Airline guitars were made for and sold at Montgomery Ward department stores from the late 1950s through the 1960s. These classic instruments are great for vintage guitar collectors on a budget (unless you want an original Res-o-Glass model, the most valuable of the Montgomery Ward Airline guitars). Although Eastwood Guitars has recently reintroduced the Airline brand name, these newer guitars are no longer sold by Montgomery Ward.
The most famous guitar from the Montgomery Ward Airline guitar series is the Res-o-Glass model. This is in large part due to a Res-o-Glass model being the instrument of choice for White Stripes front man Jack White. The unique angular shape of this instrument along with the shape of the pick guard and the placement of the knobs and switches calls to mind the 1950s and '60s. The Res-o-Glass was manufactured by a company called VALCO, which was also responsible for the National and SUPRO guitar brands.The highly collectible Res-o-Glass sells for upwards of $3,000.
Dual Guard Models
Because of their status as a lower-end department store brand of guitars, some of the original Airline guitars were not given specific model names. Instead, some of them became known as "dual guard" guitars because they had two pick guards -- one above the pickups and one below the pickups. These guitars tended to have more rounded edges than the Res-o-Glass. Like the Res-o-Glass, the dual guard models were manufactured by VALCO.
Harmony Hollowbody Guitars
Some of the original Montgomery Ward Airline guitars were manufactured by Harmony, not VALCO. While these two different styles of Airline guitars were being produced at the same, they did not look alike. Several different electric hollowbody Airline guitars were manufactured by Harmony. These guitars are identified by a four digit code (8448, 7215, etc.), but for simplicity's sake, they can be broken down into two categories, two pickup models and three pickup models. The two major hollowbody guitar model brand names were the Stratotone and the Rocket. Unfortunately, neither of these names actually appears on the guitar anywhere, so they are sometimes hard to place.
Harmony Solid Body Guitars
Harmony only produced two different solid body Airline guitars, the Bobkat Two Pickup model and the 7250. These guitars are similar in shape and overall construction, but the Bobkat has two pickups and a vibrato arm, while the 7250 has only one pickup and a stop-tail bridge.
Harmony produced a handful of acoustic guitars under the Airline banner, including the four-string 7047 tenor guitar model, designed to play notes between the bass and guitar registers. The 7069 is an acoustic guitar with dual pick guards, similar in pick guard placement to the dual guard VALCO models. The 8286 and 7026 models are easily distinguishable by their large white fret markers. Other jumbo and grand concert-size guitars were also made by Harmony during the '60s.