Sunday, March 20, 2022

Ukrainian Guitar Builders

Russian Bombing of Kiev
We are all concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the senseless harm that has incurred to all of the innocent citizens of this peaceful nation. I certainly hope the entire world recognizes the devastation and steps in to stop Vladimir Putin's spilling of blood by his unrighteous invasion and destruction. 

Russian Bombing of Maternity Hospital 
One tragedy of every war is that freedom of speech is totally obliterated. The press is controlled by government propaganda as is the media and social media.  Once this is accomplished, the arts are eliminated. 

After all Arts and Music are a method of expression. This was exemplified in yesterday's cruel and needless bombing of a theater that had been turned into a bomb shelter.  Someone had even painted the word CHILDREN on the roof. Despite this, the theater was bombed, destroyed by heartless soldiers. Many women and children were killed.  

As this is a guitar blog, my thoughts turned to the amazing guitar builders and luthiers that make their home in the Ukraine. In researching these builders I was struck with the fact that most of them have connections to Russia, either through training, mentoring, or from living in Russia. However these builders all live and make their living in the Ukraine. I pray that all are well and safe.

Alexander Momot
Alexander Momot was born at 22 of January 1971 in Kharkov in the Ukraine. In 1993, he graduated from the Kharkov Higher Military Engineering School of the Strategic Missile  Forces. He worked on telemetry station of a Russian commodore "Plesetsk", is a reserve officer in 1992, at the end of study in military university, 

At that time he met a "world of guitar makers" in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov city. Prior to the current war he was still working in Kharkov.

Another guitar master builder is Oleg Stefanyuk. There is not much information about this excellent classical and flamenco luthier. However he certainly builds some excellent instruments. 

Guitar master luthier Berezhnoy Igor Vasilyevich worked in  Kharkov. prior to the war.  Vasilyevich was born on October 3, 1962 in the city of Kungur in the Perm Region, He grew up in the family of a serviceman. 

Until the age of 16, he grew up and studied in a closed military camp, where he built his first guitar  

In 1982 he came to live in his historical homeland in Kharkov, where he met the leading masters of the city, He became friendly and kept up communications with other Ukrainian builder which helped to improve his skills and experience. 

In addition to making acoustic guitars, he also makes folk instruments, such as kobza, and also carry out maintenance and overhaul of other stringed musical instruments.  In 2004 in the city of Odessa he became a laureate of the international competition of guitar masters with a classical guitar made of Indian rosewood.  

Evgeny Labunsky

Evgeny Labunsky, was born in Odessa in 1955. He graduated from high school, and then went to a polytechnic institute and worked as an engineer before the start of perestroika. 

At the same time in his youthful years, he became fond of playing guitar for tourists. He realized that it was impossible to play a guitar bought in a department store for 13 Soviet rubles without repairing it.  Therefore, while still a schoolboy he worked on carrying out "after-sales" preparation of several guitars. 

Guitars by Evgeny Labunsky
By 1980 chance meeting brought him together with the team of the section of guitar masters of the Odessa Club of Guitar Lovers. The section annually held competitions of guitar masters and participated in almost all competitions. 

By 2000 I became the chairman of our section. 

More Guitars by Labunsky
His first mentor in guitar production was Alexander Nikolaev. In future years he was consulted by masters from Kharkov Oleg Stefanyuk, Oleg Gints, Vladimir Alekseevich Oleinichenko, master from Chernigov Nikolai Ivanovich Yeshchenko and others. So far Labunsky says that he has built over fifty instruments.

His preference is to make instruments of traditional classical shape and sizes for nylon strings.  And he also uses traditional materials. Sides and backs in rosewood and maple, with the tops in spruce or Canadian cedar. 

About Lanbunsky's Guitars
He often make instruments for “bards” that sing, play and tell stories  For these instruments, he says that he uses fine wood veneer plywood for the body to avoid warping during outdoor performances. 

On rosewood instruments I install soundboards from Canadian cedar, on maple. For plywood instruments he builds the tops from Russian spruce. 

For his standard premium instruments he uses a traditional classical  scale of 650mm, 

He states that he also makes a "quarter size instrument with a scale of 555mm. He prefers using Rosewood, Canadian cedar on the bodies and sides, and ebony on the fingerboards He gets much of his wood, fretboards, and machine heads from Germany from the finest music stores.  At the request of the customer he will embellish his guitars with mother-of-pearl.

Viktor Alekseevich Syrovatskii
Viktor Alekseevich Syrovatskii was born in 1960 in Sumy. Here he graduated from the Polytechnic Institute and worked for many years worked as an engineer at a factory. 

