Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Dick Dale Stratocaster - Showman and Dual Showman Amplifiers - The Fender Reverb Unit

One of the guitarists that I have a lot of respect for is Dick Dale. Mr. Dale (or Monsour which is his actual surname) is not just an excellent guitarist and Rock legend and father of surf guitar, but he is also an inventor, animal trainer, a devoted family man and knows more about the business of music than most folks in the industry. I have been fortunate to receive some e-mail communication from him and I can attest to all of this.

Dick Dale started playing Surf Guitar in the 1950’s in Balboa California. He became a local phenomenon. He was a surfer and a guitarist, so it would just make sense to put together the two activities that he loved.

Dick Dale was so successful in California that Leo Fender took note. Mr. Fender provided him with a Stratocaster and an amplifier. When Dale played, he cranked those Fender amplifiers up as loud as they would go. As a result, he kept blowing them up. Either the speakers couldn’t handle the frequencies and blew out or the transformer blew up.

So he took them back to Fender and got a new one which blew up. In fact he blew up almost 50 Fender amplifiers. So Leo sat down with Dick and Freddie Travares to map out an amp that could keep it together. Mr. Travares put together a new amplifier with an 85 watt transformer that would peak at 100 watts.

Fender Showman with a 15" Jensen

Next they had to find speakers that could take that kind of playing. Jensens were the usual choice for Fender. But J.B. Lansing made stronger speakers. A Lansing speaker with a huge 15” cone was commissioned by Fender.

The Fender Showman amp was born.

But there was still a problem. The speaker would twist in its frame. The solution was to rubberize the front edge of the speaker to allow it to pulsate in the frame.

Fender Dual Showman with twin 15" Lansing Speakers
Dale wanted an even louder sound that crowds could feel. Travares found an even larger transformer that was 100 watts and would peak at 180 watts. A larger cabinet was created that housed two J.B. Lansing 15”, now known as the JBL D130F speakers. D is for Dale and F is for Fender. The amplifier unit was housed in a separate head to prevent damage to the tubes.

The new and much louder amplifier was called The Fender Dual Showman.

Dale had another part in Fender history. He didn’t think he had enough vibrato and sustain in his voice and wanted to find a way to enhance it. Dale got the Hammond Reverb unit out of an organ and took it to Leo Fender. Together they came up with the stand alone Fender Reverb Tank.

Mr. Dale sang through this, but being blessed with a creative mind he plugged his guitar into the reverb unit and came up with his signature sound. As of today, Dick Dale is still using the original two 1960’s Dual Showman amplifiers with his signal going into the Reverb unit and then split between the amplifiers.

We’ve concentrated on Dale’s amplifier, which became the standard for most professional American rock acts for many years during the 1960’s, but we haven’t talked about his guitar.

Originally the left handed Dale would take a right handed Stratocaster and flip it upside down and play without reversing the strings.

The thinnest E string would be at the top of the neck and the thick E would be at the bottom. This was advantages to his unbelievably rapid up/down picking style. Fender designed a left handed guitar for him and painted it gold chartreuse sparkle.

Dick's Stratocaster
Dale had a “surf switch” added to the middle of the pickguard. This switch turned the neck and bridge pickups on. So Dale could have the following combinations of pickups on while playing. He could have the 3 pickups individually, the neck and middle together at once. He also eliminated the tone control circuit.

This trick has been passed down to some current players. Eliminating the tone circuit on the guitar provides more output. The neck is maple and the fingerboard is rosewood. The pickups are vintage ’50 fender’s, the neck has a C shape and comes with vintage frets.

Fender Dick Dale Stratocaster
Fender still has this guitar in its custom catalogue, although the model offered has the headstock is upside down.

At 73 years of age and despite a setback from rectal cancer, Dale still travels the world with his son Jimmy Dale playing the songs he made so famous.

May God continue to bless him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gibson B Series 12 String Guitars

50,000 watts, WLW's Radio Tower
Around 1964 when I was 12 years old Cincinnati had three radio stations that played Rock and Roll Music.

They were WLW at 550 AM, WCPO at 1230 and WSAI at 1360.

Listeners of WCPO were promised a surprise which was advertised for a couple of weeks. We woke up one morning, turned on the station to find they changed their format to All Folk, All the Time. Man, were we mad. The Folk Scare had hit Cincinnati.

