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Tesoro Electronics—A Historical Perspective

by James Gifford


My name is James Gifford and my parents Jack and Myrna Gifford founded Tesoro Electronics over twenty years ago in our family garage, but the story of Tesoro really starts with Jack in the early 60's. At that time, Jack was working in retail sales, but he wanted to be part of the booming aerospace industry. So he went to school, worked hard, and eventually became an electronics technician. During one of his earlier jobs, Jack found a number of Electronics Engineers that were willing to share their knowledge, and he learned the skill that would guide his career for the next 35 years.

As an up and coming engineer, Jack was a founding member of the company Phoenix Data. After several years with Phoenix Data, Jack decided to expand his horizons and become a consulting engineer. During that time, Jack was involved with a number of different projects. Companies as diverse as QuikerLiquor-a company that made a drink dispenser that was attached to a cash register. It poured the drink and rang it up at the same time-to Motorola working on several projects including a silicon crystal growing plant. The silicon was then cut and processed to make microchips.

In 1975 Jack got a call saying that a company by the name of Bounty Hunter was looking for an engineer. Metal detecting as a design project and as a hobby caught his attention. With all of his other projects, Jack was never able to use or see the use of his designs. It was then that Jack became an avid detectorist. Not only was he aware of what the detector would do on the bench, he knew first hand what it would do in the field. This experience helped him design the TR500. At that time it was the best selling detector that Bounty Hunter had ever made.

While at Bounty Hunter, Jack and a fellow employee, Ray Crum, decided to form their own metal detecting company, and C&G Technology was born in 1976. C&G was successful with a number of Jack's designs such as the Bobcat, Lynx and the Wildcat. Being that it was a family owned business, Jack also gained a lot of experience with all phases of production as well as design. My first job for any metal detector company was with C&G. In fact at that time the whole Gifford family was working for C&G. Jack did design and testing, Myrna stuffed boards and made coils, while my brother Vince and I had several odd jobs.

Unfortunately, some partnerships just don't last and the relationship between Ray and Jack ended. But by that time Jack had established himself in the metal detecting industry as an engineer that could really design great detectors. So as Jack was leaving C&G, he got a call from Ed Lewis, president of Fisher Research Labs, with a job offer. Jack moved us out to Los Banos, California in 1978 and started working with Fisher. While there Jack was involved with several projects including the 551 and 552, updating the TW5 and several industrial pipe and cable locators.

1979 marked the year that Ray Smith had purchased Bounty Hunter. He was looking for a new engineer to help his company grow. A couple of phone calls and a job offer later, Jack agreed to move back to Arizona and work with Ray at Bounty Hunter. During this time, Jack designed on the Rustler, the Raider, and did updates on the Red Baron series. It was at Bounty Hunter that Jack first met Rusty Henry. Jack and Rusty hit it off almost immediately. Both were avid treasure hunters, and they both took every opportunity they could to go test both new and old products. Later that year, Ray was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to sell the business. Shortly after that, both Jack and Rusty left Bounty Hunter. Rusty went to the gold fields of Australia, and Jack went on to start Tesoro Electronics.

In July of 1980 dealers all over the country received a letter from Jack announcing the founding of Tesoro Electronics Inc. The first two paragraphs laid out the direction that Jack wanted the company to go and the ideas that we still live by today:

"It has become apparent to me over the past few years that there is a place for, even a need for, a metal detector manufacturer who is dedicated to the independent dealer market. The products should utilize the best of today's technology to provide maximum sensitivity. They should be rugged, but light enough that anyone can use them. They should do their job without "bells and whistles" that only increase the cost. And finally, the company should remain loyal to their dealers and be responsive to their needs and desires. It is with these principles in mind, that TESORO was founded in May of this year.
Tesoro is the Spanish word for treasure. The Spanish certainly seemed to understand and appreciate tesoro. Never in the history of the New World has there been a treasure hunt like the Spaniards held. It's hard to think of a better name for a company associated with treasure hunting, or a better symbol of our goals than the conquistador. As the Spaniards were yesterday's undisputed masters of treasure hunting, we at TESORO will always endeavor to meet our goal of making TESORO Metal Detectors today's undisputed masters of treasure hunting."

The letter went on to introduce the first Tesoro metal detector—the Deep Search VI. Myrna was working full time as Tesoro's first employee. Vince and I were still going to school at this time but worked part time here and there at Tesoro to make extra money. We would not join the company full time until much later.

After the Deep Search VI, the Deep Search IV and Deep Search VII were introduced. 1981 saw the introduction of the Aztec, the Cortés and the Amigo. Up until late 1981, all Tesoro detectors were covered by a two-year warranty. In that year Jack and Myrna made metal detecting history by introducing the first true Lifetime Warranty in the industry. They then grandfathered in all of the other detectors that they had previously made so that every Tesoro had the same warranty. Our Lifetime Warranty has covered units that have been made for the last 20 years and will continue to cover them for as long as we are around.

