of 1973 and through most of 1974). Whether it was reissued due to customer demand, or had merely been missed out from a significant chunk publicity remains to be discovered.
Despite the short period of availability, there were quite a few subtle variations in the 3261 over the course of production. The image above shows the 3261 as pictured in the 1968 and 1970 Rose Morris catalogs. The Japanese guitar to the left, the Italian to the right. As can be seen there are subtle differences in body shape, and hardware, with the Eko-made examples also having a bolt on neck. Note differences in pickguard screw arrangements, tailpiece, control knobs, pickups and tuning keys. Japanese examples also seem to all have white truss rod covers. Although the Eko guitar is pictured with white scratchplates, many were shipped with black plates.
Shaftesbury Rickenbacker-copies were pretty highly sought by the mod revival bands of the late 1970s, and early 1980s. These kids dedicated all their efforts into anything 1960s. Although other Rick-copies were available, a 'genuine' 1960s instrument, especially one so closely modelled on the Pete Townsend guitars, was certainly worth tracking down. If you couldn't afford a 1960s Rickenbacker, this was the next best thing.
The Shaftesbury 3261 was included in three catalogues between 1969 and 1971
Both Japanese and Italian Shaftesbury 3261s are pretty nice instruments. But they are not Rickenbackers. Genuine Ric's were very difficult to source in the UK at this time, and were inordinately expensive. There was clearly space for an equally attractive, sensibly priced equivalent. It is unclear how many Shaftesbury 3261 guitars were produced between mid 1968 and the models discontinuation in 1972. At the time Rose Morris claimed they were selling well, but they are not especially common on the used guitar market. Italian (Eko) examples certainly come up with more regularity than Japanese ones.
These guitars are slowly becoming collectable in their own right as collectors see them for what they are, rather than what they were pretending to be.
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