Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baldwin Guitars

Information came from various sources including Vintage Guitar Magazine.
James Ormston Burns was born in England in 1925 and following World War II became involved in making guitars. In the late '50s he was part of Burns-Weill, making some of the earliest production guitars in England. During the era due to the high tariffs imposed on US manufactured products, UK guitarists looked to purchase domestically produced instruments or those manufactured in Europe.

It was in 1960 that Jim Burns founded his own company, Ormston Burns Ltd., which began selling guitars branded "Burns London."

Among his most endearing guitar designs were the pointy, horned Bison and a guitar made for Hank Marvin, England's answer to the Ventures.

Burns guitars were generally well designed and produced, with feather-touch vibratos, a unique "gear-box" truss rod adjuster (which ended up on many Baldwin-era Gretsches), and nifty electronic features like the "Wild Dog" setting on the Jazz Split Sound (basically an early out-of-phase tone). Unfortunately Mr. Burns skills were guitar design and technology and not business and financial management. Within five years his company was deeply in debt to suppliers and creditors. He was in desperate need of capital to maintain his company.

Baldwin Piano Co. Cincinnati, Ohio
In '61, Lucien Wulsin III took over the reigns of the Baldwin empire based in Cincinnati Ohio. The name Baldwin conjures up visions of finely manufactured pianos and console organs. These were selling well, but due to the British Invasion, every kid across the world wanted to play electric guitar. Leo Fender was having health problems and decided to put Fender Musical Instruments on the block.

Mr. Wulsin took a big chance to take his business in a new direction and made an attempt to purchase Fender, but was outbid by CBS. As a compromise Baldwin dispatched treasurer Richard Harrison to England to negotiate with Jim Burns about purchasing his floundering company.

Due to the sad financial state of affairs of Burns Ormston. The reported purchase price was in the neighborhood of $380,000. This was far from the millions Baldwin had offered to purchase Fender. Most of the purchase price went to pay off notes.

In September '65, Baldwin Piano and Organ took over the assets of Ormston Burns Ltd. Jim Burns remained on with his old company for about a year in a consulting capacity. New product development ground to a halt as Baldwin adjusted to the shock of inheriting a product line targeted at an entirely new market.

Baldwin Split Sound Jazz
Because Baldwin acquired Burns cache of guitars in the deal there were a few early models from 1965 that had both names on them, and those that did likely had already been produced at the time of the sale.

Following these were some in-production models on which the Burns name was actually excised, and the Baldwin name inserted.

Since the name was usually on the pickguard, this meant cutting out the Burns name and gluing a piece of pickguard material engraved with the Baldwin name over it.

Once the existing Burns parts were used up, the Baldwin logo was incorporated into the parts, as normal. The 1965 Baldwin/Burns line included the Nu-Sonic, G.B.65, G.B.66, G.B.66 Deluxe, Bison, Baby Bison, Hank Marvin, Jazz Split Sound, Vibraslim, Double Six (12-string) and Virginian. Basses included the Nu-Sonic, GB66, Jazz Split Sound, Bison Bass, Shadows, Baby Bison, and Vibraslim basses.

Depending on the model, headstocks on most of these early Baldwin guitars were in-line, on-a-side or the trademark large scroll. Burns guitars tended to have a variously shaped clear plastic emblem stenciled with the model name situated on the headstock, with no Burns logo (which was engraved on the pickguard).

With the exception of the classical, all Burns/Baldwin guitars had bolt-on necks. Necks were adjustable, with access underneath the neckplate into a geared mechanism usually called a "gearbox." Fingerboards were typically unbound rosewood with pearl dot inlays; the octave had a regular-sized dot in the center with a smaller dot on each flank. Burns guitars usually featured a zero fret.

Pickguards were typically black/white laminated (tortoise on better models, in order to allow the engraving of the logo). Knobs were generally black plastic "Pilgrim hat" or "bell knob" types with a chrome insert on the top.

