Vintage instruments made in America are highly desired and considered to be some of the best instruments made in the history of guitar. Vintage Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Les Pauls frequently sell for thousands of dollars, far more than most can ever hope to afford. The vintage American guitar market has priced out most casual collectors and players, but there are still bargains out there that have slipped under the radar.
The Peavey T-Series guitars and basses are one of these bargains—high quality, American-made instruments that can be found for well under $1,000—a far cry from the most expensive guitars of their era. And unless you’re a big Peavey fan (like myself) or an expert on vintage guitars, there’s a good chance that you haven’t even heard of these instruments.
So what makes these guitars so great? How did they come about? And how have they managed to avoid the eye of big dollar collectors? Keep reading to find out all about the incredible Peavey T-Series.
History of the Peavey T-Series
When you hear the name Peavey, you most likely think about their modern offerings—relatively cheap amplifiers, speakers, guitars and basses, etc. In 2022, players don’t know Peavey for manufacturing high quality gear and instruments used by professionals (other than the massively popular 5150). However, Peavey used to be a very different company than they are now. People knew Peavey for producing professional quality gear that was more sturdy and reliable than their contemporaries.
From their founding in 1965 to the mid 70s, Hartley Peavey’s company was focused on amplifiers and speakers. Peavey found great success in this market and managed to get big names like Hank Williams Jr, Merle Haggard, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. However, the guitar market was growing, and Peavey saw an opportunity to expand the company’s business.
Hartley Peavey wanted to make guitars more efficiently, producing higher quality instruments at a lower cost. He took inspiration from the gun industry, who were already using mass-production techniques for efficiency and cost. His idea was to use a copy lathe, a form of CNC machine, to make the guitar necks, ensuring that they would be nearly identical to each other while lowering costs. No other guitar manufacturer had tried this idea yet, and it would eventually become a standard for the industry.
Peavey put Chip Todd (the “T” in T-series), a longtime Peavey employee, in charge of the project, and they invested heavily in the required equipment. Peavey even remodeled one of their Mississippi-based manufacturing plants specifically for guitars and basses. In 1978, Peavey produced the first run of T-60 guitars and T-40 basses, marking the first production guitars ever made with the help of CNC machines.
With the history covered, let’s move on to the actual instruments themselves.
Peavey T-Series Basics
First, let’s look at some of the things that were shared across most of the T-series instruments. Peavey made all of the T-series necks with CNC machines. This allowed for incredible consistency from instrument to instrument. The CNC machining also helped the neck fit tightly into the neck pocket.
All of the T-series instruments also featured custom Peavey pickups and wiring. While there were a variety of different pickups used across the models, they were all custom Peavey Super Ferrite pickups with their own unique sound. Many who purchase these guitars now replace the pickups, but most of the stock Peavey pickups are surprisingly high quality and unique.
Lastly, they all had the trademark Peavey reliability. Fans know these instruments for being incredibly sturdy and reliable. Even the instruments that saw heavy gigging tend to still be in great shape outside of cosmetic wear. Just like their amps, these guitars were true workhorses ready to be used.
The T-Series initially started with only two models: the T-60 guitar and the T-40 bass. But after their success, Peavey quickly expanded the line to include a wide variety of models for all types of players. While this list doesn’t cover every single instrument made for the line, it does cover almost all of the main production models.
The T-series’ main focus was guitars, which is evident given the number of models and options compared to bass. There is a guitar for nearly everyone in the T-series lineup.
The T-15, commonly referred to as the “Mississippi Mustang” is one of the most iconic models of the T-series. Peavey designed the T-15 as a beginner guitar, though it is fully capable of being a professional instrument. The T-15 was short scale length (23.5”), had an ash or maple body, maple neck and fretboard, a shared 3-way switch, and customer Super Ferrite pickups. It retailed for $260, and customers could opt for a case which included a small amplifier.
In terms of playability, the T-15 is incredibly easy to play for most. The shorter scale length makes stretching for chords less of a hassle, bends easier, and generally makes it easy to play. (See our full scale length comparison to read more about how this can affect how a guitar plays.) It is worth noting that players with larger hands may find the guitar cramped and difficult to play.
Sound-wise, the T-15 is very unique. The Super Ferrite pickups were humbucker-sized, single-coil pickups with a ceramic magnet. They sound like a cross between a P90 and Telecaster pickups, having the heft and output of a humbucker, but with the twang and clarity of Telecaster pickups. All of the T-Series featured Super Ferrite pickups and produce similar sounds, though there were multiple variations on the design.
