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Peavey T-15 blog

Peavey T-15: the “Mississippi Mustang”

Some players seem to have a natural dislike for Peavey amps, which is often unfair. But what about… the Peavey T-15 guitar??? Now here’s an  obscure little gem! In this guest article, Rob Roberge reminds us why this guitar and Peavey itself deserve a bit more love…

Peavey T-15 guitar - sunburst

Peavey T-15 guitar – sunburst

I was talking to my buddy – a professional blues player – a great player who has an impeccable ear for tone, telling him about my new (well, used…but new to me) really outstanding amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. He said to me, “you lost me when you used Peavey and Blues in the same sentence.” And while I could have gone on about some of the southern blues players that, in fact, did and still do use Peaveys (both guitars and amps), I kept my mouth shut. I could have even gone into a minor history lesson about Lynyrd Skynyrd using the very powerful and tuneful competition for the 70’s Fender Twin Reverbs – the Peavey Mace (with SIX 6L6 power tubes inspiring all those Zippos to flame up every night during “Free Bird”).

But if you think many guitar players’ reaction to Peavey amps is dismissive, just try selling them on the brilliant (Yes. Brilliant. There. I said it.) T-Series of Peavey guitars (many made from the late 70’s-mid 80’s, though most dying a quiet death in the early 80’s). At best, you may get a chuckle that suggests you know nothing. Or a comment about how ugly they are (not an uncommon thought…and actually, with some models, perhaps the most valid criticism of the series). Or even an incredulous reaction: “Are you kidding? Peavey? Peavey guitars? Please.”

But why this reaction to Peavey guitar equipment? Especially the guitars themselves. So long as we’re not talking about an abomination like the pink Adrian Vandenberg signature model of the late 80’s…ouch. Yes…Peavey deserved all mocking and humiliation for that clunker.

One of my main theories for why Peavey is taken most seriously for their PA’s and audio equipment, and at times very seriously for their amps, and almost not seriously at all for their guitars (especially, paradoxically and oddly, for what is their classic period when they were making as good or better guitars than either Fender or Gibson) is for one unfortunate reason: they had almost no recognition at the time as a guitar builder. And they committed a cardinal sin in the guitar business: they were (and still are, for many players) pretty uncool and, at best, aesthetically boring. No way to get a new line of guitars off the ground.

Peavey T-15

Peavey T-15 and some better-known models

And while we guitar players tend to think we are somewhat radical and hardly conservative, consumers in the guitar market are like consumers in most other markets – they go with brand names they know other people think highly of. And in the late 70’s, that meant—more or less—Fender and Gibson. Even if those companies were producing, it is now widely agreed, some of the worst instruments they have ever made.

Of course, this is an oversimplification—the very existence of Eastwood Guitars points to the fact that there is a market for guitar players who want to stand out from the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul crowd. But, I’d argue, that market was pretty much absent in the late 70’s. It’s only over the last 15-20 years that we have seen a steady growth of interest in some of the most interesting and wild guitars of the 60’s.

The Rare Guitars Revival

The (steadily over the last fifteen/twenty years) increasing interest in Harmonys, Danos, Valcos, some of the best Kays, and others has been caused, I’d argue, by a two-prong desire among guitar players:

  1. As vintage Fenders and Gibsons—and brands Guild, Gretsch, and Epiphones and others—started to skyrocket in price, players on a limited budget still wanted to get their hands on a piece of guitar history and vintage gear. And,
  2. Players discovered (or rediscovered, as many baby boomers first instruments were affordable 60’s models) that a lot of these budget/catalog guitars from the garage boom of the mid 60’s just happened to be pretty great guitars.

And they were—and this is not to be minimized—cool. In 1979, just about everyone was playing a guitar by a major company. And many of these were the traditional, yet boring designs that hadn’t changed much from the 1950’s.

Even before players such as Jack White brought his radical, funky red resolglass Airline to the masses, you’d had a quiet, yet growing groundswell of underground 80’s and 90’s bands playing inexpensive guitars that are now classics—but were, at the time—simply affordable, weird guitars that set them apart from mainstream bands. Hey, if your band wasn’t mainstream, why play a mainstream guitar? This was even true of some of the higher profile players/bands, with people like Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine and Steve Wynn dusting off Jazzmasters—which, by the late 70’s, were considered pawn shop crud. Or, if not crud, hardly a guitar that had been by far Fender’s most expensive guitar in the 1963 catalog. By comparison, Strat was very fairly priced (by comparison…it was still pricey for the day), and Teles and Esquires (not to mention, later, Mustangs) were positively relatively cheap.

But even lower on the food chain were the Airlines, the Silvertones, the Harmonys, the Danos. In the early 80’s, Karl Precoda used a Silvertone-branded Harmony H78 (with a missing middle goldfoil) on the Dream Syndicate’s classic The Days of Wine and Roses, an album that was widely praised at the time for bringing back long and aggressive duel guitar to underground rock—with a band that owed more to, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Velvet Underground than to any South Bay Hardcore. All of this with Precoda’s feedback-laden killer tone out of his Harmony.  East Bay Ray, from the Dead Kennedys, was famous for using off-brand guitars, often seen with then forgotten/unknown various Valco/Airline resoglass models over a decade before Jack White hit the national stage. No one was like him in bands of the time.

And then perhaps the band who perhaps most single-handedly showed their audience a plethora of cool 1960’s rare and funky and (at the time) forgotten guitars: Anton Newcome’s hollowbody Vox Cheetah he uses this day…over the years, he’s also used a Silvertone 1454L (the Silvertone model number for the Harmony/Airline H78—one of Eastwood great Airline reissues), Vox 12 strings…while brilliant former lead guitar player Jeff Davies was seen on stage with Hagstroms and Harmonys, and sometime bassist/sometime guitarist Matt Hollywood was often seen with a two pickup Rocket.

Brian Jonestown Massacre live

Brian Jonestown Massacre, dusting off vintage guitars…

Peavey T-Series

But, back to the Peaveys of the early 80’s. In some ways, picking a guitar (at least in part…no one plays a piece of crap just because it looks radical and unique) because it looks cool seems like a pretty shallow reason for picking you main/stage guitar. Because it is.

Still, I can understand why players might have shied away from the T-Series at first. The flagship and top of the line, the T-60, is a pretty unattractive guitar. While some people who LOVE them tend to say things on forums like, “it’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.” And while there are some people who do actually think the T-60 is a good looking guitar, they are in the vast minority. And remember, these are on forums for people who absolutely love these guitars. The general guitar playing public, if they are at all familiar with the T-60, tend to think of them as pretty uninspired designs at best, and pretty damn ugly at worst.

Peavey T-60

Peavey T-60: ugly, or so-ugly-it’s-beautiful?

But the T-Series was built in a way that revolutionized the guitar making industry. Peavey was the first to construct necks with a computerized copy lathe. By using computers, every neck came out exactly the same for the first time in guitar making history. This is now used throughout the guitar industry. This technology also allowed Peavey to produce guitars that were at least the equal to the quality of Fender and Gibson, yet significantly lower their production costs.

