Friday, March 20, 2015

Burns Guitars

1963 Burns Double Six
In the mid 1960's I spent a lot of time at Dodd’s Music Store in Covington Kentucky. As a new guitar player I was awestruck by the collection of guitars hanging on the walls. Two of them in particular were fascinating. These were the Burn’s Double Six, a twelve string model and its six string companion, the Burns Jazz guitar. Both instruments featured Green-burst finishes and both had the famous Burn’s of London pickups. And both the six and twelve string guitars featured vibrato bars. 

Dodd’s carried a few other Burns models, but none appeared as regal as these two guitars. As a 12 year old boy I was fascinated and wanted to know what a Wild Dog setting sounded like. In later years I discovered it didn't sound that great, but I digress.

Burns of London was originally known as Ormston Burns Ltd. Founded by James Ormston Burns and a partner Alice Louise Farrell in 1960. I cannot find any information about Miss Farrell.

James Ormston Burns
James Burns ran a guitar repair shop in London. Perhaps his first claim to fame was repainting and repairing John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325.  However most U.K. folks would remember James O. Burns as the “Leo Fender” of London.

Under his ownership and ideas, this little guitar repair shop became the producer of guitars that had a world-class reputation. Like Fender, Burns sold off his company and later re-emerged with a new company and new guitar designs.

1963 Black Bison
James Burns take on the Stratocaster was called The Bison and The Steer. The horns were a little more radical, the neck was glued in, the length was slightly shorter at a 25” scale and its 3 high-output Tri-Sonic pickups allowed different selections including the Wild Dog Sound. The six-on-a-side head stock had the "batwing" design.

Burns Guitars were enormously well received in Britain before the British invaded the USA. As I have mentioned before, in the 1950’s through the 1960’s Britain was paying off a huge war debt. Guitars imported from the United States had a very expensive import tariff, and were out of the financial reach of many Britons. But Burns guitars and other European made instruments were readily available and affordable.

Ike Isaacs
The first commercially produced Burn manufactured guitar was the Ike Issacs short scale model. Issacs was a well-known jazz guitarist. Issacs was born in Burma and came to London as a student in the mid 1940’s. It was there he immersed himself in guitar playing and he really soaked it up. Within a few years he was playing with Stephan Grappelli, Barney Kessel and other well known artists.

The Ike Issacs model was distrubted by the Supersound Company. This was a company founded by a couple with the surname Wooten that specialized in public address and guitar amplifiers from 1952 to 1974. Their company needed someone to build guitars, so they contracted with Jim Burns. Burns introduced the Ike Issacs model in 1958 and shortly afterward introduced the Single Cutaway Bass for the company.

By 1959 Burns was building guitars under his own name, although he did so in collaboration with a fellow named Henry Weill. The result was The Fenton Guitar. Burns forte was wood working. Weill designed the electronics. The original Fenton Guitar looked somewhat like a Guyatone of the same period.

Vibra Artist Deluxe
With the onset of Skiffle music and rock n’ roll in the UK the guitar was become a very popular instrument. Cliff Richard introduced the first Fender Stratocaster to the UK and Europe. Burn’s followed suit by producing the Vibra Artist and Vibra Artist Deluxe. These guitars featured what Burns called the rolling tremolo. Both guitars came with two pickups.

1963 Burns Bison
Burns also offered six versions of the Bison series. These characteristic guitars featured a symmetrical body with two long horns that mimicked the appearance of a bison skull.

1963 Burns Split Sonic
Jim Burns also created the Sonic series which included the Sonic, Split Sonic, Sonic Vista and Nu Sonic. These may have been vaguely based on a Gibson SG, but all had unique shapes. All were equipped with a tremolo.

Though Burns created two models he dubbed Jazz Guitars, it is doubtful most Jazz player would equate them to this music style, for these resembled Stratocasters and came with two or three Tri-Sonic pickups and a tremolo. However they were sweet looking guitars.

Cliff Richard and his band, The Shadows were extremely popular during this era. Jim Burns was honored to be asked to create guitars and a bass for the group with their name featured on each instrument.

Burns Marvin
Instead of the six-on-a-side style, Burns created a scrolled violin style head stock. Right under the scroll was a clear plastic bison head-shaped emblem.

Burns Shadows Bass
This announced it was a Marvin or a Shadows Bass. A twelve string version was also launched with the longest head stock I’ve ever seen. Though it was a Marvin, it eventually became known as the Double-Six.

