Sunday, February 24, 2019

Peter Tork - His Life and His Instruments

Peter Tork (Thorkelson)

OK I admit it. When I was around 13 years old, The Monkees television show was a very popular for folks around my age.  Every week I watched the show, and I even went to The Monkees concerts.

The Monkees 
The premise of the show was loosely based on the Beatles movie, A Hard Days Night, in which a band of popular musicians experience silly daily exploits. The show featured the four Monkees living together in a beach house somewhere in Sourthern California. Unlike real band members, the four Monkees were always joyful, held no antonymous, and did not want to kill each other.

You knew it was fiction.

The Monkees in concert 1967
Not too long after the show aired, the group went on tour. I went to two different concerts with a friend to see them perform. You could not hear much of the music since all the teen girls there were screaming at the top of their lungs. However I do recall the stage being set up with two large Vox cabinets at either side.

The Monkees theme song came on over the PA system. Girls stood on their feet and screeched, and suddenly those large Vox cabinets opened up, and two Monkees emerged from each one.

The Monkees Concert Winnipeg 1967
Mike Nesmith played a Gretsch 12 string electric guitar, and Peter Tork played a Gretsch bass guitar. I was told years later, by some musicians in the know, that most of the music originated on a tape recorder behind the stage. But I could tell Nesmith and Tork were playing their instruments along with it.

Peter on Vox Continental organ 1967
Tork also played the Vox organ on I'm A Believer during the concert. The amplifiers were made by Vox USA.

Peter Tork passed away on February 21st of this year after a 10 year battle with cancer. He started his musical career in Greenwich Village in New York City.

His given name was Peter Thorkelson.

Peter Thorkelson

Peter began studying piano when he was nine years old, and soon learned to play banjo, acoustic bass, and guitar.

Peter Tork at The Pad
 in Greenwich Village circa 1963

In the early 1960’s he moved to New York City, and befriended some up and coming musicians on the folk music scene including Stephen Stills.  Tork played banjo in Greenwich Village folk clubs during that era.

Stephen Still, Peter Tork,
Davy Jones,& engineer Hank Cicalo

In 1966, Stills auditioned for a new television series, but was turned down for the job. He suggested that Tork should audition for the job, since they were looking for a young, blonde, Nordic looking actor. Peter Tork got the job.

Tork took on the part of a lovable dummy, on the television show. He had honed that image as part of his folk act. He was anything but a dummy.

Don Kirschner
The head of the music department for Screen Gems was Don Kirschner. Kirschner was all about the money and knew his way around the music business. After all he owned his own publishing songwriting company, Aldon Music, in New Yorks Brill building, and managed songwriting talent such as Neil Diamon, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, among others. Kirchner also owned three record labels.

The Monkees and Don Kirschner
Kirschner was hired by the producers of the Monkees to provide the music for the show. And many of the song became hit records. Studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew played the instrumental parts.

The Monkees sang their parts. But there were some exceptions.

The Monkees in the studio
Peter Tork, who was a pretty good guitar player, played third chair guitar on the Mike Nesmith song Papa Gene’s Blues.

Tork, and his friend Joey Richards wrote the closing theme song for the TV show. It was called “For Pete’s Sake.”  It is also said that he played the piano on Day Dream Believer.

The Monkees

For the show Tork played bass guitar in the Monkees’ band. Sometimes he was featured playing a Vox Continental organ.

I will not go into detail, but eventually the actors, who in fact were pretty good musicians, and songwriters, got into difference of opinion with Don Kirchner, and wanted to write, produce, and record their own songs.

Tork was very interested in the recording process. The band produced six albums, four of which were number 1 on the Billboard chart. But like most bands, creative differences, and tensions escalated. Tork was dissatisfied with his situation, and bought out the remaining four years of his contract, then quit the group.

George Harrison and Peter Tork

In 1967 Peter took a trip to London, and contributed a banjo part to George Harrision’s soundtrack for his film Wonderwall.

Peter Tork's band Release

Tork formed a band with some friends called Peter Tork And/Or Release, and recorded some music, but did not get much reception. They disbanded when he ran out of money.

He worked on some other projects with his friends including Mickey Dolenz, and founded a music and film company. And during this period, Peter Tork became a father.

