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Updated: 3 hours 27 min ago

Norma Guitars

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 19:25
Norma Guitars
In the mid 1960’s, a wholesale musical instrument distribution company existed known as Strum and Drum. They were based in Chicago, Illinois and imported guitars from all over the world and sometimes re-branded them for sale to United States music stores, or anyone who owned a business and wanted to sell guitars.

Don E. Noble & Company
In the 1950's company called Don Noble and Co, was founded in the 1950’s by Don Noble, a well-known accordion player and entrepreneur.  He began by importing Italian made musical instruments, mainly accordions, in an era when the "stomach Steinway" was very popular and accordions were being sold door-to-door, and accordion academies were common in most larger cities. But he also imported guitars under the Noble brand name.

Somehow Noble became involved with business man Norman Sackheim.  Eventually the name became Strum and Drum.

Italian made mid-1960's Nobel Guitar

Between Nobel, and Sackheim they imported quite a line-up that included Italiian guitars from EKO, Avanti, Wandre, and Goya.  In 1969 Strum and Drum purchased the National Guitar brand name.

Norma  EG-470
However from 1965 until 1969, you could find guitars with lots of pickups and switches under the brand name Norma, which was the feminized version of Mr. Sackheim’s name. He made certain the name adorned the headstocks of thousands of inexpensive guitars back In a time when everyone wanted to be the next big rock star.

The logo was a stylized music staff, with the name Norma entered with the "N" as artistically designed 8th note. On some "high-end" models, the fret maker inlays were done in the letter "N".

1966 Norma Guitars
The manufacturing origin of these guitars is somewhat of a mystery, but for the most part they seem to have been manufactured at a plant called Tombo. We are for certain most of the fancier versions had their origin there.

1966 Tombo Guitar

As an aside “Tombo” is the Japanese word for Dragonfly The company is still active, but no longer manufacturers guitars. They now specialize in harmonicas under the Lee Oskar brand name. Some of the Norma guitars may have been manufactured by Teisco.

1969 Norma electric
  very similar to a Goya Rangemaster

The necks on these guitars were rather thick, possibly due to not have an adjustable truss rod. The single coil pickups are basic, and some guitars had as many as four pickups.

1966 Norma Bass Guitars

Then there are switches and knobs; lots of them. Most of these guitars and bass guitars were sold with a chipboard case, and retailed well below $100.

Mid 1960's Norma Catalog

Unfortunately after purchasing National Guitar, Norman Sackheim was killed in a plane crash while on a trip to Moscow. I know the company existed at lease until 1972.

'68 Norma 12

By far my favorite Norma electric guitar was their 12 string. The body was based on an exaggerated version of a Fender Stratocaster.

Head stock of 12 string

The headstock was an exaggerated version of a Rickenbacker 12 string.

1968 EG421-4

This guitar also came in a six string version with four pickups, lots of switches, and knobs.

Categories: General Interest

Stella Guitars

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 10:06
The Oscar Schmidt Factory
 Jersey City, NJ

Stella was the model name given to a series of guitars manufactured by The Oscar Schmidt Company of Jersey City, New Jersey. This company was established sometime between 1871, and incorporated in 1911.

Vintage Stella paper label

The Oscar Schmidt Company not only made some nice guitars, but manufactured a variety of stringed musical instruments, such as lap harps, autoharps, chord zithers, and something called a ukelin (which is a bowed psaltery made in the shape of a violin).

While other instrument manufacturing companies would create instruments to be sold through department stores, or catalogs, usually under the store’s brand name, the Oscar Schmidt Company’s strategy was door-to-door marketing.

A pair of top-of-the-line
Stella guitars with Tree of Life inlay
Each year the company would offer a special edition of an instrument, which was sometimes linked to a current newsworthy event, Salesmen kept detailed records of the customers buying habits, with the intent of reaching out to this customer in the future. Most of the instruments produced by the company were durable, easy to play, and to learn on for beginners.

Family music time in the parlor
circa 1920's

During this era the only form of entertainment for families was outings, playing games such as cards, or playing music. Playing music in the family room/parlor, was how the term “parlor guitar” was coined.

1920's Stella               1925 Soveriegn                  1925 La Scala 
The company created the Stella brand in 1899 as low cost and mid level guitars. At the time the company had two other brands; La Scala, and Sovereign, with Sovereign being their top-of-the-line. Stella guitars were made in various configurations, from parlor-sized, grand concert, even jumbo sized.

