Saturday, December 26, 2009

Futurama Guitar

Upon thinking back to the years that I first started learning to play guitar, I was fascinated by the guitars that I saw famous musicians playing. I recall looking at fan magazines and seeing George Harrison and Gerry Marsden (Gerry and the Pacemakers) playing this unusual looking Fender guitar. At least to my young eyes it appeared to be a Fender.

It was not until years later that I discovered both these guitars were Futurama guitars made in Czechoslovakia and imported to the U.K. As I have mentioned before the import duty on U.S. made products was extremely high because Britain was still paying off the War debt. So trade with the United States was not discouraged, but expensive. European instruments were readily available, so German and Italian instruments were plentiful.

French-made Selmer amplifiers were very popular in Britain going back to the 1950’s. Around 1957 Selmer began importing a three pickup solid body guitar from the Drevokov Co-operative which was a manufacturer in Czechoslovakia that made furniture and electric guitars.

The brand on the guitars was Resonet. With its 3 single coil, plastic covered pickups with exposed pole pieces and it tremolo bar it was the closest thing to a Stratocaster to those on a budget. Selmer did not think the name Resonet was good for Rock and Roll, so the name was updated by Selmer to Futurama. Now mind you, this is the same company that produced Maccaferi's guitar.

This very early version, called simply "Futurama" is the model that George Harrison used.

It is characterized by the natural finished maple or sometimes beech body and neck, although some later ones did in fact have a rosewood fingerboard. The double sided headstock was fitted with three-on-a-plate tuners, and the white scratch plate covers the majority of the body top. Body material was either beech or maple.

It seems that the earliest models available in the UK had Grazioso on the headstock and Resonet on the upper bout section of the white scratchplate. (George Harrison's guitar had Resonet on the scratchplate, but it did not say Grazioso on the headstock.)

In 1959, the original Futurama Solid Guitar was replaced by a similar looking instrument that Selmer called the Futurama III. Some of the features on this guitar were modified from the original. The most visible was the change from light fingerboards to dark ones, to keep up with Fender’s switch. The tremolo bar assembly was improved upon. This guitar was manufactured by a different company, but it was still in Czechoslovakia. The company was called Czechoslovak Music Instruments or CSHN in Czech.

The neck/fingerboard on Harrison’s guitar is probably maple that was darkened. The 3 on a side headstock is reminiscent of Leo Fender’s Telecaster prototype. I wonder if the manufacturers were aware of the similarity?

I've already mentioned that guitar importers wanted their instruments to have Spanish sounding names to equate the instrument to being manufactured in Spain, which at the time produced the finest quality classical/flamenco guitar.

It was in 1960 when the company updated their guitars to have a six on a side headstock. The finishes went from just sunburst to offering a red finish as well.

Selmer seems to have continued the line through 1963 and then dropped it from their catalogue. By then Hagström began using the Futurama name. This evolved into an upscale version that Hagström called the Coronado.

This guitar came in 3 versions and a bass. All models included accordion-like switches to control the pickups and tone. One model even had an acrylic fingerboard with the claim that it was impervious to warp and perspiration.

Friday, December 25, 2009

DeArmond Guitars

Harry DeArmond invented the first commercially available attachable guitar pickup sometime in the 1930’s.. To market his invention he teamed up with Horace 'Bud' Rowe's Company, which was located in Toledo Ohio. It was there Rowe/DeArmond pickups, effects and amplifiers were manufactured.

Originally the chief user of DeArmond pickups were guitar players looking to be heard above the sound of a big band. The other group of users were jazz guitarists seeking a clean sound and as well to be heard as well as a trumpet or drums.

The original DeArmonds came in two styles. The RH was detachable and could be fitted over the soundhole of a flattop guitar by use of springs. The FH used a metal brace that attached to the strings beneath the bridge and tailpiece of an archtop guitar.

The older Gretsch guitars used DeArmond Dynasonic pickups. D’Angelico guitars featured DeArmond pickups. Guild electric guitars also featured DeArmond pickups.

Let us concentrate on Guild guitars. Guild opened its business in 1952 when Epiphone guitars went out of business. Many of the artisans that worked at Epiphone were hired by former employee Alfred Dronge and retailer George Mann. Originally located in Manhattan and then moved to larger facilities in Hoboken New Jersey.