In 1978 (the first year of the T-60’s production), these were the prices of Fender’s Strat, Gibson’s Les Paul, and Peavey’s T-60:

Les Paul: Nearly $1,000

Stratocaster: $790

T-60: $375

And maybe that was another problem for Peavey. Maybe guitarists had the perception that a guitar that sold for so much less couldn’t possibly be the equal of the big names. But that simply wasn’t true (even if they weren’t nearly as good looking).

But the best—or most compelling and surprising—guitar in the T Series may be the T-15. This was a guitar that Peavey marketed as a beginner’s guitar, or a professional guitar for “players with smaller hands.” It’s become known over the years as the “Mississippi Mustang”—a reference, obviously, to Fender’s much more famous short scale classic—the Mustang.

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

The Fender Mustang had/has a 24” scale and a fast, comfortable neck that not only makes single note runs easy to speed up, but also offers a comfortable reach for more complex chords than many longer scale guitars allow and, lastly, makes bending easier up and down the neck. 

If you’re a player who enjoys playing the Mustang’s 24” scale, you might well love the T-15’s 23.5” scale. This, combined with a thin, flat, very fast neck, makes for an ease of playing that’s hard to describe. I’ve never player another guitar quite like it. It not only allows all of the benefits I mention above with the Mustang, but it makes double country bends enormously easy once you get used to the effortlessness of the bends. It may be why the guitar found early popularity with country players—with its ability to lend itself to complex country pedal steel-like bends. I have fallen in love with the 23.5” scale—which happens to be very rare and the same scale as the Gibson Byrdland (a short scale that’s also a favorite of Ted Nugent, which I pray is the only thing he and I have in common with the exception that we are both carbon based life forms).

Though, while the whole T Series of Peaveys first found the majority of their players in the country field, the T-15 is becoming more and more popular in indie rock. Some of the big reasons for this could be the one of a kind Peavey Super Ferrite pickups, which sound like a powerful cross between P90’s and some of the twang of a bridge Tele. But they have a sound all their own. Peavey also has the nice feature of there being no treble loss when you roll off the volume knob—the guitar keeps its tone no matter how low you roll off the volume.

Peavey T-15 in natural

Peavey T-15 in natural

Other features of the guitar are a three way pickup switch and a single tone and volume knob that controls both pickups. There’s a metal nut much like some of the classic Danelectros, which is nice because they never seem to wear down like many of the plastic ones that need to be replaced after many years of work. And while some of the higher end models, like the T-60, are famous for their excessive weight (some are reported to weigh more than a Les Paul—though the colored and sunburst ones supposedly weigh less than the more common natural wood finish), the T-15 is a very light and comfortable instrument. It, too, came most often in a natural wood finish, with much more rare versions made in both sunburst and walnut. According to Peavey’s literature at the time, the T-15’s body is made of “southern hardwood” whatever that might exactly be. The radius is 12”. And the neck is made of hard rock maple. It all adds up to a first-rate guitar. A Mississippi Mustang, indeed.

Lastly, while most of the T-15’s came with Peavey’s custom fit plastic cases, some (hardly all, but some) came with a 10 watt solid state amplifier in/with the case—harkening back to the classic Silvertone (made by Dano) Amp-in-Case of the 60’s.  The better one, of course, being the one that came with the two pickup 1457. Complete with a deep tremolo and a great tube sound driven by a single 6V6. While the T-15’s Peavey solid state amplifier hardly comes close to the greatness of the Silvertone Amp-in-Case, it does have some beautiful cleans and serviceable overdrive. But it’s hardly the same, even if it’s a cool and nostalgic feature.

For now, the T-15’s are still pretty affordable for such a great, professional grade guitar. They play like butter, and they have pickups like you’ve never heard, but will want to her a lot more once you do. Grab one before the price starts going up. The T-60’s have already been discovered. Grab the T-15 while you can.   

– guest article by Rob Roberge.

WATCH: PEAVEY T-15 DEMO 

David Bowie red guitar

The Guitars Of David Bowie

2016 was a year of great musical losses, but none was as shocking or as saddening as David Bowie’s. One year on, let’s remember a side of Bowie that’s been often forgotten: the guitarist! Here’s our guide to the guitars played by David Bowie over the years… enjoy!

David Bowie has had many different faces and personas over the years, but, surprisingly, one has been overlooked by most – David Bowie, the guitarist. In a way, it’s not very surprisingly, considering he was far from being a guitar hero, and, most importantly, has collaborated with some truly stellar guitarists who contributed greatly to his music, including: Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Quite an impressive list!

Which Guitars Did David Bowie Play?

Though not primarily a guitarist, Bowie had a consistent taste for vintage, rare guitars and his choice of instrument often changed with his ever-changing musical directions. Here’s a guide to some of his most notable guitars. We usually talk about electric guitars, but in Bowie’s case we can’t help but mention a few acoustics, too… after all, he was a huge fan of 12-string acoustic models, throughout his career! In any case – Bowie was a true connoisseur, and his choice of guitars over the years is nothing short of fascinating! 

Here’s Bowie’s career – in 20 rare, amazing guitars.

1) Framus 12-String Acoustic (1965-66)

Of course, many of you will know that Bowie started his musical career as a saxophone player, and then became the frontman of different bands (The Mannish Boys, The Lower Third) but never playing a guitar. This pic of an young David Jones with a Framus 12-string  is the earliest photograph of Bowie with a guitar.

David Bowie circa 1965-66 with Framus 12 string

David Bowie circa 1965-66 with Framus 12-string 

According to Bowie biographer Paul Trynka, Bowie bought a guitar in late 1965. Considering Bowie’s well-documented taste for 12-string acoustics in later years, it’s fair to assume that the Framus in the photograph was indeed his first guitar, though there has never been any specific information about it. It’s interesting to note that his guitar had pickup, volume and tone controls – perhaps it was modded and bought second-hand by the still struggling Bowie. Little trivia: the guitar was redburst. 

Playing guitar was an important step in David Bowie’s career, as he started to use the instrument to compose songs, such as “Maid Of Bond Street” and his first true classic, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”.

2) Gibson B45 12-String (1968-69)

Bowie live with Feathers

Bowie performing with Feathers

After the commercial failure of his 1967 debut album, Bowie tried other directions, including joining Lindsey Kemp’s mime troup, buddhism and forming folky trio Feathers with his girlfriend Hermione Farthingale and John Hutchinson. During this period, Bowie used a Gibson B-45 12-string acoustic.

Gibson B-45, as played by David Bowie

Gibson B-45, as played by David Bowie

He’s never been seen or photographed with this guitar again, after the end of Feathers. We actually believe this is the first time this guitar has ever been mentioned in relation to Bowie, as we couldn’t find anything else elsewhere. Well, now you know!

3) Hagstrom 12-String Acoustic (1969-1972)

Bowie live at the Beckenham Free Festival in 1969, with his Hagstrom.

Bowie live at the Beckenham Free Festival in 1969, with his Hagstrom.

