Friday, April 5, 2019

The Gibson Byrdland - A Most Unique Guitar

1955 Gibson Byrdland
The Byrdland is a stunning looking electric guitar that is made by Gibson. Its name derives from the names of guitarists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland for whom Gibson originally custom built the guitar.

At the time Gibson's president, Ted McCarty, sought opinions and ideas about new products. So in 1955, in collaboration with two of the best Nashville guitars on the scene, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland, Gibson developed the Byrdland guitar.

The Byrdland was the first of Gibson's Thinline series. Many guitarists did not desire the bulk of a traditional archtop guitar such as Gibson's L-5 CES, one of Gibson’s top models. The Byrdland was built with its overall depth of 2¼ inches which,was over one inch shallower the Gibson's L-5 CES model.

It was later during the design process, Byrd and Garland specified a shorter scale neck.which would help facilitate intricate single-note patterns and unusual stretched chord voicings.

Billy Byrd
Only three were produced in 1955.. Billy got number one and Hank got number two and then he ordered and purchased a third that had a custom cherry finish. At this time the two prototypes both had natural finishes and Venetian cutaways.

The original instruments were to come with twin Gibson P90 single coil pickups. Although Hank ordered his with a single P90 and a Charlie Christian pickup in the neck position.

1957 Byrdland

This guitar was designed with jazz players in mind. It featured the same 17” wide, 21” long spruce top and body as was on the single cutaway L-5 CES, but the body was shallow. In comparison, the Byrdlands body was only 2 1/4” deep as opposed to the full 3 3/8” body of an L-5.

1957 Byrdland Gary's Guitars
The headstock was also similar, but narrower to correspond with this guitars short scale neck. The Byrdlands neck was a two full inches shorter than the L-5 CES, based on the Byrdlands scale of 23 1/2 inches.

The production models were equipped with Alnico V pickups. One interesting feature of this guitar is the fact that the two pickups are spaced closer together, because of the shorter scale and the 22 fret neck.

This gives the the Byrdland it’s distinctive sound. In later years the Alnicos were replaced with humbucking pickups.

The headstock and the neck were both bound. The ebony fretboard came with block mother-of-pearl position markers which started at the first fret. The headstock featured the traditional Gibson flower pot inlay.

The Byrdland came with a fancy gold-plated trapeze tail piece that was engraved with Byrdland and the rosewood bridge with topped with a Gibson tune-o-matic saddle. The body was bound as were the guitars F holes.

Hank's #2
Hank Garland’s number two and number three Byrdlands both had fancy three loop trapeze tailpieces that were gold plated. Number two had the Charile Christian pickup with a white top plate, which matched the guitars while pearloid pickguard, while number 3 had a black top plate on the pickup. In the following year,

By 1956, Gibson sold 60 units, which was more than the combined sales of L-5’s and Super 400’s. Electric guitarists seemed to appreciate the feel of the narrow body.

The number 3 Byrdland was the guitar that Hank played at the famous Elvis concert in Tuepelo Mississippi in 1957. This was during a period when Scotty Moore and Bill Black had quit the band.

Hank's number 3

Hanks number three was given back to Gibson in 1957 and was supposed to be archived, however someone mistakenly sold it to a music store in Chattanooga Tennessee. A music teacher there purchased it and had it autographed by Hank Garland.

1956 Gibson ES-350T
The Byrdland then became a regular production instrument. Later Gibson developed the ES-350T from the Byrdland using less-costly hardware and detailing, and offered it as a less expensive model.

From 1955 to 1960, Gibson made the Byrdland with a Venetian, or rounded, cutaway.

1961 Byrdland

From 1961 to 1968, it used the sharp, pointed, Florentine cutaway.

It returned to the Venetian in 1969. The model was in production from 1955 through 1969.

1978 Byrdland

Gibson reintroduced it as a limited run in 1977, 1978 and 1992.

In the late 1960s, guitarist Ted Nugent began using a Byrdland, which was unusual considering Nugent's style of music.However, in an interview Nugent states that he first saw Detroit guitarist Jimmy McCarty playing a Byrdland back in the early 1960's.