A folk singing group known as The Rooftop Singers were a musical trio from that era. They are best known for their hit recording “Walk Right In”. 

The Roof Top Singers "Walk Right In"
The group was comprised of Erik Darling, Bill Svanoe, both on vocals and guitar and Lynne Taylor on vocals. The trio was established by Darling specifically to record an up tempo version of an old song by a Jug Band/Blues performer Gus Cannon that he wrote and performed in the 1920’s.

In 1963 the song spent two weeks at the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

It also spent five weeks atop the Easy Listening chart. It peaked at number four on the Rhythm and Blues chart and number 23 on the Country Chart. Additionally it reached #1 in Australia.

The recording sold over a million copies and earned a Gold Record.

Erik Darling heard the original recording of Gus Cannon’s version and thought it would make a great record. Darling wanted it to have a distinctive and full sound and decided it should be played on 2 twelve string guitars. According to Darling this was a difficult task. He explains;

“(In 1963)… you couldn't buy a 12-string guitar...I ordered one from the Gibson Company, but in order to record with two 12-strings, we had to wait for the company to build a second one for Bill!"

The following year I began taking guitar lessons at Dodd's Music in Covington and I wanted a 12 string guitar in the worst way. 

George Harrison played one, and so did Roger McGuinn (though he was known as Jim at the time), and so did many other groups of that decade.

My instructor, George Olinger, would grab one off the rack for me to play during the teaching session, further tempting my 12 string Jones.

The best one he ever showed to me was a cherry sunburst Gibson B-25-12. At the time it was selling for around $229. The case was another $60. The fret board on this guitar was slightly wider than a six string. And the radius was flatter than guitars that I had played.  It's action was wonderful.

I have no idea if it had been worked on or came like this from the factory. The tone was huge with tons of midrange. The sloped shoulders on the upper bouts were reminiscent of gut string guitars. Because of the heavy tension of the strings, Gibson had built this guitar with a trapeze tailpiece.

Gibson introduced the B-25-12 in 1962. The body was mahogany. The top was spruce and it came in cherry sunburst or natural. The shoulders on the upper bout were rounded. The earliest models came with a rectangular bridge and a trapeze tail piece. Later the bridge was the more traditional pin style. In 1970 Gibson stopped production of the B-25-12 in Cherry Sunburst, but continued the production of the natural finish until 1977.

The long headstock bore a Gibson decal. The position markers were perloid dots.

The B45-12 was introduced in 1961 and was the first twelve string model available in Gibson's B series of guitars.

The B-45-12 had a mahogany body and neck, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, and a cherry sunburst finish, and was made with "round" shoulders for the 1961 – 1962 model year. It was made with the same accoutrements as the B-25, however the headstock was inlaid and the position markers were dots.

The square shoulders version was introduced in 1963 and remained in the catelogue until the end of its production in 1979.

That same year also saw the introduction of the B-45-12N, natural finished guitar. Like the B-25-12, the bridge was originally rectangular with the strings attached to a trapeze. This was changed to the pin style bridge.

In 1969 Leo Kottke made a record called 6 & 12 String Guitar was a creeper on the charts. It eventually sold around 500,000 copies and made Kottke a name among guitar players. Readers of Guitar Player magazine voted Kottke "Best Folk Guitarist" for five consecutive years from 1974 through 1978.

Although Kottke played 6 string guitar, his forte was the 12 string, which he tuned in a myriad of unusual ways.

Leo locked onto a Gibson B-45 12-string, which he would recall as a special moment: "Most of them are not playable", He was quoted as saying. Kottke discovered the one that was very playable and was attached to that guitar for years until it was stolen.

The B-45-12 was also a favorite of Reverend Gary Davis, a Folk-blues legend that wrote some wonderful songs.

Starting in 1963, the B-45-12-N was also available as a natural finish edition without the trapeze tailpiece.

From 1991 – 1992, Gibson manufactured a reissue of the B-45-12 with rosewood sides and back.

Aside from the 12 string versions, Gibson also had six string versions of the B-25, the B-45 and a budget model called the B-15.