Burns also launched a line of “half-resonance guitars”. These were thin hollowbodies and were designated the TR2, the Vibraslim, the GB65, GB66 and GB66 Deluxe Virginian.

The TR2 and the Vibraslim looked alike.

GB65 (Baldwin)
The GB65  looked like a jazz guitar with F holes. The GB66 was a double cutaway version.

GB66 Virginian D
The GB66 Deluxe Virginian was a totally different guitar.

It had a round faux sound hole on the front that had two pickup on the upper and lower sides of the sound hole and like an acoustic guitar from the front.

However it featured a tremolo unit and if you saw it sideways you could see it was a thinline instrument.

Originally Burns had signed an agreement with Ampeg to distribute their instruments in the United State. So you may run across a Burns of London guitar with the name Ampeg on its pickguard.

You would think the British Invasion would have brought bountiful sales for Burns, however quite the opposite happened. Popular British bands were using American made guitars. Burns sales plummeted and Jim Burns was very short of capital.

It was around this time, 1966, that Cincinnati, Ohio based Baldwin Piano Company was also experiencing a slump in piano and organ sales due to the popularity of the guitar. The company made an offer to buy the Fender Guitar Company, but was outbid by CBS. They then set their sites on Burns of London and purchased the company and all of its assets for just under £ 400,000. ($380,000 USD)

Pickguard & controls are changed
The easiest way to change a Burns to a Baldwin was to remove the pick guard that said Burns of London. This was helpful, because initially there was a large quantity of unsold Burns stock that was shipped to the United States. Baldwin removed the section of pick guard that said Burns and replaced it with a different one that announced it to be a Baldwin guitar.

Baldwin later swapped necks or used a similar one on all models. Generally this was the one with the carved scroll on the head stock.

The State of Ohio planned to build an interstate route where the Cincinnati Baldwin property existed. Baldwin decided to move its manufacturing facility to Arkansas. This is where they began manufacturing new Baldwin (and Gretsch) guitars.

The Baldwin Company did not count on the humid Arkansas summers and the adverse effect this would have on the guitars paint and varnish. Baldwin employees spent a lot of time refinishing guitars that had been returned due to the paint or varnish being damaged. Due to a number of factors the brands popularity tanked and Baldwin Guitars shut down in 1970.

Although James O. Burns sold the tradename Burns of London, he did not totally get out of the guitar manufacturing business. He started a new company called Ormton in 1966. Initially his goal was to market pedal steel guitars made by the Denley Company. This venture lasted until 1968.

At this time Burns decided to create and original guitar which went on to be distributed by Dallas-Arbiter under the brandname Hayman. The line lasted from 1969 to 1973.

Burns Flyte Guitar
In the 1970’s Burns could not use the name Burns for a trademark. But this did not stop him from using and producing "Burns UK" guitars. These were sold starting in 1974 and ending in 1977. Burns UK guitars were manufactured in Newcastle upon Tyne. Only one model seemed to gain any interest. This was called The Flyte. It appeared about the same time as the Concord airplane was showing some popularity. Several popular musicians began to use it.

In 1979 Burns tried a different trade name, Jim Burns Actualizers Ltd. These guitars had more of a resemblance of a traditional Burns guitar. He also made a semi-acoustic guitar called the The Burns Steer, which gained some popularity through its use by singer Billy Bragg. 

However this business closed in 1983 and was James Ormston Burns last venture as owner of a guitar manufacturing business.

Burns Guitars was restarted in 1992 by former Burns employee Barry Gibson and Jim Burns was hired as a consultant to the company. The company's initial goal was to resurrect replicas of famous Burns guitars from the past and hand build each. This brought some accolades from performers of the day including Steve Howe from Yes, who is himself a guitar collector and very knowledgeable.

By 1999 Burns Guitars, as it was known and still is today, began building a budget line called The Club Series. These instruments were manufactured in Korea under strict supervision of the Burns management.

The Club Series expanded quickly and many Jim Burns designed guitars such as the Marquee, the Marvin, the Steer and the Bison were resurrected.

A bass/baritone guitar called the Barracuda was introduced. Burns Guitars also worked with Queen guitarist Brian May to build a reproduction of his home-made Red Special, which was originally built by May and his father using 3 Burns Tri-Sonic pickups.

In 2004 production was moved to China and two new models emerged in the line up. The Cobra and the Nu-Sonic short scale (30”) bass. The Nu-Sonic features the bat-wing design on its headstock. The Cobra resembles a Stratocaster and even has a strat-style vibrato. The three pickups on it are known as mini-Tri-Sonics.