Sadly in 1972 he was arrested for possession of hashish, and spent three months in prison.

Mr. Thorkelson teaching
at Pacific Hills School
He later moved to Fairfax in Marin County, California and joined the 35-voice Fairfax Street Choir and played guitar for a shuffle blues band called Osceola.

Peter Tork returned to Southern California where he married and had a son, then took a job teaching at Pacific Hills School in Santa Monica. He spent a total of three years as a teacher of music, social studies, math, French and history, and coached baseball at a number of schools.

There were more than a few Monkee reunions. The first was at Disneyland in 1976.

In 1980 he recorded a six song demo for Sire Records. Unfortunately it did not get a very good reception.

Peter and Davy on the Australian tour

In 1985 Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz were touring in Australia, and the following year asked Tork to join them for a 20th anniversary greatest hits release. The group toured for a few years, sometimes with Mike Nesmith.

It was in 2009 that Peter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and underwent surgery, and radiation.

The Monkees 2011 tour 

By 2011 they got together for concerts in England, and the United States. Through the years Tork acted in some films and television programs.

Peter Tork's ODE banjo - 1967

Peter Tork’s long neck banjo, that he played during his folk years, on recording, and occasion on the Monkee’s TV series was made by the defunct ODE Banjo Company. It was possibly a 1961 model and had a figure eight style peg head.

Tork with ODE banjo 1986

The ODE company was eventually purchased by the Baldwin Piano company, and it is rumored the company made the only Baldwin long neck banjo prototype and gave it to Peter Tork.

Interestingly, the Baldwin Piano Company also purchased the Gretsch Guitar Company in 1967.

1966 Gretsch Monkee Model 6123
There was a deal with Baldwin, and Screen Gems to feature Gretsch instrument on The Monkees show. Baldwin went on to make a Monkees six string model 6123,.

Gretsch Model 6076 12 atring

Michael Nesmith ususally played his signature 12 string model model 6076. The deal was inked before Baldwin acquired Gretsch.

Tork with Gretsch
6073 bass

On the TV show and in concert, Peter Tork played a burgundy Gretsch electric bass, model 6073. This bass guitar featured two pickups, and a 4 on-a-side headstock. It is said, that bass was prone to feed back, despite the fact it had faux “f” holes.

Tork with 1966 Guild Jetstar bass

For concerts in the latter part of 1967 Peter later switched to a 1966 Guild Jetstar Bass Guitar, This instrument had one pickup, and a four-in-line headstock.

Peter Tork Strat - Shoe Suede Blues

Most recently, during the Monkee reunion concerts, Peter  is seen playing a red Fender Stratocaster with EMG pickups, and a Floyd Rose tremolo system. He also played this same guitar with his last band  Shoe Suede Blues. There is no logo on the guitar.

Dolenz and Tork in concert

He played a few other Fender Stratocasters at reunion concerts. The red one seemed to be his favourite.

Peter Tork with his guitars

Throughout his career, Peter Tork played a number of different instruments, including a Fender bass, a sunburst Guild acoustic, a 12 string of unknown origin, and a Taylor mini.

Peter play a Carvin Guitar

I did find a couple of other pictures of Tork playing what appears to be a Carvin Guitar. This was from a television appearance on the (org) Rosie O'Donnell Show back in 1996.

This picture is from a 1986 Monkees concert. Peter is playing a Guild Songbird, electric acoustic guitar.

The Monkees

Despite being labeled "The Pre-Fab Four", the Monkees gave us some very memorable songs, and entertained us when we were young, and into our senior years

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gibson Double Neck Gutiars

Jimmy Page with Gibson EDS-1275

Whenever I think of Gibson double neck guitars, the first thing that comes to mind is Jimmy Page's EDS-1275, which had a six and a twelve string neck.

17th Century
multi neck guitar

However, multi neck guitars have been in existence since the 17th century.

1937 Gibson ESH-150
In fact Gibson guitars started making double neck electric guitars with a “Spanish” style neck as early as 1937. This was their ESH-150 double neck, and it had a six string Spanish style neck on top, nearest the performer, and an eight string lap steel, on the lower neck.