In 1966 the company was acquired by Avnet and moved its manufacturing to Westbrook Rhode Island where it continued until 1995 when Guild was acquired by Fender. In 1996 a Guild custom shop was set up in Nashville, Tennessee. The Gibson custom shop is also in Nashville. What a coincidence!

Fender was on an acquisition spree at this time to diversify their product line up and add a well made acoustic product into the mix. Additionally Fender had acquired the rights to the DeArmond name and its pickups.

It was in 1997 that Fender designed a series of guitars based on Guilds electric guitar lineup, but to be manufactured in Korea and Indonesia. The plan was to ship the guitars to the United States and install the electronics including new DeArmond pickups. The pickups came in four varieties. The guitar pickups were the DeArmond 2K Single Coil and the DeArmond Gold Tone Humbucking pickups. The bass pickups were the DeArmond Turbo Jet Bass Single Coil and the DeArmond Gold Tone Bass Humbucking pickup.

Fender test marketed the guitars, branded DeArmond in Europe and Asia and the line was very successful. The guitars were later marketed in the United States and Canada and continued until 2004 when Fender suddenly dropped the line. Fender did sell one of the former DeArmond products under its Squire brand through 2005 or 2006, only it used different pickups.

In 2004 members of the Fender Forum were notified by FMIC there was a big discount being offered through Musicians Friend to clear out Fender Musical Instruments Company’s stock of DeArmond guitars. After that DeArmond guitars were no more.

They can still be had on eBay at reasonable prices and are still excellent values.

The Korean made DeArmonds are excellent guitars. The Korean instruments have set in necks, the fret markers are much nicer plastic versions, they are bound on the top with plastic trim and the logo is inlaid. The wood is superior using maple for the tops and walnut for the backs or solid mahogany for some of the models. The necks are made of mahogany.

The Indonesian products are nice playing instruments, but are definitely inferior.

The block fret markers on these are made of PVC, the necks are bolt-on, the pickups on some of the budget models are not DeArmonds, the wood is agathis and the headstock logo is a decal.

The hollowbody models, the X155 and the 400 are excellent jazz instruments.

The X155 is a large bodied guitar with a Venetian cutaway and twin humbuckers and the 400 is a slim body single cutaway instrument with a single Florentine cutaway, a Bigsby style vibrato and twin 2k single coil pickups.

There are also two semi-hollow instruments manufactured. The Starfire features twin Gold Tone humbucking pickups and double cutaway, while the Starfire Special is equipped with two single coil 2K pickups a Florentine cutaway and a Bigsby style vibrato. Both instruments were based on the Guild Starfire guitars.

The solidbody instrument are based on two old Guild guitar designs, the M-75 and the S-10. These came in a variety of styles that went from budget models to player models.

The budget guitars featured generic open humbucking pickups and bolt on necks while the nicer models featured either solid mahogany bodies or chambered bodies with walnut backs and maple tops. Some came with Gold Tone Humbuckers and some featured 2K single coils. The necks were set in, the bodies bound and the inlay was superior.

DeArmond also released a Gumby style solid guitar, A S series 12 string and the S67 seven string model.

The DeArmond Jetstar bass guitars were based on the Gumby guitar shape and came with either two Gold Tone Humbucking pickups or two 2K single coil pickups. DeArmond also introduced the Pilot Bass which was a modern offset solid body bass that came in various styles and had Fender style bass pickups.

The most interesting DeArmond offering was the Ashbory bass.

This unique instrument is still in production, however is sans the DeArmond brand and has gone back to just being the Ashbory bass.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lonnie Mack's Flying V

Gibson first manufactured prototypes of the Flying V in 1957, under the direction of Gibson president Ted McCarty. America was entering the race for space during this era. To achieve an aero-dynamic look cars were equipped with fins. Gibson set it’s sites on 3 futuristic guitar designs. We will discuss the most popular which is the Flying V.

The original prototype had a rounded back. It was made of mahogany and was a very heavy instrument. McCarty ordered that a large wedge be cut be made in the bottom end of the guitar’s body to alleviate some of the weight. This cut gave the guitar it’s Flying V appearance and it’s name.