James O. Burns passed away in 1998.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Kramer Ferrington, Fender Telecoustic and Ibanez Talman

Is it an electric guitar or is it an acoustic guitar? Fender still sells them, so does Ibanez and Kramer started the idea when they hooked up with Danny Ferrington.

These are the Stratocaster/Telecaster-shaped instruments with thin bodies and piezo pickups in the acoustic style bridges.

They play like an electric guitar (when set up properly) but sound like an acoustic guitar.

In 1988 Kramer enlisted the help of famed luthier Danny Ferrington to design a production model instrument known as the KFS or KFT or for the bassists it was the KFB. These instruments all had wooden asymmetrical bodies that were shaped somewhat like a Telecaster (KFT) or a Stratocaster (FBS). The bass model was shaped like a Precision bass.

These guitars all had an asymmetrical soundholes, bolt-on maple Kramer necks with rosewood fretboards.

The bridge and saddle were acoustic style, but did not have pins. Instead the strings were anchored to the bridge.

A passive piezo transducer was mounted under the saddle and the controls for volume and tone were on the upper side. Later models came with  a 3 band EQ/volume control mounted on the upper bout.

The KFS-1 and FKT-1 had fancy shark’s tooth fret markers, while the KFS-2 and KFT-2 has rosewood fretboards with dot position markers. The KFB-1 came with a rosewood fretboard and rectangular position markers. The KFB-2 came with a rosewood fretboard and dot inlays. Many had the well-known Kramer banana headstock.

There was also a Strat-shaped 12 string model, the KFS-12 with shark tooth inlays on its rosewood fretboard. And the KFX model was an Explorer shaped guitar with shark-tooth inlays on rosewood. The #1, #12 and KFX all came with bound necks, while the #2 models were not bound. Later in production #2 models came with diamond position markers.

Brand new Kramer Ferrington’s sold for $550 to $700.

Kramer also offered the more expensive and better made Signature models. These were made of choice woods such as solid Sitka spruce tops. Bodies were made of Indian rosewood, Nato (mahogany) or American hard maple. The necks were bolt-on Kramer models, but not all were six-in-line and only one had the banana-style headstock.

These guitars were not based on existing guitar shapes, but were unique shapes designed by Ferrington. The SB model, named for Stephen Bishop, came with a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays. The body had a single Venetian cutaway. The soundhole was shaped somewhat like an offset guitar-pick. The headstock was 3-on-a-side. Bodies could be ordered in Maple, the least expensive, mahogany or rosewood, the most expensive.

The bridge and saddles were similar on all models. It was a rectangular understated bridge and there is a piezo pickup under the saddle which went to a 4 band EQ and volume control.

The RT model, named for Richard Thompson, was also an original Ferrington design. Once again the rosewood fretboard had dot inlays. The soundhole was an offset oval. The six-on-a-side headstock was a unique design.

The double cutaway solid Sitka spruce top body was offset, think Fender Jaguar. It had a small point on the upper side of the lower bout. Electronics and bridge were similar. The RT came with the same body choices and was more expensive.

The DS model, named for Danny Steve Ferrington, was similar in shape to the SB model, in fact the only thing different was the headstock, which was the traditional six-on-a-side Kramer banana shaped style. It came in maple or rosewood.

The JS Model, named for JD Souther, also had the same body shape as the SB and similar accoutrements, but this guitar had a unique 3-on-a-side headstock that was reminiscent of the Danelectro Coke-bottle shape. It came in maple or rosewood.

The SB Model was named for Stephen Bishop and came with more of a traditional 3-on-a-side headstock

The nylon stringed model C came with a deeper body and a rosewood back matched up with a cedar top. The soundhole on this one was of an oval shape.

All of the Kramer Ferrington guitars had fairly deep bodies compared to similar Fender instruments. Kramer Ferringtons were made for a period of two years. After this Danny Ferrington moved to Los Angeles and opened a custom shop and Kramer guitars was begging to unravel.

Fender has been building its Telecoustic and Stratacoustic guitars back in 1991. This was an idea developed by luthier John Page, who gave us some great Fender guitars during his tenure with the company.

It was originally developed in Fender’s custom shop and came with a wooden body, but was very expensive. This was a transition period with Fender and about that time, Fender had no US production. Production was briefly moved to Japan.

Fender MIJ Telecoustic
There were 3 MIJ models (made in Japan) Telecoustics. The standard came with a 2 piece spruce top, a basswood back and sides, a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and dot inlays, cream coloured tuning pegs and a black ebony bridge.