1937 Gibson ESH-150
Both necks came with one “Charlie Christian” pickup for each neck. Gibson had developed an electromagnetic pickup in 1935 (the now-famous "bar pickup", named for its shape), which was initially factory-installed only on lap steel guitar (EH) models, then offered as an accessory and finally installed on acoustic guitars (the L-00 and L-1 models).

Charlie Christian did not begin using his Gibson ES-150 with the "Charlie Christian" pickup until 1939.

Junior Brown and his Guit-Steel
This guitar is reminiscent of Junior Brown’s Guit-Steel made by luthier Michael Stevens. (Brown’s original Guit-Steel utilized a Fender neck from a 1981 Fender Bullet guitar.)  I wonder if Brown got the inspiration from the Gibson ESH-150?

Gibson did not make any further multi-neck electric instruments until 1957. These included the Gibson EMS-1235, the EDS-1275, and the EBS-1250.  All of the semi-hollow models were were produced until 1963.  Later models featured solid bodies.

1959 Gibson
EMS-1275 Mandolin

The EMS model had an eight string mandolin neck on the upper section, and a six string guitar neck on the lower section. To accommodate the differing scales the upper cutaway was remarkably shorter than the lower cutaway. This instrument came with one PAF humbucker for the mandolin, and two for the guitar.

1959 Gibson EMS-1275 Octave
Another variant on the EMS-1275 was pairing it with an octave neck, which featured a short neck with six strings on the top that was tuned an octave above the lower neck, which was on the instruments lower side. This was most likely the most popular version of this instrument.

Perhaps the most unusual, and rare variant was a tenor with a banjo neck.

An even rarer find is the EMS-1235 with a 12 string mandolin neck.

All of the EMS-1235 instruments had double cutaway bodies with Florentine cutaways on each side. The bound maple bodies, bound on both sides, were arched, and of course the necks were set-in. The fret boards were bound. The guitars came with dual  PAF humbucking pickups for the guitar neck, and generally a single humbucking pickup for the mandolin/banjo neck. Occasionally of few of these guitars have surfaced with P-90 pickups.

1959 EMS-1275
with Bigsby

These guitars came with or without a Bigsby vibrato unit on the lower six string guitar section.The bodies of the guitars were semi-hollow, but did not feature any “F” holes.

Semie Mosley with
1954 Mosrite triple neck

I have to give Semie Moseley a nod for being Gibson’s inspiration. Moseley was making double and even triple neck guitars as early as 1954.

Joe Maphis with his Mosrite guitar

This was about the time he presented Joe Maphis with his first Mosrite double neck, which featured an octave neck, and a regular guitar neck. He also made another for Larry Collins.

1959 EDS-1275
The Gibson EDS-1275 was also created in 1957, and offered in the catalog in 1958. This instrument featured a twelve string neck on the upper section, and a six string neck on the lower section. Each section came with two humbucking pickups.

Generally both necks featured a stop tailpiece. This was a semi-hollow electric guitar, which made it lighter, weighing around 10.5 pounds.

If you look at the body shape of these instruments, you can tell where the idea for the SG shape originated. In fact the SG style was introduced by Gibson in 1962.

Jimmy Page's Gibson EDS-1275

The 1962-63 EMS-1235, and the EDS-1275 were now solid body guitars. The most recognizable is the EDS-1275 that was used by a number of artists, most notably Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin.

1971 EMS-1235

Both the solid EMS-1235, and the EDS-1275 were available with Sunburst, Cherry, Black, White, Pelham Blue, Walnut, or Natural finishes.

The headstock came with a Black veneer with several differing logos, from flower pot, to none at all.

Unusual EMS-1235
Mandolin and Tenor Guitar

The EDS-1275 and the EMS-1235 available until 1969, but due to the popularity from Page and others, they were offered again in 1971.

1964 EBS-1250

In 1964 Gibson introduced the EBS-1250, and the EBSF-1250 double neck guitars. These were solid body bass/guitar double neck instruments. There is at least one EBS-1250 made in 1961.

Gibson had featured an earlier model, that had an unusual shape. However the 1966 models featured the SG shape.

1965 EBS-1250 with a
six string bass. Owned by Elvis

The upper bass neck featured only one pickup, which was the same one found on Gibson’s EB-3 bass guitar.