Early Burns/Baldwin guitars were shipped directly to Baldwin's Fayetteville, Arkansas, electronic organ factory. There were a number of factors that precipitated this move from Cincinnati.

The development of the Interstate highway system cut through Baldwin's lumber yard and there was an impassable struggle with the union.

Baldwin Virginian
From the start, Baldwin encountered problems with the Burns guitars being shipped in from the U.K. "The problem was that Burns was using a polyester finish," recalls Krueger. "Not polyurethane - polyester. That worked fine for England, but when it got here it couldn't handle the climate change."

Or, as Duke Kramer, who joined Baldwin later as part of the Gretsch acquisition, tells it more graphically, "The polyester finishes exploded!"

Baldwin eventually hired a fellow whose job was just to refinish damaged guitars, but there were so many he never caught up!

Baldwin guitars didn't sell very well. Baldwin had it's own stores that sold pianos and organs. There were other music stores that specialized in guitar sales. Guitar manufacturers sent salesmen to independent music stores to push their products. Baldwin attempted to sell guitars in their piano stores which attracted a far different clientele. Baldwin's sales force was geared to pianos and organs.

Baldwin also discovered the unforeseen cost of import tariffs. The tariffs were much higher on completed guitars than on containers of components. In 1966 Baldwin began having the Burns factory bring the guitars to a state of semi-finish, but not final assembled. Thus, they would pack one container with bodies, another with necks, etc. Apparently the state of completion would vary, but these were then shipped to Fayetteville, where the parts were assembled.

Baldwin took further steps to reduce costs. Baldwin completely redesigned the guitars neck. First, from this point on, all Baldwin guitars had the same neck, rather than different headstocks based on the model. The new necks featured a flatter version of the scroll headstock which was easier to manufacture than the previous design, which had a real, carved scroll. The fingerboards were bound and the triple-dot octave had three dots of the same size.

In addition, in '66 several models underwent minor changes, while the Vibraslim got a major makeover to become simply the prosaic Model 548. Although it looked the same the Vibraslim lost the internal wood and became a hollowbody.

The old Ultra-Sonic pickups were replaced by new Bar Magnet units. Instead of mounting the controls with thumbwheels along the edge of the pickguard, they were now mounted on the top of the guitar. On some models, the laminated pickguard was replaced with a see-through plastic one. And the old Mk. 9 vibrato was replaced by the shorter Rezo-tube. Similar changes were made to the Vibraslim bass.

Other minor model changes included new all-metal knobs on the Jazz Split Sound guitar and bass. The Shadows Bass was renamed the Shadow Signature. The Bison Bass, Shadow Signature Bass, Jazz Split Sound Bass, Baby Bison Bass, and Marvin and Baby Bison guitars all got new Bar Magnet pickups. Basses changed to a Rezo-tube bridge/tailpiece unit. The Jazz Split Sound Bass got a shorter scale. All got renewed expectations.

In addition to the new specs, the entire line received new numerical model designations. Except for the Vibraslim, the old Burns names remained, but clearly de-emphasized.

Baldwin poured a lot of money into marketing the new line. Lots of space advertising, an expensive catalog. Baldwin tried.

Guitarist Chuck Thompson was hired as a demo man,  Gretsch's Jimmy Webster, and he toured the country in a Baldwin van.

In '67 Baldwin decided to add a less expensive budget line, the 700 Series. The 700s featured conventional ES-335-style equal double-cutaway hollowbodies made in Italy and imported into the Fayetteville plant for assembly with Burns necks and other components, including some Italian-made hardware and probably pickups. There were four guitars and one bass included in the 700 Series. 700 Series instruments came in cherry red or sunburst finishes.

The Model 706V was a two-pickup thinline with the new Baldwin neck, an adjustable fine-tune bridge, and a Bigsby-style vibrato with string rollers and a stylized "B" on the backplate. The last two pieces look distinctly Italian.

