Friday, January 30, 2015

Randy Bachman - Featured Items From His Collection

Randy Bachman, formerly guitarist for the Guess Who and Bachman – Turner Overdrive, might own one of the largest collection of guitars in North America. He stores his guitars at his home on Saltspring Island and White Rock in British Columbia.

Bachman has collected many diverse and interesting guitars, and he is considered one of the foremost collectors of Gretsch and Hoyer guitars.

Currently his collection of approximately 375 Gretsch instruments is housed at the Gretsch Museum in Savannah, Georgia in the United States. It was purchased by the Gretsch Company.

That collection includes Gretsch guitars, Gretsch amplifiers, banjos, dobros, ukuleles and an organ made by the company. He collected these instruments from many music stores, pawn shops and garage sales that he would visit during his 30 years of touring. The collection is worth several million dollars. His collection includes a mint 1958 prototype of The Country Gentleman guitar that is still in its factory wrapping.

This collection was acquired by Fred Gretsch when he decided to start up his family’s company once again. During Gretsch “Baldwin” era, guitar production was moved to a factory in the state of Arkansas in the southern United States.

In 1973 fire destroyed many of the company’s original instruments and designs. Fred Gretsch knew of Bachman’s collection and asked to borrow some of the instruments to use as template for producing new models.

Bachman admits that he was unable to play all of them. Some of them may have been unplayable in their present state as they were made in the 1920’s and ‘30’s and needed some restoration.

The one guitar that has eluded him is a late orange 1950’s Chet Atkins Model 6120 that was stolen in 1976 from a Toronto hotel room. It was his first real professional guitar and used on recordings and in concerts. He has been searching for it ever since and may be the impetus of how his collection got its start.

A very young Lenny Breau
Bachman’s interest in Gretsch guitar was sparked by his friend Lenny Breau. He knew Lenny from childhood in Winnipeg. At some point Lenny was playing one of the 6120’s that was orange with the G mark on the lower bout.

He later saw pictures of Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore playing Gretsch guitars and he had to have one.

1956 6120
His stolen Gretsch was used on many of The Guess Who’s early recordings and concerts. Bachman took great care of that guitar and even chained it up when not in use. However a roadie left it at a Holiday Inn, turned his back for 10 minutes and it was stolen.

Bachman notified the police. Word got around that Bachman was looking for his Gretsch 6120 and folks started bringing Gretsch guitars to him. Many of these did not even fit the description, but Bachman started buying them as they came to him.

Eventually he had amassed quite a collection.

Chet Atkins heard of Randy’s loss and sent him a similar guitar. It has a personally autographed pickguard and is one of three that Chet had in his possession. He sent another to Paul McCartney. Bachman is keeping this one since it was a special gift, so it is not in the museum’s collection.

Bachman still owns hundreds of other guitars. He says that when he was on the road touring he didn’t blow his money. He got a fifty dollar per diem and saved it by eating with the road crew and not spending it on booze and cigarettes.

1954 Fender Stratocaster

Guys would go backstage and show him their guitars. He’d play them and offer them some of the money he’d saved.

 He says he wound up with not just a lot of Gretsch guitars, but others including incredible Gibson’s and Fender guitars. He even got a 1954 Fender Stratocaster.

He tells the stories of some of them. In 1967 he was playing to a small crowd in a church auditorium when a kid carrying a Les Paul guitar case approached him and asked him to look at his guitar. Bachman plugged it in and played it and said it was an amazing instrument.

At the end of the night he was going to give it back to the kid, but the kid thought he was going to trade guitars with him. At that point he asked someone to write out a bill of sale and gave the kid all the money he had in his pocket which was $72 for the guitar.

This is the guitar that is heard on American Woman and many of the Bachman Turner Overdrive recordings. Randy recently had that guitar appraised. With it’s provenance he was told that it was now worth over a million dollars.

This '59 Les Paul "burst" is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio. It is one of the few Les Paul guitars made with a Bigsby vibrato as original equipment.

During his younger days, Bachman was having problems with his back and decided to go to a chiropractor who told him to quit playing guitar, since the Les Paul was too heavy. Of course he said no way. So he went to a local music store and asked for the lightest guitar the store carried, which was a Fender Stratocaster. Bachman put a Gibson Humbucker in the neck position and a Telecaster pickup in the bridge position.

He left the Strat pickup in the center. He played this guitar on You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet and Let It Ride.

Bachman really seems to favor older German made guitars. One of the more unique guitars in his collection is the Aschado Clown guitar. This was made by German luthier Willie Todt for a famous clown from a late 1950’s European circus.

For many years there has been a tradition of traveling circuses in some countries that had a clown greeting people and acting as master of ceremony. These clowns would play guitar as they greeted spectators. He says the Clown guitar is a masterpiece.