Original Cortes

1981 was the year for the introduction of another first for Tesoro. In December of '81, Jack and Myrna introduced the Metal Detector Information magazine or MDI. Jack started with the idea of teaching the customer about the ins and outs of metal detectors and metal detecting. Several articles were basic detector knowledge that could be used by any detectorist no matter what detector he was using. By making a more educated customer, Jack felt that they would see the advantage of buying a Tesoro detector. Since then, the MDI has become Tesoro's single best form of advertisement.

1982 brought the Scout and the Mayan and 1983 started with the introduction of the Inca and ended with the beginning of our most popular detector series, the Silver Sabre. While our competitors were making "Lunch Box" detectors, (machines big enough to carry your lunch in), Tesoro introduced the first small, lightweight, full power detector. The critics sneered and bought them for their wives and children. But when they were being out hunted by their wives "toy machine," they discovered the power of the Silver Sabre. Since 1983 the Tesoro lineup has always contained a Silver Sabre model.

Scout and Mayan

In 1984 Tesoro diversified and increased its market share by making two different private label agreements. The first was with Montgomery Wards catalog sales department. Wards wanted a detector line that was both well known and distinctive to their store. After some negotiation, Tesoro agreed to produce the Sabre II and the Sabre Supreme. These detectors had Tesoro Technology in a different shape and color of the control housing. After the deal was set and the catalogs produced, Wards decided to get out of catalog sales. So Tesoro was featured in the very last Montgomery Wards catalog that was ever produced.

The second private label agreement was with a company called Turtle. At that time Turtle made an underwater detector. The case was great, but the electronics were not. So Tesoro and Turtle entered an agreement where Tesoro would make the electronics and Turtle would assemble the final product and cover the warranty. The model, Silver Turtle, was produced for several years and was very popular with the very early water hunters.

1985 brought the Golden Sabre and the Cutlass and 1986 introduced the Silver Sabre Plus, the Eldorado and the Royal Sabre. In this time the Golden Sabre and Eldorado were very popular. The Golden was our first detector with notch filter discrimination. The Eldorado was a simple detector with a manual ground balance, but with a new style of circuitry that worked incredibly well in the highly mineralized soil. All of the relic hunters soon found their favorite Tesoro detector.

Silver Sabre Plus

The Toltec 100 was the only model that was introduced in 1987, but what a detector. The Toltec 100 did it all. It had a target ID meter, a notch discrimination, a push button mode change and a manual ground balance. I still have customers today ask for a Toltec 100. The Toltec 80 and Diablo were introduced in 1988.

1988 also saw the introduction of the Authorized Dealer Program. At that time several major discount houses were in a price war. These big dealers were literally selling detectors (both ours and other manufacturers) at or below wholesale costs. We felt that it devalued detectors in general and was slowly putting the independent dealer out of business. Our Authorized Dealer Program helped level the playing field between discount house and independent dealers and let the dealers know what was expected of them. By holding dealers to a higher set of standards, we get a better set of dealers.

In November of 1988 (on my 25th birthday), Jack and Myrna took me to dinner and outlined a plan that would help Tesoro expand its market share and asked me if I would like to be involved. I had been working as a kitchen manager for several years and was looking to try something new so I agreed. I felt that I had some very good skills to bring to Tesoro. In the kitchens quality and appearance is everything. If something is not just right, it gets sent back right then. So I learned to make sure it was done right the first time. I also dealt with the public and worked with a large number of vendors giving me a large number of people skills that are needed in the management of any business. I spent the next couple months learning every phase of metal detector manufacturing until we were ready to start our plans.

In 1989 we started a sister company to Tesoro called Yavapai Industries. My job was two-fold. First, I was to train a crew in Prescott, AZ and manufacture several private label projects that we had in the works. Second, I was to provide a pool of skilled persons to help Tesoro move from Phoenix to Prescott. My first private label project was Pillar metal detectors. They had two models-the 4 Reale and the 8 Reale. Both models were slightly modified Silver Sabre PCBs. The 4 Reale had a factory preset ground balance and the 8 Reale had a manually adjusted ground balance. The owners of Pillar requested that no connection between Pillar and Tesoro be advertised. When Pillar went out of business, we knew the power of the Tesoro name backing a private label. Since then every private label that we have manufactured has had "manufactured by Tesoro" somewhere in its advertising or packaging. We have also made no attempt to modify or change the basic circuitry from any current Tesoro product to manufacture private label product.

1989 also saw the introduction of the Golden Sabre Plus and the Lobo. The Lobo had two very unique features. It was the first gold prospecting machine that was introduced with silent search discrimination. The Lobo became an all-purpose machine that could find the tiny nuggets and shoot coins without finding the nasty trash. It was also the first Tesoro detector that had a plastic housing. In the next couple of years, all Tesoros would be put into plastic housing. The Golden Sabre Plus was the last Tesoro detector that was put into a metal housing. 1990 model introductions included the Bandido and the Pantera.