As of 1992 Gibson ceased production of all B Series guitars.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Electra MPC Guitar

Vintage Electra MPC guitars
Around 1977 Keller Music, the local store in my town began to offer a new guitar brand called the Electra MPC. Tim Keller, the owner, had built up a respectable business. The guitar's distributor was more than happy to send a demonstrator to perform one night.

I could not believe how many Les Paul owners and owners of other respectable instruments traded these guitars in for an Electra MPC Les Paul style guitar.

Each guitar held two effects modules and a nine volt battery in a body compartment. Instead of a toggle switch found on the upper bout of a Les Paul, there was a rotary switch to control which combinations of pickups/effects were turned on. There were twin toggle switches on the guitars body to turn on or off the modules.

The four potentiometers were lined up in a row. The upper knobs controlled volume/tone and the lower two controlled the effects level and attack.

These unusual Electra guitars were imported from Japan by the Saint Louis Music aka SLM from 1971 to 1984. The Electra guitars with MPC models were made by Matsumoku of Matsumoku, Japan. We have already discussed this company in detail if you would like to refer to an earlier post.

Matsumoku has made many popular guitar brands over the years including; Aria, Westbury, Westone, Epiphone, Vantage & Vox to name but a few.

In 1975 Tom Presley was hired by St. Louis Music as the Product Manager and part of the marketing team to begin MPC project. Electronics engineeer John Karpowitz was hired to design and build the Modular Powered Circuits knowns as MPC modules.

Finally in 1976 The MPC guitars made their debut.

By 1978 the Outlaw MPC & Outlaw MPC Bass (both named after the band "The Outlaws" who endorsed Electra MPC guitars). Around the same time, the Semi-Acoustic MPC (ES-335 style) was offered for sale and the X910 "Derringer" MPC (Explorer)debuted.

Due to a lawsuit for patent infringement that Gibson initiated, all Electra guitars with Gibson style head stocks were changed this year to what is called the wave or fan shaped head stock.

Also in 1978 the Contoured Ultima MPC Les Paul and the Vulcan MPC (a Les Paul copy with a Tele curve on upper bout)were offered.

The Leslie West MPC (sort of a Les Paul Special) and the MPC Ultima X960 also made it's debut this year.

1981 saw ties with Matsumoku further solidified and decision was made to merge SLM Electra brand with Matsumoku's Westone brand. In the early 80's, some production is moved to Korea. This is mentioned in the Matsumoku post.

By the fall of 1983, the Electra brand changes it's name to Electra-Phoenix. In 1984 the company became Electra-Westone and by the end of 1984 it is just Westone as St Louis Music abandoned the Electra MPC line due to lack of marketing success.

The Electra MPC's forte was it's on-board effects or module powered circuits. There was no need for a stomp box. This was before the era of affordable digital effects and pedal boards. If you needed to use an effect, all that was necessary was to flip a switch on the front of the guitar, and turn a knob (also on the front of the guitar) to adjust the intensity of the effect.

These twelve Module Powered Circuits that gave the guitars their name. These modules plugged into a compartment in the rear of the guitar and were controlled by two potentiometers on the guitar front surface.

The guitar could hold two modules at a time and could be switched or combined with a toggle switch on the guitar

There were major musicians that endorsed the MPC line; Peter Frampton, Leslie West,ELO, Allen "Free Bird" Collins, Chris Squire, The Outlaws and Rick Derringer. Some artists had their own model, such as Derringer with the X910 known as the "Derringer" model Electra MPC.

Despite these endorsements, the Electra line still disappeared while the SLM went on to produce Westone & Crate products. As of now, Westone is just a memory, but Crate products are still in production.

Today, SLM distributes Crate, Ampeg, Alvarez & Austin products. Though they have simplified there product line, St. Louis Music continues to distribute musical instruments, music books and sheet music.

Early on some people thought the Electra MPC line were of inferior quality and poorly manufactured gimmick guitars.

As we lurch forward in search of vintage instruments they are finally starting to be recognized for their playability and superior build when compared to some Asian instruments that are considered to be vintage.