1920's Stella

To keep the manufacturing cost down, many Stella guitars were made of solid birch. The nicer models were made of mahogany or German spruce. Despite the low cost, the wood was solid. Some of the tops featured unique decal designs. I've even run across those with decals applied to the fretboard. Stella guitars generally used ladder bracing.

1920's Stella

Most Stella guitars did not last throughout the years, as the interior finishing was rather crude, and quickly completed. The bridges were made of rosewood, and on some instruments the strings attached to a trapeze tailpiece.

1935 Stella Westbrook

The fretboard was usually made of birch or maple and it was stained black. Unfortunately this stain caused some of the boards to eventually rot.

Leadbelly with his Stella 12 string
He tuned it down to B

With all that said, Stella guitars sounded great, and came with an affordable price; only $15 for a new guitar. This made the Stella an attractive guitar for Blues players of the day.

Stella 12 string

Leadbelly’s 12 string Stella (he called his guitar Stella, in the same way B.B. King called his guitar Lucille) provided a loud booming sound that could be heard In the Juke Joints or in the house parties during the days when amplification was not available, or deemed necessary. He tuned it down to B.

1920 Stella Regal

The Oscar Schmidt Company flourished for many years. At one point they even had five manufacturing facilities within the United States. Unfortunately the company did not last through the Great Depression of 1929. In 1930 the company’s assets were sold to the Harmony Company of Chicago, although Oscar Schmidt continued to manufacture and market autoharps.

Harmony made Stella H6130

Most guitar aficionados  will be more familiar with the inexpensive  Stella guitars manufactured by Harmony, than those made by Oscar Schmidt. Many of these were made by Harmony using solid birch wood for the bodies, that was painted to appear to have faux flame. The tops were usually had a two tone sunburst.

1965 Stella
Steel Reinforced Neck

The necks were made of poplar. The headstocks proudly announced "Steel Reinforced Neck", although it was not adjustable. The position markers were painted on the fret boar. The machine heads were inexpensive, 3 on a plate, open gear style tuners.

A typical mid 1960's Stella guitar
 model H929

Most models had a stamped metal trapeze tailpiece. If there was a fixed tailpiece, it was screwed into the body.

Stella-type guitar
 under the Winston brand
In later years manufacturing of some Stella-type guitars were built in Japan. These were beginner or student grade budget guitars. A four string tenor model was also available. These guitars usually retailed for a mere $20.00 USD and were made by either Teisco, or Kawai in the mid-1960's. Essentially they were copying (although they refer to it as 'making a reproduction') of an already inexpensive USA made guitar. They were sold under the Winston brand name, and they were actually "badged" guitars, made for an import firm.

Waterloo WL-14

A few years ago, before his passing, luthier Bill Collings, of Collings guitars launched a new venture. He wanted to recreate guitars made in the 1920's, that had "that" sound you would find on a guitar much like an Oscar Schmidt made Stella guitar and other brands of the era. So he founded Waterloo guitars.

Waterloo WL-S Deluxe

Waterloo instruments come in parlor to jumbo sized model guitars that feature ladder braced tops (with an X bracing custom option), necks with a V shape (this was an important feature on older guitars before truss rods were used), tops are spruce, backs, sides and necks are made of mahogany.

Instead of a $15 price for a new 1920 Oscar Schmidt Stella, with a $2.00 cardboard case, a Waterloo guitar with a custom hard-shell case will set you back around $2200.

But they are very nice guitars. 

Currently the Washburn Musical instruments owns the Oscar Schmidt brand name. The company was formerly owned by musical instrument/electronics distributor U.S. Music, but was recently sold to the Canadian firm J.A.M Industries, which also is the wholesale distributor of musical instruments that are made abroad, and electronic musical equipment.

Categories: General Interest

The Original 1954 Fender Stratocaster - A Most Versatile and Unique Guitar

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 06:12
George Fullerton - Leo Fender - Freddie Travares - Bill Carson
In 1954 Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares collectively designed and built one the greatest electric guitar ever made; The Fender Stratocaster.

Don Randall

It was Fender's head of sales, Don Randall came up with the name; Stratocaster.

1950 Fender Broadcaster

Leo Fender had designed and produced the Fender Telecaster four years earlier. This was a “Spanish guitar” adaptation of the lap steel guitars that he and Doc Kauffman had developed as early as 1944.  The original Telecaster/Broadcaster had a similar 3 section adjustable bridge saddle which were similar to some of the units used on Fender/K&F lap steel guitars.

