Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Metal Necks - Messenger Guitars and Kramer Guitars

Gary Kramer left Travis Bean Guitars in 1975, a year after they started. He then went to work designing and manufacturing his own brand of guitars called Kramer.

The original 1976 Kramers sported a semi-wooden neck that featured a “tuning fork” aluminum headstock and an aluminum “skeletal” neck that had wood section or fills on either side to give the feel of a wooden neck but the strength and sustain of a metal neck.

These necks, designed for sustain, contained slots that ran the length of the neck for holding the wood fills in place. The idea was to reduce the cold feel of an all aluminum neck.

The fret boards were made of a material called Ebonal and featured aluminum dot inlays or pearl inlays on the more expensive models. The Ebonal fretboard contained large center-touch frets that were designed by Phil Petillo. Kramer guitars featured a zero fret. The high end models came with crown shaped inlays made of mother-of-pearl.

The neck scale on Kramers was 25”. The head stock was topped with Schaller tuners.

After ten years of building guitars with aluminum necks, Kramer changed their strategy in 1985 and started building super-strats with wooden necks.

Before Travis Bean or Kramer, a small company called Musicraft was building six string, twelve string and bass guitars under the brand name Messenger. These instruments featured aluminum-magnesium necks running through a medium depth hollow body.

The bodies on Messenger instruments sported distinctive cat’s-eye sound holes and came in three finishes; Morning Sunburst, Midnight Sunburst and Rojo Red. Some models came with built-in fuzztones. All were equipped with single coil DeArmond pickups.

There were some models which were wired for stereo output. These had a switch that allowed the player to use two amplifiers, sending the signal from each pickup to a different amp or send the signal from both pickups to a single amplifier.

To enhance resonance, the metal neck/chassis assembly was tuned to resonate at 440 hz. The aluminum-magnesium neck would not warp. By continuing the neck material through the guitar, it prevented feedback.

1967 Messenger Guitar
The principal owners of the company, Bert Casey and Arnold Curtis, started their company at 156 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. In 1968 with the intent of expanding Messenger, Casey and Arnold relocated the company to Astoria, Oregon.

But it wasn’t long until the company stopped production and folded.

Check out the pickups

The Messenger Guitar’s single claim to fame was Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. Farner played a Messenger for much of his early career.

But alas, the guitar was reportedly not up to snuff with some of the other instruments of the day. The Grover tuners were not properly sized for the instrument. The nut was unreliable and the DeArmond single coil pickups were extremely noisy and produced a nasal sound. The Messenger Guitars that were equipped with the built-in fuzztone gave off a noise similar to that made by a Jordan fuzztone.  It sounded much like an electric razor.

Despite their unpopularity at the time, Eastwood guitars offers their much improved version of The Messenger for sale.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history on tre Messenger! Didn't really know much about its origin until now. Mark Farner has always had his own distinctive tones no matter what guitars he uses, but that was certainly a mainstay of the era in which they first became known. I'm sure with a few improvements that could've been a very cool ax to play even now!

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