The pickups, mounted on metal rings, were a new "Bar Type" that appear to be humbuckers, and sure look Italian. These had metal covers with six adjustable screw poles on either side of a stenciled oval with the Baldwin name included.

The Model 706 was the same guitar except for a trapeze tailpiece with a large "B" medallion. These are definitely different from the old Burns trapezes, and are also probably of Italian origin.

The Model 712 was a 706 with a 12-string neck. The saddles on the bridge were double notched, so it was essentially the same six string model converted to a 12 string and therefore probably intonation was a problem.

The Model 704 was a bass version of the 706, pretty much identical except for two rows of four poles on the pickups and an attractive staggered tuner arrangement.

Except for the 700 series, Baldwin guitars are excellent instruments. They were essentially domestic made Burns guitar. Burns was a sought after English brand especially the Double Six model.

Luthier Mel McCullough reproduction and an original Baldwin Classic Electric

Jerry Reed's main guitar was a Baldwin Classical. These were prized due to the prismatone piezo crystal pickups in the bridge saddle. This arrangement actually revolutionized acoustic guitar playing.

Chet Atkins and his sideman Paul Yandell both had Baldwin guitars. Chet removed the bridge saddle and used it on his classic models from luthier Hascal Haille. The same design went into Chet's Gibson model SST.

Willie Nelson also removed the saddle pickup and placed it on "Trigger", his signature Martin guitar.

We haven't discussed Baldwin amplifiers. These were solid state and based on the amplification system Baldwin used in it's organs.

Willie Nelson has played through an amp, similar to the one pictured above, for years. The colorful organ style push switches on the right are called Supersound. These are treble, mid and bass boosters. The solid state amplifier is two channels, 45 watts with 2 - 12" speakers.

The most remarkable amplifier was called the Baldwin Exterminator. This amplifier was an earsplitting 250 watts RMS and contained 2-15" speakers, 2 - 12" speakers and 2 - 7" speakers. It stood five feet high and weighed as much as a refrigerator.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fender Bullet Guitars

1981 Fender Bullet
The Fender Bullet guitar was designed in 1981 as a low cost student instrument to take the place of the Duo Sonic and Music Master.

1981 Ad For Bullet  Guitar
with 20 watt Harvard amp

Fender designer John Page put the original instrument together. The first models were made in Asia and shipped un-assembeld to the US.

However Fender did not think the work was up to par and produced the original 1981 guitars in the US putting to use left over parts from other guitars.

1981 Bullet
The original bodies were designed to resemble a smaller and thinner version of the Telecaster. The necks were Telecaster necks. The dual pickups were Mustang pickups which were positioned like the Duo Sonic.

That is the neck pickup was angled on the treble side and the bridge pickup was parallel to the bridge. The switch was a three position Stratocaster Switchcraft version. The two potentiometer knobs for volume and tone were black Stratocaster knobs.

They came in two colors and two versions. The color was either red or cream. Pickguards were either white or black. The Bullet Standard had an anodized steel pickguard with the distal lip behind the bridge raised at a 90% angle to anchor the strings.

The Bullet Deluxe had a plastic pickguard and the strings went through the body. The bridge assembly was a barrel type and was adjusted by a screw for intonation and an allen wrench for height. The headstock decal had a 5 point star with a number 1 in the center.

I've seen them with rosewood and maple necks.

In 1982-83 the guitar was redesigned to look like a slightly smaller version of the Stratocaster. The guitar came in several versions. The S-3 had 3 Mustang type pickups with white covers positioned in the normal Strat fashion and a five way blade switch.

The H-2 had 2 Fender humbucker (that were actually Mustang pickups side to side. Alongside the 3 way blade switch were two pushbutton switches that enable coil tapping. The H-1 was similar, but only had one pickup near the bridge.

A Bullet bass was also produced. It was a smaller bodied version of a Precision bass with Mustang bass pickups.