Because blond colored furniture (and blond women) were all the rage during this era, light colored Korina wood was used instead of mahogany.

The guitar was introduced in 1958 along with the Moderne and the Futura (aka The Explorer). It was a dismal failure. The design was too much for the guitarists that wanted their guitars to look…well,like guitars. Due to slow sales, only 98 guitars, production only continued until 1959. Some left over units were sold up through 1963.

Lonnie McIntosh was a country boy living in Indiana. At 13 years of age he had a quarrel with a teacher and was promptly dismissed from school. All Lonnie wanted to do was play guitar. He hung out at a store in Norwood, Ohio, called Hughes Music. Norwood is mid-sized blue-collar town just outside of Cincinnati and used to be home to a GM plant.

The owner Glen Hughes would talk to Lonnie and new he was interested in the bow and arrow. Mr. Hughes pulled out the newest Gibson catalogue that he had received and showed Lonnie the arrow shaped guitar. Lonnie was in awe. He had to have that guitar. Hughes put in an order to Gibson and Lonnie got one with the serial numbers 007.

The story goes on that Lonnie wanted a vibrato put on his V, but due to the design there was no place to mount the unit. The best vibrato unit in those days was the ones made by Bigsby. Glen Hughes had a stainless steel bar cut and bent so part of the unit was mounted on the guitars body and the end of the unit was attached to the crossbar that ran between the sides of the V.

Most everyone named McIntosh is knick-named Mack and Lonnie McIntosh soon became Lonnie Mack.

On March 12, 1963, Mack had played guitar on a recording session for a girls group called The Charmaines at Fraternity’s recording studio. The allotted studio rental time had twenty minutes remaining, the group invited Mack to take advantage. He and the other session players put down two songs on tape that evening and one was a rocking, uptempo guitar version of the Chuck Berry song Memphis Tennessee.

At that time Mack's job was performing behind another Fraternity artist named Troy Seals. Seal went on to become a well known Nashville song writer.

Mack had forgotten about the session, however someone at Fraternity did not. They liked it well enough to issue it as a single. Seals had just heard from a friend that Lonnie’s song was climbing the charts. By the summer of 1963 Memphis charted in at number 4.

Mack released a follow up called Wham, that became one of his signature tunes. Wham reached number 24 on the Billboard charts. Lonnie followed up with an LP called The Wham of that Memphis Man. The album cover shows Lonnie leaning on the bottom of his upside down Flying V. This was before the Bigsby unit was installed.

Mack also was fond of his Magnatone amplifier. Just about everyone else was using Fender amplifiers, but Mack loved the True Vibrato effect of the Magnatone. This was enginerred using circuitry similar to what was found on electronic organs that caused the pitch to continuosly alter. Fender’s vibrato was actually tremolo since it caused the sound to be turned off and on. Mack states that he was going after the Hammond organ sound that was previlant in Gospel and Blues.

Mack attempted to paint his Flying V red, which wound up with a pink hue after it dried out. He has also dropped it out of the rear end of his van while driving and the guitar remained in tune. After a bad show, Lonnie got mad and threw the V in a trash can. A fan fished it out and returned it to him five minutes later.
The worth of this guitar is probably six figures.

Mack says that he has played the heck out his Flying V. The back of the neck is scarred up. The guitar has been re-fretted and new pickups were installed back in the late 1960’s.

There are couple of interesting facts that have resulted from Mack’s career in the mid 1960’s.

First of all Memphis was the highest rating guitar song. Much of its popularity is due to the popularity of the electric guitar at that time. This was a song that you could sit down with your record player and copy Lonnie’s part note by note, especially if you slowed the speed down from 33 1/3 to 16, which made the song play almost half as slow and about an octave lower.

Guitarists from all over the world learned to play by listening to Lonnie.

The second thing that happened was a name was born. The guitar vibrato was known as the vibrato or the tremolo bar. But after Lonnie released Wham it became The Whammy Bar.

The interest in Lonnie Mack continued and in 1967 Gibson figured the time was ripe to introduce a new version of the Flying V.