The deluxe model had a 2 piece spruce top, mahogany back, pearl button tuners, maple neck with a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays and an ebony bridge.

Fender MIJ Telecoustic
The custom model had a solid spruce top, Honduras mahogany back and sides, maple neck with a rosewood fretboard that had no inlays. The tuners were Fender/Schaller models with pearl buttons. The bridge was Pau ferro with laminated ebony and the electronics were active. The soundhole on all was an offset oval and the bridge had a very unique shape. Very few models were made.

Acoustisonic Tele
Fender has since issued several versions of the Acoustisonic Tele, the last was in 2010.

However the guitars that we are most familiar with are the Fender standard Telecoustic and Stratacoustic models. These guitars feature the standard Fender shape, but with an acoustic style bridge and compensated saddle that contains a piezo pickup combined with Fender’s B-3TN unit. The tops are made of laminated spruce. The neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard. The inlays are dot style. The back and sides are molded fiberglass. Both instruments sell new for around $350.

The current lineup features Fishman active electronics with a built-in tuner. Older models came with Fender’s 3 band EQ/volume set up. The soundholes have traditionally had an oval shape.

Fender’s latest run includes the Telecoustic/Stratacoustic Plus model that adds a USB output to connect with computers, tablets and smart phones. This model sell new for $399.

The Fender Premier line has all the features of the standard and plus, but with a flame-maple top. It sells for $449.

These guitars have been around since the mid 1990’s and for awhile were assigned under the Squier logo. The bridge designs have changed. Fender has generally used a pinned bridge.

In 2013 Fender introduced the Telecoustic Deluxe and the Stratacoustic Deluxe. This was an upgraded version of the standard guitar that came with a single coil neck pickup for electric sounds. The MRSP was a little high at $900, however the body was all wood. The top was laminated spruce, the back and sides were laminated maple. The neck was a tradition Fender maple neck.

They also produced the JZM model which was a Jazzmaster shaped acoustic electric. Some of these instruments came with a pickguard, while others did not. Like most of the line up it is made in China.

In the early 1990’s Fender introduced the Telecoustic HMT. (Heavy Metal Telecaster) This was part of their MIJ product. Several versions were produced. One was strung with steel strings and a SilverLace sensor pickup and a piezo in the bridge saddle. The controls were volume, TBX tone and pan and were mounted on the instruments top.

There was also a nylon string version with only the piezo. It had the volume and TBX tone.

Additionally a bass version was created in fretted and fretless versions. All models had a built-in preamp. The tops of the HMT series were spruce, the bodies were mahogany. The necks are maple with rosewood fretboards. They came in 3 color sunburst, black and natural finishes.

Ibanez has been offering the Talman for years. The body is wider than most of Fender’s offerings, the shape is different and the Talman is all wood.

There are several versions of this guitar, so pay attention if you are interested. Versions, the TCY10TBS, and the TCY10BK both have spruce tops and are blue burst and black, respectively. These guitars have piezo pickups, Ibanez’s AEQ201 preamp with a 2 band graphic EQ and volume control.

The TCY20TRS and TCY20VV have similar electronic features, but both have a figured Ash body and an abalone rosette. The former has a red sunburst finish and the latter has a vintage violin finish.

The TCM50VBS does not have a piezo pickup. Instead it sports an AP2 Soundhole pickup, right above the guitars soundhole. This guitars top is figured ash and the back and sides are mahogany.

It comes with the Ibanez AEQ200M preamp with 2 band graphic EQ and volume and comes in a brown sunburst finish. The updated catalog also offers the TCM50NT with a natural finish.

These instruments are bargains and run from $200 to $300 new.

Ibanez also offers an upscale version of the Talman called the TCM60’s Plus. These have different color finishes and Ibanez gold die-cast tuners. The electronics are similar to the TCM50VBS and these also come with the AP2 Soundhole pickup.

The TCM60's Plus models seems to be aimed at the ladies, since most advertisers favor the pink-burst model.

The Talman series was initially introduced in 1994 as a solidbody electric and discontinued in this form around 1998. For a few years this guitar was offered with a “fotoflame” finish. Although this sounded exquisite, it was in actuality a picture of a wooden finish that was glued to the guitars top to give the appearance of wood. Ibanez was not the only company that offered fotoflame (or gravure flame) finishes. They did quit the process a long time ago.

Ibanez currently offers the Talman only as an acoustic/electric guitar.