1954 Sratocaster

The Stratocaster was a whole different guitar than the Telecaster. Perhaps the biggest difference is the two offset horns. Besides just looking plain cool, those horns actually gave the guitar some balance, and provided a great position for the strap button, not to mention easy access to the upper register.

1953 Stratocaster Prototype

The original 1953 design for the Stratocaster was quite different than the final product. Some say it looked more like a Telecaster.  You can see it has metal knobs.

1953 Strat Prototype

The earliest prototype I can find is from 1953. It looks like the 1954 model, but has a much smaller route in the back to hold 3 tremolo springs, and the inertia block.

The designers wanted to create a more versatile instrument that had a different sound than the Telecaster. Instead of two pickups, this guitar would have to have three. And those pickups need to be different than the Telecaster pickups. And the body needed to be different.

Note also the center routing. This would later be changed to a slightly narrower channel between the pickups for placement of the wiring.

George Fullerton and Freddie Travares

Freddie Travares was the one that sketched out a new body design.

Rex Gallion with a '54 Stratocaster
Guitarist Rex Gallion is credited with convincing Leo Fender to create a more curved body that did not need to have squared off edges. Gallion asked why does the guitar need to be digging into the players ribs, and why not have a more comfortable position for the players forearm?

1954 Pre-production Stratocaster

These sculptured curves known as the contoured body are perhaps my favourite part of the Stratocaster. In his later years, George Fullerton shows off his pre-production model.

Fullerton's Pre-production Stratocaster

The lower portion of the bout has a definitive bevel that makes for very comfortable arm placement. To do this in 1954, the wood was rift sawn. The blue lines in the photo indicate the saw markings.

1954 Fender Stratocaster

This beveled section of the guitars top section gives the Stratocaster a slight offset, since it effects its symmetrical shape.

1954 Stratocaster Back Side with cover
The center of guitars upper backside has another deep, contoured bevel that keeps the guitar from digging in the players ribs. This was a major improvement over the slab-like body of the Fender Telecaster. Those curves are one of the aspects that makes this guitar incredibly unique.

1954 Fender Stratocaster
Another unique feature of the Stratocaster are the three Fender designed single coil pickups. This provided the guitar with three distinctive sounds, including a biting treble sound for lead work. The neck, and middle pickups both came with a tone control, so the player could roll off the highs to get more of a dark jazz style sound.

1954 Pick Guard and Pickups

The creators of the guitar saw no need for a tone potentiometer for the bridge pickup. I suppose they figured players wanted to maintain the high end sound for lead work. The instrument had only a single volume control for all the pickups.

That volume knob is well placed for guitarists that use it for “swell” sounds, that can imitate a steel guitar or a trumpet.

1954 Strat close-up
It wasn’t too long before players discovered that by placing the three-way pickup selector switch between the neck and center pickup, the guitar would yield a much different sound. With two pickups engaged, there is a slight decline in volume, but the tone is very sweet, and since the pickups are each wound in reverse from each other, this actually puts the guitar in a humbucking mode, and reduces the 60 cycle hum that is generated by just a single pickup.

1954 Strat Pick Guard
The other trick that players discovered was to place the selector switch between the middle, and bridge pickups. This gave the Stratocaster a distinctive “quack” sound. Mark Knopfler, and Rory Gallagher are famous for this tone.

Because the first Stratocasters came with the 3-way switch, some guitarist would jam a piece of a matchstick in the selector to prevent the switch from springing back to the single coil mode. It would not be until 1977 when Fender adopted the 5-way switch as standard equipment.

The plastic switch tip on the '54 model was slightly longer than on models from 1956 and later.

1954 Strat Pick Guard back side

Expediency in manufacturing was a key feature of the Fender pickguard, pickups, and electronics. The first pick guards were made of a single piece of .060" thick ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) vinyl. Some sources say this was made of Bakelite.

The 1954 pickguard, pickup covers, switch tips, and knobs have a tendency to crack over time. The knobs on the 1954 model were slightly shorter.

The electronics, including all three pickups, the three-way switch, the potentiometers, the 250k ohm  capacitors, and all the wiring were  assembled by Fender workers directly on the pick guard. A small sheet of aluminum was placed below the electronics for shielding.