1964 Custom EBS-1250
 by Gibson designer Jim Ramage

The lower section was the six string guitar with twin humbucking pickups, and a Bigsby vibrato unit.

Gibson EBSF-1250

The only difference between the EBS, and the EBSF was the addition of a built-in Gibson fuzztone unit. Gibson had introduced this feature into some of their EB-3 bass gutars as early has 1966. These double neck instruments were offered through 1970.

These instruments are quite rare, since only around 30 instruments were produced.

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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Gibson Melody Maker

Berz "Billy" Wagner and I went to the same High School and Middle School.. Billy was a year older then me, and he had a band called The Erector Set, which was named after a popular toy of the day that contained many small dangerous parts.

This educational toy did seem to bother manufacturers or parents in the 1960's, nearly as much as it would in today litigious society.

Billy’s band played at many of the high school and church dances. Their repertoire  consisted of covers of Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack, and The Ventures songs that were popular at the time.

The first time I saw Billy he was playing a 1963 Gibson Melody Maker. This was about the same time I was learning my first few chords on my pawnshop Harmony Patrician. That Melody Maker was about the coolest guitar I had ever seen. His instrument was the dark sunburst double cutaway model with two single coil pickups.

I cannot recall what type of amplifier he was using. Back in that day a lot of kids were using Sears/Danelectro Twin Twelve amplifiers. Billy had all of Chuck and Lonnie’s licks down pat. I was impressed and envious. I had to practice more, and that is what  I did.

The Gibson Melody Maker debut was in 1959 and Gibson ended the run in 1971. The Melody Maker was an economical, beginner’s instrument which came with a thin slab-style mahogany body and a one-piece mahogany neck.

Gibson assembled all the electronics on the guitars black scratchplate, which they installed over a rout in the top of the body. This included the one or two single coil pickup, depending on the model, the volume and tone controls, the toggle, and the input jack.

As stated, this guitar came with either one or two pickup models. The words “Melody Maker” embossed in gold letters in a section of the scratchplate that was at the base of the neck The glued in neck was unbound. The fretboard was rosewood with dot markers. The headstock was very slim and not much wider than the neck. The strings attached to a Gibson wrap-a-round bridge/tailpiece. The Melody Maker was also available with a bridge/vibrola unit.

From 1959 until 1961, the Melody Maker had a single cutaway, making the body similar to a Les Paul Junior, however, the Melody Maker’s body was much thinner.

The scale of the Melody Maker was 24.75 inches, which was the Gibson standard, although Gibson offered the guitar in a ¾ version with an 18.56-inch short scale. To accomplish this, the neck joined the body at the 12th fret and the bridge was moved farther down the body. Remember the Melody Maker was to be a beginning instrument that a child could play.

'61 Gibson Melody Maker
It was sometime in 1961 that Gibson redesigned the Melody Maker to a double cutaway instrument, discontinuing the single cutaway model. In 1965, Gibson made a slight modification to the horns that made them more pointy.

Sometime in 1962 Gibson discontinued all of the traditional Les Paul guitars. These were replaced by a guitar with twin pointy horns and a narrow body.

Originally, this new style guitar was marketed under the Les Paul name, however Gibson’s relationship with Paul ended and the guitar was given the model more familiar designation, SG.

Perhaps to attract young guitarists to this style of guitar, in 1966 Gibson again redesigned the Melody Maker with the SG style of body. The scratchplate colour changed to white. So were the pickup covers. Gone was the logo on the scratchplate announcing this was a Melody Maker.

In 1967, Gibson offered the Melody Maker/SG with one, two, or three pickups (known as the model III.) Additional offerings included the ¾-size model and a twelve-string version (designated the Melody Maker 12.) The twin pickup version was the Melody Maker D, for double pickup.

The older model Melody Makers were only produced in dark sunburst finishes. In 1963, the standard finish was cherry. This changed in 1966 when Gibson implemented the SG design. Now the guitar was available in fire engine red or Pelham blue.

Nineteen-sixty-seven brought about new choices and the guitar could feature sparkling burgundy, walnut, or Inverness green. Gibson ended the Melody Makers run in 1971 when it implemented some budget models of the SG guitar. But the Melody Maker story does not end here.

