Last week I opined about my penchant for unusual, not to say, ugly guitars like the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England. Now, I don’t mean to throw (rolling) stones—the States has produced its share of butt-ugly guitars—but Merry Old England has contributed mightily to the cause. And even though he’s revered in the U.K. as their very own Leo Fender, Jim Burns has had a hand in more than a few guitar models that might crack a mirror if they could see themselves. One case in point: the Burns Flyte.
If you’re a young person, you probably don’t have much of a reaction to the adjective “Commie.” You might know that China is still officially “Communist,” but so fiercely Capitalistic that any associations with Mao are hard to parse out. Ditto Russia and Lenin and Stalin. You’ve got to find an old map to locate the “former Soviet Union.” But, if you’re an old fogey like me the term is full of “complex notes” as the vinophiles would say. What has this to do with guitars, you ask?
If you’ve read even a little of my writing about guitars over the years, you know I’m fatally attracted to unusual guitars. There’s a reason I’m “The Different Strummer.” But even I have to admit some guitars are just plain ugly. A case in point: the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England, a country (sorry, friends) that has more than its share of these birds.
If you’d have told me I was going to write an appreciation of a guitar like this Dean Z Autograph—let alone any Korean-made guitar—back in the ‘80s, I probably wouldn’t have laughed outright, but I certainly would have been skeptical. Then again, a good many of us probably couldn’t have imagined people writing books about or paying premium collectible prices for Japanese guitars back in the early ‘70s. Times change and reality and history intervene to challenge our preconceptions!
Go ahead, admit it. If someone told you there was a cool Sixties guitar with a factory setting called “Wild Dog” (or maybe even one called “Split-Sound”), you’d want one, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. That’s why, once I found out about the Burns Jazz Split-Sound, it went straight to the top of my wish list. But sometimes when you get what you wish for it doesn’t live up to the hype!
Jeopardy Quiz: When do you think this Bunker guitar was made? When I first laid eyes on it, I was pretty sure it was from the late 1970s. It just has that ‘70s “natural” kind of vibe. Well, the correct response would be, “What is 1968?” I was shocked. This matched none of my presuppositions about guitars from the Sixties. But then, Dave Bunker has made a career out of being ahead of his time with the unexpected.
Once upon a time I was in a used window shop in Milwaukee—true story, such a thing used to exist; they sold windows salvaged from old houses (I needed a storm window)—and some old geezer was wandering around the store yelling “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” I thought it pretty weird and didn’t immediately understand until I realized he was a Korean-era Vet and needed help and, like in most modern big box stores, there was no one around to assist him. I don’t often need much assistance in knowing about obscure guitars, but, boy, is this guitar off the radar and it makes me scream “Mayday!” Despite what I do know.
I love playing the “what if?” game. You know, like “What if farmers had rotated crops instead of planting the same darned thing every year back in the 1930s?” Crop patterns and guitars? Yeah, because it was the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, caused in part by poor farming practices meeting drought, that sent legions of Okies and Texans west into California. That led to a rage for Western Swing and then the Bakersfield Sound. And without the products of that cultural collision we might not have had Fenders or… wait for it… Carvins.
Some guitars are so unique, they acquire something of a “cult status.” I think you could say that about Veleno guitars. Not only have they been played by some famous guitar players (can you say Mark Bolan [T-Rex], Eric Clapton, Jorge Santana, Pete Haycock [Climax Blues Band], Alvin Lee, Ronnie Montrose [Edgar Winter Group], Martin Barre [Jethro Tull], Ace Frehley, Dave Peverett [Foghat], and Mark Farner, just for starters?), they’re pretty darned rare. Not to mention so darned cool!