Sunday, September 27, 2015

Guitars With Leather Covering

Elvis admitted he knew 3 chords on the guitar. For him the guitar was a stage prop; something to hold on to and make him look cool. And what could make the guitar look cooler? A hand-tooled leather cover with Elvis' name embossed on!

So from the late 1950’s on there have been guitarists that have covered their instruments in leather. It was all about stage presence and show.

Elvis had several guitars wrapped in leather. His first was a 1955 Martin D-28 that he purchased at O.K. Houck Piano Company in Memphis Tennessee in April of 1956.

The leather tooled covering was made by Marcus Van Story, who worked for the O.K. Houck Piano Company as a repairman.

Presley got the idea because he admired a similar guitar cover used by Hank Snow and decided he needed one. I do not know where Hank Snow got his, but it was elaborate and had his name engraved across its top.

Snow got the idea for this when he came to the attenion of Country artist, Ernest Tubb. Tubb had the word “Thanks” written on the back of his guitars. It was written upside-down, so when the audience applauded, he turned the guitar over as a way to show appreciation.



Other Country artists had their names inlaid in mother-of-pearl on their guitars fret boards. However the leather guitar cover was a real eye-catcher, despite the fact that it probably muffled the sound.



In October of 1956, Presley purchased a brand new Gibson J-200 from the same music store.

This was covered with a tooled leather cover made by Charles Underwood in 1957. It was first seen on the Ed Sullivan Show that same year.



Rick Turner with Holly's guitar
Buddy Holly first saw Elvis at Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Texas in 1955. Holly took a shine to Elvis’ fancy leather guitar cover and had one made by Rick Turner, who was working at Westwood Music in Los Angeles.

Years later Gary Busey, who starred in The Buddy Holly Story purchased Buddy’s Gibson J-45, with the leather cover for $270,000. Rick Turner has also made beautiful replicas of this same leather guitar cover.

Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins. When he decided to go into music he did not think his real name did not have star qualities. He looked through a map and found two cities that appealed to him, Conway Arkansas and Twitty Texas to come up with his stage name.

Twitty already owned and played electric guitar which was a 1957 Gretsch 6130 Roundup solid body electric guitar. This guitar came from the factory with leather binding on the instruments sides that were embossed with medallions that looked like sheriff badges.

But Twitty decided to have a hand-tooled leather guitar cover custom made for his Gretsch guitar. His name is embossed in cursive script on the upper bouts.

On the back of the guitar is a characture of his wife, Maxine, who he called “Mick. She is embossed on the covers back and is shown wearing chaps and a cowboy hat.

Another popular artists of those day was Ricky Nelson. If you grew up in the 1950’s, you probably watched the television show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ricks father, Ozzie led an orchestra in the 1940’s and was the bands singer. His mother, Harriet was the bands female vocalist.

So it was not surprising that Ricky developed a beautiful singing voice. I discover that while he was at a recording session he heard a session guitarist that was about his same age named James Burton. Burton was recording in another studio.


Rick liked his style and invited him to be not just a regular in his band, but also appear on the TV show.

At the time Rick owned a Rickenbacker acoustic guitar that was about the same size as a Gibson jumbo guitar.


He had a beautiful leather guitar cover for this guitar and of course it had his name engraved in the leather.

As Nelson became more famous, he purchased a Gibson J-200 and had a leather cover made for it.

Later in his career Ricky purchased a Martin guitar and he had a custom leather cover with his name made for this instrument. Judging be the rosewood neck, it is a Martin D-18.



He also received a red, white and blue guitar as a gift from Buck Owens.



Buck thoughtfully included a leather cover.

The leather cover fad seemed to have fallen out of fashion until a clean-cut Waylon Jennings, took his Fender Broadcaster to a leather-smith and had a black and white hand-tooled leather cover made for the instrument. This guitar became Jennings trademark.

Shortly afterward he purchased two Fender Telecasters and gave them the same treatment. It is said that Jennings owned at least 7 Fender Telecasters with leather coverings, although one was actually an Esquire.

Jennings gave away the Broadcaster to a friend. Seven years after his death, this guitar showed up in an auction in 2009 at Christies and was purchased for $98,500.

Fender Musical Instruments made a Waylon Jennings Telecaster Tribute guitar during his lifetime. They had his stylized “W” logo at the 12th fret on their maple necks. Jennings owned several of these guitars.

His son, Shooter Jennings, plays his fathers Telecaster with his own band.

During the late 1980’s Chris Isaak’s became popular. He was a singer and songwriter, but before this he earned a living as a male fashion model.

Isaak's song Suspicion of Love appeared in the film, Married to the Mob. In 1990 his song Wicked Game was featured in the David Lynch film, Wild at Heart. A VH1 music video featured Isaak and supermodel Helen Christensen in a sensual beach encounter.

In 2001 Isaak starred in his own television variety show. During his stage act, Isaak wore flashy suit jackets with medallions on the lapels.


