Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fender Telecaster Thinline

1967 Telecaster Thinline
Maybe the Fender Telecaster Thinline is not the most unique guitar I’ve discussed, however it’s designer is unique in the world of electric guitars, plus the reason it was created shows something about the thought process that goes in to guitar design.

When we talk about those who created and designed the electric guitar, one man stands out as being responsible for the creation of many guitars that became the best known and most desired. That man is Roger Rossmeisl.

Roger Rossmeizl
I have discussed Rossmeisl before, but just to recap; his father, Wenzel Rossmeisl, was perhaps the best-known maker of jazz style guitars in Germany. He also made flat top guitars and mandolins.

Wenzel put the name Roger as the logo on his instruments. Roger Guitars are somewhat similar to the Gibson L-5 and L-6, but with Rossmeisel Senior’s own touches.

Roger Rossmeisl was sent to Luthery School to learn this craft, and get away from the hardest hit areas in WWII, before returning to work with his father. Roger wanted to go to the United States and subsequently found employment with Gibson, Mosrite, Rickenbacker, and Fender. That must have been an education in itself.

During the British invasion years, perhaps the most desirable guitar was the Gibson ES-335, a thinline, semi-hollow instrument. Fender had nothing similar. All their instruments at the time were built with solid bodies.

Rosmeizl was hired at Fender during the CBS years and these were the years that Fender was functioning more like a corporation. In 1968, orders were handed down to the design team to come up with a hollowbody thinline instrument.

Except for the P. Bass Rossmeisl designed all of these guitars while a Fender
At the time, Roger Rossmeisl was working alongside long-time Fender associate Virgilio “Babe” Simoni. Babe began working for the Fender Guitar Company in 1953.

Babe Simoni
Simonis father worked in the plant and Babe was just a teenager when he was hired to work in the factory. Babe left his mark on just about every style of guitar the company produced and stayed with the company during the CBS years.

Later he joined Leo Fender and George Fullerton when they founded MusicMan.

Back removed from Rickenbacker Capri
During Rossmeisl’s tenure at Rickenbacker, he had designed most of their popular guitars, so he used the same method to manufacture the Fender Thinline.

Babe took a Telecaster body and cut a thin slice off of the back side. He then routed out the right rear side of the guitar. A distinctive “F” hole was cut into the bodies top side above the routed area.

The “F” hole design on the Thinline (and subsequent Fender guitars) was Rossmeisl family trademark design.

This same F-hole cut was used on Roger guitars and on earlier versions of Rickenbacker 325’s and 330’s.

The back panel was then glued over the guitars back and sanded. Then the usual routing for the pickups and electronics was performed on the guitars top.

The Thinline was a plus for Fender not just because they now had a semi-hollow guitar and it reduced the guitars weight. Fender’s supply of light ash wood was dwindling, so heavier ash wood or mahogany could be used on the Thinline, thus saving the light ash for other guitars.

The chrome bar that Leo designed to hold the volume and tone controls was replaced by a reshaped pickguard made of white pearl celuloid.

The pickup selector switch, volume, and tone controls were set in somewhat different positions, but the serated chrome knobs were still used.

The 1968-69 version maintained the same pickups and the same style bridge unit as all other Telecasters including its seldom used cover.

The guitar’s neck was originally offered with a maple cap, which was later replaced with a one piece maple neck bearing the typical Fender headstock. The words Fender Telecaster Thinline were spelled out in large letters to show up on television cameras. There was a skunk stripe down the necks rear side on the non-capped models.

The body was offered with a natural or sunburst finish.

The Thinline Telecaster was updated in 1972. Perhaps the motive was to make the Thinline more like a Gibson semi-hollow instrument.  I do not believe the public ever equated the Thinline Tele with a Gibson ES semi-hollow body instrument.

Seth Lover had left Gibson and was now working with Fender. Lover had designed a humbucker pickup that was different than what he had produced for Gibson.