1954 Stratocaster routing
The body was already routed. Workers just needed to screw the pickguard in place, and thread the wires to the input and ground for final assembly. This was accomplished with eight wood screws.

Another feature that set the Stratocaster apart was its floating tremolo.

Fender Stratocaster blue print
Mr. Fender put a lot of effort and money into the Stratocaster vibrato system. Don Randall, who was head of Fender sales, insisted that the new Fender guitar be equipped with a vibrato.

He insisted that this feature was necessary to compete with guitars being manufactured by other companies.

Impression of how a 1953 Strat
may have looked with a roller bridge

The initial tremolo system used a stationary bridge with individual rollers for each string that went to a separate tailpiece. Bill Carson and Leo thought this sounded fine, but George Fullerton disagreed.

He even took the prototype and played it with his band. He said it sounded like an amplified banjo, and lacked sustain. So it was back to the drawing board.

Patent for Guitar
Vibrato Apparatus

The new tremolo unit was actually based on a gram scale that Leo had in his office. The entire bridge assembly moved. much like the plate on the scale. The strings were fed through a solid steel inertia block that attached to the bottom of the bridge plate. This steel block aided with the sustain. And each string had individual adjustable saddles, that could be moved up and down, back and forth to give them the correct height and intonation.

Patent for Guitar
Vibrato Apparatus Fig 2

The bridge unit attached at the front of the body with six screws that were countersunk on each side, thus giving it a knife-like edge, allowing the bridge to rock up and down. The rear of the bridge was not anchored to further allow the up and down movement.

Routing on '54 Strat for vibrato springs
The guitars back side was routed out to contain the vibrato springs, and attachment. Another area was routed straight through the guitars body to make room for the inertia block.

This gap was wide enough to allow the block to move forward and backward. A rectangular piece of ABS was screwed onto the back to cover the assembly.  This was held in place by six wood screws. Six holes that were placed directly under the inertia block acted as slots to thread the strings into the guitar.

Strat with five springs like the originals
Back in 1954 standard electric guitar strings were much heavier than today’s strings. To offset this, the first Stratocasters came with five springs in the rear cavity. Even with that and the bridge plate screws secured firmly in the body, the tremolo plate raised off of the guitars body, so the player could easily move the strings up and down.

Cover plate on
back of a 1954 Strat
Because of today’s lighter strings, a player would have to slightly loose the bridge screws to accomplish this up and down movement. It helps that modern Strats only come with only three springs. Many players even loosen the claw that holds the springs to ease the tension.

Then there are those players that do not use the tremolo at all; sometimes placing a piece of wood between the trem-block and the end of the cavity to prevent movement.

1954 Hard-tail Fender Stratocaster
There is even an add-on device called Trem Stop to accomplish this goal. Those that do not like the Stratocasters tremolo feel its use causes the guitar to go out of tune. Even in 1954 the Stratocaster was available with a "hardtail" option.

That guitar had a stationary bridge, anchored by six screws, with the strings fed through the body  attached to grommets in the back, just like on a Telecaster. Only a handful of these guitars were sold.

Eldon Shamblin with 1954
Stratocaster, custom gold finish

Leo Fender used to give guitars to well known players that came by the Fullerton shop, to try out, and give him feedback on what they did or didn’t like. He did this with the Stratocaster. Many of those players were from Country Western bands in the California area. One result of these encounters was the recessed input jack on the guitars face.

The Stratocaster was the only guitar to be equipped with this feature. Although it was later copied by other manufacturers. The recessed input was meant for the cables with straight plugs.

'54 Strat neck
The neck on the 1954 Fender Stratocaster was made of maple. The original radius was 7.25”, which was the same as the Telecaster of that era. However the Stratocaster neck had more of a V shape, compared to the C shape found on a 1950 Fender telecaster. The original necks came with 21 frets that were embedded into the top surface of the neck. One drawback that I encountered as a young guitarist was the fact that capos did not seem to work well on Stratocasters of that era. The neck on the '54 Strat has sort of a clubby feel. By 1956 the neck was reshaped and more comfortable.

'54 Strat neck

The position markers found on the 1954 Stratocaster were made of dark, baked clay molded into 1/4" dots.  Smaller clay dots were placed on the upper side of the neck.  On the back of the neck you find what came to be known as the "skunk stripe", which was  a strip of walnut wood, glued into the routed area covering that area of the neck where the truss rod was installed.

