Sunday, October 28, 2012

The New Gittler Guitar

The New Gittler Guitar
A few weeks ago, I received this nice message from Eric Slone: "We're bringing the Gittler Guitar back to market from the 1980's. The guitar has been featured in the New York Museum of Modern Art and Boston Museum of Fine Arts."

This is great news and I hope this venture is successful. The Gittler Guitar is one of the most unique instruments ever invented.

My November 8th, 2009 featured information on the original Gittler Guitar.

Allan Gittler and Son NYC

This instrument was designed by Allan Gittler as an experiment in the mid 1970's. The guitar was actually more of a minimalistic art piece than a guitar, however it caught on as guitarists began to hear about this strange new instrument.

The fact that Andy Summers of the Police played a Gittler in the Synchronicity II video helped spread the word.

Gittler's goal was to reduce the electric guitar to the most minimal form possible by eliminating such things as the body, the headstock and traditional tuners. His result was an instrument that some folks think looks like a metalic fish skeleton. Between the mid 1970's to the early 1980's Gittler made 60 guitars and 3 bass guitars in this fashion.

Allan Gittler introduced his guitar at a 1970's NAMM show. He stated the guitar was shown on a piece of black velvet with a single spot light on it. It caught everyones attention. One fellow asked him, "What is different about this?" Gittler replied, "You can play it underwater."


In 1982, Gittler emigrated to Hebron, in Israel and became a practicing and religious Jew and changed his name to Avraham Bar Rashi. There was still a demand for Gittler Guitars, so Bar Rashi licensed his design to an Israeli company in the town of Kiryat Bialik. This was Astron Engineer Enterprises LTD.

They were able to utilize computer design and machined aproximately 300 guitars. Their design differed somewhat from the originals, as they added a plastic body to house the electronics. Aside from that, the Astron built Gittlers are precise copies of the original.

While residing in Israel, Bar Rashi built a few wooden models of an electric guitar, that look nothing like the original. He also built a left-handed version for a friend.

Eric Slone, Marketing Director of Gittler Instruments, tells me the current owners of the Gittler brand, will be releasing an upgraded model of this famous instrument during the 2013 Winter NAMM Show.

The new company is run by CEO Russ Rubman, who had a very diverse background. He worked as a musician (bass and guitar), as an artist doing backgrounds for Disney features, and as a metallurgist, subcontracting for a defense contractor. He specializes in working with Titanium.

Yotanan Bar Rashi, son of Avraham, is the managing partner and is continuing to promote his fathers business.

Dr. Colin Joye is the Engineer/Innovator. He brings his electrical engineering degree from MIT and an extensive jazz background to the company.

And of course, Mr. Slone is the Business Marketing director. He has authored several books on guitar instruction.

The Original Gittler Guitar

The original Gittler instruments were made using stainless steel bars. The neck consisted of a long bar with short stainless steel bars (frets) pressure fitted on top of it. The "body" was made of six stainless steel tubes.

At the distal end of these tubes, the stings attached to a knurled adjustment knob for tuning. Like a Steinberger guitar, the strings ends attach at the top of the neck. The six tubes also housed individual pickups and preamps for each string.

The wiring for the pickups was routed to a 9-pin connector, which mixed to a 1/4" TS connector. The original models did not have the preamp section, so the individual pickups signals were led to single cables which could be plugged into a preamp.

The newer models have quite a few improvements.

In place of the plastic box housed on the rear of the Astron made Gittler guitars, the new guitars are equipped with an ebox (electronic box) that is housed in a metal casing on the rear of the guitar, just below the transducer tubes. The new guitar maintains the 6 individual pickups, but enhances their output capability, allowing the signal to go straight to a guitar amplifier through a1/4" output or using a 13 pin output that would allow the signal to go to a guitar synthesizer.

The new instrument is made of airforce grade titanium which is virtually indestructible as well as resisting corrosion. The bridge is adjustible. The guitar has active electronics and a tone shaping circuit housed in the Ebox. The strings have a locking mechanism, keeping the guitar in tune.

The new Gittler has strap anchor points. The Loxx strap lock system can be added as an option. And get comes with LED fret position markers on the neck.

Gittler Headstock
The player of the Gittler guitar has features that are unavailable on a conventional guitar. For one, you can bend a string down by pushing it through the frets, much like a scalloped neck guitar. And the Gittler comes with 31 frets! That allows the player almost a 3 octave range. The pickups or transducers are designed to provide excellent synth tracking, if that is your thing. The Gittler is only 28" long and weighs a mere 3 pounds.

Gittler Pickups
After I did my initial blog entry about the Gittler Guitar and Avraham Bar Rashi, I received a very sweet email from Bar Rashi's wife. She told me that in death, he was given a place of honor on Mount Herzl cemetery.

Please check out the link to the new Gittler Instruments. Notice I said instruments. There are plans to manufacturer for sale a Deluxe model Gittler guitar, a Gittler bass guitar, a Gittler upright bass and a Gittler violin.