T-25, T-26, T-27, and T-30.
I lumped the T-25, T-26, T-27, and T-30 together because they are largely the same instrument with slight variations. The main differences between them are the pickups: the T-25, T-26, T-27, and T-30 featured double humbuckers, a Strat style SSS configuration, a Strat Style HSS configuration, and another Strat style SSS configuration respectively. The T-30 is also short scale, as opposed to others’ standard scale, and features a thin body since it was a beginner model. Other than that, they are basically the same.
These guitars feature an extra tone knob compared to the T-15, allowing for separate tone control of each pickup. They all featured a standard five-way switch (other than the T-25 due to its dual humbucker setup). Construction-wise, they are incredibly similar to the T-15, using the same woods, techniques, etc.
When it comes to sound, they obviously vary depending on the pickup configuration. The T-25 had a warmer, thicker, more humbucker-esque sound, but still had some of the bite that people know Super Ferrite pickups for. The T-26 and T-30 sound more like a Strat, but thicker and warmer like a P90. And the T-27 has both of these sounds due to the HSS configuration.
Carl Perkins famously played a T-26 later in the 80s, making him one of the most famous users of the Peavey T-Series. The Super Ferrite pickups worked well for his classic rock and roll and country playing.
The T-60 is the crown jewel of the T-Series, being their most complex and top-of-the-line offering (as well as the first instrument of the T-series). They were notoriously heavy and known for producing a wide variety of tones. The T-60 featured most of the same basic components as the other T-series instruments, but its electronics are what really make it stand out.
To start, it includes two Super Ferrite humbuckers with toaster-style pickup covers and four knobs—two volume and two tone. This is already a step above the T-25, which didn’t have separate volume controls. The T-60 also had out-of-phase and coil switching options and a treble bleed network on the volume pots. Its electronics set-up is fairly complicated and remarkably ahead of its time.
The result was an incredibly versatile instrument that could get an astonishingly wide variety of tones. Though they were cumbersome, they still ended up in the hands of professional musicians. Chet Atkins, Carl Perkins, Hank Williams Jr, Jerry Reed, Conway Twitty, and more all used the T-60 at some point.
While the main focus of the T-series was guitars, they didn’t forget about basses. The T-series basses, though just a few models, are also great and affordable vintage instruments.
The T-20 was a fairly simple bass compared to the T-40, featuring a single pickup and two knobs. They had a single Super Ferrite pickup placed diagonally about halfway between the bridge and neck joint.
Though these basses were remarkably simple, they were reliable and high-quality instruments. Peavey made them with all the same construction and manufacturing techniques as the other T-series instruments and had many of the same basic design choices. Sonically, the T-20 produced beefy but bright bass tones that work in a variety of settings.
T-40 and T-45
The T-40 was the bass version of the T-60 and had basically all the same features, but in a bass. The scale length was a standard 34”, and it had all the tone controls that the T-60 had. Because of their quality and versatility, they were popular amongst professional bassists, particularly in the studio. Most famously, Ross Valory of Journey used T-40 basses on stage and featured in ads for the model.
The T-45 is basically the T-40’s little sibling, though it had some unique features. It had 21 frets (versus the T-40’s 20 frets) and a unique low-frequency control. However, it only had a single humbucker and lacked the phase reverse switch of the T-40. Still, the T-45 was a remarkably capable bass despite being a simplified version of the T-45.
End of the T-Series
No one knows exactly what caused Peavey to end the T-series in 1988, but the answer is likely simple. The instruments simply weren’t selling as well as Peavey wanted. These guitars just didn’t have the Fender or Gibson name that most people had been seeing on TV and on stages since childhood. There were a multitude of different models over the years, which suggests that Peavey was constantly looking for a “hit.”
Peavey didn’t stop making guitars and basses, and many of the T-series design queues ended up later models (such as the Fury and Foundation series). Though Peavey ended the T-series, their legacy carried over into the next generation of Peavey instruments.
Though the Peavey T-Series isn’t the most iconic line of vintage instruments, they are remarkably high-quality, American-made instruments. Peavey upped their game, innovated in the guitar and bass manufacturing space, and ended up making some incredible instruments. Even better, these instruments can now be found for well under $1,000, making them some of the most affordable vintage American guitars and basses on the market.