Bigsby and Strat headstock

The Fender six-on-a-side headstock was probably copied from Paul Bigsby's design. Bigsby and Fender knew each other. The Telecaster prototype had a three-on-a-side headstock design, while the production model did not.

In fact the Stratocaster headstock looked much more like Bigsby's design. Leo's design for the neck and headstock was based on ease of manufacturing. Keep it simple. The headstocks for the necks were cut using a template for the shape. Then another cut on the band saw removed the upper half of the wood on the headstock. A bevel was then created starting at the bridge saddle area.

Straight vs Angled Headstock
Unlike most other guitars (including Bigsby's) that have a headstock that has a downward bend (in Gibson's case this is 17 degrees), Fender headstock are parallel to the rest of the neck. The headstocks are milled down, and flattened. This is the reason that Fender uses string trees. These bits of metal direct the strings to the tuning posts at the proper angle.

On guitars with the angle, the slope of the headstock aids to keep the strings aligned properly from the saddle to the post.

'54 Strat - Kluson keys

The metal tuning keys were made by Kluson and were similar to those found on the Telecaster. The 1954 model had one rounded string tree for the 1st and 2nd string.

Abigail Ybarra
Pickups were usually wound by women that worked in the hat Fender factory. In the early days, a lady named Pilar Lopez, wound many of the pickups. She trained the most famous pickup winder that Fender ever had; Abigail Ybarra.

Stratocasters, or any Fender guitar with Ybarra pickups are special. Other workers that installed the electronics signed their name or initials to indicate their job was done. Commonly on these older Fender Stratocasters you will find the name Mary (Mary Lemus) or Gloria (Gloria Fuentes).

1955 black Strat owned
 by Howard Reed
The earliest Fender Stratocasters from 1954 were usual produced in two colour sunburst. Guitarist Eldon Shamblin, who played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, was presented with a 1954 Stratocaster that was painted gold.

It wasn't until 1956 that Fender produced Stratocaster bodies painted with colours based on Dupont automobile paint. Aside from Shamlin's gold strat, this 1955 black Stratocaster was custom built for Howard Reed, who was the guitarist for Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. The original 1954 Fender Stratocaster used Canary Yellow, and an amber paint called Dark Salem to create the two-tone sunburst finish. It was sprayed with a nitrocellulose lacquer.

1954 Stratocaster body made of ash
1954 Stratocaster bodies were made of lightweight ash wood. In 1956 Fender switched to alder wood, though any Stratocaster made from 1956 onward, that were finished in a natural finish or a light colour were probably made of ash.

Leo with Alvino Rey
Leo was all about promoting his instruments and frequently gave professional players instruments to use in shows, so the public would know that guy is playing a Fender. Such was the case with a couple of players back in 1954.

Dick Dale approached Leo Fender, and in a bold move said, “I’m Dick Dale, I’m a surfer and a guitar player, and I need a decent instrument.” Leo handed him a 1954 Stratocaster and asked him to play something. Mr. Fender had a laugh when Dale flipped it over and played the guitar. Dick was left-handed, but learned to play guitars strung for right handed players.

Dick Dale with gold Stratocaster
Leo Fender later made Dick Dale a left handed Fender Stratocaster, but had the nut cut so the low E was the first string, and the high E was the sixth string.

However the Stratocaster that Dick Dale is most associated with, is nicknamed, The Beast. It was not created until 1960, and was a gift from Leo Fender.

Dale removed the tone potentiometers from his guitars, and put metal caps in their place. He left the 250 ohm volume potentiometer and the 3-way pickup selector switch. Dale also has a mini-toggle switch that turns the middle pickup on.

The other player associated with the 1954 Stratocaster was Country and Western Swing music guitarist, Eldon Shamblin.

Eldon Shamblin, later in life,
with his original 1954 Stratocaster
Shamblin is best known for his work with Bob Wills and the Texas playboys. He is a self taught guitarist that learned by studying the style of Eddie Lang, and Freddie Green. When he joined The Texas Playboys, he was replacing Junior Barnard, and was told by Wills to imitate his style, by playing louder, and imitating Barnard’s string bending style. Shamblin also was able to arrange written music for the band.

