Sunday, December 29, 2019

Junior Brown's Guit-Steel Is Stolen

Junior Brown & Tanya Rae
playing their missing instruments

Country guitar-playing legend Junior Brown’s legendary “guit-steel” guitar was burglarized from a vehicle parked at a hotel in North Attleboro, Massachusetts near Providence, Rhode Island on October 6th.

Martin Shenandoah D-2832
Junior Brown’s wife and touring partner Tanya Rae Brown also had her Martin-brand Shenandoah acoustic guitar stolen in the incident.

The two were in the area visiting relatives at the time. “We usually bring [the guitars] into the hotels, and we’ve been a little careless lately, and that’s what happens when you’re careless,” Junior told Saving Country Music by phone Monday night.

“They broke a window and got into our rental vehicle, took my guit-steel and Tanya’s guitar.”

Junior Brown with Big Red
The Guit-Steel was made by Michael Stevens, the instrument has been Junior Brown’s signature for almost 35 years, playing the guitar on stage while it rests on a small stand. Brown has played and recorded with this instrument since the mid-1960’s.

There are only two of Junior’s primary guit-steel guitars in existence. The first and original guit-steel called “Old Yeller” has been on display at the Museum of Design in Atlanta recently as part of a guitar exhibit.

Junior Brown playing Big Red
The second called “Big Red” was the one that was stolen. “It’s sort of faded down to Big Brown,” Junior says. “The lights and the sweat have taken a lot of the red color out of it.”

The North Attleboro Police Department has been contacted and have been looking for the instrument.

Due to it’s unique design, it should be hard to unload on the black market.

Junior is concerned that once the thieves determine this, they may throw it in a river or destroy it. The guitar neck and single coil pickups were taken off of a 1980’s Fender Bullet with a Telecaster shaped headstock. The 8 string steel portion has a single coil pickup and a Sho-Bud steel guitar pickup. The body is unique. Due to the instrument’s weight Junior plays it on a stand.

He is offering a $3000 reward for its return.  Miss Tanya Rae's Martin Shenandoah dreadnought shaped guitar was also stolen during the burglary.

Old Yeller
Another of Brown’s guit-steels that he calls “Old Yeller” is currently on display at the Museum of Design in Atlanta as part of an exhibit called ‘Wire & Wood: Designing Iconic Guitars’. The museum has sent Old Yeller back to Brown in time for him to play shows in Texas.

This instrument actually belongs to Brown’s agent, Bobby Crudd. In the meantime Junior is having an new instrument made.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2019 (text only

Saturday, December 21, 2019

1960's Holiday Wish Book

I started playing music when I was only 10 years old. My folks got a big old fire engine red upright piano from my Mom’s uncle. Dad had it hauled to our basement and I set out to take lessons from an old lady that lived a quarter of a mile away.

Cute Kid 

I rode my bicycle to my teachers house and I learned Every Good Boy Does Fine, and F-A-C-E,. I also learned the difference between whole notes, half notes and quarter notes, the sharps and flats, and the G and F clef. But all I really wanted to do was play music.

Willis Music circa 1960's
I toughed it out and got a clarinet, which was certainly more portable. I made numerous trips to Willis Music to buy more reeds, since I was forever chipping them. But I was only playing notes printed on a page and doggone it, I wanted to PLAY music! You know, spontaneously, and from the heart.

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan 1964
The Beatles came along which started a wave of other bands with young guys playing guitar and I surmised this may be the ticket. So I begged my folks to get me a guitar. I got one, and then later I got an electric guitar. Ever since then I’ve been playing music..from the heart.

That's me with a Strat at 14 years old
I spent my youth, and now my senior years watching the guitar evolve. Back in the old days I saw this though the catalogs that usually arrived around Christmas time. Now we are in the Holiday Season so I thought it would be great to review those old days, and pages and pages of the guitars that we longed for when we were young.

Harmony Guitars
Arguably one of the most prodigious producers of catalog guitar was the Harmony Musical Instrument Company of Chicago. Fender, Gibson, Guild, Martin and Epiphone were building high quality instruments, but in the 1960’s when the average annual income was less that $5,000, not many folks could afford a $400.00 guitar. But your parents could get a guitar and an amplifier from Sears or JC Penny’s for only $100.00. Besides it was great to look at the catalog and imagine this could be yours.