This is perhaps Bowie’s most legendary guitar. It’s believed it’s the one he used to write his first hit, ‘Space Oddity’, as well as used live and to write most ‘Ziggy Stardust’-era songs, including ‘Starman’.

Curiously enough, the guitar is now on display at the ‘Beatles Story’ museum, in Liverpool. At some point, it seems to have had pickup and tone & volume controls added to it, though it’s not shown with this configuration in any Bowie photos.

David Bowie's Hagstrom on display in Liverpool.

David Bowie’s Hagstrom on display in Liverpool.

4) Espana 12-String Acoustic (1969)

Bowie and his Espana 12-string

Bowie and his Espana 12-string

This guitar was used on a famous promo shot for the ‘Space Oddity’ single, but strangely enough, there’s not a whole lot info about it. It might have been used just as a prop for the photograph. It looks very similar to the Hagstrom 12-string, and it could indeed be the one he’s using in other pics and footage, but it’s hard to be sure!

5) Guild 12-String Acoustic (1971)

David Bowie live in 1971 with Guild 12-string

David Bowie live in 1971 with Guild 12-string

When David Bowie toured the US for the first time, to promote ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ in 1971, he could be seen playing a Guild 12-string acoustic. There’s no report or pics of him using one before or since, so he probably just borrowed it for the tour.

6) Harptone 12-string (1972-83)

Bowie and his Ziggy-era Harpoon 12-string

Bowie and his Ziggy-era Harpoon 12-string

This Harptone 12-string is “the” Ziggy-era Bowie acoustic. He used it when touring with the Spiders From Mars and this guitar can be seen on most footage from the era. 

Curiously enough, it seems Bowie decided to dust it off years later, after the release of Let’s Dance, as this live pic suggests:

Eighties Bowie meets Ziggy-era acouistic.

Eighties Bowie meets Ziggy-era acoustic.

7) Harpotone 12-String Jumbo (1972-75)

Bowie Harptone 12 Jumbo

Bowie Harptone 12 Jumbo

Many people don’t realise this, but Bowie also regularly used ANOTHER Harptone 12-string, which at first sight looks similar to the previous one, but you’ll notice that it has a different scratchplate and is also bigger. He used this model on the second, Ziggy-era “Space Oddity” video; during the Ziggy tour and up until the Young Americans- era.

8) Egmond 12-String, Blue (1972)

Bowie and his blue Egmond.

Bowie and his blue Egmond.

This is one of Bowie’s most important guitars – if not for anything else, simply for being the guitar he used on the watershed moment of his career – playing “Starman” on Top Of The Pops, which finally launched Bowie as a bona fide popstar in the UK! He also used the Egmond on a few promo shots, and that seems to be about it.

9) Vox Teardrop Mark XII 12-String (1972)

Bowie and his Vox 12 string

There’s no record of Bowie using this cool Vox guitar other than in 1972, for promo pics. Years later, he used a Vox Teardrop Mark VI for the recording of one of his best songs in the Eighties, ‘Absolute Beginners’. The guitar is now on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Warsaw. There’s no photo of him and this guitar, though.

Bowie's Vox VI guitar

10) Gibson 1972 Deluxe Les Paul (1972)

David Bowie and a Gibson Les Paul

David Bowie and a Gibson Les Paul

David Bowie was always very conscious about his image and symbolism. That’s why he posed with a borrowed Les Paul on the cover of the “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” album – to show the world he was now a tougher, “rock’n’roll” act.  Maybe for this reason, he was up for using a Les Paul during his 1972 USA tour.

Presented to Bowie by Gibson, he used it live and on the ‘Jean Genie’ promo film. But given his more esoteric tastes in guitars, it’s not surprising that it soon became Mick Ronson’s back up guitar, never to be used by Bowie again. 

11) Hagstrom I Kent PB- 24-G (1974)

David Bowie red guitar

David Bowie and his Hagstrom I Kent PB-24-G

Now we’re talking! The red Hagstrom I Kent PB-24G guitar was Bowie’s first truly iconic electric guitar. Though many fans will recognise and love it, this guitar was only used in promo shots for his ‘Diamond Dogs’ album, and there’s no record of him ever using it elsewhere, apart from a TV appearance:

As most hardcore Bowie fans may know, he played most guitar parts on the ‘Diamond Dogs’ album, but according to those who worked with him, his guitar choice during the sessions was a Dan Armstrong plexiglass model – which he’s never been pictured with… a shame! Unless, those recollections are slightly wrong and they really meant the next guitar…

12) Dan Armstrong 341 (1976)

Bowie's Dan Armstrong 341

Bowie’s Dan Armstrong 341

Yes, David Bowie had for sure another Dan Armstrong guitar, but it was not a plexiglass model! Auctioned in 1991, this is an important guitar. Besides featuring on a famous pic used for the Sound + Vision compilation, it was also used to write one of Bowie’s finest albums. According to Bowie, in ’91: “I’ve had this Dan Armstrong guitar since the early 70s. I wrote most of the songs for Station to Station on it.” Considering the cronology, it may have been used on ‘Diamond Dogs’, too.

13) Custom Fender Telecaster, Natural (1976)

Bowie and a customized Fender Telecaster

Bowie and a customized Fender Telecaster

During the tour to promote ‘Station To Station’, Bowie played a custom Fender Telecaster, with 3 pickups with individual on/off switches. A pretty cool guitar, never seen since.

14) Fender Stratocaster, Red and Sunburst (1977)

Bowie Red Strat

Bowie and his Red Strat

Two  more conventional choices, during Bowie’s least conventional period! In 1977 Bowie could be seen playing a red Stratocaster for the ‘Be My Wife’ promo, one of the most commercial tracks from ‘Low’, which became a single. 

Bowie was also spotted playing a sunburst Strat that same year, for his duet with Marc Bolan, on Bolan’s TV show. This guitar belonged to Marc, who gave it to Bowie as he turned up without one on the day!

David Bowie, Strat and Marc Bolan.

David Bowie with a Strat and Marc Bolan.

15) Gibson L4, Black (1989-90)

Bowie and his Gibson L4

Bowie and his Gibson L4

Owned and used by David Bowie in the studio, on stage and while on tour with Tin Machine, accompanied by a Sound + Vision tour program showing Bowie playing this guitar, a signed letter of authenticity from Reeves Grables and guitar picks. The guitar can be seen in videos for the Tin Machine 1 album, in Music News reports and was used heavily in the studio for the recording of Tin Machine II. 

16) Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, Wine Red (1990)

Bowie and his Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

Bowie and his Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

The guitar was used on stage by Bowie during his March – September of 1990, Sound + Vision World Tour.

Bowie also subsequently used this guitar during studio sessions for his 1995 concept album “Outside.”

17) Takamine FP 400SC (1990)

Bowie and his 12-string Takamine

Bowie and his 12-string Takamine

Bowie used this guitar during his 1990 Sound + Vision tour. It was his main acoustic guitar then, used on classic hits such as ‘Space Odyssey’. The tour included 108 concerts over seven months in more than 80 cities around the world. Bowie promoted the tour as a “greatest hits” tour and stated it was the last time he was going to play songs from his back catalog. 

