Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gibson 1958 Explorer Bass

I have to thank and give credit to my friend Dan Schear for this story. Dan Schear was formerly from the Cincinnati area. He once headed up a terrific local cover band called The East Orange Express before going into the music and television production business.

 I give Dan the credit for writing this article. I just did the editing.

1958 Explorer bass at We Buy Guitars
My favorite music store was Dodds Music in Covington Kentucky. It was originally a jewelry store located in the heart of town. The store catered to talent from the greater Cincinnati Ohio area and got a great reputation for stocking the latest guitars and amplifiers.

In late 1958 Roger “Jellyroll” Troy ordered a brand new Gibson Explorer Bass through Dodds Jewerly and Music. But Jellyroll never came back to pick up his bass.

1958 was the year that Gibson introduced the Explorer and the Flying Vee. Both instruments bodies were made of korina wood.

The prototypes were made of mahogany and it was just too heavy, so Gibson opted for the much lighter korina wood. The necks were also made of mahogany.

The Explorer bass had a long droopy headstock with three banjo type tuning keys on one side and one key on the other side while the guitar had regular guitar-style Kluson keys. Gibson made less than 50 Explorer guitars during the run, which lasted until 1963. The Explorer bass we are looking at had the serial number 001.

According to an April 1984 Guitar Player Magazine article Gibson made only three Explorer basses. As mentioned, they had all korina bodies, mahogany necks with an Explorer headstock aka banana, hockey-stick or lady slipper.”

The Explorer bass came with a humbucking pickup that came to be known as a “Mudbucker”. It also had a baritone switch similar to the one found on a Gibson EB-2. This switch activated a large capacitor.

Two of the original Explorers were produced with a natural finish, while the third was sunburst.

Wayne Bullock with '58 Explorer Bass and Lonnie Mack with '58 Flying Vee
It was Cincinnati musician Wayne Bullock that finally purchased the bass from Dodds Music and in 1962 he was playing it in the same group in which Lonnie Mack was the guitarist. It is rumored that Jellyroll Troy eventually purchased a 1958 sunburst Explorer bass. 

Author Robb Lawrence
In 1973 Bullock sold the bass to guitar historian Robb Lawrence for $1,000. By then Bullock had first painted the bass green and then painted it metallic blue (Lonnie Mack painted his guitar red).

When Robb Lawrence bought it, the Explorer logo was missing and the scars on the headstock were filled in with putty and painted black. It was worse for wear since it was an actual gigging instrument that had made its rounds to all the greater Cincinnati nightspots.

Lawrence set about restoring the bass to its original splendor. But he lent it out to guys like Chris Squire, John Entwhistle, Jack Bruce and others. These guys loved it. The bass sounded great and was comfortable to play since your hand rested on the elongated back part of the body.

Lawrence eventually sells the Explorer bass to Rick Derringer’s manager. It became a present for Randy Jo Hobbs, who played bass for Johnny Winter.

Randy Jo Hobbs
Hobbs eventually sells it to Steve Friedman of Stuyvesant Music on 48th street in New York City. The same bass that was more than likely featured on Lonnie Mack’s version of Memphis, now shows up on the Lou Reed song Hassle.

It was eventually traded at a store called We Buy Guitars, which was run by Friedman’s brother Richard. The bass spent a few years there.

Tom Wittrock

In late 1984 the bass was purchased by a Texas guitar collector named Tony Dukes. He used it in some “fancy” shows with his band “The International Aces.” He also took it to guitar shows.

He nick-named the bass, “Hoss.”

Al Helm, the former manager of Sound Vibrations in Corpus Christi Texas has some knowledge about the bass.

He says, a replica of the bass was featured in a guitar calendar put together by Tony Duke around 1983. Mr. Helms goes on to say that a Cadillac dealer named Byron Goad loved the looks of the bass, but thought the sound was too muddy.

So he ordered an Explorer bass similar to it from the Gibson custom shop. Goad wanted a korina neck on this bass instead of the usual mahogany. He also wanted the ‘lady slipper’ headstock, but Gibson had lost the template. His request was that the tuners be in a row instead of the way they were on the original. Goad finally received it a year after his request. It set him back around $2,000.

Mr. Goad ran into financial difficulty and sold his custom shop Explorer bass. Tony Dukes passed away in 2013. Roger Jellyroll Troy no longer has his Explorer bass. He passed away in 1991.

We do not know what has become of the original Explorer bass or Troy’s sunburst Explorer.