Kay Guitars
The other big manufacturer of guitars was Kay Musical Instruments, which was also based in Chicago. Some of their more expensive guitars may have been of a higher quality than Harmony, but all in all the two companies were fairly comparable. Like Harmony, Kay's biggest client was the catalog stores, such as Sears, Montgomery Wards, J.C. Penny and Western Auto. We waited every Christmas to decide which guitar would be the best.

Danelectro made Silvertones
Sears had the market on Danelectro guitars. These were inexpensively made out of formica, with wooden frames that came with single coil pickups which were housed in surplus lipstick tubes.

Sears Danelectro Silvertone with amp.
Instead of rosewood or mahogany sides, the sides were made of vinyl tape. You know what? Danelectro guitars hold up forever and back in the day they were used by many so studio musicians. Best of all they were cheap and stayed in tune. The Sears Wish Book was full of Danelectros' with the Silvertone brand on them.

Silvertone guitar/amp-in-case
Plus Sears had a deal on a guitar and a case with the amplifier built into it. And in 1966 this could be yours for less than one-hundred dollars!

1964 Montgomery Ward Catalog

The other big catalog company was Montgomery Wards, or as some folks called them Monkey Wards, much like those of us today refer to Walmart as Wally World. Montgomery Wards distinguished their guitar line by mainly using a company called Valco Musical Instruments. This company sprung from the National Guitar Company.

Airline Res-O-Glas guitars

Montgomery Wards called their house brand Airline guitars. Many of these guitars were made of Res-O-Glas, which was actually two shells of molded fiberglass that were sandwiched together with the electronics inside. The necks were made of wood. They were certainly more expensive than Danelectro guitars but were well made and came in a variety of “space-age” shapes and colors including one guitar that resembled a map of the United States.

Teisco brokers catalog
So maybe your folks were unable to afford that $100 Silvertone guitar and amp. You could have just as much fun playing an Asian imported guitar. And by the mid 1960’s the market was flooded with them. The biggest importer was Teisco of Japan.

Holiday Wish Book - 1960's
They really weren’t so bad and they were continually improving. Why even Wrecking Crew member Glen Campbell did a lot of studio work using his Teisco guitar. These were featured in all the popular mail-order catalogs.

Silvertone amplifier
We haven’t even mentioned amplifiers. The biggest catalog jobbers of amplifiers were Danelectro and Valco. Before transistors came along, you could get an amplifier that worked with vacuum tubes at a reasonable price.

Montgomery Wards/Valco amps
The cabinets may not have been as nice as those Fender and Gibson were building, but these were nice amplifiers that ranged from 3 watts up to 100 watts and all you had to do was send in your money to Sears or Montgomery Wards and wait for the post man.

Things are so much different these days. Life has changed.

Musician's Friend Catalog
We don’t have to wait until the Holiday Season for the catalog since we can log into Musicians Friend or Guitar Center or our local music stores web sites to see what is being offered. Much of the merchandise is no longer built in the United States, but the World’s manufacturers have come a long way in improving their products and in many cases their offerings are of excellent quality.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season and a Prosperous and Blessed New Year! And may this year bring Peace on Earth!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The New Fender Swinger Guitar

New Fender

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of Fender’s Swinger model, Fender Japan is reissuing two versions of this rare instrument. The announcement was made in November of this year.

Though the guitar is set with a suggested retail price of $999 USD or 103,500 Yen. They are only available in Japan. The only place I have found them available is on eBay, and the price ranges from approximately $1200 to $2500.

1969 Fender Swinger
In 1969 Fender offered The Swinger for sale as a student instrument.  An estimated 250 to 300 guitars were produced in 1969. Due to the instruments scarcity, the price of an vintage Swinger now ranges from $4000 to $6000 USD. The original instrument was produced by Fender/CBS for only one year.

The original Fender Swinger was built from left-over Fender parts and created in by Fender's then  product manager “Babe” Simoni.

Babe Somoni - NAMM Interview
In 1953 George Fullerton hired a 16 year old kid named Virgilio “Babe” Simoni to work at Fender doing janitorial work. Simoni was promoted and took on other jobs.  Fast forward a dozen years and he rose through the ranks to become the companies stringed instruments product manager.