The Melody Maker double-cutaway was revived in 1977 and manufactured until 1983. Unlike the original, this version came with all metal tuners, a Gibson stop tailpiece and a Tune-O-Matic bridge. The pickup cover was updated with the word Gibson embedded in the plastic.

In 1986 the single cutaway Melody Maker was once again in the Gibson line up with a single humbucking pickup in the bridge position and the same parts that were featured on the 1977 version.

In 2003, Gibson issued the Les Paul Melody Maker. Instead of a mahogany body, this single cutaway instrument featured a body of Jacareuba wood. The neck for this guitar was made of solid cedar and came with a rosewood fretboard.

The guitar came with a P90 pickup in the bridge position. It was very similar to the Les Paul Jr., but for the Melody Maker headstock, white plastic button tuning keys and top mounted jack. The neck was slightly slimmer than the Les Paul Jr. Only 250 of these guitars were manufactured.

2007 Gibson Melody Maker
In 2007, Gibson once again brought the Melody Maker back for sale as a single cutaway version. This guitar came with one or two single coil pickups and made to be true to the original version.

'07 Gibson Melody Maker 2 pickups
By this time, genuine Gibson guitars were getting quite expensive and the Melody Maker was an economical way to own a Gibson as the retail price was $490. Within a year, Gibson discontinued manufacturing the two pickup versions.

At the time the one pickup version was offered at the same price.

Jonas Brothers

However if you really wanted a two pickup Melody Maker, Gibson offered The Jonas Brothers Melody Maker, if you can find one. This guitar came with twin P90 pickups, with pickups and controls mounted on the scratchplate and a traditional Gibson headstock, instead of the narrow version. A large “JB” crest is prominently featured on the guitars white body and the boy’s signatures are embossed on the scratchplate. The tuners are similar to Klusons. This guitar is no longer in production. It originally sold for a mere $700.

Joan Jett Melody Maker

In 2008, Gibson offered the Joan Jett model Melody Maker. The body for this instrument was based on the guitar that Joan purchased in 1977. Her original guitar was manufactured in 1965 when Gibson made a slight variation on the body to give the Melody Maker pointier horns.

Joan has extensive modifications done to her personal Melody Maker. Gibson offered this instrument for sale at $920. It comes with one Velvet Hammer humbucking pickup in the bridge position. The fretboard comes with red dot markers and two hearts inlaid on the twelfth fret. The neck is modified to be slimmer than a traditional Melody Maker. The tuners are Grover mini style.

This one pickup guitar came with a “kill switch” that is designed to turn the pickup off. The bridge features is a Tune-O-Matic saddle and stop tailpiece instead of the original wrap-around style found on traditional Melody Makers. The scratchplate is larger than the one on a traditional Melody Maker. It was available in a white finish, but that was later made available only with a black satin finish.

2011 Gibson Melody Maker collection
In 2011 Gibson offered four new lversions of the Melody Maker in limited quantities; The Flying Vee Melody Maker, the Explorer Melody Maker, the SG Melody Maker, and the Les Paul Melody Maker. All featured a single humbucker and a single volume knob, which was all mounted on the instruments scratchplate. These guitars were available in blue, satin white, or ebony, and sold for around $829.00 USD.

2011 Melody
Maker Special

That same year Gibson also produced a limited edition of the two pickup Melody Maker Special. This guitar came with two P-90's, and was available in satin TV yellow, cherry, blue, or black finishes. This guitar featured a standard Les Paul style headstock, and a wrap-around bridge.

2014 Les Paul
Melody Maker
The last Melody Maker update occurred in 2014 when Gibson came out with the Les Paul Melody Maker. This guitar featured a slightly thinner body than the Les Paul Lite. The guitar's top was carved. The neck was made of Maple, and had a larger '50's rounded profile. The headstock of this instrument was full sized, and the truss rod cover had Melody Maker imprinted on it. The twin P-90 pickups on this guitar were similar to those found on a Gibson ES-125. They had alnico style slugs in them, as opposed to the bar magnets used on most Gibson guitars. A 120th anniversary logo is inlaid on the neck as the 12th fret marker.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)