Guitar Afficienado Magazine featured a column in which Rick Neilsen talks about the 1958 Gibson Explorer guitar that he purchased from George Gruhn. He brought the guitar to a Texas Guitar Show and was offered $75,000 cash on the spot.

Auctioned at Skinners $611K

He goes on to say that another 1963 Explorer guitar sold for $611,000.

Clapton's Explorer
In June of 1999, Eric Clapton sold many of his prize guitars at Christie’s Auction House to raise money for his drug rehabilitation center.

That guitar sold for $134,500.

Tony Dukes

Since only three Explorer bass guitars were built in 1958, can you imagine what price they would command?

Unfortunately there are no videos with the 1958 Gibson Explorer Bass. Even more unfortunate is the fact no one knows what happened to the Explorer bass known as "Hoss".

So here a few videos that go along with the article.

The first is Dan Schear (who provided all the information about the 1958 Explorer Bass) sitting in with the Gradual Taylor Band in 1999.

This next one is the original Lonnie Mack recording of Wham with Wayne Bullock on bass.

Get your guitars out and wail along with Lonnie!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

3 D Printer Guitars

Here are some truly Unique Guitars that have been developed through the use of the 3D printing process. Current printers can transform a design on paper into a full scale guitar body. The material used is made of nylon composite. The procedure is slow, but the results can yield a design that would be nearly impossible to create by hand.

Olaf Diegal is a professor of mechatronics at Massey University in Aukland, New Zealand, who has been using 3D printing for more than 15 years. He is also a guitar player. He realized that he could create complex designs for commercial products through 3D printing and got the idea to develop a guitar using this technology.

He states, "The old style of [subtractive] manufacturing is you start with a block and cut away the material you don't need. With 3 demensional printing you start with nothing and add material one layer at a time until the object is finished."

The 3D process works a little like inkjet printing, but instead of ink squirting out of the print head, successive layers of plastic or metal powder are deposited according to the CAD file's instructions. Layers are fused together by the heat of the molten plastic or with a precision laser beam in a process called sintering.

Basically he begins creating electric guitar bodies using this process of spreading a thin layer of nylon powder is ejected and it is fused together in the correct locations. Subsequently another layer of nylon powder is applied within millimeters below the first.

This powder is also fused correctly by computer directed 3 D printer CAD program. This process is completed until a guitar body is complete. Dr. Diegal utilizes and open-source technology known as the RepRap Project housed at the University of Bath.

Diegal believes in the future of the 3D guitar and has developed his own company, known as ODD Guitars, to sell his creations which are indeed odd, but extraordinary. He says his Spider guitar is made of a single piece of a substance known as polyamide; a tough and durable form of nylon. The body looks like a spider web, with little spiders crawling around inside.

Inside the body frame is a block of wood which allows for the attachment of a custom made Warmoth neck and a place to anchor the pickups, bridge/saddle and end piece. The center block and neck can be made of mahogany or maple, depending on specifications for a warm or bright sound.

ODD Guitars currently offers five models, which are inspired by existing instruments. These are the Atom, the Hive, the Scarab, the Spider and the Spider LP.

The company also offers 3 bass designs; the Atom, Hive and the Spider LP. The customer can add options or modifications to the instrument at no extra costs.

The necks can be mahogany or maple and the electronics are customized for the player. The weight of the instrument can be adjusted. Cost of an ODD guitar is from $3,000 to $3500.

More info about ODD Guitars can be found at and at

Scott Summit is perhaps one of the leading authorities on 3D printing and design. His job is creating prosthetic body parts by utilizing 3D printing technology.

During a vacation he spent time on his laptop creating a 3D model of his ideal acoustic guitars.

Through his connections, he was able to send his computer design to 3D Systems which used its massive 3D printers to transform the computers directions into an actual acoustic instrument that Summit can play.

In fact he was surprised, since he thought it would probably sound like crap and break under the pressure once strings were tuned and tightened. But no it worked just fine and sounded pretty nice.

3D Systems recently acquired Summits business start-up and Summit. Summit’s one-off acoustic, printed on a 3D printer utilized about $3000 worth of material. The head stock was 3D printed with sterling silver and the plate on the neck was 3D printed out of stainless steel.

Somewhere down the road he envisions that people will be able to use software to pick out what sort of treble, bass or sustain they desire and print a guitar to match those qualities.