In 1965 when CBS took over, Simoni stayed on. The new bosses gave him instructions to find something profitable to do with leftover parts.

Although Simoni was not a designer,  he was skilled in shaping bodies, necks. and do routing work. He came up with two very unique guitars. One of them was the Fender Swinger.  The other was The Fender Maverick.

1967 Fender Bass V

He fashioned the Swinger from leftover Musicmaster/Duo-Sonic short-scale necks, and Fender Bass V bodies.

1958 Fender Musicmaster

Babe had workers saw a curve section into the bottom end of the body and then the sawed off a portion of the upper horn.

'69 Swinger Headstock

He also had them cut the end of the headstock on the the  22 1/2” Musicmaster necks into a sharp point.

1969 Fender Swinger

The guitars utilized left over 1969 pick guards that had been cut out to allow space for the metal control panel.

The Swinger came with a single slanted neck pickup. If you looked under the pickguard, you could see the routing for the unique Bass V pickups.

Bass V body cut to be a Swinger

The 3 section bridge/saddles were the same ones used on Musicmasters and Duo-Sonics that were made during the 1964-1969 era.

1969 Fender Swinger Guitars
Swinger bodies were offered in various colours, including Olympic White, Daphne Blue, Dakota Red, Black, Lake Placid Blue, and Candy Apple Red. The tuning keys had white plastic buttons and the Fender logo decal (in black font) was put on the headstock.

1969 Fender Swinger Headstocks

On some models to the right of the Fender logo was “Swinger” in a similar black script decal. However most of the guitars deleted the instruments name, hence the name "Fender Arrow". Historically, the guitars are called Swingers, Arrows, and Musiclanders.

??? 1956 Musiclander ???
I have yet to see a 1969 Fender Musiclander, though there was one offered as a "1956" prototype on eBay. This guitar has a single coil Strat pickup in the bridge position. The parts are possibly off of a 1956 Musicmaster, but in my opinion, it is a 'parts' guitar.

I have seen some Japanese made Japanese Musiclanders that were made decades later. These later instruments came with two Statocaster pickups, and two Mustang type switches directly above the pickups.

Though the Swinger was an inexpensive 3/4 sized guitar at the time it was offered to the public, its scarcity has made this guitar very collectible, and pricey.

The original models came with only one pickups. I have not run across a twin pickup model. Fender used the same pickups found on the Fender Musicmaster, and Duo-Sonic student guitars.

2019 Fender Swinger
The new Fender Swingers feature a 24” short-scale neck with a rosewood fretboard that have 22 frets, and twin pickups. The tuning machines on the new models are made of metal, while the vintage guitars had plastic buttons topping the Kluson open tuners.

The headstock is the same pointy shape of the vintage model, and the Fender logo is painted on the headstock, but the “Swinger” logo is a decal. This was the same method used on the vintage Swinger guitar.

2019 Fender Swinger

The bridge on the new Swinger is very similar to the vintage model, which used left over bridges from Musicmaster, and Duo-Sonic guitars.

The reissue was headed up by Japanese guitarist Yoshio Nomura, who chose five colors for the new model: Black, Burgundy Mist Metallic, Dakota Red, Olympic White and Sonic Blue.

2019 Limited Edition Swinger
Most of the run of the Swinger will be the two pickup models, but there is also a limited edition single pickup model that resembles the vintage model. There will not be many of these Swingers made, and it looks like they’ll only be available for the Japanese market.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only) 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Vinnie Bell - One of the Most Heard Guitarists and Innovators You Have Never Heard Of

Vinnie Bell in the studio
Vinnie Bell, one of the most heard guitarists that you probably never heard of, passed away on October 3rd of this year at age 87. His death was the result of Alzheimer's disease.  He had suffered with that insidious condition for the past five years,

Vinnie at age 15
Vincent Gambella was born in July of 1932. In his early teen years he took up playing guitar. He was fortunate to have teachers were that were two of the best players on the New York City music scene; Carmen Mastren and Tony Mottola. By the early 1950’s Gambella began playing in the city’s clubs.

Vinnie was said to be a member of a group called The Ramrods, who had a hit recording of Ghost Riders In The Sky. In 1961 this recording charted at number 10 on the UK charts and number 40 on the US Billboard chart.