Bachman possesses the world’s largest collection of Hoyer guitars. For those of you unfamiliar with this brand,Hoyer is a very old instrument manufacturer that was started in 1874 by Franz Hoyer in Schönbach, which is now in the Czech Republic. Hoyer started making zithers and lutes and then branched into making classical and folk guitars. His son, Joseph took over the company. After WWII the company moved to Teenelohe in Germany. Joseph’s son Arnold took the reigns and the Hoyer Company became well known for its excellent quality. During Joseph’s tenure Hoyer guitars were well know for their excellent carved top guitars. In 1967 Walter Hoyer became the CEO of Hoyer Guitars.

Bachman claims to own around 150 Hoyer guitars. This one is a Hoyer Bianca. It has lightening bolt sound holes. It is one of Hoyer’s top of the line models.

The electric model is called a Hoyer SL.

Randy can be seen playing a 1982 Roland GR505 model guitar synthesizer on the Guess Who video of No Time Left for You. This guitar resembles a Fender Stratocaster.

The four Gibson-like knobs control the Master Volume, Cutoff Frequency, Guitar Tone, and Guitar balance. Two smaller black knobs control the synthesizer. The switch between them switches it on and off.

This guitar came with a 24 pin synthesizer cable port and one for a standard guitar cable.

This guitar could be paired with the Roland GR100 or GR300 floor model guitar synthesizer units.

1958 Les Paul

Bachman states that he really loves the old Gibson guitars he used when he was younger, but cannot play them on stage because they are too heavy.

He says that he met a new representative from Gibson that asked why he did not play his Les Paul guitars in concert anymore. He let her know they were a strain on his back when he stood on stage and played, but he did play them sitting down at his home and home studio.

She told him that she could get a new Les Paul Gold Top with the same sound as his vintage guitar, but it would only weigh 8 pounds. Bachman promised if she could come up with a guitar like that he would play it on stage.

Later when he was playing in Toronto with Burton Cummings the rep visited their sound check with this beautiful ’57 Gold Top Les Paul reproduction. He plugged it in and Cummings made the comment, “where has that guitar been for the past four months (of our tour)?” That guitar only weighed seven pounds.

Randy Bachman not only has a collection of guitars, but also has amplifiers and recording gear that he has used throughout the years.

When he was much younger he helped to develop an amplifier with his friend “Gar” Garnet Gillies. Randy states that when he was growing up he started by playing violin and he loved the sustaining sound of the instrument. When he switched over to guitar he found that by plugging a small amplifier into a bigger amplifier he could get a sustaining sound.

"Gar" Garnet Gillies
Bachman experimented with taking the “power out” wires that went to the speaker and plugging them into the input of the larger amp, however found out that continued use of this technique resulted in damage to the larger amplifier. He took his amps to his friend Gar, who owned a radio/TV repair shop and was a musician.

Gar told him what he was doing and was told he was crazy and this could be dangerous. So Gar helped to help him accomplish this in a safer and less destructive way. What resulted was a tube pre-amp which when added to another amp gave the desired sound.

Most of the available amps were Fender amplifiers and the pre-amp just did not sound right with the Fenders. So Gar got some parts from Heathkit and built an amplifier to go along with the pre-amp unit. The resulting amplifer and its sustain feature is the sound heard on American Woman, No Time and other Guess Who songs.

Randy and Gar decided they needed a name to go on the amplifier. Bachman was reading a book at the time that said Herzog across the cover and decided that was the name for the amplifier.

Later on Gar went into business for himself and built amplifiers and cabinets with the name Garnet on their fronts.

John Johnson - DOD pedals
As a side note, John Johnson, the creator of DOD pedals, Johnson amplifiers and Digitech started out attempting to build a pedal that would recreate the American Woman sound. He admits he never accomplished it, but in the mean time sold hundreds of thousands of pedals, effects and amplifiers.

Later on Randy when everyone was playing through Marshall stacks Randy experimented with his amplification. He settled on using the Marshall cabinet powered by a 200 watt Sunn Model-T amplifier. He did not care for the Marshall head since he says it overheated and blew fuses.

The Sunn head had its own preamplifier and allowed him to create the same type of effect he did with his "Herzog" amplifier and preamp.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jersey Boys Guitars - The Original Four Seasons Guitars

If you haven’t seen Jersey Boys, please do so. It is not just a walk back to through the early days of rock and roll and doo-wop music, but a great insight into all the drama that goes on within a band of musicians. If you want to understand how we got to where we are musically today, learn your roots.

Despite my research, I cannot find much information on the instruments played by Tommy Devito, Nick Massi, Charley Calleo and Joe Long. So I have checked out photos and videos of the group and read their history, from a guitarist perspective.

Tommy Devito was the guitarist throughout the original groups history, until he was asked to leave and his share of the group was purchased by Frankie Valli and Bob Guadio.

Nick Massi was the main bass player and bass singer for the group throughout their early history.