18) Steinberger GL2, Custom Silver (1991-92)

Bowie and hiscustom Steinberger

Bowie and hiscustom Steinberger

Bowie was a big fan of headless guitars, since he saw Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrel’s: “David saw mine and decided he wanted one like it. My guitar tech, Andy Spray, called the factory in Newburgh to see if they could make another chrome L series. Apparently, they had a guitar they used as a test run for the chroming process. That one had a normal fretboard (it did not have a chromed fretboard) making Bowie’s copycat completely playable while mine was not. The non chromed fretboard is the easiest way to tell them apart.”

19) Supro Dual Tone (2003)

Bowie and his Supro Dual Tone

Bowie and his Supro Dual Tone

The Supro Dual Tone is one of his most iconic later-years guitars. He used it during his last world tour, in 2003, and it even appears on his 2010 live album of that tour, ‘A Reality Tour’:

Bowie 'A Reality Tour' cover

Bowie ‘A Reality Tour’ cover

More recently, Eastwood did a great job at recreating this model (first made famous by Link Wray in the Fifties) as the Airline Twin Tone – a fitting tribute to Wray’s model, but now also a great choice for fans of Bowie who also play guitar…

The Airline Twin Tone, now also popular thanks to the David Bowie connection.

The Airline Twin Tone, now also popular thanks to the David Bowie connection.

20) Hohner G2, Red (2013)

Bowie and his Hohner G2

Bowie and his Hohner G2

Bowie went back to a headless guitar in the video of ‘Valentine’s Day’, from his superb comeback album ‘The Next Day’. As ever, his choice of instrument was unusual but made total sense with his tastes over the years. Unique just like the man himself.

truss2

THE SMARTER GUITAR NUT #2: Good Questions = Good Answers

 

In my first article, I told you about my background and what I hope to accomplish with this series of articles. Like the title says: I want to help make you a Smarter Guitar Nut. The first thing to know about being a Smarter Guitar Nut is: how to ask the right questions about the guitar you might be buying. I won’t get into the potential issues around a guitar’s cosmetic condition in this article. For now, here’s what you need to ask: Is the guitar in good cosmetic condition and is the finish original or is it a “re-fin”.

What we’ll focus on in this article is the guitar’s functionality; its mechanical and electronic components and, if those are not fully functional, what you then need to consider. Here we go…

Hey, I know the feeling. That first sight of a really cool guitar and that moment when you know (and sometimes even say out loud) “I must have it!” To that, I say: Slow down…let’s have a look…and let’s ask some questions. Asking the right questions can save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars…and a lot of heartache. Here are some questions to ask, whether you are inspecting the guitar in person or on line:

 

1 – Questions about the structural condition of the instrument

  • Does the guitar have any cracks, broken or missing pieces or other damage?
  • Has anything structural been damaged or modified such as extra routing for pickups or a broken or reshaped body, head-stock or neck?

NOTES:

  • As you might expect, this is a biggie. A bad crack can mean an instrument is potentially un-fixable. On the upside, sometimes even an awful looking crack can be fixed so it is completely structurally sound.

 

2 – Questions about the truss rod

  • Does the truss rod work properly?
  • Is the truss rod nut in good shape, or is it worn or stripped?

NOTES:

  • This is another big one. The truss rod must be working properly for the guitar to play correctly and truss rod repairs can be extremely expensive. Basically, a guitar that needs work on its truss rod has either got to be an incredible bargain or something you really, really want almost regardless of the added cost to fix it. The only silver lining on truss rods is that sometimes what seems to be a very serious problem can be fixed by a good repairman.
truss

The cost of truss rod repairs can turn a bargain into a problem …and a broken truss rod can turn a guitar into a “GSO” (see my first article in this series about GSOs). This photo shows the truss rod adjustment nut is in good shape.

 

3 – Questions about the trueness of the neck.

  • Does the neck take its proper shape under string tension once the truss rod is adjusted?
  • If not, is the neck still over-bowed even with the truss rod tightened? Or, is it still back-bowed even with the truss rod loosened off?
  • Is the neck twisted? (i.e. does one side of the neck – either treble or bass – have significantly more or less bow than the other)

NOTES:

  • The “trueness” of a neck refers to whether it can be adjusted into proper shape by adjusting the truss rod with the strings up to tension. As will be fully explained in a future article about truss rods, the “proper shape” of a neck is actually very slightly bowed rather than perfectly straight. A problem with the neck’s trueness can be fixed, sometimes with a heat press to give the neck a new starting point, sometimes – if the situation is more serious or the neck is twisted – by removing the frets, planing the fingerboard, topped off by a re-fret. That’s very expensive!

 

4 – Questions about the frets

  • Are the frets original or replaced? If replaced, what size are they?
  • How much fret wear is there? Are there gouges in the frets?
  • Have the frets been dressed and re-crowned recently? Is there enough fret left to dress now?

NOTES:

  • Everything about frets can be measured to determine what size they are and precisely how much fret life is left. Most cellphone cameras are now good enough to take pictures of fret wear and gouges. A good repairman can (almost) always tell whether frets have been replaced.

 

5 – Questions about the electronics

  • Do all the electronics work and work as they should?
  • Are the electronics (pickups, switches, controls, capacitors etc.) original or have any been replaced?
  • Have any components been obviously repaired?

NOTES:

  • This can be a huge issue, especially if you want the guitar specifically for its pickups. Any serious purchase should be made only after an inspection or photo of the guitar’s inner workings. Rewiring a guitar can be expensive and rewiring a hollow or semi-hollow instrument can be very expensive.
truss2

A good photo of the electronics can help determine whether components are original.

6 – Questions about the hardware

  • Is all the hardware original or have some parts been replaced?
  • If replaced, is the new part the same or different than the original?
  • Have any modifications been done to the guitar to accept replacement hardware or for any other reason? Are those modifications reversible?

NOTES:

  • This is the area where you can often catch a break because of all the excellent replacement parts available these days. Be careful, though, if the missing or broken part is unique to the instrument, a replacement can be either hard to find, expensive or both.
truss3

All kinds of hard-to-find vintage parts have now been reproduced and are reasonably priced.

Once you’ve determined whether an instrument is fixable and how much it will cost to fix, just remember to add that amount to your actual total cost to obtain the guitar and re-do the math. Now, is it still a good deal?

There are two ways to deal with the cost of bringing a guitar up to good playing condition. One way is to simply say: “I’ll pass”, the other is to see if you can get the price of the instrument reduced enough to cover that additional cost, or at least a portion of it. With all these smart questions to ask, now all you need is a trustworthy seller who answers all your questions knowledgeably and honestly, and your trusted guitar tech to back you up the next time a “must have it” guitar comes along. So, get ready ‘cause you know there’s always gonna be a next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Blonde Redhead live

Forgotten Offset Guitars: Teisco TG-64

Offset Guitars have been, for a long time, a favourite amongst alternative rock and indie rock players. Let’s have a look at a forgotten classic – the Teisco TG-64, now being reissued by Eastwood.