AweSome Musical Instruments is a manufacturer of high grade electric guitar pickup switching devices and circuitry that they guarantee will put more tone in your electric guitar. This company has just introduced its version of the 3D printed guitar which utilizes the companies circuitry.

Though it resembles a solidbody Les Paul style instrument, the guitar is actually hollow. The neck goes through much of the body to reinforce the pickups and bridge/saddle tailpiece. It is only available in natural white at the current price of $4,800 USD with an eight to ten week wait.

What is next?   Could it be this?  Here is an article from Forbes.

Could Fender be Next?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Vox Guitars

1962 Vox Advertisment
I had no idea that Jennings Music Industries/Vox was building guitars as early as 1962. The company started as the Jennings Organ Company in 1958, by Tom Jennings who owned a music shop in Dartford Kent, U.K. The popular music of that era was rock and Jennings was in on the ground floor as he joined up with a guitarist named Dick Denney who had built an amplifier for his guitar.

Tom Jenning and Dick Denny
Denney was suffering from hearing loss and the amplified sound of his guitar could keep him working. He had created the Vox AC15. Jennings had some success with his own portable organ which he called the Univox. Jennings Organ became Jennings Musical Industries and their logo was the shortened version of Univox; Vox.

Vox Ace   - Stoller -   Clubman Bass
The first guitars and basses that Vox had built were the Ace, Stroller and Clubman. These were built by a cabinet making company in Shoeburyness, Essex in the U.K. Vox's first electric guitars, the Apache, Stroller and Clubman were modeled after solid-body, bolt-neck Fenders.

In 1962 Fender guitars and basses were not available for sale in the UK. Vox’s initial run of guitars were low priced.

Tom Jenning commissioned the London Design Center to come up with an idea for an electric guitar that did not resemble any guitars available at the time. They came up with the Vox Phantom. Jennings introduced this in his 1962 catalog. It was originally manufactured by the cabinet company, but very soon was made in Italy by the EKO company. Though the shape of the guitar was unlike a Fender Stratocaster, the equipment could have been right off of one.

The Phantom came with 3 single coil pickups and a vibrato bridge, although it was a Bigsby unit. The guitar was awkward to play when seated, but it was well made. The Phantom bass had two single coil pickups. The headstock of both instruments was Fenderesque with its six-on-a-side tuners, but was not as eloquent.

Within a year Jennings had another unique instrument on his hand called the Mark VI or Teardrop model. It had a lute-shaped body and the prototype came with two single coil pickups and a Bigsby style bridge unit. Advertisements surfaced showing Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones playing the guitar. He even used it on an Ed Sullivan Show appearance.

Bill Wyman, the groups bassist playing the bass model. In fact the bass model was marketed as the Wyman Bass. Although it is doubtful that Wyman ever used the bass on any recordings.

During the mid to late 1960’s there was an uptick in the use of the electric 12 string in the music of the day.

As the sound became popular Vox introduced the Phantom XII; the 12 string version of the Phantom. It saw prominent use with the British band The Hollies.

Vox also introduced the Mark XII 12 string electric guitar. Oddly enough both featured the Bigsby style vibrato bridge. Most of these guitars were produced in Italy by the EKO company.

A stereo version of the Phantom XII was introduced that had split pickups and a built-in mixer that enabled the sound to be sent to separate amplifiers. Hamer later incorporated a similar feature on their 12 string basses.

Vox Organ Guitar

Vox had a hit with the Continental Organ that was played by all of the British Invasion Bands. Vox incorporated the organ circuitry into a guitar. The frets were electrified and became contacts for notes. The guitar had buttons on its front that were similar to those found on a chord organ. Effects, such as vibrato and percussion were built-in. This instrument is a story unto itself that was told in an earlier article.

Vox Delta Phantom

This technology and development in Vox effects lead to the introduction of guitars with built-in effects; the Delta Phantom, the Starstream Teardrop and the Delta Phantom bass. It was in 1967 that Vox introduced a series of guitars that featured a fuzztone, percussive tremolo, treble/bass boost and a wah-wah effect operated by the heel of the player’s hand. The guitars came with a built-in E-tuner, which was a switch that activated an oscillating circuit which played a high E note.

A vintage Starstream recently sold (in 2014) for $2500. Vox was the first company to design and market a wireless microphone system. Most of the guitars from this era were made in Italy by Eko.

By 1982 all guitar production was moved to Japan and done by what had to be the biggest guitar manufacturer in the country; Matsumoku, who made Aria guitars. The Japanese instruments were arguably the best Vox instruments ever made, but for the fact their unique factor was gone. Vox guitars looked like every 1980's electric guitar. In 1985 production was moved to Korea.