He was also a member of a band called The Gallahads, and another group called The Three Suns, when he replaced the original guitarist.

Vinnie Bell with durmmer Hal Blaine
By 1962, Gambella, who had adopted the pseudonym Vinnie Bell, decided that session work was a better choice, and began a career as a studio musician. And he chose wisely. Bell became one of the first call musicians, and his guitar work can be heard on thousands of hit songs. And it was not just the guitar that he used on those recording, but other instruments, some of which Bell had invented.

Ampeg Gemini II amp with key
  Manhattan Guitar Club

Vinnie Bell was a member of The Manhattan Guitar Club. This was an organization of over 50 studio top studio musicians that paid a fee to use an amplifier that could only be turned on with a key which was kept at the studios exclusively for the members.

The Ampeg Amplifier Company contracted with New York City studios to place their amplifiers in each studio for the benefit of the membership. The NYC Musician’s Union required it’s members to pay a cartage company to haul their equipment to studios and gigs. Maintaining an amp at the studio was a way for the guitar and electric bass players to get around paying someone to haul some of their equipment.

Vinnie Bells' effects unit

Throughout his career Vinnie invented many of his own effects, such as a device to get the “watery” guitar sound that is heard on the theme to “Midnight Cowboy” on Ferrante and Teicher's version. He created this by linking multiple Danelectro reverb units together.

Vinnie Bells LP featuring his effects
Though the wah-wah pedal invention is attributed to a Thomas Organ engineer named Bradley Plunkett in 1966, Vinnie Bell had already created a wah-wah device in the 1950’s and had already used it on recordings of “Jersey Bounce” by The Spacemen, and “Smoke Rings” by The Overtones. Bell’s watery guitar effect can be heard on the 1959 recording "Barracuda" by The Gallahads.

Vinnie Bell
Bell’s guitar work can be heard on Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By”, and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”. Bell is also heard playing an instrument that he invented called The Bellzouki on many albums, including songs from the score of the Jane Fonda movie Barbarella.

Bell played a bass guitar solo that was fed through his pedal board tremolo for the music to the television series, “Twin Peaks”. That is his electric guitar you hear on Simon and Garfunkle's "Sounds of Silence".

Vinnie Bell with friends
He played guitar on recordings for artists as diverse such as The Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Herman’s Hermits, Bing Crosby, The Cowsills, Perry Como, The Drifters, Bob Dylan, The Shangri-Las, Rupert Holmes, Jean-Jacques Perrey, and Quincy Jones. He also did film work, playing guitar on "The Godfather", "The Devil In Miss Jones", and "The Muppet's Christmas Carol".

Vinnie backing up Perry Como

Any fans of The Family Guy, will know the theme song. Vinnie Bell played guitar for that session.

Bob Crewe recording session
with The Four Seasons

In his own words, Vinnie was recording the song, "Big Girls Don't Cry" for The Four Seasons when Bob Crewe, the producer, said they needed more of a beat. He asked the session musicians to drop their pants, slap their thighs, and stomp their feet in time to the music. He did it and it is one of the best selling songs ever.

When recording with Frank Zappa, he was the only musician in the room wearing a shirt. Zappa asked him to take off his shirt, which he did.

8 Year old Edward Bell showing up
 at a recording  session
 to sub for his father 
Vinnie Bell must have been a character. He was running late to a session, and had his family in his car. When he arrived 15 minutes late, he sent his eight year old son, holding his guitar, into the room, and the boy said, "I'm sorry, Dad couldn't make it. He sent me to take his place". The room burst into laughter.That session was for "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis.  It also was a hit song. By the way, Charlie Calello's arrangement is awesome.

Vinnie Bell in Frank Sinatra's band
 Carnegie Hal

Here is a link to some of the hit recordings that Bell's guitar is heard. Here is another one for the hundreds of jingles that featured his guitar work. If you lived in the 1960's and '70's, then you could not turn the radio on without hearing Vinnie Bell's guitar.

Vinnie Bell was a first call session player in both New York City Studios and Los Angeles studios.

Nathan Daniel with early Danelectro Guitar
During his early career he had struck up a friendship with Nate Daniel, who not only owned The Danelectro Company, but was the creator of their very unique electric guitars, and affordable amplifiers, which were mostly sold through department store catalogs. Bell met Nathan Daniel at the Chicago NAMM show in 1958.

