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Elgava Unika-2

Elgava guitars were made at the Moscow Experimental factory in the 1970's and early 1980's, along with the Roden bass. Both instruments had crazy body shapes and very similar construction. The tailpiece was interchangeable between the Elgava and the Roden. They also had the same flip switches that controlled the pickups. Actually, these were regular electric light switches, same as those found on the walls of old Russian houses! Elgava Unika-2 had two modifications: one with vibrato and another hardtail. Some later examples also had pickups interchangeable with the Stella. One cool Elgava feature was a height-adjustable nut to control the action (lap steel option = high action, regular guitar - low action), but I have never seen one where the mechanism wasn't broken. Both the Elgava and the Roden had a large stencil model logo on the lower bout of the body. Some Elgavas were also marked "Unika-2" on the headstock. I have not seen any noticeable difference between an Elgava Unika-2 and a plain Elgava with no headstock logo. I have also never heard of an "Unika-1".

Elgava features relatively short scale - 610mm, and weighs 3.2kg according to the factory specifications. The body is made of plain old boring yellow pine which is a bit of a surprise, but not necessarily a let-down. The very first Fender Broadcaster bodies were made out of pine too.


Credits:
Studio1525
Big Beat - Junkguitars.com
Jamie Chivers.

This is the old style Elgava neckplate, sent to us by Michael Koltuchov from Ukraine. The text is pretty funny if you can read Russian. It says -

"Moscow Soviet Army experimental acordion factory"

The later neckplate (see above) says "Moscow experimental factory of musical instruments", and no Soviet Army is involved. All the rest (incl. factory address, guitar name and the price) are the same. Apparently, the factory was given a new name in the beginning of the 70's after electric guitars replaced accordions. Important to mention that many other guitar brands worldwide (see Defil, Hagstrom etc.) started as accordion factories.


Elgava Unika-2 wiring scheme.

Elgava twins

The neck
610 mm scale, 20 brass frets on a totally flat dyed-beech fingerboard, a 5-piece laminated neck (no truss rod of course), typical crappy Soviet tuners, and remnants of the original adjustable nut mechanism. The neck's shape is similar to that of a classical guitar, with a fairly flat back and square "shoulders": not particularly comfortable. The heel of the neck is a stout 3.5 cm thick where it joins the body, and sits in a neck pocket that it only 2 cm deep, so the fingerboard surface ends up a whopping 1.5 cm above the surface of the body. Again, not very comfortable to play.

The body
Typical Soviet laminated beech construction with a VERY thick black urethane finish (virtually bulletproof), and the Elgava logo is silkscreened on with some sort of 2-part white ink, but not clear-coated for some reason. The mahogany-colored pearloid used for the pickguard is a classic Soviet material. These same square-polepiece single coil pickups (about 6K ohms) are found on several Soviet guitars, and are nothing special sonically. Elgavas have remarkably simple controls for a Soviet guitar:  master volume and tone controls, and an on/off rocker switch for each pickup. The vibrato unit is best left completely alone unless you LIKE playing out of tune. I'm using the RIckenbacker-style TOM bridge until I can fabricate a more authentic plastic one.

The top guitar in the picture has been extensively hot-rodded, as its originality was badly compromised by the time it came to me. In a crude but effective effort to lower the neck into the body, someone hacked about 2 cm of thickness off the heel of the neck ... apparently using a hammer and a big chisel. After evening out all the hacking, the fingerboard surface now sits about 0.5 cm off the surface of the body: much more comfortable. From the top down (as it were), it has new Gotoh tuners, a Soviet Army hammer & sickle cap badge filling the cavity for the adjustable nut mechanism, a trussrod installed, a new 24.75"-scale x 21-fret rosewood fingerboard with a 12" radius and Dunlop 6105 fretwire, a pair of generic HBs with chrome rings and mounted in a reproduction pickguard laminated with some vintage red pearloid drum wrap. Using the slightly longer scale length allowed me to move the bridge off of the pickguard, so I could anchor the studs into solid wood; I also blocked off the cheesy vibrato unit with a piece of alder. I kept the controls as simple as the original with only a master volume & tone control and a 3-way rotary switch I robbed out of an old Kay in place of the two on/off switches. Finally, I moved the jack to the side of the body. Now this Elgava plays and sounds great ... even if it has been "Westernized."

Two Elgavas: one stock and one modified


The mostly-original version on the bottom is a typical Elgava-B.


The "Westernized" Elgava






Credits:
Both guitars owned and repaired by Jamie Chivers

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