Nugent was amazed at McCarty's ability as a player. At the time Nugent was in a rock band and was the opening act for McCarty's band. McCarty was playing a Byrdland through a Fender Twin amp. Nugent finally saw a Byrdland for sale at a local music store he frequented and was able to trade his Epiphone Casino and a few hundred bucks for that guitar. He has been collecting and playing Byrdlands ever since then.

Nugent's Great White Buffalo Model
The hollow-bodied nature of the guitar created feedback issues at higher levels of gain and volume, making it impractical for hard rock and similar styles. Nugent incorporated the controlled feedback of the Byrdland into his playing and continues to use it today. Nugent gives his Byrdlands, and other Gibsons, a custom touch by removing the stock selector switch knobs, and installing Gretsch strap-lock knobs.

2015 Gibson Custom Byrdland
The guitar is currently available as part of Gibson's Custom series and is made with the Florentine cutaway. In 1976 only, Gibson offered a twelve-string version, but made fewer than 20.

When the instrument was first introduced in the Gibson Guitar catalog, the famous jazz club, Birdland, filed a lawsuit against Gibson over the name. The court dismissed the suit when Gibson showed that the name was made up from the names of two people.

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©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

How You Can Transform Your 1956 Fender Stratocaster Into a Hello Kitty® Strat

Today, my friends, I will show you how you can take a vintage 1956 Fender Stratocaster and update it to the more contemporary 21st Century look of a Hello Kitty® Strat.  It's much easier than it sounds. Just follow along.

1956 Fender Stratocaster

First you will need to procure a vintage 1956 Fender Strat complete with original tweed case.  They are available, just check out eBay.

Sand the body to remove sunburst finish

Remove the neck, then sand the body and neck down to the bare wood.  Nice lookin' wood, huh?  Don't forget to sand the headstock and neck to get out those darn aged-in finger marks. To heck with patina. It is overrated.

I suggest routing out the bridge pickup area to accommodate the Hello Kitty® humbucking pickup. You may want to get some wood filler or Bondo™ fiberglass filler to fill in those routed sections of the body. Then sand it again until the surface is smooth.

1956 Fender Stratocaster Neck

Now this might be the hardest part. The 1956 Fender Stratocaster neck came with black dot inlays that were made of baked clay buttons. These were then glued into routed out spaces in the neck.  You will have to get a knife, or some kind of tool to pry those pesky buttons out.

Then get some #0000 sand paper and scrape out the remnants.  Fortunately in our modern times there is a readily available substance called polymer clay, which is available at hobby shops.  Get some that is already colored pink. You can even get it at most Walmart stores, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby stores.

There Are Your Pink Fret Markers.

Shape the pink polymer clay into tiny flat buttons. You can air-dry these, or put them in an oven and bake them for 15 minutes. Once cooled, put a dab of glue on the back of your pink buttons and place them in the routed area of the neck. You will have to do some further sanding, but it will look great.

Mambo Pink Kryon Spray Paint.

Next, get a couple cans of Mambo Pink acryllic spray paint. Krylon® glossy ought to do the trick. Hang the body up and spray it until it looks good. Repeat this step eight, or nine times until you have a shell-like look on the body of your Hello Kitty® guitar.

Pre-assembled Hello Kitty pickguard, pickup, and adjustable bridge/saddle

There are a number of companies that supply guitar parts, such as Musician's Pal, and Guitar Parts-R-Us where you can get a pre-wired Hello Kitty® pickguard.  Buy one. But, don't ditch those old original parts. Some folks love the sound of vintage pickups hand wound by Abigail Ybarra, so you can sell them on eBay, along with the old wiring harness, and potentiometers for a lot of money.

Back of Your Hello Kitty Stratocaster

Now for the final touch, get a Shocking Pink Sharpie permanent marker and in your best cursive hand, write Hello Kitty on the back of the body. Better yet, get your girlfriend or wife to do this step. Girls seem to be able to do that flowery cursive script, better than guys. And if you are a lady, then you got this step!

Your Finished Hello Kitty Stratocaster

Put it together and what have you got?  Hello Kitty®!  And it sure looks great!

Making a Vintage Martin D-28 into a Hello Kitty Acoustic Guitar

Next week, we will learn how to take a Pre-war Martin D-28 and turn it into a Hello Kitty® acoustic guitar.

