Friday, December 18, 2009

Hey Bo Diddley - The Gretsch Bo Diddley Guitars

The first time I saw Bo Diddley was on a mid 1960’s black and white TV show called Shindig.

Bo was playing this weird looking guitar and singing his trademark song, “Hey Bo Diddley.” He had a very attractive woman who was also playing a similar guitar.

He was well known for the "Bo Diddley beat.” It is reminiscent of the old musical tag, “shave and a haircut…two bits" being played over and over again.

In an interview done before his death, he confessed that despite his admirers and historians attributing the rhythm to old African-American Hambone jive, he actually copped it from a Gene Autry song called, “I’ve Got Spurs That Jingle,Jangle, Jingle.”

Much of Bo’s rhythm could be due to his use of a loud Fender Dual Showman amplifier with the tremolo cranked up.  His guitar was often tuned to open E (E, B, E, G#, B, E, low to high), and capoed to change key. In the early years these guitars were run through one of the first effects boxes – the DeArmond Model 60 Tremolo Control.

It is rumored that Diddley rebuilt guitar amplifiers, constructed a tremolo unit out of a clock spring and automobile parts to achieve his guitar sound. He also enhanced the rhythm by adding maracas and additional drums.

As a boy a young Elias Bates fashioned a crude instrument called a diddley bow out of an old cigar box.

A diddley bow is based on a single string instrument of African origin that consists of a wooden board or a wooden dowl, such as a broom handle, a piece of wire and a couple of screws to stretch it over. The cigar box gave the instrument some resonance. It is usually played using a slide, which can be fashioned from the neck of a wine or beer bottle. A jack knife could also make a nice slide.

Not only did Elias Bates take his musical name from the diddley bow, he also used his cigar box instrument as inspiration for his personal guitar.

As his fame as a musician grew, Gretsch guitars was all too happy to oblige him with a custom instrument that he dubbed The Twang Machine. It was made in 1958.

Gretsch made him at least two more guitars which were based on the Cadillac fins. For all you young’uns out there, there was a time, back when most all cars were made in America. In the late 1950's America was entering the race to space and to help it along cars had to have fins.

Gretsch now produces a reproduction of Bo’s famous instrument square guitar.

Just like the original, the instrument is 17-3/4" x 9-1/4" x 2" and made of alder and 5-ply maple for it’s semi hollow body. It is finished with a bright red paint job and lacquer. The guitar is decked out with two FilterTron pickups, a tune-o-matic bridge and a Gretsch G tailpiece with gold hardware.

They also produce a Bo Diddley Guitar under their Electromatic Brand. This one is not quite as fancy. It has a stop tail piece, a bolt on neck and chome hardware.


Woody said...

Bo rules! So do his guitars. Got a rectangular one and one of the more recent Billy-Bo's.

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