Shamlin's guitar and
Bandmaster amp

Leo gave Eldon Shamblin one of the first Fender Stratocasters It is dated 05/04/1954. It is unique because it was the only guitar that year to have a gold finish. Shamblin also used a 1953 Fender Bandmaster with a single 15” speaker when playing with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Throughout the years the Fender Stratocaster has undergone many changes, however the original 1954 model is the archetype model that many other electric guitars are based on, including those designed by many other companies. When the Fender Stratocaster was finally offered for sale, the retail price was $249.99 for the tremolo model, and $229.99 for the hard-tail version.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Mikey, the Poodle, who was a good  yet tiny companion for the past 15 years, and always a very good boy. He left us this week. You are missed, and never forgotten.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only) 2018

The next two videos are from 1957, but demonstrate how Fender manufactured their guitars back in the day. 
There are also some scenes from trade shows.

Categories: General Interest

The Beach Boys and Their Guitars - Surf Music Part Two

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 09:08

The Original Beach Boys
Jan and Dean

The instrumental surf bands were great, however the other part of surf music were the vocal bands. Most of these groups yielded only one hit wonders. Jan and Dean stand out as an exception and had sixteen hit records from 1959 to 1966. Both were singers, and did not play instruments in their concerts.

The Rip Chords

Another surf band of this era was The Rip Chords. They had a hit with "Hey Little Cobra". Ironically Bruce Johnson, who would go on to become one of the Beach Boys, was a member of this group.

The Hondells
The Hondells were a surf group with great vocals and harmonies. They had a big hit with the Brian Wilson/Mike Love penned song; "Little Honda". This band was put together by Beach Boy lyricists Roger Christian and Gary Usher. Usher and Christian penned lyrics for many of the Beach Boys Hot Rod songs.

The Hondells started out in the studio, as a fictitious band. They were later assembled with real perfomers after their version of Little Honda became a national hit. Studio musician Chuck Girard sang the vocals on the recording, and members of the Wrecking Crew provided the instrumental support. Girard later to become a well-known Christian singer-songwriter, and member of the Christian band, Love Song. The Hondells appeared in several of the surf based teen movies of the day.

The Beach Boys 

But by far the most famous vocal surf group was The Beach Boys.  After five decades, their music still has a strong following with concert goers of all ages.

The Wilson brothers grew up in a Hawthorne California bungalow in the 1950’s.

Audree and Murray Wilson

The father of the three Wilson brothers, Murray Wilson
, was injured in an industrial accident and lost an eye. During his long recuperation he began writing music, and came out with a couple of popular songs. This launched his career in the music business.

The Wilson brothers at their home
His oldest son Brian grew up listening to his father playing piano and organ, By the time Brian was 16, he had taught himself to play piano, and taken some music training in high school. It also helped that his middle class family found joy in singing accapella songs together along with their mother, Audree.

Brian also enjoyed listening to the popular music of the day, which included recordings by The Four Freshman, and the hit records by the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love.

Brian had this amazing inherent ability to hear the different parts of each vocal, and each instrumental segment. This gave him the skill to dissect each musical line in his head. Some study at a music conservatory for years to develop this craft. Brian was blessed with this gift.

Brian shared a bedroom with his brothers Dennis, and Carl, and for fun he recruited them, neighbor David Marks, and the Wilson's cousin, Mike Love, as well as friend Alan Jardine, to sing harmonies on the songs that he loved. The Wilson boys would even sing in harmony for their family gatherings.

Later on Brian received a reel-to-reel tape recorder and learned how to overdub vocals.  This lead to further recording adventures.

Beach Boys - Torrence High School 1962
Once when the parents left the boys alone, to take a brief get-away to Mexico, Brian and his brothers used the money that their father left them to buy food and went to Hogan’s Music store and rented two guitars, a bass guitar, a drum kit, an amplifier, and a microphone. They then came home and recorded a song that Brian had written called “Surfin".

Another version states that Al Jardine's mother financed the equipment rental. This may be more plausible, since an adult would have to sign a rental agreement.

As Dennis was the only surfer in the group, and we can thank him for prodding Brian to write this song. If not for him, the Beach Boys may have been a long forgotten Folk music group.

By the time the parents arrived home from their trip, the father, Murray, was furious that the boys had used all the food money to rent instruments, until he listened to the recording and realized that his sons were very talented.

The Pendletones
Murray took the boys to a recording studio to make professional demos of two surfing songs that Brian and Mike had written, then he shopped them around to record promoters. At the time the band was known as The Pendletones. Eventually Candix Records picked up their songs and released the demos as promotional records.

The Beach Boys - Candix Records

The company had changed the name  to The Beach Boys by one of the companies promoters without telling the group. At first the members disliked the name, but it stuck and their fame grew.