The body on this model was mahogany, the pickguard was of a different shape and the tone and volume knobs were not placed in a row as on the original. Gone also was the distinctive gold plated V plate behind the bridge wear the string fed through to the guitars back. It was replaced by a slightly different bridge and a Gibson Maestro vibrola with a short bar. Gone were the gold plated bridge and tuners. These were replaced with polished nickel Klusons.

The Flying V has been in production since 1967 in various designs through both Gibson and Epiphone, although some years it was not included in the catalogue. In 1994 Gibson created a limited issue Lonnie Mack version. There were only 185 guitars produced. Some were autographed by Lonnie.

Lonnie was touring up until recently. The old Magnatone amp was retired years ago and replaced with a powerful Roland JC 120 which is equipped with a stereo chorus effect between its twin speakers. And he is still playing his Flying V.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Glen Campbell's Teisco Del Ray Guitar

Way back when I was 13 years old and knew everything about life, I discovered the guitar and submerged myself in all things guitar.

There were a couple of television shows on around this era (mid 1960’s) that were geared to young guys that liked guitars, drums, organs and bass and girls that liked the guys playing the guitars, drums, organs and basses. One of the shows was called Shindig! (with an exclamation point).

Shindig! had everything that appealed to these two audiences.

There were musicians, mostly imported from the U.K. that wore Mod clothes, played groovy instruments and had Fab haircuts. There were also dancing girls that wore min skirts and go-go boots. And the house band was at one time comprised of James Burton, Leon Russell, Delaney Bramlett and a few other guys. The show was hosted by a D.J. named Jimmy O’Neil that had that 60’s radio patter down.

Aside from the fact that James Burton was play a Fender Duo-Sonic instead of a Telecaster and the bass player used a Danelectro Longhorn bass, one of the things I found unusual about the show was the guitar preference of a young singer/guitarist named Glen Campbell.

Most of the acts on Shindig played Gibson, Gretsch, Fender or Epiphone guitars exclusively. These were well known cool guitars. Campbell played this weird looking off brand type of guitar that looked sort of cheap. But as the song goes, he played that guitar like-a’ ringin’ a bell.

It turns out this was a Teisco Del Ray guitar. The Teisco brand name is an acronym for Tokyo Electric Instrument and Sound Company.

The original name was Aoi Onpa Kenkyujo, which translated is Hollyhock Soundwave or Electricity Laboratories, which is a mouth full in any language.

By 1964 the tag Del Ray was added. This has happened several times during Asian guitar history to make the brand sound Spanish. Greco is another company that comes to mind.

Teisco was acquired by Kawai Musical Instruments in 1968 and the guitar brand was discontinued in 1969. I believe the English translation for Kawai is "that appears to be a piano, but is not."

Teisco produced a six-string bass similar to the Fender Bass VI. The guitar version of this instrument was what Campbell is playing, although it is definitely strung with normal guitar strings. The shape is off-set and somewhat like a Fender Jazzmaster, however the top horn is extended and there is a handle cutout on the lower bout. Like many of the Teisco Del Ray instruments the headstock was unusual with 4 tuners on the upper side and 2 tuners on the lower side.

I have read somewhere that Campbell made good use of this instrument on a number of recordings for other artists.

Before becoming a major television and recording artist, Campbell had a successful career as a sought after session guitarist.

Ibanez, yet another Asian company attempting to sound Spanish, revived this concept when they introduced the Jem series of guitars for Steve Vai. Most guitarists today call this is a Monkey Grip.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hey Bo Diddley - The Gretsch Bo Diddley Guitars

The first time I saw Bo Diddley was on a mid 1960’s black and white TV show called Shindig.

Bo was playing this weird looking guitar and singing his trademark song, “Hey Bo Diddley.” He had a very attractive woman who was also playing a similar guitar.

He was well known for the "Bo Diddley beat.” It is reminiscent of the old musical tag, “shave and a haircut…two bits" being played over and over again.

In an interview done before his death, he confessed that despite his admirers and historians attributing the rhythm to old African-American Hambone jive, he actually copped it from a Gene Autry song called, “I’ve Got Spurs That Jingle, Jangle, Jingle.”

Much of Bo’s rhythm could be due to his use of a loud Fender Dual Showman amplifier with the vibrato cranked up.