Syrovatskii writes poems and songs and periodically go on stage with them, and often goes on various creative trips. 

Once, at a the festivals, fate brought me together with Kharkov guitar master Vladimir Oleinichenko. His guitar needed repair, and he took it to his shop in Kharkov.

Once in the workshop, he realized that he wanted to do this craft, and immediately asked for it as an apprentice. At that time his father was still alive, and he blessed me by allowing him to quit the factory job to study with maestro Oleinichenko.. Since then is has been making musical instruments for many years. 

Syrovatskii at work
Syrovatskii only builds guitars because he is a concert author and the head of his studio. However he also repairs and restores various instruments - violins, cellos, domras, balalaikas, mandolins, kobzas, banduras. But most of all he loves building new guitars.

Dmitry Yeremeyev is the only Ukrainian luthier that builds electric guitars, and his Mera brand instruments are amazing.

In his own rather esoteric words, "Everything in the Universe is a trinity of Matter, an Information(eidolon) and a Measure(MERA in Russian). A MATTER is TRANSFORMING according to a MEASURE. The measure of a guitar (MERAGUITARS) is the SOUND, the ERGONOMY, the RELIABILITY, and the LOOK. These four criteria forms a conceptual Measure(MERA) of a guitar

Mera Guitars
MERA incorporates all the component measures, required for transformation of a MATTER.

 TRANSFORMING a MATTER according to the matrix of MERA (considering all the partial measures ) one can get an exclusive innovatory instrument that have an unusual awesome characteristics improved a lot grades up. 

This fact makes a musician to feel delight as much as a listener and also opens a totally new possibilities in Creation and Creativity." Check out his amazing creations.

I hope and I pray that this unjust war comes to a swift end and does not escalate.

Click on the links below the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2022 (text only)

I am including this video by one of my favorite cover bands, Leonid and Friends. The lead singer is Serge Tiagniryadno. While most of the band is made up of Russian citizens, Serge is from Kiev, Ukraine.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Ventures Guitarist Don Wilson, The Last Remaining Original Member Passes Away January 22nd


When the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964 I knew that I just wanted to have a guitar. 

1950's  Harmony

My first instrument was a very used Harmony Patrician archtop model that my Dad purchased from Will’s Pawn Shop for $20. I took group lessons at the local YMCA. By Christmas I was able to get a very nice used electric guitar. Those initial lessons taught me a few basic chord patterns. But I learned more from listening to records. Although I had learned to read music from piano and clarinet lessons,  I guess you could say learning the guitar was all done “by ear”. 

The Ventures were the most popular instrumental guitar group at the time. I owned more than a few Ventures albums. Back in 1964 I had no clue who the players were, or who was playing lead, rhythm, of bass guitar. In later years when Guitar Player Magazine and other periodicals appeared I learned much more about each of the players. 

The story of how the Ventures came together was fascinating. All of the original members have now passed away with the announcement of Don Wilson’s passing on January 22nd of this year. According to his son, Timothy, Don Wilson passed away in his sleep of natural causes at age 88. 

Don Wilson and Bob Bogle first met in 1958, when Bogle was looking to buy a car from a used car dealership in Seattle which was owned by Wilson's father. They started a friendship when they discovered that they both wanted to play guitar. Bogle and Wilson purchased two used guitars from a pawn shop for $10 each, learned to play and in 1958 they decided to start a duo. 

The boys initially called themselves The Versatones and began by playing in small clubs, bars, and private parties throughout the Pacific Northwest.  

By 1959 the boys researched the bands name and discovered another group had already registered it. Wilson’s mother suggested calling their duo, The Ventures. 

The First Ventures Band
Wilson and Bogle had heard about a local player named Nokie Edwards who was playing guitar at a nearby nightclub. Nokie was very good, so Wilson and Bogle asked if he would be interested in playing bass guitar for The Ventures. Edwards agreed.

Bogle owned a Chet Atkins LP that included Chet’s version of a Johnny Smith song called Walk Don’t Run

The guys worked up a much simpler version of this song. By this time they had recruited a drummer named George Babbitt. But Babbitt was too young to play in clubs so he resigned  (interestingly enough in later years George Babbitt became a Four Star General). 

The guys needed a replacement drummer so they hired Skip Moore. Late in 1959 the group was able to record their version of Walk Don’t Run on an LP that was recorded at Joe Boles' home studio in Seattle, Washington. 