Electra offered the following options for their modules:

Phase Shifter – self explanatory
Dymanic Fuzz – pick harder = more distortion
Trebel /Bass boost – self explanatory
Tank Tone – provides a hollow percussive mid range sound. Sort of a Wah stuck in one position. The Vox Crybaby was designed on an EQ filter known as a Tank Circuit.
Overdrive – Self explanatory
Filter Follower – Envelope filter
Auto Wah – self explanatory
Tube Sound – provides a clean tube like sound
Octave Box – Provides Octave below
Flanger – self explanatory
Frog Nose – built in headphone amplifier (a reference to Pig Nose amplifiers)
Compresor – self explanatory.

During it's early years Electra guitars were ordered from all the Japanese factories and distributors. As a result, early models especially vary in details and quality. Which set the Electra name up for failure.

However during the MPC years all guitar models were manufactured by the Matsumoku Company. Therefore the quality of Electra guitars were superior to other Asian made instruments. But in this era of Buy American, most all Asian manufactured guitars were considered to be inferior. This stigma still exists.

Electra produced a total of 18 different MPC guitar models.

Of these the most popular was the was a Les Paul copy known as The Super Rock.

They also made at least one bass model.
©UniqueGuitar Publications

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Bellzouki aka The Danelectro 12 String Guitar

In the mid 1960's there was a popular TV show geared to teens called The Patty Duke Show. Often one of the popular rock artists of the day would make an appearance on the show.

One of member of a long forgotten group had a guitarist that played a very unusual looking 12 string guitar. I had no clue what type of guitar this was until years later when I discovered it was made by The Danelecto Company of Neptune, New Jersey and was called The Bellzouki.

This guitar was based on an idea from Vinnie Bell. Bell was an in demand studio player in the 1960's. He had wonderful career and played with a myriad of artists and on literally hundreds of hit songs of all styles. In fact he still makes a living as a guitar player and you can hear his guitar in The Family Guy theme. One of the more recognizable songs he did was the watery guitar work on the theme to Midnight Cowboy. Check out his website for some great stories. Be sure to click on Memories and Above and Beyond the work of a session guitarist.

Though Bell is Italian, he was periodically asked to double on the Greek Bouzouki for a record. 

A bouzouki is generally thought of as an eight string musical instrument that is shaped somewhat like a bowl back mandolin with an extended neck. It has four courses of strings tuned in unison and is played with a plectrum aka pick. The bouzouki is widely used in Greek and Turkish music. The eight string version is called a Tetrachord and is tuned in fifths just like a mandolin. The six string version has 3 courses of strings tuned in unison. This is call the Trichord Bouzouki.

Around 1960, several groups from Ireland that played traditional music of that country started using a version of the tetrachord bouzouki. However the body was flat and smaller than the Greek/Turkish models and the back was also flat. The tuning was modifed. 

As most studio players were apt to do, Bell would tune the Bouzouki like a guitar. As the age of the electric 12 string guitar ushered in, Bell got the idea to create a twelve string electric guitar, and make the body look similar to the shape of a Bouzouki and electrify the instrument by adding a pickups. 

He already had a deal with the Danelectro company which created an all wood electric guitar that he would endorse. He pitched this idea to Danelectro, drew up some plans and named it after himself. Thus the Bell-Bouzouki was born and known as the Bellzouki.

Danelectro model 7010 Bellzouki
The Danelectro Bellzouki Model 7010 was introduced around 1961. The body was tear drop shaped with two faux tortoise shell pickguards. The guitar came with one volume and one tone control, plus a 3 way toggle for tone selection. The neck, like all Danelectros, is a bolt on style and is made of maple capped with a rosewood fretboard. The nut is aluminum and the neck is reinforced with a steel truss rod. 

Though the body appears to be solid, like all Danos it is a poplar frame covered with Masonite. The sunburst finish adds the illusion of wood. To play the model 7010 you needed a shoulder strap due to its Bouzouki-like shape. 

Models 7010 and 7020

The scale for each of the Bellzouki models was 24 ½ inches and the neck was slightly wider than the neck on six string Danelectro guitars. All the models had one or two Lipstick pickups which have their own unique sound and these guitars were no exception to that quality. 

The earliest models came with 2 unison G strings to give it more of a Bazouki sound. Later these were adapted so only the first and second strings were tuned in unison, while the bottom four courses were tuned in octaves. 

Danelectro came out with two revised models, the 7020 and the 7021. 