As a boy a young Elias Bates fashioned a crude instrument called a diddley bow out of an old cigar box. A diddley bow is based on a single string instrument of African origin that consists of a wooden board or a wooden dowl, such as a broom handle, a piece of wire and a couple of screws to stretch it over. The cigar box gave the instrument some resonance. It is usually played using a slide, which can be fashioned from the neck of a wine or beer bottle. A jack knife could also make a nice slide.

Not only did Elias Bates take his musical name from the diddley bow, he also used his cigar box instrument as inspiration for his personal guitar. As his fame as a musician grew, Gretsch guitars was all too happy to oblige him with a custom instrument that he dubbed The Twang Machine. It was made in 1958.

Gretsch made him at least two more guitars which were based on the Cadillac fins. For all you young’uns out there, there was a time, back when most all cars were made in America. In the late 1950's America was entering the race to space and to help it along cars had to have fins.

Gretsch now produces a reproduction of Bo’s famous instrument square guitar.

Just like the original, the instrument is 17-3/4" x 9-1/4" x 2" and made of alder and 5-ply maple for it’s semi hollow body. It is finished with a bright red paint job and lacquer. The guitar is decked out with two FilterTron pickups, a tune-o-matic bridge and a Gretsch G tailpiece with gold hardware.

They also produce a Bo Diddley Guitar under their Electromatic Brand. This one is not quite as fancy. It has a stop tail piece, a bolt on neck and chome hardware


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ladies Only - Daisy Rock Girl Guitars

Guitars for girls, is this just a marketing ploy or a great idea?

Trish Ciravolo thinks so and is putting her name on the line with Daisy Rock guitars. She founded the company based on an idea her two year old daughter.
Trish had been a longtime guitarist and player in several L.A. scene all-girl bands. But in 2000 she was a stay at home Mom. Her daughter drew a picture of a daisy. Trish put a guitar neck on the picture and voila, an idea blossomed.

It probably helped that Trish’s husband was Michael Ciravolo, president of Schecter Guitars, which not only makes guitars under its own brand, but makes upgrade parts for guitars. He encouraged Trish on her concept and as of 2005 Daisy Rock has revenue of $2.4 million.

These guitars are designed for women and young girls. The bodies are lighter and contoured to make them more fitting for the female form. The neck scale is shorter than the usual 25.5” neck found on most Fender instrument, which means the space between frets is lessened, to help accommodate smaller hands.

The companies guitars weigh less compared to some other guitars.

And the finishes are designed to appeal to the ladies, come in shades of pinks, blues, purple, red and green. Some of the guitars are sparkly and come in heart, butterfly, star and flower shapes.

Your average male guitarist is not going to plunk down $3,000 to buy a guitar called Rock Candy Pink, which happens to be Daisy Rock’s top of the line instrument and is made in the U.S.A. Most of Daisy Rock’s guitars are moderatly priced since they are manufactured in Far Eastern countries.

And though comments from Fender sales and marketing director, Andy Rossi seem to indicate Fenders opinion that the marketing angle limits distribution, Fender does not hesitate to market the Hello Kitty series of guitars and basses.

A few years ago Gibson had a guitar and bass that was aimed at the female teen Goth audience. It featured some unusual graphics depicting an internet character known as Emily the Strange.

Agile guitars which is an importer of Far Eastern made electric guitars, basses, some acoustic instrument and guitar related products makes some of their guitars with pink finishes.

I might add there are some very manly men that I have met that are not averse to playing a pink guitar. Specifically I point to Robin Lacy that used to play a pink Fender Telecaster before he became a Cajun man and took up the ‘cordion.

Additionally my old friend Pinetree  plays a wonderful pink Stratocaster with pickups custom wound by Abigail Ybarra of Fender. I might say that Pinetree is about 6’5” and 300 lbs and rides Harleys, so don't be dissing him about his pink guitar.

My buddy Michael Wilshire is a pastor in Roanoke Virginia. Recently he told me he used a Daisy Rock 12 string on a recent recording he made. He didn't mention if it was pink. It was definitely a more economical guitar than a Rickenbacker and I couldn't tell the difference.

It is my opinion that guitars designed for girls is definitely an excellent idea.

CNN Daisy - Rock Check it out!