The Beach Boys "Surfin' Safari 1962
From 1961 to 1966 The Beach Boys had a string of hits, with lyrics about surfing, cars, summer, and high school life, which pretty much summed up white youth culture in Southern California during this era; a culture that much of the rest of the United States envied.

Their first hit was Surfin', later followed up by Surfin' Safari.

The Beach Boys on the Ed Sullivan Show
In 1962, Al Jardine left the group to go to college and was replaced by original member David Marks. Marks was still a teen in school when the groups success lead to touring. Brian continued to write the music for hit songs, though all of the lyrics were done by co-writers, which at times included Mike Love.

Brian did not like to tour and was having some emotional and health issues.  In 1964  he had a traumatic panic attack during a chartered flight. After that experience, he told the group that he could no longer perform, and wanted to stay home and write music. Around this same time, Al Jardine was dissatisfied with undergraduate school, wanted back in the music business. He was invited back to play bass guitar and sing Brian's vocal parts.

David Marks
By late 1963, David Marks could take no more of the heavy handed approach of Murray Wilson, the father of the Wilson boys, and their self-appointed manager. Marks left the group, and Al Jardine, who by now had taken Brian's place as the Beach Boys bass player took over the rhythm guitar parts.

Glen Campbell as a Beach Boy

A new bass player was recruited. The job fell briefly to Glen Campbell, and later in 1965 Bruce Johnston, officially became a Beach Boy.

Murray looks on as the boys play music
Within a few years, Brian was feeling the pressure of writing music, producing and arranging music, recording the music, and fending off the critical directions from his father. In a difficult move, Brian became angry with his father's continual fault finding.

During a recording session at Capitol Records, while Murray was barking orders, Brian shoved his father against a wall, fired him as the groups manager and ordered him to leave.

Pet Sounds -
Their first album not about surf music or cars
Brian Wilson realized that Surf Music, and songs about Hot Rods, high school life, and endless summer were but a fad, and turned his attention to other themes for The Beach Boys music. Though the band members, especially Mike Love, were apprehensive about "killing off their magic formula".

This was actually turned out to be a great move and it accounted for the groups longevity.

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary tour
At age 75, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine have celebrated over 50 years as The Beach Boys. They have outlasted most of their peers, and survived the death of some of the group members; Dennis, and Carl. They have lived through divorce, illness, and lawsuits.

Mike Love's Beach Boys
Presently Mike Love is touring with a band known as The Beach Boys. Through the years the band  has reinvented themselves and hired younger musicians to perform in concert. Brian has overcome his personal demons and has been on the road for years, and is still writing new songs.

Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

Al Jardine, and Carl Wilson never claimed to be great guitarists, but they were certainly good enough to play in concert. Dennis Wilson life was all about having a good time. He was never a great drummer, but he could sure keep the beat, and kept the eyes of the ladies. Dennis also wrote some wonderful songs.

The Wrecking Crew
In my opinion, the original recordings were great. The band members played their own played instruments on all of those albums. When Brian made Pet Sounds and hired  professional studio players to play the instrumental parts on their recordings, the Beach Boys sound changed dramatically.

I believe Brian's desire to create huge orchestrated productions of his songs stemmed from a desire he had in the back of his mind for  many years. Brian always had a huge admiration for Phil Spector's production technique, and showed up at his recording sessions, just to watch Spector create his "Wall of Sound". Brian and his brothers also had a friendship with John Maus of the Walker Brothers. The Walker Brothers songs had backing arrangements similar to those Brian was about to develop.

The Pet Sounds album was a huge musical turning point in the Beach Boys career.

Brian coaches bassist Lyle Ritz.
 Drummer Jim Gordon in the back
Brian had all these sounds and arrangements in his mind and needed to get them on record. He could not get this sound with just two guitars, a bass and drums. So he hired a group of studio musicians that eventually came to be known as The Wrecking Crew.

At first the "Wrecking Crew" was a derogatory slur given to this group of players by the "suits" that usually did the background music for Capitol Records arrangements. They thought these musicians were going to wreck the industry by playing pop music, instead of contributing their talent to recordings like Montavani's 1000 strings. Years later members of the "Wrecking Crew" embraced the term. You hear them play on literally thousands of popular hit songs from the 1960's through the 1980's, that were made by thousands of artists.  None of the members ever got credit for their work.