1982 Fender Bullet S-3
These guitars came in black, white, red or cream. The controls were volume and tone. The input was on the top where the second tone control would be found on a Stratocaster. These were hard tail instruments.

The price for the instruments was $199 which included a molded Fender case. During this time there was also a set sold with a Fender Bullet and your choice of a Fender Champ tube amp or a Fender solid state amp.

In 1984 Fender Bullets were produced in Japan under the Squire Bullet label. These came in several versions including a style similar to the 1981 and another that more closely resembled a Stratocaster that had a Strat style tremolo.

Although they are student instrument, in my opinion they are still great players and bargains. Particularly the 1981's which have Tele neck and Kluson tuners.

Jr. Brown had his original Guit-Steel made from Fender Bullet parts.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The instrument on the right is an intriguing example by Harwood, a little-known New York maker from 1900 to 1930.

Though known mainly from his existing parlor guitars, The Harwood Guitar Company also made at least two harp guitars. This guitar, with twelve sub-bass strings and "double-barrel" sound holes, is large -almost nineteen inches wide. It's extremely well made, with aberrantly-grained Brazilian rosewood back and sides.


Harwood was a brand name used by the J. W. Jenkins Company, a Kansas City, MO musical instrument dealer and wholesaler. They introduced the Harwood brand in 1885. That same year the Jenkins Company established a factory and produced guitars using the brands Clifford and Washington.

Some guitars marked "Harwood, New York" have been seen. It is not known if these are also by Jenkins. There is a town in New York State called Harwood, which may give us a clue.

An article from The Music Trades, dated July 26, 1902, shows what may be the first Harwood harp guitar, though the name is not mentioned. Clues are the last fret marker (on both necks, in this case) - a bone rectangle engraved "HARWOOD" (look at the last fret marker on each of the pictures), the carved bridge that matches some of the known specimens, the joined headstock, and the position of the necks on the body.

It is advertised as the new guitar from J. W. Jenkins' Sons Music Co (a continuation of the Jenkins Company referred to above?). Interestingly, they don't call it a harp guitar or similar - just a 14-string guitar. The eight bass strings utilize geared tuners, and the two necks are centered on the body.


Although we know about the Chicago built Harwoods, we are not certain who built the New York Harwoods. Frank Ford, who has examined some of the parlor guitars, believes that they are nearly comparable to Martin quality (but not made by Martin). I am told the bracing pattern is the distinction. Most Martin guitars utilized the "X" bracing pattern, while Harwood guitars utilized "ladder bracing."

All Harwoods appear to be made with stunning Brazilian rosewood back and sides. This above harp specimen has a perfectly flat top, strung with 12 steel strings, yet is only ladder braced. Perhaps this is helped by the fact that amongst the evenly-spaced braces (~ every 2-1/2"), one is situated directly above the bridge, and the bridge plate itself appears to be a solid thin piece of an unidentified wood that completely fills the space between the braces and from side to side.

My own Harwood is currently unplayable, but one of these day I hope to have it repaired.

Like all Harwoods the bone inlay at the last fret that spells the company name Harwood.

The logo is engraved on the neck block and states Harwood Guitars, NY. The same logo appears on the back side of the headstock. Another feature is the extreme V shape of the neck. My thoughts are this shape deterred the neck from warpage. As with many guitars, there is a strap button on the butt of the guitar's body, however there is another strap button on the distal back side of the slotted headstock.


The tuners are ancient and made from ivory, which has deteriated through the years causing them to shrink. The top appears to be spruce and the back and sides are rosewood. I keep strings on the guitar, although they are loose. The guitars of this era, 1890's, were designed for gut strings. I use silk & steel strings as they do not have the tension of bronze or steel core strings. Additionally I tune down a whole step when I played the guitar.

This guitar was given to me by my wife for a Christmas present many years ago. She bought it from an antique store. It is a treasure.