Gittler Instruments LLC

I also encourage checking out a link to Willie Moseley's interview with Gittler/Bar Rashi that was published in Vintage Guitar Magazine's April 2003 issue for more information on the inventor.

Gittler Guitars - Interview with Avraham Bar Rashi - April 2003

Her are some examples of the Old Gittler Guitar.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Andy Griffith's Martin D-18 Guitar

Before Andy Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, he got his start by playing the part of a simple country boy doing comic monologues such as What It Was, Was Football and his version of Romeo and Juliet. This gave his career a jump-start to a career in acting.

He starred in a 1955 teleplay called No Time For Sargents. This play was made into a movie in 1958, which featured Andy playing the lead. It was quickly followed up with Griffith playing a similar bumbling country boy in the military in the movie Onionhead.

In 1957, producer-director Elia Kazan recruited Griffith to play the lead in his movie A Face In The Crowd as Larry (Lonesome) Rhodes, a hard drinking drifter plucked out of jail to sing on a local radio station. He is given his own television show and immediatly draws an audience based on his whit and simple country charm.

The film ends tragically. None-the-less it is a wonderful movie.

Andy began his beloved show by doing a guest appearance on The Danny Thomas show, in which he played Sheriff Andy Taylor, who cited Thomas for speeding through the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard and Leonard recognized Griffith would be right for a spin off show.

The Andy Griffith Show lasted from 1960-1968.

Many of the shows featured Andy sitting on the porch relaxing by playing his 1956 Martin D-18. At times he would play music with The Darling family, who were played by the well-known Bluegrass group, The Dillards.

In 2004 Martin Guitars came out with an Andy Griffith tribute model. What a beautiful guitar. The thing that puzzled me was the fact it looked nothing like the standard D-18 that Andy was known to play on the show. Aside from Mr. Griffith's signature on the neck, this guitar appeared not to have a pickguard.

Dick Boak

The mystery was solved by Dick Boak, the historian for Martin Guitars, as well as an author. Boak states that he contacted Andy's management to see if he had an interest in endorsing a Martin signature guitar.

Griffith's management team said they would get back. Boak got a call from Griffith the very next day. It was then Andy gave Mr. Boak some history on the Martin guitars he owned.

Andy stated when he was making the film 'A Face in the Crowd,' the movie people needed two guitars. One was a cheap-looking one used by his character before he became famous, and a fancier one when he became the successful 'Lonesome Roads,'" Boak says. "The prop master solved the problem by taking  a beautiful 1958 Martin D-18, and without consulting anyone, painted it black and gluing sequins on the guitars sound board. On the front of the guitar, the sequins spelled out Momma and Lonesome. Momma was a reference to the name Lonesome Rhodes gave to his guitar.

Andy Griffith with
1958 Martin D-18
After the film was completed Griffith was walking by the prop shop , he noticed the painted Martin in its case and "borrowed" it. After taking it home, he proceeded to remove the sequins and sand off the black paint down to the bare wood . This took him nine days to accomplish. In the process he sanded off the logo decal and pickguard. Andy seemed to like the look of the guitar without the pickguard and never replaced it.

He took the guitar to a guitar builder in New York City's lower east side to have the instrument given a new coat of lacquer and touch up to the wood.

Ironically the guitar builder was non-other than John D'Angelico.

Brownie McGhee
One of the actors that had a minor role in A Face In The Crowd was Blues singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee. Andy befriended him and apparently liked Brownies choice in instruments, as Brownie played a Martin D-18. After the movie wrapped up, Griffith purchased a 1956 D-18. This is the guitar you ususally see in the Andy Griffith Show.

During Martin's 2004 run, they only produced 311 Andy Griffith Signature D-18's and then discontinued the guitar. They are gorgeous instruments.

Manufacturers suggest price was $3700  However used models can be purchased for between $2300 to $2500 and sometimes pop up on eBay.

Although the newer Martin guitar appears not to have a pickguard, there is a clear thin plastic guard plate below the sound hole. It is shaped in the old D-18 style. This is similar to the golpeadors used on Flamingo guitars.

The guitars top is made of solid bearclaw Sitka spruce. The back and sides are both fashioned from solid, quilted mahogany. The 14 fret low profile neck is made of select hardwood.

The solid headstock is carved in the1960's style and is capped with a piece of solid Brazillian rosewood with a decal of Martin's old style logo. The nut is made of solid bone. The guitar is bound with tortoise coloured binding around the body and on the endpiece.

The neck is dovetailed into a mahongany block. On the interior of the block the name Lonesome Rhodes is burnt into the wood.

The top inlay is multiple black/white. The braces are of course scalloped.

The guitars fretboard is made of solid black ebony wood and has a 24.4" scale. It is topped with 20 frets, 14 of which are clear of the guitars body. There is no fingerboard binding on this instrument.

The fretboard is 1-11/18th inches at the nut, tapering to 2-1/8 inches at the 12th fret. The fretboard comes with old style 18 mother of pearl position markers. The belly bridge material varies.

Some used solid Brazillian rosewood, while others came with ebony bridges. All had 16" radius bone saddles. The top is finished with aging toner and polished to a gloss. The back and sides are similarlly polished and have dark mahogany stain.