Charley Calleo, was the also a bass player with the group when Massi was not around. Calleo became the groups musical arranger and deserves a lot of credit for doing such a wonderful job. He stepped in again to play bass shortly after Nick Massi quit.

Joe Long was the Season's final bass player. He can be distinguished by his excellent left-handed technique on the bass guitar.

The Variety Trio
The movie of the Jersey Boys opens with DeVito playing a 1950's model Fender Telecaster. Judging from this photo of The Variety Trio, the movies artistic director was spot on as you can see DeVito with a Tele, his brother Nick DeVito playing an unidentified archtop acoustic and Nick Massi playing an upright bass.

The first group that included Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito was called The Four Lovers. (the video in this link has the players in a mirror image) The bass player and acoustic guitarist are unidentified.

Here is an early staged publicity photo of the Four Seasons. Tommy Devito is playing a Gibson LG-3 and Nick Massi appears to have a sunburst Guild D-140.

A professional photograph of The original Four Seasons shows Tommy DeVito holding a beautiful white Fender Jazzmaster and Nick Massi fingering an equally beautiful Fender Precision bass.

A 1962 video of Big Girls Don’t Cry shows DeVito playing a Gibson ES-355 and Nick Massi playing a new (for that year) Fender Precision bass. This is a different P-bass since the pickguard appears to be anodized and the neck is maple.

This 1964 video from the Dick Clark TV series "Where The Action Is" when the production was done in the UK. You can see Joe Long playing his Fender Precision Bass with the stacked knobs and Tommy DeVito is now playing a Danelectro Coral guitar.

This is video of their hit Rag Doll that was shot in a London park appears to be from the same "Where The Action Is" show. Once again Joe Long playing his favorite Fender Precision bass while Tommy DeVito is playing that Danelectro Coral guitar.

A clip from the 1964 movie The Beach Ball shows Nick Massi back in the group, but now he is playing a fake Fender Precision bass guitar. Judging from the headstock and  close ups of the instrument you can tell it is not a Fender. Tommy DeVito is playing a cheap blue Asian guitar; possibly a Teisco.

Perhaps to the Seasons credit these were props from the movie.

This 1964 clip shows Joe Long playing an Ampeg bass on a TV show and Tommy DeVito playing a white Fender Jaguar.

This TV clip is of the Seasons playing a medley of their hits.  Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito are sporting matching Gibson instruments. Both are beautiful sunburst guitars from the 1963-64 era. DeVito is playing a Gibson Firebird VII while Nick Massi is holding down the bass on a Gibson Thunderbird bass.

Prominently displayed next to them is a Gibson Titan III guitar amplifier, which had a 65 watt head matched to a separate cabinet that contained one 15” speaker and two 10” speakers.

While the bass is being played through a Gibson Atlas IV. It had 2 – 6L6GC tubes, so I estimate it at around 40 watts. The speaker contained one 15” model.

I assume this was an obvious plug by Gibson as I can find no other videos of the Seasons visibly playing through amplifiers.

A video of Working My Way Back To You shows Joe Long once again with his Ampeg bass guitar and Tommy DeVito playing his white Fender Jaguar.

This 1965 clip from the Ed Sullivan Show shows the Seasons playing white instruments. Tommy DeVito is playing his white Fender Jaguar, while Joe Long is playing a Hagstrom F400 bass, which in my opinion is an underrated bass guitar.

I can only find one image of Charley Calleo playing bass with the group. Calleo is playing a dark Fender Precision bass with a white pickguard alongside Tommy DeVito who is playing a white Fender guitar.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Jersey Boys, it centers around Tommy DeVito’s connection with the mob and how he got in way over his head with a loan shark. By his own admission, DeVito spent some time in prison.

DeVito was forced out of the group in 1971.  Frankie Valli paid off the debt, which was nearly a million dollars, by striking out on his own as a solo performer. Bob Guadio spoke about the deal on NPR radio and said that Valli had to earn twice that amount because the earnings were taxed.

Subsequently once DeVito and Massi left there are no further videos or still photos of the original group and their guitars.

The Four Seasons stayed together releasing several hits under the Frankie Valli name or pseudonyms such as The Wonder Who and the Valli Boys.

After releasing a disastrous concept album called The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette the group left the Phillips Record label to go with Motown. They recorded under the MoWest label but the relationship was not at all solid. There venture with Motown may account for The Spinners version of Working My Way Back To You which became a hit.

Before exiting Motown, Valli tried to purchase the entire catalogue from Motown but only was able to purchase My Eyes Adored You for $4000. Of course this became one of Valli and Guadio's best loved songs.

Joe Long left the group in 1975 recording his last song, Who Loves You. Frankie started a new core band with drummer and singer Gerry Polci and bass player Don Ciccone, who had a hit song with a group called The Critters. John Paiva was the guitarist.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)