Blonde Redhead live

Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, one of the players who discovered the joys of a Teisco offset – she plays the bass version of the TG-64, the TB-64 now being resurrected by Eastwood. VIEW INFO

Don’t get us wrong – we love a good Jazzmaster, Jaguar or Mustang. Fender was and still is the big daddy of the offset guitars. But if familiarity doesn’t always have to bring contempt, on the other hand many of us prefer guitars with that little spark of mystery, which add to an unique touch when you’re on stage, or simply helps making it more interesting to play. That’s why a few lucky guitarists can’t help but loving their rare, 1960’s Teisco TG-64. Let’s be honest, it has a certain mojo lacking in modern-day Jazzmasters!

The Forgotten Offset Classic?

While its shape is familar, it’s all about those other details: three single coil pickups stripy scratchplate, push buttons and that cut-out handle on the body – what’s it all about? One of those features no one really needs, but which in fact looks pretty cool. It was the Sixties, after all, and who knows what the designers were smoking, then!

Original Teisco TG-64

Original Teisco TG-64

The thing about Teisco guitars, is that they were unashamedly cheap knock offs of bigger brands such as Fender – but with enough personality to stand out on their own. They were never meant to be GREAT guitars, but put them through a valve amp and a good fuzz pedal, and it could be the coolest thing ever.  Originally unpopular offset models such as the Jazzmaster and Jaguar were affordable, and for this reason rediscovered in the Seventies by Punk and New Wave acts, but as soon as they became a staple in 90s alt-rock, thanks to Nirvana, Sonic Youth and others, they became prized commodities – and, somewhere along the way, lost just a little bit of their “cool” factor (for all it’s worth!).

Owning a Teisco TG-64 is a bit like owning a Jazzmaster back in 1976 – because it’s still an odd and rather cool choice, not seen too often. Some of the people who’ve used one recently include Blonde Redhead and Conor Oberst. But this model is still not the easiest to find! This is perhaps the coolest of all non-Fender offset guitars, and certainly a “forgotten classic”!

Conor Oberst and his Teisco TG-64

Conor Oberst and his Teisco TG-64

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

It’s great news that Eastwood Custom are planning to reissue the Teisco TG-64. The plan is to make it even better than the original, but still quite affordable. While in the past Teisco were cool but cheap guitars, the new ones are of much better quality. If you’re looking for a cool alternative to a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster that really stands out, maybe the new Eastwood Custom TG-64 will do the trick for you.

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

At the moment guitarists have to pledge a small amount to guarantee theirs… if you’re interested, hurry up, because opportunity ends TODAY (17th November)

VIEW EASTWOOD TG-64 PAGE FOR INFO

Eastwood Custom TB-64 Monkey Grip

Tesco TB-64... new Eastwood custom project

Teisco TB-64… new Eastwood custom project. Find out more

The Teisco TB-64 looks very closely to the TG-64, but with a few differences besides the longer scale: a more “Fender-y” headstock, different neck joint and a vibrato arm closer to the edge of the body. Yes, it might’ve been inspired – in principle – on the Fender Bass VI but, frankly, has quite a marked difference… and, dare we say, looks much better?

Eastwood launched a custom shop project to reissue the TB-64, ending on April 20, 2017. They’ve successfully crowdfunded the TG-64 and it looks likely the TB-64 will also get made… but the best way to make sure this happens, and to guarantee yours, is of course to help crowdfunding and leave your pledge, too!

VIEW EASTWOOD TB-64 PAGE FOR INFO

Watch: Teisco TG-64 Demo

TOP 10 WEIRD VINTAGE GUITARS

Six strings, wood and metal. That’s what guitars are made of, at least the boring ones. However, there will always be something else, something different than every other guitar you have ever seen. New shapes. Mixed elements. Screaming colours. Or, simply MADNESS. Ladies and gentlemen, freak out all you want because this is the top 10 of the weirdest vintage guitars.

                                                                                           10. Rickenbacker 620

rickChubby, but splendid. The 620 features the unusual ‘cresting wave’ styled body, as well as an oddly shaped pick-guard. Designed in the 50’s, it is less popular than the 300 series although much more bold and unconventional.

                                                                                            9. Ampeg Dan Armstrong

ampegExactly how it seems, the Dan Armstrong has a ‘see through’ design. Its body is made of clear plastic which may look a little gimmicky on the 2006 vintage edition, but was already played by big names as Keith Richards and Dave Grohl. In other words, the Dan Armstrong is “clearly” weird.

             8. Gibson Explorer 120

exWould you dare to play this wild pointy creature? The Explorer was initially marketed as Gibson Futura until its later success. Unsuccessfully released in 1958, it has a classic space-age perfect for hard rock and heavy metal.

 7. Gibson Flying V

flyThis one is a monument. From Jimi Hendrix to Lenny Kravitz, everybody loved its V shaped Maple body. The Flying V was futuristic, light and crazy enough to overcome its rough launch in 1958. Nowadays, it is one of the most iconic models ever made. How about that?

 

6. Kawai MS-700 MoonSault

kawHouston, we have landed on a weirdo. The MoonSault was released during Japan’s guitar making boom in the early 70s. Its moon styled body is really one of the most unique guitar shapes ever created! And take a look at the fret markers, they follow the entire lunar cycle with quite some detail. Kawai just made the coolest guitar for a night out!

5. Vox Phantom

voxLove won’t ever tear us apart. The Phantom is not just a guitar, it is more of a badass violin: light, small and weirdly pentagonal. In fact, its shape became an icon of the British Invasion since the release in 1962. Ian Curtis, huge psychedelic rock legend, owned about 3 Phantoms.

4. La Baye 2×4

bay

 

The name says it all, 2×4=6 strings and a rectangular shaped body. As simple as that. It may look like a joke, but this one is quite a serious vintage guitar. Devo, probably the most futuristic and quirky band ever, worshiped the 2×4.

3. Ibanez Iceman PS1CM

iceMadness made in Japan. The Iceman was built with an appealing original design that mixes both classic and modern styles. It was released internationally in 1978 by Ibanez, but its Japanese version belongs to Greco. Paul Stanley, from KISS, is a fan and even signed this broken glass vintage edition. It is as weird as awesome!

2. Gibson EDS-1275 Double-neck

edsMeet the Frankenstein of all this freak show. The Double-neck integrates 2 different guitars in a single one resembling Gibson’s SG model. Introduced in 1958, it is big, heavy and noisy enough to be a scary scary scary monster. After all, you get 6 strings plus 12 to rock the house down (Jimmy Page’s style).

 

1. Airline 59 2P

At last, the award for most weird vintage guitar goes to… Airline’s 59!!!

The future is with this one, and it is beautiful. Every part of the 59, from the styled body to the controls or the colours, look as if it was stolen from a Stanley Kubrick’s movie. The Airline 59 model is almost a rock spaceship, a quality futuristic statement embraced by great artists as Jack White or PJ Harvey. And its sound? It is absolutely MIND-BLOWING!

Do you agree with our top 10? What would your weird guitar picks be?