He called this the Wide-Range Humbucker.

A new version of the Telecaster Thinline was designed to use these pickups. This guitar’s body remained the same, but the pickguard was again redesigned to accomodate two Fender Humbucking pickups.

The bridge unit on this model was replaced with the same tailpiece that Fender was using on hard-tail Stratocasters. By 1972 Fender was using the 3 bolt adjustable neck and bullet trussrod which became a part of the Thinline Humbucker Tele.

The Fender Thinline guitars never reached the popularity the company desired and they were discontinued in 1979.

'72 Thinline Tele -made in Japan
By the 1980’s Fender had opened a facility in Japan. In 1986 Fender Japan produced two version of the Thinline Telecaster; the ’69 Thinline and the ’72 Thinline. These were in production until 1996.

Back in the USA, John Page and Michael Stevens started the Fender Custom shop and produced a 1968-69 style thinline for the USA market. This was available from 1997 to 2000. A special run of the Thinline was also offered in 2005.

Both the 1969 and 1972 versions are offered in Fender’s current line-up. Squire also offers a version of the 1969 Classic Vibe Thinline.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veleno Guitars

One of the most popular guitars owned by top guitarists is perhaps one of the most unheard of guitars.

Mark Farner owned several of these guitars. So did Mark Bolan, Greg Allman, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Ace Frehley, Todd Rundgren, Ronnie Montrose, Robbie Krieger, Jeff Lynne and many other top performers.

This guitar has built up its following and reputation solely by word of mouth.

John Veleno worked as a master machinist and manufacturing engineer.

In the early 1960's he found work in Florida making components for the early manned spacecraft and the lunar “Rover.”

John  Veleno -
Veleno's expertise lay in designing and routing out a billet of aluminum for use as a chassis for electrical components used in the aerospace and computer industries. Veleno was a member of The American Society of Tool and Manufacturing Engineers. He had also designed parts for the first mainframe computer systems used in large businesses such as banks.

During the 1950’s Veleno had worked in a few Rock bands and taught guitar at several music stores. He had a love for the guitar, but it was only a hobby.

Veleno also gave guitar lessons out of his home. To promote teaching guitar, he built an aluminum guitar shaped mailbox. In the early 1960’, one of his friends complimented him and told him the mailbox would make a great guitar. That was when an idea took place. Veleno made a highly polished aluminum guitar by using a 17-pound billet of the metal. Not only was the body made of carved aluminum, the neck and headstock were all aluminum as well.

Veleno Guitar
John Veleno created his first instrument as a sideline, with no thoughts of going into business. An acquaintance with some connections suggested that he could get John backstage at a James Gang concert.

He suggested that John should sit backstage, polish his guitar, and wait for some of the guitar players to take notice and inquire about this unusual guitar. No one took notice. He went to see Santana and the results were better.

Santana used his guitar on stage, but did not like the six-on-a-side tuners or the bird-shaped headstock. Although he didn't buy John's guitar, he suggested that a few changes be made to the guitar.

Veleno went home and reworked the design, changing the headstock to a Vee shape with three-on-a-side tuners.

He struck gold at a T-Rex concert. Guitarist Mark Bolan took immediate notice. He played the instrument and ordered two guitars on the spot. Bolan kept one, but sent the other to Eric Clapton as a gift.

After that, many other well-known players sought out John Veleno guitars.

Veleno’s engineering skill aided him in creating an instrument with a neck that would never warp, which was fretted to within a 1/1000th of an inch. This allowed it to be refretted as often as necessary.

The neck was made of cast aluminum, while the body was carved from a billet of aluminum.

The minute tolerances he worked with made this instrument one of the most tonality accurate guitars ever made. Not to mention the polished mirror finish on this instrument was stunning.

One of the advantages of the Veleno guitar due to the aluminum body was that it is completely grounded from external or internal electrical interference.