The Ventures First Recordings

This album was released on on Liberty's Dolton subsidiary in December 1960. The song, Walk, Don't Run became a big seller, peaking at #11 on Billboard and earning a gold record for The Ventures (their first of three) for over 500,000 copies sold. The Ventures had made it. 

The Ventures First LP
Skip Moore was the drummer on the recording. He  was devoted to his family’s auto-repair business. Thinking this was just another gig, he sold his rights to receive royalties to the recording session for $25. In later years, Moore filed a lawsuit, but it was dismissed since the document showed had signed away his rights.

The Ventures 1959
Moore was replaced by drummer Howie Johnson. The original Ventures line up included Bob Bogle on lead guitar, Don Wilson on rhythm guitar, Nokie Edwards on bass guitar, and Howie Johnson on drums. Johnson had been involved in a car accident prior to joining the group and had irreversible spinal damage. Sometimes he had to perform wearing a neck brace when playing drums. Later he resigned and was replaced by Mel Taylor. 

By 1961 the band decided that Nokie Edwards was a much better player than Bob Bogle and his talents  were wasted by keeping him on bass guitar. Bogle agreed, and rapidly learned the bass parts to all their tunes. So Edwards became the lead guitarist. This move would prove vital in modernizing the band's sound, ensuring success in an ever-changing market well into the late 1960s. 

The Ventures - Howie Johnson
- Don Wilson - Nokie Edwards on bass
 - Bob Bogle
Initially The Ventures played Fender guitars. Bogle played a Fender Jazzmaster, Don Wilson owned a Fender Stratocaster, while Edwards played a Fender Precision Bass. Later on both Bogle, Wilson, and Edwards opted for the cleaner tones of the Jazzmaster. The guitarists used Fender amplifiers and reverb units. 

Gene Moles With His Mosrite
One evening Nokie Edward was visiting with a guitar playing friend, who played in clubs and on recording sessions. The guitarist was Gene Moles, who had just received a custom made guitar made by luthier Semie Mosely, who was building guitars under The Mosrite brand. 

Nokie Edwards was very impressed with this instrument.

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

Gene Moles
“It was a beautiful guitar,” said Gene Moles, the Bakersfield session guitarist, then a member of Jimmy Thomason’s TV band, He later became the 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. 

The Ventures went on to sign a special distribution agreement with Mosrite. They featured the guitar on preceding album covers. The band, having signed a special distribution agreement with Mosrite, featured the guitar on its album covers.  The headstock logo read "The Ventures" with the Mosrite logo in it's middle.

Don Wilson's Original Jazzmaster
After the expiration of their contract with Moseley, the Ventures returned to playing mainly Fender guitars. Only rarely have they used Mosrite guitars since that contract ended. In the mid-1990s, 

Fender issued a limited edition Ventures Signature Series of guitars consisting of a Jazzmaster,Stratocaster, and a Fender Jazz Bass, all with specifications determined by the band. 

Aria Guitars and Wilson Brothers Guitars have subsequently issued Ventures Signature Model instruments. Though both guitar resemble the Mosrite version, the Wilson Brothers guitar, in particular, is closely modeled physically on the original Mosrite design. 

By 1964 The Ventures released an updated version of their original hit record called Walk Don't Run '64 which hit the #6 mark on the Top 100 chart. This is the version that I learned as did thousands of other kids in garage bands across the nation and world.  It featured that muted, reverb-laden, sliding glissando that just made the song pop. 

This style was imitated by many other "Surf Rock" groups of the day. It is even featured on the TV show theme for Third Rock From The Sun.

The Ventures pioneered the use of special effects on such songs as "The 2000 Pound Bee", recorded in late 1962, in which lead guitarist Nokie Edwards employed a fuzz pedal. This was probably the Mosrite "Fuzzrite" pedal. Edward noted  was the first guitarist to use a fuzz pedal. 

Mosrite 12 String 

Additional, the Ventures with Edwards on lead pioneered the use of the twelve-string guitar in rock. The Ventures also pioneered the use of other special guitar effects such as reverse tracking, flanging, and a talk box effect. 

Though their last major hit song in the United States was the theme to "Hawaii Five-0". This song reach #4 in 1968.

Prior to this their 1965 single "Diamond Head" only reached #70 in the United States, however this one song became major hit overseas, reaching #1 in the Japanese and Hong Kong markets, and becoming the first million-selling single in Japan. 

In fact The Ventures were responsible for a period in Japanese music known as the Eleki which started a guitar boom in Japan. Thousands of Japanese purchased electric guitars and many guitar-based bands started up.  In later years The Ventures played to many sold-out concerts in Japan. This also accounted for their agreement with Aria guitar.