The model 7020 may have been due to a suggestion of a fan of Mr. Bell to improve his design. The model 7020 had a similar shape to the original tear drop, but 4 notches surround the body to make it possible to play the guitar while sitting. The toggle switch was moved from the top of the instrument to the lower side. This model came with twin lipstick pickups and five potentiometers for volume, tone and master. 

The model 7021 was much like the 7020 in accouterments but its body shape was exactly like the Danelectro Electric Sitars body

1965 Danelectro Catalog
The Danelectro sitar that came with 18 strings and was another one of Vinnie Bell inventions. (There was another version of the Danelectro sitar with an oval shape and only six strings.) Most 1960’s groups favored more expensive model 12 string guitars, but the Danelectro 12 had been around much longer, it was an excellent player and a great bargain.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Hagstrom Electric Twelve - F-12S

Hagstrom F-12s

Swedish entrepreneur Albin Hagström registered his accordion import company in 1925 and was well on his way to becoming a success. Twenty years later Hagström was indeed successful and became one of the largest music store chain in all of Scandinavia. They even set up a shop in New York city. Hagström was not only were importing accordions, but manufacturing them as well.

Six years after the end of WWII the Hagström Company noted the demand for guitars. It was already importing Gibson guitars. After consideration the Hagström Company decided it would be feasible to manufacture guitars. Hagström proved to be very successful in this endeavor. Albin Hagstrom passed away at age 46 and did not live to see just how successful his company would become.

In the late 1950's Rock and Roll migrated to Scandinavian countries. This created a big demand for electric guitars. Hagström met this demand in 1958 by producing almost 700 guitars, in a way only European ingenuity could produce.

Their first guitar design was loosely based on the Gibson Les Paul; however the cutaway was a Venetian style instead of the Paul's Florentine style.

Instead of finishing the body with stain, paint or lacquer, they used the same material that was used on manufacturing accordions, which was celluloid. The sheets of celluloid had either a pearl or glitter pattern in various colors. On the first guitars even the neck was covered in celluloid. The fingerboard was different as well. It was made of Plexiglas. This may seem quite unusual, however the Martin guitar company is currently selling some models with a fingerboard made of man made material.

Hagström neck design included a patented H-bar instead of the usual round truss rod.

In the 1960’s Hershman Musical Instrument Company became the first sole agent in the United States to import and distribute Hagström guitars.

Hershman also imported another Swedish made acoustic guitar under the Levin name and later marketed acoustic and electric guitars under the Goya brand.

With the British Wave of music hitting the United States in the 1960’s, every teen wanted an electric guitar. So 1963 became the boom year for many guitar companies including Hagström. Some of the instruments came in under the Kent brand, although most were marketed under the Hagström brand.

In 1964 Hagström took on a new American partner for distribution known as Merson (later renamed Unicord.)At the time Unicord wanted a guitar with a thin neck and wide frets and Hagström was ready to oblige. In the 1960's thin necks = speed. I would prefer low action over a thin neck.

In 1966, with a list price of $229.50 including soft case, the Hagström Electric 12 string was introduced under the model name F-12S. The European version was model H-12. The guitars body was very similar to the six string H-II model.

The twelve string came with two single coil Hagström pickups, the inverted input jack plate, which was much like a Stratocaster jack. On the top bout mounted underneath the scratchplate was an on/off slider switch. The lower bout bore two slider switches to control the on/off feature of each pickup.

There was a tone switch that changed from a large capacitor to a smaller one. It was labeled Low/High. There was also a mute switch to give the guitar a muted sound for rhythm playing, which took the volume down a notch. The guitar came with only one knob/potentiometer as the volume contol.

The maple neck had 22 frets on a rosewood fingerboard. The neck is topped off with a headstock that has six tuners per side with a Hagström logo decal. The guitar was available in black, red, white or sunburst.

The neck was wider than a typical Hagström electric, however it was thinner in the sense of shaved neck. The strings were well space and it played great. It sold for around $170 cheaper than a Fender XII, plus it came with a case. And though the case was soft, it was plush lined.

My only complaint about the Hagström 12 was it was top heavy due to the added weight of the headstock and tuners.

I would have loved to have one of these back in the day. They were nice instruments and excellent bargains.