And though his first stage guitar was a black Silvertone 1446 model, he is best known for his Gretsch Country Gentleman with the leather hand-tooled cover, that he played during the height of his popularity.

In later years he acquired a Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and enclosed that instrument in a leather cover.

There are a number of artisans throughout the United States that will provide  leather guitar covers.

Guitars N' Things in Nashville, Tennessee offers reasonable prices on hand-tooled leather covers.

Mosby Guitars and Custom Inlay is located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and does custom leather hand-tooling work.

For those who are adventurous, I've found this site with step-by step instructions.





Here are a few examples of folks that have done their own work with great results.



This is a leather guitar cover made for a Martin Eric Clapton model.




And this beautiful example if a Gibson ES-345 covered in leather.









Ozzie and Harriet Show - Ricky Nelson & James Burton


Waylon Jennings Telecaster Reissue


Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show 1956


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mark Twain's 1835 Martin Guitar

By far my all-time favorite author is Mark Twain. I have read many of his books. He was an amazing author, word-smith and one of history’s more interesting characters.



Twain loved music and played piano and guitar. In fact his surviving daughter, Clara, studied music and was quite a performer.








Mark Twain's Martin Guitar
Twain paid $10.00 for his Martin parlor guitar. This was Martin size 2 ½-17 series guitar. In today’s dollars and due to its provenance it is valued at over $15 million dollars.

Christian Frederick Martin Sr. began created these guitars back in 1833. The 2 ½-17 was a relatively normal size for guitars during this period in history. Nearly 100 years would pass before Martin would create its dreadnaught sized guitar.

Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain purchased this used guitar in 1861, shortly after the start of the Civil War. The guitar was built in 1835, only two years after the Martin Guitar Company went into business.

Twain was first exposed to music by his sister Pamela. She supplemented her family’s income by teaching guitar and piano. We can be certain that her younger brother Samuel was taught music by his sister.

Twain and his guitar were well-traveled. He entertained his friends and family with songs. Early in his career, Clements and his brother headed to America’s West. Clements became a newspaper reporter and writer, but was also a miner during California’s Gold Rush.

He wrote for newspapers in California and what was then known as the Nevada Territories.

He once commented that he preferred playing guitar for, “the willing women of the west.” 

Twain traveled to Hawaii and later to Europe and the Middle East. He sailed aboard a steamer that took him from San Francisco to New York City. Twain wrote back extensive serial reports of his journeys for the newspapers for which he worked. These stories became the basis for many of his books. You can be certain this guitar traveled with him.


Mark Twain's guitar at MoMI exhibit
When Twain passed away in 1910, his Martin guitar was entrusted to Colonel John Hancock III, who was the great-grandson of one of the United States founding fathers, John Hancock. Colonel Hancock was a horse breeder and a guitar collector. This guitar remained in the possession of the Hancock family for four generations until it was purchased in the mid-1990’s by guitar collector Hank Risan.



Risan was one of the people that worked with UC Berkeley to authenticate the guitar and he helped create The Mark Twain Project, which gave us the three volume set of the Mark Twain Diaries.

Risan also uncovered an unpublished poem by Twain called Genuis. The guitars original coffin case bears a shipping label dated 1866, with Mr. M. Twain, New York written on it in script that was penned in Mark Twain’s own hand.

Risan went on to establish The Private Life of Mark Twain exhibit at the Museum of Modern Instruments, MoMI. This is where the guitar and poem currently reside.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Fusion Guitar - A Brand New And Unique Product


A start-up company called Indiegogo has created a new guitar. I will not be surprised if one of the big guitar companies does not make an offer for this creation.

Their guitar is called The Fusion Guitar and it is powered by software that can be downloaded to an iPhone. The guitar is small enough to be carry-on luggage.

The body appears to be molded from plastic. There is no headstock and the tuners are mounted at the end of the maple neck similar to the Steinberger guitar. The fret board is made of rosewood.


This instrument is equipped with two blade-style “hot rail” humbucking pickups rated at 15.6k ohms in humbucking or 7.8k ohms in single coil mode as the guitar is equipped with coil tapping switches.

The neck on this guitar is full sized and has a metal section in place of a headstock that allows the instrument to be hung-up while not in use. The guitar comes with adjustable bridge saddles for each string.

The upper-section of the bodies side contains a docking station for an iPhone and comes with interchangeable dock ports to match differing models.

The upper section of the body houses twin Peerless speakers and a built in 20 watt solid-state amplifier. The iPhone, and amplifier are powered by rechargable 11.1 volt lithium ion batteries that are housed within the instrument. When you recharge the amplifier the battery also recharges a docked iPhone.

Perhaps the coolest factor is the different apps that are available, such as amplifier modeling apps and tutorial apps for students. Plus there are apps for recording.

The guitar is equipped with a line-out jack to connect to headphones or a PA system. It also comes with a standard ¼” guitar output plus a microphone input.

To promote the guitar, the manufacturer is offering this instrument at only $400 to the first 500 buyers.