Korg LTD, a Japanese music conglomerate acquired Vox in 1992 and began building Vox amplifiers in 1994. By 1995 Vox was producing a series of Stratocaster and Super Strat inspired guitars and basses known as the White Shadow and White Shadow M series.

Korg/Vox did not make the Phantom and Teardrop guitars from 1998 to 2012. Instead a relationship was struck up with Korg employees and North Coast Music of Minnesota.

North Coast has been a distributor for Vox amplifiers since 1991 and is the USA’s largest distributor of Vox products.

Mark III Prototypes
John Hawkins the store’s owner had numerous requests for Vox guitars. He got the go-ahead from Vox/Korg to build a teardrop style guitar and hired a cabinet making firm to produce the necks and bodies. Another Minnesota firm made the hardware.

Brian Jone personal Mark VI
By 1995 Hawkins presented his examples at the NAMM convention. The Phantom version was unveiled the following year at the NAMM show. The guitars were picked up by Vox and offered to the public in the 1998-99 catalog.

50th Anniversary Mark III

In 2007 Korg/Vox introduced a 50th Anniversary limited edition Mark III Brian Jones model with 57-07 engraved on the neck.

Along with this, Vox introduced a 50th Anniversary Bass guitar that is similar to the one Bill Wyman advertised and endorsed.

In 2009 Vox introduced the Virage I and II series with single and double cutaway models. This was an interesting guitar because a shallow neck heel design offered ease of playing in the upper register.

Another Vox guitar was offered in late 2010 called the Series 55 and Series 77. All of these Korean made instruments are based on either Gibsons Les Paul or ES-335 design. All of these guitars received excellent reviews.

In 2013 Vox re-introduced the Phantom and Teardrop guitars under the names Mark III and Mark V. The Mark III is the "droplet" shape and the Mark V is the "coffin shape."

These guitars are not offered in the United States. Possibly due to the following legal action.

Phantom Guitarworks was started by guitar builder and player Jack Charles Meussdorffer over 21 years ago. Meussdorffer makes exquisite reproductions of the Phantom, Teardrop and Mandoguitar models under the trade name Phantom Guitars.

He has done this for two decades without any issues until recently.

Korg LTD, as I have said, acquired Vox from its previous owners in 1992 when Vox sales reached low ebb.

Korg was quick to introduce their version of the AC30 and AC15 which are made in China.

They have since followed with many amps in the Vox tradition and some new versions. However Korg has never shown much interest in the Vox guitars. They have built some guitars with the Vox brand that look nothing like the Vox’s of the 1960’s and 70’s.

In 2002 Mr. Meussdorffer took some of his instruments to the NAMM show. The folks from Korg/Vox were there to display their amplifiers. They asked if they could borrow one of his guitars to “examine” it.

He was a gentleman and the Korg people came back to tell him they owned Vox and he could not sell his instruments any longer. Although he could go to work for them. In September of 2013 Korg filed a complaint against Meussdorffer in US Federal Court. Meussendorffer’s attorney filed a counter-claim. 

Korg’s legal argument against the trade name Phantom Guitars is that the names, Phantom and Teardrop and the shapes of the guitars have become generic and therefore public domain.

In 2012 Vox created a guitar called The Apache which is available on and This guitar is in the Phantom and Teardrop Shape. It comes with a built-in amplifier and drum machine. It is marketed as a travel guitar. Take note, in all the advertisements the word Vox is not on the guitars headstock. Instead there is a image of an old airplane.

I am assuming because the shape is generic and in the public domain.

Although Korg LTD owns the trademark VOX, a British company known as JMI aka Jennings Musical Instrument is back and is making handcrafted amplifiers once again that look like the Vox AC series that we came to know during the British Invasion. This time it is under the name JMI. And they look exquisite. Currently there are only a handful of dealers in the U.K. and the U.S.A. I hope we hear more about these amplifiers soon.

As an added note, JMI has recreated and improved some of Vox's most famous effects such as the Tone Bender and the Rangemaster. These were all redesigned by their creator Gary Hurst.

Vox Magical Mystery Guitar sold for $408,000 at Julien's Auctions
As a final note; I mentioned in a prior article that a specially made Vox guitar used by George Harrison in the Magical Mystery Tour sold at a May 2013 auction for USD $408,000 in New York City.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)