Tuning machines are Grover Deluxe Nickel done in the Kluson style. Martin recommends using medium guage strings.

Unique to this guitar is the paper label whiched is signed by Chris F Martin IV and Andy Griffith. Each label tells the sequence number. Andy's signature is inlaid on the 20th fret.  This is not your average Martin D-18.

In retrospect, Griffith did use the non-pickguard D-18 in several episodes.

Griffith recorded several country and gospel albums as well as storytelling albums, and was inducted into the Country Gospel Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2007 was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame.

His greatest honor came on November 9, 2005, when President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honoring his work and his timeless image, the way he came to personify a certain spirit of small town America.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Matchstickology - Jack Hall's Matchstick Guitar

Jack Hall the Matchstick Man
A special thanks to reader Tony Hall for sending me this wonderful story about his father, Jack Hall and the amazing musical instruments Mr. Hall created using only a knife, an extremely sharp razor, a bit of glue and thousands and thousands of burnt matches.

Tony Hall
This is a most unique guitar story. I am gratifed that Tony Hall gave me permission to use pictures and information about of his father's extraordiany collection.

Jack Hall was born in 1906 in Brighton, England. He never had any musical talent, but as a seaman in the Merchant Navy, he had a lot of time.

Jack started serving on an American tramp stearmer, the Eastwick, which was owned by the Anglo-American Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil.

The daily routine was monotonous, so to quell the boredom Jack needed to find something to do with the time.

He began by picking up discarded matchsticks from the ships deck that were routinely tossed away by his fellow crew members. He got the notion to glue them together an make something.

Using an empty tobacco tin and an old saucepan he made a glue pot and attempted to piece together matches to create a layer of timber. His first attempt was unsuccessful. Undetered, he tried again, this time using a second layer crosswise, in effect making a two ply board of matchsticks.

A crew member jokingly suggested he make something useful, like a fiddle. Somehow one of those "ah-ha" moments went of in Mr. Hall's mind. He was on to something. He began askng all of his friends to not throw away their used matches, but to send them to him. Friends and family would mail them to him and when he arrived in port he always received letters containing used matches.

Hall had no carpentry or luthery skills.

Whenever his ship was in port he would go ashore to pawnshops to exam musical instruments and study the measurement, shape and feel of a fiddle. Onboard ship, he transferred these to pencil sketches, determined to make a fiddle out of glue and matchsticks.

His task took five hours a day over a six month period. Hall used more than 18,000 matchsticks and aproximately 3 pounds of glue. He eventually whittled matchsticks down to around 14.000 and used another 1,000 for the chin rest. Please consider, this was no easy task to do aboard a small tramp steamer, with the crowd of shipmates and the rolling of the waves.

Match Stick Fiddle and Match Stick Bow
Jack completed his fiddle in 1936 and went into the mess room to belt out a few notes for his amazed mates. Between 1936 and 1939, Hall had created a Neopolitan (bowl-back) mandolin, an acoustic guitar, a larger 12 sided mandolin and a tenor banjo.

Perhaps the most difficult process presented to him was how to make curved surfaces.

He soaked matchsticks in water until they softened and became plyable. Once glued together Hall used flat irons, firebrcks and pans of water to aid in shaping the sticks. He had no idea that professional luthiers utilized the same process to bend wood.

Jack Hall states, " Carving was done with a knife, a file, and a cut-throat razor; finishing touches were accomplished with sandpaper, before the varnish seal was applied."

Perhaps the most striking (I made a's matches folks) feature of Mr. Hall's work is the beautiful designs derived from his placement of the sets match sticks. Each had to be cut down individually to varied lengths to fit into what seems to be a puzzle as much as a guitar.

Tony Hall with Dad's Collection
Apart from the amazing guitar, violin, banjo, and mandolins, one of the other extraordinary features are the cases that Mr. Hall built by utilizing the matchboxes. He stated that he regreted painting the outside of the case black because this did hide some of the artwork.

Opening the cases reveals the extrordiary graphics, art and logos manufacturers used to sell their products during the 1930's and 1940's.

In the 1940's, the breakout of WWII interrupted Jack Hall's "Matchstickology" as he volunteered to serve aboard a deep sea rescue tug boat. After his discharge from the services in 1945, Mr. Hall quietly gave up is hobby and stored his treasures away in the attic of his home until 1951 when it was put on display at the Festival of Great Britain.

In 1976 a Radio Brighton reporter did a story on Jack Hall and visited his home to see the instruments for himself.

In 1984, Mr. Hall revived interest in his hobby by building a ukulele out of 10,000 matches.

It was not until 1991 when a group of four musicians played Jack's instruments on BBC Television, astonishing viewers and the musicians.

Jack Hall passed away at age 86. He had no idea of the sensation his collection had created. The instruments have been loaned out for various displays and even more Television shows. Notable players, such as world renown concert violinist Yehudi Menuhin, guitarist and singer Glen Campbell and guitarist Albert Lee have all played Mr. Hall's instruments.

Jack Hall was a most extaordinary and unique fellow.