By the way, it's April Fools Day!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

On the Anniversary of Nokie Edwards Passing - March 24th, 2018

Nokie Edwards    1935 - 2018
Nokie Edwards, best know as lead guitarist with The Ventures passed away on March 12, 2018 at the age of 82.

Born  Nole Floyd Edwards on May 9, 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma, and nicknamed Nokie, Edwards was a native American Cherokee. He came from a family of accomplished musicians, and by age five he began playing a variety of string instruments including the steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin, and bass. He became an excellent guitar player.

Later in life, his family relocated from Oklahoma to Puyallup, Washington. At age 18 he joined the Army Reserves and traveled to California and Texas for training. After his stint was over, he returned to Tacoma, and his family.

Nokie with his trio
In January 1958, country songwriter and guitarist Buck Owens relocated from California to Tacoma, Washington, as owner of radio station KAYE. Prior to the formation of The Buckaroos with Don Rich, Edwards played guitar with Owens in the new band he formed in the area, and also played in the house band of television station KTNT, located in the same building as KAYE.

That same year found Edwards playing at a local club.

Don Wilson and Bob Bogle had a chance meeting in 1958 where they discovered they both played guitar. These guys bought a couple of used guitars from a pawn shop and started playing at bars and small clubs.

Nokie with the Original Ventures

They went to see guitarist Nokie Edwards, who was playing at a nightclub and asked if he would join them as a bass player.  He took them up on the offer.  They originally called their band The Marksmen, but soon changed the name to The Ventures.

The drummer that originally played on the recording of Walk, Don’t Run, was Skip Moore. He left the group to work at his families gas station.

General George Babbit with The Ventures
Next George Babbitt joined the group, but had to leave, because he was too young to play in nightclubs. Years later he joined the US Army and went on to become a 4 Star General.

The Ventures then hired Howie Johnson as their drummer, and he played with the group until he was injured in an automobile accident. He was replaced by Mel Taylor. Taylor stayed with the group throughout the band's tenure until he became to ill to continue, and was replaced by his son, Leon.

Johnny Smith

Back when Wilson and Bogle met Nokie Edward, he was already performing a Chet Atkins song called in his nightclub set called Walk, Don’t Run. This song was actually written and recorded by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith.

The Ventures
The Ventures took their version of this song to a recording studio and laid down a track, along with a B-side called Home, and had the company press some 45 rpm records, which they shipped to record companies and radio stations. The tune was eventually picked up by Dolton Records and went on to become #2 on the charts.

Walk Don't Run '64

It was later redone by The Ventures with an updated surf guitar arrangement and released again as Walk, Don’t Run ‘64. This song became one of only a handful of recordings that charted twice on the Billboard Hot 100. Walk, Don’t Run became required playing for all garage bands in the mid 1960’s.

It’s theme was slightly more complex than other surf songs, as it went from a minor to a major mode. The Ventures went on to produce many more albums, and even TV themes, however the early recordings were generally surf based music.

Night Run - The Marksmen

But in 1960, the first song Edwards and The Marksmen recorded was a single, "Night Run" with a song called "Scratch" on the B side, on Blue Horizon Records.

The Ventures 1960 Nokie on bass guitar

Edwards originally played bass for the group, but he took over the lead guitar position.

The Ventures in Japan 1965

The Ventures released a series of best-selling albums through 1968.  It was that same year that Edwards left the group, although he would occasionally reunite with the band.

The Venture Japan 2011
Nokie is seated

Nokie Edwards continued to tour Japan annually with The Ventures, primarily in winter, until 2012. It is amazing that the popularity of The Ventures never waned in Japan.

Edwards began a solo career in 1969 and released several albums through 1972.  Unfortunately Edward's solo career was never successful in America.

The Ventures 1984

Nokie returned to the Ventures as lead guitarist in 1973. Edwards performed with the band until 1984, when he left again to pursue a music career in Nashville, Tennessee.

Nokie with The Ventures 1984

By the later 1980's Edwards re-joined The Ventures once again. The group began another short stint of recording and touring before returning to Nashville.

Nokie Edwards on TNN 1996

During the 1990's Edward's was involved with numerous country-influenced recording projects. He became known and respected among many musicians and people in the recording industry.

These included Mark Moseley, who is the nephew of Semie Moseley, and owns a successful recording studio in Nashville that was started by his father, Andy Moseley.

