One of member of a long forgotten group had a guitarist that played a very unusual looking 12 string guitar. I had no clue what type of guitar this was until years later when I discovered it was made by The Danelecto Company of Neptune, New Jersey and was called The Bellzouki.
This guitar was based on an idea from Vinnie Bell. Bell was an in demand studio player in the 1960's. He had wonderful career and played with a myriad of artists and on literally hundreds of hit songs of all styles. In fact he still makes a living as a guitar player and you can hear his guitar in The Family Guy theme. One of the more recognizable songs he did was the watery guitar work on the theme to Midnight Cowboy. Check out his website for some great stories. Be sure to click on Memories and Above and Beyond the work of a session guitarist.
Though Bell is Italian, he was periodically asked to double on the Greek Bouzouki for a record.
A bouzouki is generally thought of as an eight string musical instrument that is shaped somewhat like a bowl back mandolin with an extended neck. It has four courses of strings tuned in unison and is played with a plectrum aka pick. The bouzouki is widely used in Greek and Turkish music. The eight string version is called a Tetrachord and is tuned in fifths just like a mandolin. The six string version has 3 courses of strings tuned in unison. This is call the Trichord Bouzouki.
Around 1960, several groups from Ireland that played traditional music of that country started using a version of the tetrachord bouzouki. However the body was flat and smaller than the Greek/Turkish models and the back was also flat. The tuning was modifed.
As most studio players were apt to do, Bell would tune the Bouzouki like a guitar. As the age of the electric 12 string guitar ushered in, Bell got the idea to create a twelve string electric guitar, and make the body look similar to the shape of a Bouzouki and electrify the instrument by adding a pickups.
He already had a deal with the Danelectro company which created an all wood electric guitar that he would endorse. He pitched this idea to Danelectro, drew up some plans and named it after himself. Thus the Bell-Bouzouki was born and known as the Bellzouki.
The Danelectro Bellzouki Model 7010 was introduced around 1961. The body was tear drop shaped with two faux tortoise shell pickguards. The guitar came with one volume and one tone control, plus a 3 way toggle for tone selection. The neck, like all Danelectros, is a bolt on style and is made of maple capped with a rosewood fretboard. The nut is aluminum and the neck is reinforced with a steel truss rod.
Though the body appears to be solid, like all Danos it is a poplar frame covered with Masonite. The sunburst finish adds the illusion of wood. To play the model 7010 you needed a shoulder strap due to its Bouzouki-like shape.
|Models 7010 and 7020|
The scale for each of the Bellzouki models was 24 ½ inches and the neck was slightly wider than the neck on six string Danelectro guitars. All the models had one or two Lipstick pickups which have their own unique sound and these guitars were no exception to that quality.
The earliest models came with 2 unison G strings to give it more of a Bazouki sound. Later these were adapted so only the first and second strings were tuned in unison, while the bottom four courses were tuned in octaves.
Danelectro came out with two revised models, the 7020 and the 7021.
The model 7020 may have been due to a suggestion of a fan of Mr. Bell to improve his design. The model 7020 had a similar shape to the original tear drop, but 4 notches surround the body to make it possible to play the guitar while sitting. The toggle switch was moved from the top of the instrument to the lower side. This model came with twin lipstick pickups and five potentiometers for volume, tone and master.
The model 7021 was much like the 7020 in accouterments but its body shape was exactly like the Danelectro Electric Sitars body.
This would be the sitar that came with 18 strings and was another one of Vinnie Bell inventions. (There was another version of the Danelectro sitar with an oval shape and only six strings.) Most 1960’s groups favored more expensive model 12 string guitars, but the Danelectro 12 had been around much longer, it was an excellent player and a great bargain.