Rock on, weirdos |..|

 

THE SMARTER GUITAR NUT #1: So, You Want to be a Smarter Guitar Nut

Hi there, my name is Mike Zimmerman and welcome to my series of articles about guitars and guitar collecting from the techie’s point of view. I’ve been collecting guitars for many years and have accumulated quite an interesting collection. I also have the usual, accompanying collection of sad tales of “the one that got away” or “the one I sold when I needed the money” etc.

img_20161021_120853

Strange but true, reissues can become collectables too (on the left an early ‘60s Danelectro Longhorn, on the right its late ‘90s reissue).

Sound familiar?

While I’ve been a long-time happy member of the Guitar Nut fraternity, I’ve also had a little advantage: I’m also a trained and accomplished guitar tech, and that means I can buy an instrument that needs work and do the work myself, whether I intend to keep it or re-sell it. Often, that’s not just a cost saving, it can also mean the difference between snapping up a bargain on a decent guitar (for fun or profit!) or getting stuck with an unplayable and unsellable pile of wood and metal.

About that “pile of wood and metal”, I’ll mention here that a repair client of mine who is a piano technician once referred to any piano that needs more work than it’s worth as a Piano-Shaped Object or PSO for short. I liked that and have since referred to any guitar as a Guitar-Shaped Object (or GSO) if it is so far gone that its restoration would take much more time, effort and money than it’s worth. GSO…remember that term. It will come up from time to time.

Anyway, that’s the angle I’d like to take in this series of articles for Eastwood: the happy marriage between technical knowledge and smart guitar collecting. For me, it’s a marriage that has worked for more than forty years.  For you, I want it to be an introduction to what you need to know to become a Smarter Guitar Nut too, with a special focus on oddball and unusual instruments. This is, after all, written for Eastwood!

The subjects I’ll cover include:

  • Generally, what to look for (and look out for) in a guitar
  • How to recognize whether the instrument is in original condition
  • What parts can be replaced to improve playability without hurting its collectable value
  • What types of repair work or improvements are usually required in most guitars and how to do those repairs without affecting a guitar’s collectable value
  • Originals vs. reissues: which is better for you and how a re-issue can become a collectable itself
img_20161021_133438

Probably the most common modification to vintage instruments: New tuners. When should this be done? How should it be done ? And, when should it not be done?

For each of these subjects, I’ll be getting into how you can do these things yourself and when to know that a pro should become involved. Ultimately, the goal is to make you a more knowledgeable guitar owner and collector.

First, here’s a little relevant personal history. I started repairing instruments when I was a teenager. I’d brought my prized Rickenbacker bass to a local shop to have it set up. I don’t think I even knew what “set up” meant…all I knew was it ought to get done. I must have read it somewhere.

When the bass was ready, the shop charged me only $6 rather than the expected $8 (remember, this was a long time ago!) because, as they explained, they couldn’t intonate the E string; the bridge saddle had been pulled back as far as it would go and the string was still slightly sharp when played up the neck. I was happy enough to save $2 (like I said, this was a long time ago) but, as well, my interest was tweaked. I asked what “intonation” meant and the explanation I got inspired me to pursue the issue.

img_20161021_122141

The modern solution for Riks with intonation problems: The Hipshot Bridge. There are many modern parts that can improve vintage instruments without modiufication.

I went home and filed the E string saddle slot to enable a bit more backwards adjustment and the operation was a complete success. From that moment on, I was both able to set up my own instruments and do favours for my musical friends. Most important, I’d learned two important basic principles about guitar repair that I’d like to impart to you now:

  • If you understand why and how something is supposed to work on a guitar, you will more likely be able to figure out what needs to be done when it isn’t working as it should; and,
  • If you inspect the situation, plan and carry out the work carefully, you can be successful.
img_20161021_133553

Should you install side position dots on a vintage neck that doesn’t have them? We’ll discuss.

All that, of course, has to be considered in the context of your skill level with basic repair techniques and tools. At the very least, applying the principles above will help you recognize when you need professional help. It will also make you a much more knowledgeable repair customer. That’s a real head start for you and, again, a potential cost savings.

So, to conclude my own story, I eventually got a job with Fender’s Canadian distributor doing warranty repairs, set-ups and even some custom work on new instruments. I went on to become one of the early partners in The Twelfth Fret, Toronto’s premier guitarists’ pro shop that’s still going strong almost 40 years later. I then formed the Amazing Musical Instrument Company, which manufactured innovative acoustic-electric instruments, primarily violins. For the past 30 years I’ve maintained a shop in my basement to do various repairs for a number of local guitarists and on the guitars that I buy, sell and keep.

img_20161021_121746

In the foreground, this Longhorn has had a metal strap button installed on the horn rather than the heel to improve balance and stability. Ideally, a modification to a vintage instrument should be reversible, like this one.

At each phase of my work I acquired new skills, experience and knowledge that I think will be useful to you and anyone interested in guitars and guitar collecting.

In my next article, we’ll start that process by looking at what you should look for in any guitar to make sure you don’t end up with – as you now know it’s called – a GSO.

How to Fix a Warped Pickguard

By: Chris McMahon

There’s a lot of bad information on the internet, as I was reminded while trying to resuscitate a recent score: a Silver Sparkle 20th Anniversary Squier Jagmaster.

 rfg1k20ruitleveojdyjyoqb3xgc1cdldfu2f64ahrprodlyryi7pt4daozi4ccgopue3mzbwvjkncnqpz-fe_y34lib7rfxmmxe5oxvmkjttbwu8xdfqt6r-cmeaa2plzbyqtwu
Don’t laugh, it’s paid for!

It’s not a guitar for everyone, but I bought my first about five years ago when I started playing guitar again as an adult. It was fun and cheap, and with a little bit of elbow grease it cleaned up nicely and, after a pro setup, played great. Then I set my sights on more “appropriate” guitars and got myself a Fender Highway One Stratocaster, you know, a proper “dad” guitar.

 Selling the Jagmaster was a mistake (as my daughter frequently reminded me), and when I had some “mad money” recently, I started searching for a replacement. A couple weeks later, I picked one up through Reverb.com. It was a little more expensive than I would have hoped and rougher than I expected. The strings were crusty, every tuner and bolt was loose, and the pickguard was warped. But the electronics worked, the neck was straight, and there was almost no fret wear, though they were dull and a little rough.

All that stuff is easy enough to fix as part of a regular cleanup and restring. This one needed a little more, and in addition to my new and regularly applied Dremel and Nu Finish fret polish routine, which I’ll show next, I decided to fix the damn pickguard. I reckon if a third of a guitar’s face looks off, it’s going to show. And at the very least, it’s going to gnaw at me. Forever. Or until I’m done losing sleep over it and fix it, so why not do it now?

A quick Google search brought up no shortage of bad ideas, all suggesting that you essentially bake the pickguard and, before it melts, burns, discolors or sets off the smoke alarms, pull it out of the oven — careful not to stretch it — and stack books on it till it cools and lays flat.

