Keyboard instruments factory in Sverdlovsk produced several types of organs and synthesizers but was mostly famous for it's guitars. Actually, not guitars, but a guitar. After a couple of years of Tonika production the factory's own model was designed. Although called "Ural", it is not the name of the guitar but the name of the brand: all of Sverdlovsk guitars and basses had "electric guitar Ural" inscription on the neckplate. This guitar's real name was Model 650 or 650A. The difference between 650 and 650A models was in tuners' location and several cosmetical details.
It was the most popular and available Soviet guitar. The latest investigations of serial numbers (Lordbizarre) give approximate quantities of 10,000+ 650's per year. The earliest 650's we've seen have 1975 on the potentiometers so we assume the production started around 1975. By the middle of the 80s 150,000+ guitars were made. It was regulary purchased by trade unions and schools, almost every Soviet guitarist played it at some stage. Even today, when there are much more stuff to buy in Russia, 650/Ural still remains the most "popular" beginners guitar. Young guitarists can buy it for less than $100, and it's not such a shame because everybody's playing it.
Ural was a Soviet mass production. It does not nessessarily means it was all machine-made, but all the parts were standard, and people who developed them did not think about the sound and feel of the guitar. You could find a good luthier among those who made these guitars, but there was no personal touch. This is something about the logics of the socialist state. There were no high quality goods. Everything had to be good enough to fit everybody, and there was one level of quality set by the buerau of standards. There could be no small quantities of fine electric guitars, because this could destroy the "equality" among the guitarists as the citizens of the Soviet state. There were huge amounts of low quality guitars for the people. And Ural was probably the best of them.
Ural is a heavy instrument. There's a lot of wood in Russia, and the constructors of Ural were sure that good guitar must not break under any condition. So the neck and the body were made of heavy slabs of wood, the neck radius is very small - it's almost half of a circle, very hard to grip (and to break). Unlike other Soviet guitars Ural has relatively long horns, escpecially the upper, rickenbacker-style horn. The headstock has a distinctive "samurai" shape [let me add here that Yamaha recently released a well designed guitar with the similar "samurai" headstock and pickup configuration similar to other Soviet guitar, Solo II. They claim that these features are innovative, but we know where they came from... Did they have music shops in Vladivostok?].
The electronics on all the Soviet guitars are just insane. Thanks to the Iron Curtain there were no people who knew how to make electric guitar, but there were many people experienced in radio- , audio- and other electronic fields. There were guitars with built-in effects, different circuts switches, stereo outputs etc. What is usually called "bells and whistles".
By now I've got no information about all the switches on Ural, but you can check out another Soviet guitar to get an idea how they worked - Solo II - we've got its original manual with all the descriptions and schematics.
I had a chance to play Ural only a couple of times, when I was very young and unexperienced. At these times I was lucky to have a cheap Japanese Hericaster guitar and Ural was a big surprise for me: it was very, very hard to play, to hold and to grip. The action was pretty high, the strings were stiff and even playing chords in first position was painful. A strong man's guitar, that's for sure.
Vibrato on Ural is not capable of deep diving, it has a very small range - it's good for making fast vibrations, and it detunes the guitar almost immediately. People who know how to play Ural say they use it at the ending solo - you just cannot keep on playing in tune after you've touched that bar.
Three single coils deliver flat and nasal sound. I've seen Urals with DiMarzios, but it doesn't seem to help a lot.
Overall impression is that Ural is a hard guitar - hard to play and to break. It's also hard to talk to people who play Ural - when I ask about Ural, its specifications, details and so on, they tend to use only short and heavy words: shit. flat iron. log.
Still, Ural is very attractive and the sexy look of the guitar makes it a desired collectors' item. The stock Ural with blue pearloid pickguard (pictured on the right) recently went for 228 Euro on ebay.de, and the prices keep on rising. Ural was never made for export (Who wants an unplayable Soviet guitar?) and this is another reason they're rare in Europe and USA.
The last thing to mention is the pickups' covers. According to one (jewish) guitar expert (currently living in New York), the designer of those pickups was part of a secret Zionist conspiracy and the instrument was a part of a secret plan to destroy Soviet musical culture. This evil plan was apparently very successfull, all Soviet music became an awfull kitch - all thanks to this modest instrument.
||Don't forget to check out - Ural bass
||Ural V8 - a recent American take on Soviet design
||Playable Ural (!)
Materials: something very heavy
Neck: 22 frets, bolt-on, small radius
Pickups: 3 single-coils
Controls: too many to mention
Tremolo: Jaguar/Jazzmaster style floating
Finishes: sunburst, fiesta red, black, pale blue, ornage and many others.
Made in Sverdlovsk, U.S.S.R, "Ural" plant.
This guitar comes from
"Lordbizarre's electric guitar and amp museum"
Rock! electric guitar and amplifier repair
Leuven, Belgium, Europe.
|Ural and Yamaha SGV800:
Find 10 differencies [or similarities]
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You might also want to read this:
Glasnost Correspondence with a Russian Guitarmaker By Iouri Dmitrievski
Guitar production in USSR by Cheesy Guitars