The fretboard had a radius of 11”, which aids in preventing fret buzzing. The electrical harness was made in one-piece helps for easy repairs. Because the neck was aluminum, there was no need for a truss rod.

Veleno used pickups from other manufacturers, such as DeArmond, Guild, Gibson or EMG.

The Gibson pickups have more of an edge and grit. The Guild and DeArmond pickups have a cleaner sound. He had originally used bridges manufactured by Guild or Gibson before going on to create his own guitar bridge and tailpiece. Outside companies manufactured the guitars tuners. The guitar’s electronics consisted of a tone and volume control for each of its twin pickups, a three-way pickup selector switch, a phase switch and a coil tap switch.

Marc Bolen's Veleno
Veleno’s engineering background played into all aspects of his guitars design. He was not concerned just about the guitars outward looks, but the best way to get the best sound for his invention.

He consulted electrical engineers that worked for Bell Laboratory. They advised him single strand wiring was preferred for phone transmission over multi-strand because it produced a cleaner sound and tone.

Bell engineers had experimented with both and the single wire method was superior. The downside of this method of wiring is a slight delay in the transmission of the signal. The good news is that it is the delay is so infinitesimal it is almost indictable to human ears.

However, it provides the clear glassy tone associated with Veleno guitars.

Todd's Veleno

Perhaps the most unusual Veleno guitars are the ones ordered by Todd Rundgren. These consisted of a set of three ankh shaped guitars and an ankh shaped bass for Rundgren’s stage show. One of the ankh guitars was destroyed in a warehouse fire.

Pete Haycock Veleno

The only other specialty guitar was built for Pete Haycock of the Climax Blues Band. It had a gold finish.

Sonny Bono's Veleno
Veleno experimented with different types of aluminum until finally settling on 6061 grade because it did not discolor. After carving the bodies shaped out of aluminum billets, many of the bodies were then chrome plated. Others were anodized with red, green, blue, or gold finishes.

The necks were made of cast aluminum, which included a fretboard that was either chrome plated or black plated. The first the necks had 21 frets.

Later models came with 22 frets. At first Veleno guitars were made of cast aluminum, before Veleno decided to go with the carving method. Each Veleno guitar has a hand engraved serial number on the neck plate. The necks on some of the later instruments are coated with a Martin Hardcoat finish. (This is a process used for anodized aluminum products and has nothing to do with C.F. Martin guitars.)

There is no label on the Vee headstock. Each headstock is adorned with a ruby. The weight of the Veleno Original guitar is around eight and a quarter pounds.

With the exception of the ankh guitar, Veleno only produced two versions of his guitars. I have described the original model. The other style was a traveler-sized instrument.

The Veleno Originals weighed about eight and a quarter pounds.

When John Veleno approached B.B. King with his guitar, the Blues Boy was not interested, but said, he would be interested in a travel-sized instrument. Veleno came up with the Veleno Travel guitar.

This instrument has a total length of 27 1/4" and is 8 1/2" wide. It came with 24 frets. This allowed the player two full octaves per string. Only about 10 Travelers have been built to date.

The First Veleno Guitar 1970
In 1976, after creating nearly 200 Veleno guitars, John Veleno suffered two strokes, which left him paralyzed for a short time and unable to work. John’s son Chris Veleno stepped into to help by assembling left over bodies, necks, and parts.

Chris also continued with repairs for players that had contracted for warranty work. At present, Chris has produced around 20 instruments, using his fathers method.

John Veleno is alive and well. The Veleno family is currently selling new production guitars and basses. The price tag is rather high. The Original retails for $8,995. The Ankh model retails for $13,995. They do take direct orders on line at a discounted price.

Unlike some manufacturers, John Veleno has never given away guitars in exchange for promotion. Veleno guitar are quite rare, because his clientele were all major artists who have held on to their Velenos, it is unusual to see one for sale. When one does come up for sale, the price varies from ten to twenty thousand US dollars.