If you’re inclined to follow that advice, I’m going to guess you don’t have enough books around to pull off that stunt. That said, follow the steps below at your own peril, as I did, and don’t do this to a vintage instrument.

 

            Here’s how I fixed a warped pickguard:

1. Remove the pickguard from the guitar, and electronics from the pickguard.

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Here you can see the bowing of the pickguard

2. Clear some space and wash the dishes in the kitchen sink. You’ll want the room to work, and you’ll score some points with the wife or roommate.

3. Find a cookie sheet or cutting board that’s bigger than your pickguard, but that fits in your sink.

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4. Boil some water – enough to fill the sink and cover the cutting board and pickguard with another inch or so. I used a kettle and the biggest pot we have to boil some more.

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5. Put the cookie sheet/cutting board in the sink, and place the pickguard in face down, so you don’t scratch it up like I did.

 

6. Pour the boiling water over it, then put the pot, with the hot water in it, on top.

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7. Wait 2 minutes.

8. Remove the pot, then the cutting board with pickguard, and re-stack them to cool.

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I let the whole thing cool for about 10 minutes after 2 minutes in the sink.

9. Enjoy a victory beer.

10. Buff it out with car wax, I use Nu Finish.

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That’s flat!

 

11. Reinstall, etc.

 

There are more than a couple benefits to using hot water rather than an oven. It’s a lot more controllable, as you can see the pickguard throughout the entire process, and the timing is flexible without introducing the possibility of smoke, fire or nasty fumes.

 

 

 

Vegematic Guitars

Vegematic Guitars

By Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

 

1965 Hagstrom Impala

As with our old friend Nigel Tufnel, that more is better goes without saying.  Why play an amp at 10 when you could play at 11?  I’ve bought guitars just because they had 4 pickups.  And I’d for sure be interested in a guitar like this Hagstrom Impala with 8 push-button controls!  Count ‘em, 8! And color-coded!

I find it curious that Hagstrom isn’t better known or regarded by Stateside guitar enthusiasts.  I guess you can say that about most European guitar-makers.  But Hagstrom actually got pretty good distribution here.  Maybe even better than EKO, which somehow ends up being better known (although that’s probably more due to Dan Forte’s—aka Teisco Del Rey—writings than actual familiarity during the 1960s)  But Hagstroms were pretty well made and they actually were among the earliest European guitars to be imported after the War.  In the late ‘50s, with the rising popularity of Folk music, acoustic guitars from Scandinavia were the first imports, guitars made by Landola (Finland) and Bjarton (Sweden) came in as Goyas and Espanas.  In around 1959 those acoustic were followed by the first, short-lived electrics, those wonderful sparkle-plastic covered hollowbody electrics sold under the Goya brand name, made by Hagstrom in Sweden.

Finding a vegematic array of push-buttons on a Hagstrom shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Indeed, those early sparkles had push-buttons.  But when you consider that Hagstrom actually began in the 1930s as an accordion manufacturer.  Accordions have nothing if they don’t have buttons!  American manufacturers hit on the toggle switch early on, but European makers seem to have preferred push-button switching.  Then again, come to think of it, most European guitar-makers started out making accordions!  Except for many of the German makers.  Except for Hohner.

Anyhow, Hagstrom produced some pretty innovative and high quality instruments, although I think their reputation gets a bit tarred by those pretty flimsy vinyl-covered guitars that were their bread and butter through most of the 1960s.  But those early sparkles were pretty interesting.  They had modular pickup assemblies.  You just lifted one configuration out and plugged in a different one, although practically speaking that really only made sense if you were upgrading.  I can’t think of why you’d change out a 4-pickup unit for a 1-pickup unit, since all you had to do was just play one pickup on the 4-pickup configuration, but, hey, it makes for good marketing copy.

mrwright

            There were guitars like this Impala.  This was a very early neck-through-body guitar made long before that technique became fashionable.  The push-buttons were basically for a variety of tone controls.  The “0” was one of my favorite settings: “off.”  I never really understood why you want to turn your guitar off, but OK.  The 1 button activated the neck pickup, while 2 turned on the bridge unit.  Then there were 3 buttons  for Hi, Mid, and Low, sort of a quasi-EQ presumably with different capacitors.  The Solo button was full out, and Accompaniment was a muted setting for chording.  The sliding lever was a master volume for all the buttons except for knob which was a volume control for when you were in Accompaniment mode.  I love all those buttons but I may be loving a toggle switch more.  Even though the switching is a bit arcane, this is a high quality guitar with a pretty good amount of tonal versatility.

Guitars like the Impala weren’t Hagstrom’s only quality builds or technical innovations.  Later in the 1970s the company commissioned Jimmy D’Aquisto to design a jazz box (dubbed the Jimmy) and they also produced the very nice Swede, a sort of Les Paul-style axe, some of which came outfitted with a Patch 2000 interface pedal made by Ampeg, a pre-MIDI form of synth guitar that combined guitar switches with a foot pedal and was even harder to figure out than the Impala’s push-buttons.  But the Swede/Patch 2000 certainly earned them an A for effort.

Hagstrom, like most other European manufacturers couldn’t survive the Japanese juggernaut of the 1970s and they bit the dust in the early 1980s.  Their labor costs kept going up and up as Europe gradually recovered from the 20th Century’s hot wars and the political and economic turmoil of the Cold War.  But they did manage to make some significant—or at least some really interesting—contributions to guitar history.  Including guitars with lots of buttons.  Now, if this only had 9 buttons, Nigel would be a happy chappy…

 

Hell On Wheels

by Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

1978 Travis Bean TB500

There are any number of things I associate with pickup trucks (from Handicaps to gun racks), and guitars aren’t one of them.  Yet—as anyone who’s followed the recent advertising battle between the Ford F-150 and its competitors—the two sometimes flirt with the use of aluminum to optimize performance.  Certainly there more than a passing relationship between this Travis Bean TB500 and motor vehicles.

Now, Travis Bean may have owned a pickup truck, I don’t know.  But he for sure was interested in motorcycles, which he apparently raced and presumably worked on.  And it’s almost impossible not to conclude there was some crossover influence between working on motorcycles, being a machinist, and putting aluminum necks on guitars.

However, Travis Bean wasn’t the first to put vehicles and guitars together.  Back in around 1959-1960 Wandré Pioli—another motorcycle fanatic—began making aluminum-necked guitars in Milan, Italy.  Those were way cool, with weird body shapes and exotic one-off paint jobs and great names like “BB” (for Brigit Bardot!).  Some other Italians—well, depends on what you consider Sicilians who emigrated to Paris—the Jaccobacci brothers also used aluminum necks.  As far as I know, they had no interest in either motorcycles or pickup trucks, though I may be wrong about that.  It doesn’t show up in the biographies.  A little later in the 1960s—and I believe totally independently—John Veleno in Florida also used aluminum to build guitars.  He built the whole shebang out of aluminum.  I don’t think John was into motorcycles or trucks either.  He was actually a music teacher who built a guitar-shaped aluminum sign as advertisement.  A friend suggested he make a real guitar out of aluminum, so he did.  In 1967 the Messenger company of San Francisco briefly made guitars with aluminum necks.  (Eastwood offers wood-necked versions of the Wandré and Messenger guitars.)

