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.


Jol said...

Love reading these.
As far as the 12 strings go, don't forget about Leadbelly... 1945.


Marc said...

Yessir, you can't forget Leadbelly and his Stella 12 string. He made that guitar sing.

Paul said...

You quote Erik Darling as saying, “(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!"

I own the tattered remains of a 1960 J-45-12, and know that Gibson was building them earlier than Darling's account. It was one of three that Gibson built that year. The original three were given to Dick Weissman (the one I own now), Ian Tyson (stolen from his place in Greenwich Village in 1964), and the third went to a mystery person. (Gibson usually built prototypes in trios and floated them with professionals to try out.) They had unusually long headstocks to accommodate two rows of six single Klusons, a trapeze tailpiece and a floating bridge. And they had an unusual pickguard that Gibson never used on other guitars. Otherwise, they were simple sunburst J-45s.

A few years ago, Stan Jay at Mandolin Brothers sold Erik Darling's own 12-string, along with a letter claiming it to be the first Gibson 12-string. Not true, of course, and Stan knew it, but an interesting guitar. Bill Svanoe's matching one was a factory lefty - I wonder where that one went?

In 1963, there were really low-end Stella 12-strings available (I had one I got in 1961), and Regal still offered 12-strings, but had miserable marketing, so hardly anyone knew they existed.

I used to visit the Gibson plant fairly often and recall seeing a trio of J-200 12-string prototypes in about 1964.

If you want to correspond, use the address below; I rarely look at my gmail email.




Anonymous said...

I have a B-45 12 and the trapeze bar has just broken behind the claw (near to where one of the nuts attaches to the metal stem that feeds down into the end plate. I am now faced with possible decision: have a dependable luthier install a pin bridge, (I know-destroys the original vintage value), get another slim bar, thread it to accept the original nuts, or go nuts paying through the nose buying an n.o.s replacement tailpiece. Or buy another tailpiece, attach that to a small wood plate, and then attach that using the original body holes-Any other suggestions out there?

Anonymous said...

my 63 sunburst b12 was stolen a while back(30yrs or so) still have original hard case .the sound was like the most great of any i've ever found...from what i read there are not many out there mine in someone else's collection please take care of it

Anonymous said...

I think the 6 string version of the B45 was the J45. Also an interesting thing for dating is when the inlay in the head went from rounded ends (up to about 1965) to very pointed ends - 1967 and up?? I have 3 B45's, 2 60's originals, and a 90's reissue but I'm still very tempted to try out one of their 12 frets to the body pin bridge later versions they made up to 1970 something. Anyone done any comparisons?? usually 12 fret to the body dreadnaughts sound better IMHO.

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