Golden Sabre Plus

1991 was a very busy year for the Tesoro crew. Not only did we introduce the Diablo II, the Silver Sabre II and the Stingray, but we also built our first private label detector for the European market-the Laser B1-and we moved from Phoenix to Prescott. When Tesoro moved up to Prescott in 1991, Yavapai Industries was absorbed into Tesoro Electronics. Yavapai Industries had done the initial prototype work for the Laser B1, but it was Tesoro that actually produced it. I was very happy to see New Year's Eve that year and welcomed 1992.

In 1992, as things were settling down, Jack found that Rusty Henry had moved back from Australia and was working in Prescott part-time as a bus driver for the Prescott school system. He was looking for another part-time job so Jack offered him the position of Service Manager. Jack knew that Rusty would be very valuable checking in repairs and final testing them as they were finished. With all of his experience with metal detectors, Rusty could easily make sure that all repairs were finished to Tesoro's high standards. Rusty has continued to work with Tesoro ever since. In 1992 we introduced the Cutlass II, the Golden Sabre II and the Laser B2. In 1993 we came out with the Bandido II.

1994 marked a year of some unexpected design changes. In the year we introduced the Toltec II. We already had the lower housing designed, but we needed a housing for the meter that would mount on the pole. We worked with our plastic's vendor at the time, and he said it would be no problem to whip up an inexpensive and easy meter housing. He was wrong, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By the time we received the meter housing, our vendor had gone way over budget on design and the mold. We knew that we were not going to sell enough Toltec II's to make up the cost so we figured that another unit would help defray the costs. That unit was the Sidewinder. We figured that it would sell for the competition hunter, but we had no idea that it would take off so well and become our µMax series of detectors.

In 1995 we introduced a new water housing along with the Piranha and the Stingray II. Both had an industry first: interchangeable coils. We also manufactured the Laser B3. In 1996, we upgraded our technology and introduced the µMax series of detectors. To get our electronics into the small housing, we had to work with Surface Mount Technology. Parts so small that human hands cannot place them. They must be placed with a computer-aided robot. These parts were becoming much more abundant as they were used in laptop computers. They also had a much tighter tolerance, which allowed us to increase the depth and sensitivity in the µMax series without increasing the size of the printed circuit board. These detectors included the µMax Bandido, µMax Cutlass, µMax Diablo, and µMax Sidewinder. Also introduced was the Amigo II.

1997 was the beginning of two different projects that have had a significant impact on recent Tesoro history. The first was the forming of another sister company called Industrial Detection Systems or IDS. IDS was started to apply Tesoro technology to industrial applications. Over the course of years, IDS has had projects with a number of companies including several banks, a street refinishing company and the Naval Explosives, Ordnance and Demolitions Dept. My brother Vince started the company and worked as a contract engineer for Tesoro on several other projects.

The second project started when Troy Galloway of Troy Custom Detectors contacted us and asked for a private label detector of his own. Troy is an avid hunter and tried almost every detector on the market looking for what would suit his detecting style. He found that Tesoro products worked best for him. During a trip to England, he tried a Laser B1 and heard about our partnership with Treasure World to produce them. He wanted to try to capture a niche market here in the US and contacted us to help him. Thus the Shadow X2 was born. Other models that were introduced in 1997 were the Lobo SuperTRAQ, the Laser PowerMax, the Bandido II µMax and the Silver Sabre µMax.

1998 brought the Cutlass II µMax, while 1999 brought the Sand Shark and Laser Rapier. The year 2000 saw the introduction of the Conquistador, the Compadre and Tiger Shark. Tesoro also purchased IDS and Vince Gifford became a full-time employee of Tesoro. The year 2000 marked another milestone in Tesoro history. Vince and I were made stockholders in the company.

The Cortés, Conquistador µMax, Eldorado, Euro Sabre, and Silver µMax were added in 2001, and the DeLeón and Tejón became part of our line of detectors in 2003. Our latest models, the Cibola and Vaquero, were introduced in 2004.

After many dedicated years, Jack and Myrna retired in late 2004, and the family business is now being managed by Vince and me.

Jack, Myrna, James, & Vince Gifford

As we enter the future, Tesoro Electronics will remain in the hands of the Gifford family, and we will continue to produce the best possible metal detectors based on the words that Jack wrote over 25 years ago. "As the Spaniards were yesterday's undisputed masters of treasure hunting, we at TESORO will always endeavor to meet our goal of making TESORO Metal Detectors today's undisputed masters of treasure hunting."


Some sad news from Tesoro


Jack Gifford, the founder of Tesoro Electronics and my father, died on January 3rd, 2015.

He retired from the company on September 30th, 2004.

After his retirement, he became a PADI certified diver, built speakers, and refurbished vintage stereo equipment. He enjoyed spending time with his granddaughters, Isabella, Lily, and Charlotte. He became active in the American Lutheran Church, volunteering at “The Rock”, helping expand the “Teens Closet”, and serving on the board. He also volunteered at the Prescott Community Cupboard, picking up donations and serving on their board.

— Vince Gifford, President and Owner, Tesoro Electronics





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