1978 Travis Bean TB500 Rr

            Anyhow, in 1974 the Travis Bean guitar concept was born.  The story is somewhat confused, obfuscated by the passing of time and varying accounts.  Bean apparently teamed up with a guitar repairman named Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer.  Kramer’s telling, given long after, has himself as the main money man and sales department.  The chronology is a bit muddled.  According to Kramer, Bean kind of lost interest before things got off the ground.  Kramer left in 1975 to start his own aluminum-necked guitar company and according to other accounts actual guitar production didn’t begin until 1976.  When the company closed down in 1979, a little over 3600 guitars and basses had been produced.

There were basically four Travis Bean models: the TB500 seen here, the slab-bodied TB1000 Standard (the most common), the carved-top TB1000 Artist, and The Wedge, whose shape you can readily imagine.   These got heavy coverage in the guitar press of the time and a lot of big stars toyed with them, including Keith Richards, Jerry Garcia, Stanley Jordan, Ace Frehley, and Slash, to mention just a few.

The TB1000s had teak bodies.  They are exceptionally cool, but also very heavy.  You’d best be in good shape to sling one around an arena rock show.  The TB1000s had humbucking pickups.

1978 Travis Bean TB500 CU

The Wedge and the TB500 models are pretty rare birds.  This TB500 was meant to be a less expensive guitar.  This one (#234, 1978) was made of magnolia wood and is considerably lighter weight.   These have single-coil pickups.  I’ve played this guitar and several Standards.  While both models are pretty nifty, I found the TB500 to be a little white bread compared to the Standard (and presumably the Artist, which was just a bit fancier version), but there’s no accounting for tastes, as they say.  Both certainly did give you plenty of sustain.  Then again, the older you get, the less interested you are in a heavy guitar!

The skinny on Beans at the time was that the aluminum  was sensitive to temperature changes, although I’m not sure if that wasn’t more about conservative guitarists trying to find a reason not to like them.  I do know that John Veleno found resistance to the feel of an aluminum neck.  That was part of Gary Kramer’s “improvement” of putting in wooden inserts on the back.  In any case, Travis Beans were a pretty interesting episode in guitar history.

In 1999 Bean announced a big comeback and a revival of the legendary Travis Bean guitars.  There were pictures of revamped, very fancy guitars that I presume were of prototypes.  I’m pretty sure the line ever made it into production, and the aluminum-necked Travis Bean guitars sank back into legend.  (Clifford) Travis Bean passed away in 2011 at age 63.  Both the Ford F-150 and Travis Bean guitars used aluminum to improve performance, albeit for completely different reason.  Even after all this time, the jury’s still out on that!

Roll Out the Barrel, And We’ll Have a Barrel of Fun!

By Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

 

It’s curious how wildly tastes can swing in a relatively short period of time.  When, in the 1967 classic movie The Graduate, Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson) leans in to advise Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock) to consider a predictably successful future in “Plastics,” the very concept of “plastic” was loaded with highly negative cultural connotations.  Plastic people were disingenuous, fake, mindless pursuers of a corrupted American Dream that created the Viet Nam War.  Yet only a couple years earlier plastic was viewed as an ideal way to add beauty and attraction to a guitar such as this 1965 Avanti solid-body!1965 Avanti

The term “plastic” comes from Greek and more or less means “moldable.”  Moldable natural materials have been used for millennia, but synthetic or man-made plastics date from mid-19th Century America.  At that time, the economy was shifting from agrarian to industrial.  A part of this shift was increasing demand for consumer goods by larger numbers of people.  Many of these products had traditionally been fashioned from natural materials.  For example, hair combs were carved out of bone.  Tortoise shell used to be, well, tortoise shell!  The problem was that, as demand rose, raw materials became scarcer.  Just one example of how cultural changes affected things: cattle ranchers stopped de-horning their steers, thus decreasing the supply of horn material.

The catalyst for modern plastics was the popularity of billiards in the 19th Century.  The growing upper middle-class found it necessary to have a billiards room (for the guys to light up cigars after dinner, you know).  Billiard balls were carved out of elephant ivory.  Enormous numbers of pachyderms were slaughtered.  Obviously, this was unsustainable.  In 1863, a contest was promoted offering $10,000 in gold to anyone who could come up with a man-made alternative.  The result was the first celluloid invented by a New York printer named John Wesley Hyatt.  Alas, early celluloid was highly flammable and prone to exploding.  Nevertheless, they eventually got the formula worked out and modern plastics were on their way.

Just when instruments began to be covered in celluloid remains to be elucidated.  However, a good candidate for the first instrument is probably the accordion, which makes sense for this guitar.  Accordion history is far less well documented than that of guitars, but in the 1850s and ‘60s accordion-making developed in and around Castelfidardo, Italy, in the northeast in the Po River delta.  The region also had a guitar-making heritage.  Castelfidardo remains the center of accordion-making to this day.  Accordions came to the U.S. in the early 20th Century and became popular by the ‘teens primarily through the Italian immigrants Pietro and Guido Deiro, who recorded extensively for Victor.  Sears sold Castelfidardo-brand accordions around this time with glued-on celluloid, including sparkle.  By the 1940s accordion technology had evolved to include covering curved surfaces in celluloid.

avantidual

In the early 1950s there was an accordion craze among young Baby Boomers—my sister was captivated—but it fizzled out mid-decade.  This left the accordion makers—and importers—sitting with lots of capability and a greatly reduced market.  Fortunately for the accordion makers, the region of Italy where they existed was also home to a guitar-making tradition.  When Baby Boomers started turning to guitars later in the decade and into the 1960s, many accordion makers—EKO most famously (or actually Oliviero Pigini, EKO’s maker)—threw their hats into the guitar ring.  It was only natural that they should hit on covering guitar bodies in celluloid, just like their accordions!

As far as I know, EKO was the first to start making plastic covered guitars in around 1962 or ’63.  This Avanti was imported by European Crafts of Los Angeles I’m guessing around 1965.  European Crafts was importing Italian made solid-bodies at least by December of 1964, most made in Castelfidardo by the Polverini Brothers.  Presumably, this is one of those.  This is actually a pretty serviceable guitar once you’ve set it up right.  There are some amusing features, like the fake truss rod cover (the rod adjusts at the body).  What can I say?  They made accordions, didn’t they?  The pickups are controlled by a 4-way rotary switch that gives you neck, middle, bridge, all.  But really, the story here is plastic meant to look like root beer barrel candy!  Yummy!

Now, there’s nothing I love more than highly figured woods on my guitars, but root beer barrel candy plastic?  What’s not to love?  For better or worse, guitars like this Avanti were kind of yesterday’s news.  They were fine for combos in matching collarless suits with matching guitars.  But Dylan had “gone electric” and folk rock was hot.  And someone was, no doubt, working on the script of The Graduate.  Of course, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since this Avanti appeared and today we recycle plastic.  So, show me a root beer barrel candy-coated guitar and I’m all in!  Plastics!