After that Vinnie was a regular visitor to the Danelectro factory in Neptune, New Jersey. Conversely Daniels, and his family were frequent guests to the Gambella home where they feasted on homemade Italian dinners.

Their very first collaboration was in 1953 on an electric organ that reproduced true tones of many instruments in analog fashion. This foreshadowed the development of synthesizers by many years. It was never put into production.

Bell had some ideas and Daniel was the go to guy to build them. In 1961 the men collaborated on a 12 string electric guitar called The Bellzouki. The body was a tear drop shaped flat piece of wood, similar to the shape of a Greek Bouzouki. Unlike the Bouzouki which has either six string paired in three courses, or eight strings paired into four courses. It has a long neck with 27 frets, and is tuned to low D high D-AA-DD or low C high C-FF-AA-DD.

Vinnie Bell with his Bellzouki
Bell's instrument, was one of the first electric 12 string guitars, and based on the access to to the higher strings, a guitar player could produce a reasonable imitation of a a Bouzouki without having to learn to play a new instrument.

The body was topped with one of Nat Daniel’s unique “lipstick tube” single coil pickups, and had controls for volume and tone. It also had a typical Danelectro style bridge-tailpiece. The neck was topped with a metal nut and a V-shaped headstock.

Bell used this instrument on many recordings, including his self title LP called "The Best of Vinnie Bell". Danelectro further developed three versions of The Bellzouki.

Three versions of The Bellzouki

Throughout the years, there were three versions of the Bellzouki.

When George Harrison first featured a sitar on “Norwegian Wood”, Vinnie Bell loved the sound, and turned to Daniels and Danelectro to produce the electric sitar. This instrument came out in several versions. The original model was produced under Danelectro’s “Coral” brand, and it included a six string electric guitar neck, and instead of a guitar bridge, there was a large block of plastic material that had a metal track at its distal end for the six guitar strings.

Coral Electric Sitar
The upturned plastic block caused those strings to buzz. One the upper bout the instrument had 13 drone strings, which were tuned with a piano wrench. All the strings were attached to the guitars base. There was one lipstick pickup under the drone strings, and two similar pickups under the guitar strings.

Vinnie Bell used this instrument on the Lemon Pipers song “Green Tambourine”. Coral/Danelectro produced a version called The Baby Sitar, that was in a different shape, had only one pickup, and did not have the drone strings. The Coral electric sitar can be heard on many other songs, including the B.J. Thomas hit, "Hooked On A Feeling", Freda Payne's "Band of Gold", Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love", and The Stylistics hit song, "You Make Me Feel Brand New".  Vinnie also was featured on his own album simply called "Electric Sitar".

Vinnie Bell created several other instruments for Danelectro/Coral. One of these was an affordable electric guitar called The Coral Hornet. I think the reason for the Coral name is that the instrument bodies for Coral products were manufactured in Japan.

Coral Hornet
The Coral Hornet had a similar body shape to Fender’s Jazzmaster/Jaguar, although it was thinner. The metal control panel consisted of a volume control for each pickup and a master volume control. There are four switches that control equalization for hi’s, low’s, and mid-range tones. The guitar came in several variations, with either two or three pickups, which were mounted on a stylized  Plexiglas plate. The Hornet came with a Danelectro style stop tailpiece with a wooded bridge, or a tremolo unit. I am told this guitar was offered as a twelve string version called The Scorpion.

1967 Coral Firefly
Vinnie Bell also created the Danelectro/Coral Firefly guitar. This was a hollow body instrument, with a shape somewhat like Gibson’s ES-335. but slightly different. Once again the body was made in Japan, and assembled at the Danelectro facility in Neptune, New Jersey where the neck, twin lipstick pickups, and electronics were manufactured. Unlike the 335, this guitar had a six on a side headstock. The strings were attached to a trapeze tailpiece which had a Coral logo. The non-adjustable bridge was a piece of metal.

Vinnie Bell on Wedding Day

I am told that Vinnie was a great guy, and fun to be with if you were his friend. And he was a terrific guitar player. He loved to entertain at his New Jersey home.  He will be missed.