Another friend of Nokie Edwards was Bob Shade, the current owner of Hallmark Guitars. Dana Moseley, Semi's daughter, who still makes and sells Mosrite guitars in the United States can be counted among Nokie's friends.

Deke Dickerson, who carries on the tradition of guitar music from the 1950's and 1960's was also one of Nokie's friends.

Joe and Rose Lee Maphis were both friends of Edwards. There are also many more folks that worked with and respected Nokie Edwards.

The Ventures Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Finally in 2008, Edwards and The Ventures were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Ventures 1959
 Nokie Edwards and The Ventures used quite a few guitars during their careers. During their early years, The Ventures played late 1950 era Fender guitars; a Jazzmaster, a Stratocaster, and a Precision Bass. But probably the best known Ventures' model was made by Semie Moseley's company, Mosrite guitars.

Gene Moles on the left

One evening California session player, Gene Moles, was displaying his Mosrite guitar to Nokie Edwards of The Ventures. Edwards feel in love with that guitar. He asked Moles to take him out to visit that guy that builds these wonderful guitars and the men went to visit Semie Moseley.  That evening Edwards came home his own Mosrite.

Soon after the encounter, The Ventures hooked up with Moseley to build custom made Ventures guitars and basses.

Original Mosrite
Ventures model
“It was a beautiful guitar,” said Gene Moles, the Bakersfield session guitarist, and member of Jimmy Thomason’s TV band.

Moles was and assembly-line inspector for Mosrite guitars. Mole's is quoted as saying  “It was a well-designed instrument. It felt good to a guitar player when he grabbed it. It had a narrow neck and a low profile, so you didn’t have to push down as hard on the strings to play it. And it had what we called ‘speed frets,’ where you could slide up and down the neck without getting held up on high-profile frets.”

Later Side
Jack Model
The client who turned Mosrite into a household name, at least among guitar enthusiasts, was Nokie Edwards, lead guitarist for the kings of ‘60s surf-rock, the Ventures. Edwards fell in love with the Mosrite guitar, and by 1962, the entire Seattle-based band set their trademark Fender guitars aside and were playing Mosrites on songs like “Walk, Don’t Run” and the theme from “Hawaii 5-0.”Before long, Edwards struck up a deal with Moseley to build guitars under The Ventures logo.

The Ventures signed a special distribution agreement with Mosrite, featured their guitars on their album covers.

This arrangement lasted from 1963 to 1965, when the model name was changed to the Mark I. However The Ventures continued to tour with Mosrite guitars from 1963 to 1968.

Briefly Mosrite had attempted to build and market an all transistor amplifier under The Ventures banner. However it failed, due to design problems. Mosrite made at least 4 versions of The Venture's model that included a budget version and a six string/12 string double neck.

After the agreement between Mosrite and the Ventures ended, The Ventures returned to playing Fender instruments.

Wilson Brothers Model

Later in life, the group had arrangements with Aria Guitars, and Wilson Brothers Guitars to produce Ventures model guitars.

 Hitchhiker Guitar

Bob Shade of Hallmark Guitars, created a special model for Nokie called The Hitchhiker. This is an exquisite neck-through body guitar, with a hard maple neck, ebony fret board and highly figured body. The twin Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups are controlled by master volume and tone potentiometers, with a five-way pickup selector switch, a two mini-toggles that yield a tonal palette of 15 different sounds.

Hallmark Hitchhker 1

Shade also built Nokie an exquisite gold sparkle version of the Hitchhiker called The Hitchhiker 1. Nokie loved his Hitchhiker and it was the last guitar that he played in his concerts.

Nokie with an Aria guitar at
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Though Nokie Edwards was known for his single note picking on The Ventures records, he was also a devotee and friend of Chet Atkins, and Nokie was an excellent finger picking guitarist.

He claims that the longevity of The Ventures was due to the songs they choose to record. They would look at the Billboard Top Hits, and the guitar styles played on those songs, and copy those styles to stay current with the times.

For all of us that learned guitar back in the mid-1960's, we owe a debt of gratitude to Nokie Edwards, and Bob Bogle. We learned to play single note guitar, by listening to Walk, Don't Run, and the other hit song by The Ventures.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)