Bogle died in 2009 at age 75. Edwards died in 2018 at age 82. Mel Taylor died in 1992 from cancer, Howie Johnson passed away in 1988, and original drummer Skip Moore is also deceased.

The Ventures played a prominent role in popularizing the electric guitar in the 1960s and helped create the twangy surf sound that influenced the Beach Boys, among others. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame deemed The Ventures, ushered into the hall's ranks in 2008, "the most successful instrumental combo in rock and roll history."

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2022 (Text Only)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas Wish Time



The Beatles on Ed Sullivan 1964
The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964. Although I was just a kid, I’d been listening to rock music for several years before on the local AM radio stations. Yep, AM. FM would come later. Most of the artists I liked played guitar. When The Beatles showed up I was glued to their perfomance. That just did it for me. 

I just had to have a guitar.

1960 Wish Book
And every Christmas the Wish Book aka THE CATALOG showed up in our mail. We received three or four of these from different stores. I would turn right to the guitar section and carefully read each description with fascination. Those were those "olden days", long before Amazon, Musicians Friend, or the myriad other web sites which much later came into being.  During this time I would beg my parents for a guitar and an amplifier.

1960's Harmony Guitar catalog

Wow that Harmony flat top was made of seasoned wood! So it had to be great! (I had no clue at the time what seasoned wood was.)

1963-64 Fender Catalog

Later on, I was able to send away to different companies for their guitar  catalogs. I wish I had kept them all.

So let’s go back to those days and review some of those guitars, and amplifiers available years ago. And check out the prices too!

Silvertone guitars sold by Sears
Straight out of the Sears catalog were all of these "Silvertone" instruments. The two hollow bodies on the left and the two solidbody guitars on the lower right were made by the Harmony Guitar Company. The two teal solidbody guitars on the upper right were made by the Kay Guitar Company.  Silvertone was the brand name that Sears had put on their radios, televisions, and electronics.

Sears Silvertone guitars and amplifiers
The company applied that name to their musical instruments. In fact Sears contracted with several different manufacturers to produce guitars, and amplifiers, and then badged them with that brand name. All of these guitars pictured here were made by Kay, with the exception of the second one on the top row, which is a Danelectro guitar. 

The amplifiers on the page were made by National.

Silvertone Danelectro
Guitar/amp in case

It is a fact that the Danelectro Company sold most of their guitars and amplifiers through mail order retail companies such as Sears, Montgomery Wards, and others.

Sears Danelectro bass

This Silvertone, model 57 1444L bass guitar caught the attention of my best friend, and he purchased it for $99.00 in 1965.

I recently saw this same bass at a local music store with the price tag of $800.00.

Danelectro Silvertone Bass amplifier

About six month later my friend had saved up enough money to purchase the matching Danelectro-made Silvertone model 1483 bass amp. This amp pumped 23 watts into a single 12" Jensen speaker. 

Silvertone Twin Twelve amplifier
One of the most popular Sears Silvertone amplifiers was what most of us referred to as the "Twin Twelver", although it's actual designation was Model 1484. It was made by the Danelectro Company of Neptune, New Jersey.

Silvertones were considerably less expensive than a comparable Fender amplifier. The Danelectro speaker cabinets were made with a compartment in the bottom to store the amplifier unit or head for transportation. 

While Fender and Gibson made their amplifier cabinets out of solid pine wood, Danelectro used much cheaper particle board for construction.

Silvertone model 1472
For those on a budget, Silvertone offered the model 1472, also made by Danelectro. This pumped 10 watts into a 12" Jensen speaker. All for less than $70.00 USD.  A similar 12 watt 1965 Fender Princeton Reverb was $169.

The Montgomery Ward Company used the brand name Airline for its electronic and music products. They used a number of "jobbers" or wholesale companies to procure their guitars and amplifiers, such as National, Valco, Supro, Harmony, Kay,  All guitars were sold by Wards under the Airline brand name.

Two Valco made Airline guitars.
The one circled is
Jack White's 1964 Hutto Airline model
Perhaps the most interesting guitar offered in their catalog was the Valco made fiberglass models, which they referred to as "Res-o-glass" for its supposed resonance. There is an interesting history of  National, Valco, and Supro. This was a company started by the Dopyera brothers of Dobro fame. Jack White played the JB Hutto model that was first manufactured in 1959.

1954 Montgomery Ward catalog

Another one of the more unusual guitars that Montgomery Wards offered under the Airline brand was the Kay Thin Twin. Though the pickups covers seem thin, the actual single coil pickups underneath the pickguard were normal size compared to comparable instruments.

Jimmy Reed with Kay Thin Twin

The Kay Thin Twin was the model played by guitarist Jimmy Reed. You can see it in this 1954 company catalog. Most of the other guitars and amps on this page were made by National.

Western Auto catalog
A company that has probably been long forgotten was Western Auto. They were very popular in the 1950's and 1960's, and sold guitars and amplifiers under the Truetone brand. The guitars and amplifiers were made by the Kay Company of Chicago.

Western Auto Speed Demon

One of my favorite Kay-made guitars sold by Western Auto was the three pickup Jazz King aka the Speed Demon. It came with distinctive Kay single coil pickups. Each pickup had its own volume and tone control. Some models came with the Truetone decal, while others came with the Western Auto "W" logo.

1962 Kay guitar catalog

One of the more popular guitars in the 1960's was the Kay Vanguard, you can view it in the lower left corner.

Kay Vanguard - two versions
 under the Truetone brand

This guitar came with one or two pickups, and a fixed bridge with an aluminum bridge cover. The price for the one pickup model was only $44.95, which was a big factor in the instruments popularity. These were sold by Western Auto, Sears, and under the Old Kraftsman brand for Spiegel, another catalog company.

Kay Value Leader

One more popular model made by Kay was called The Value Leader. It was sold through several different catalog companies under different brand names, as well as under the Kay brand.

Kay Value Leader guitars

This hollow body Les Paul shaped guitar came with a fixed wooden bridge, a rectangular aluminum pickguard, a trapeze bridge, and one, two, or three pickups. The single pickup model sold for $69.95, the two pickup model sold for $87.95, while the three pickup version was $99.95. The pickups were low output to decrease feed back.

1965-66 Fender Catalog

Although Fender guitars were only sold through authorized dealers, you could obtain a Fender catalog from a dealer or directly from the company. For a guitar obsessed kid, these catalogs were like finding gold. We could look at all those guitars and dream.

1966 Baldwin Advertisement

The new kid on the scene in 1966 was Baldwin guitars and amplifiers. Baldwin had recently acquired Burns of London guitars, and the rights to Kustom amplifiers. Some of the original Baldwin guitars were still labeled as "Burns", so Baldwin put their logo on top of the Burns logo. The Baldwin amplifiers were based on Kustom amplifier circuitry.

1966 Spiegle catalog

The Joseph Speigel Company was a Chicago based business specializing in direct mail order sales. They sold guitars that were made by Kay Guitars of Chicago under the Old Kraftman brand.

1966 Carvin Catalog
One of the most interesting companies that originally sold guitars and instruments made by other companies, but within a few years manufactured their own guitars by the mid 1960's. This was The Carvin Company of California. I recall sending for their catalog. It may have cost me 50 cents for postage. It contained very interesting guitars and amplifiers, and it came with a separate price list manually typed on a typewriter. 

The Carvin Company was a family business, and remains so today under the Keisel brand name.

Years later I learned that the bodies of those early Carvin guitars were made by the California based company, but the necks, pickups, and electronics were made by Hofner of Germany., although some of the pickups were wound in house. Later on Carvin manufactured their own brand of pickups 

Emenee Toy Commercial

In addition to the wish books there were a few television commercials in the mid-1960's from a toy company called Emenee.  This New York based toy manufacture created several guitars that were made out of plastic. 

They also produced the "polychord electric-piano organ" aka The Audition Organ, and the "Big Bash Drum" snare drum.  Well a kid could start their own band with all those seemingly marvelous instruments. 

Emenee Tiger Guitar
 with amp

The Emenee Tiger guitar was a hollow body archtop instrument made entirely of plastic. It had a cutaway, an archtop bridge and came with a detachable contact microphone which was probably made by the DeArmond Company.

Emenee Swinging Cat Guitar

The Swinging Cat guitar has been described in internet posts as perhaps the worst toy ever made. It was a solid body style all plastic guitar with a faux pickup section molded on top of the body. It came with  a contact microphone that was permanently attached to the amplifier. The child could place the microphone contraption under the strings. 

Both instruments featured low watt battery powered amps housed in a plastic cabinet.  

I wish there were more videos of guitar catalogs on the internet. There were a few last year, but they now they all seem to  come with a subscription price.

I wish you all A Very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!  I hope Santa brings you a new guitar.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar publicationa 2020 (text only)

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