These musicians loved working for Brian. His sessions were long, and the players were paid by the hour. Pet Sounds wound up costing over $70,000 to make and it was not at all financially successful.

At the time the fan base may not have understood the direction that The Beach Boys had taken. But it yielded four of The Beach Boys best songs; Wouldn't It Be Nice,  Sloop John B, God Only Knows, and the mournful Caroline No (which lyricist Tony Asher originally wrote as "Carol, I Know", but Brian misunderstood). In an effort to recoup their money, Capitol Records did not wait long after the release of Pet Sounds, to release a compilation album called The Beach Boys Greatest Hits.

Bruce, Brian, Al, and Dennis
 record vocals
During the early days, between tour dates Al, Carl, Mike, and the new guy, Bruce Johnston, would go to the studio with Brian and lay down the vocal tracks over the already recorded music tracks. Carl was the only Beach Boy to play guitar on any of the recordings.

Brian working with Hal Blaine
Most of the parts were played by the pro's, who penciled in the parts during those sessions, where Brian would hum or sing each part to them. Some parts were made up on the spot. such as Carol Kaye''s great bass line on Good Vibrations.

The Beach Boys (The Pendletones)
Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks played guitar for the Beach Boys in concert and even on the first recordings. It is difficult to track down many of the guitars seen in the early black and white videos, because, as Al Jardine explains, “..we kept losing them because we toured so much. They’d get stolen right off the back of the truck. We could never keep them in stock. 

We’d just have to get new ones, so I don’t have a clue where they are.. So through the Sixties we’d just keep recycling them.” 

However we do know about some of the guitars that The Beach Boys used.

Carl took guitar lessons at an accordion studio near Hawthorne, and from a musician that lived in the area named John Maus. John was in a group called The Walker Brothers, and taught guitar out of his home which was a couple of blocks around the corner from the Wilson family home.

Carl with Rickenbacker model 360
One of the guitars that the Wilsons' rented from Hogan's Music to do the original home recordings was a six string Rickenbacker. There are no existing photos of those rental instruments. But we do know that early on, Carl played a Rickenbacker in concert

1959 Carvin Electric guitar

David Marks parents bought him a Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar in 1958. A year later he purchased a Carvin electric guitar from John Maus.

1959 Kay model K899OJC

Carl acknowledged his first guitar was a Kay hollow body electric guitar that he received as a  Christmas present. He played this guitar unplugged on the recording of Surfin’.

Carl '62 Stratocaster

Once the record was released, the Beach Boys needed better equipment. Carl purchased a 1962 sunburst Fender Stratocaster, which he used briefly. Al Jardine was originally the bass player, and for a while played a stand-up string bass. This would figure, as Al was a fan of folk music. He is responsible for introducing the song, Sloop John B, which is properly titled, The John B. Sails. to Brian. If it was up to Al, the Beach Boys would have been a folk group.

We do not know what type of guitar Al used on early recordings, but due to the sound, we are fairly certain it was not a Fender.

Brian with his
'62 Fender Precision Bass

Brian’s first bass was a sunburst ‘62 Fender Precision Bass.

David Marks
 '62 Stratocaster

When Al Jardine left the group to go to school and David Marks came back he was playing a Rickenbacker, before switching to a ‘62 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster.

The Beach Boys amplifiers
Carl and David were playing through Fender amplifiers from the start. Marks used a white tolex Dual Showman, and  Carl Wilson had a 1955-60 tweed Fender Bassman, along with a 1962 Fender Reverb unit. Brian played bass through a tweed Fender Bassman amplifier.

Carl's '62 Jaguar and Al's '62 Stratocaster

Later in 1962, Carl got his Olympic white Fender Jaguar. In 1963 Marks purchased a similar

Carl with Rickenbacker 360/12

In 1964 Carl added a Fire Glow (red sunburst) Rickenbacker 360/12, that he used on some songs.

Beach Boys '63 Al with Gibson SG
By 1964 Al Jardine was in the group again, replacing David Marks. Al originally used a white Gibson SG, but eventually got an Olympic White Fender Stratocaster.  At this time Brian was playing a 1962 Olympic White Fender Precision bass.

The Beach Boys 1964 Concert

In 1964 both Carl and Al usually played through 1960-63 white tolex Fender Dual Showman amplifiers, and 1962 Fender stand-alone reverb units. They also used an Ampeg B-15 Portaflex bass amp.

At some concerts they used a Fender 1961-62 Bassman amp with a 1964 white Tolex cabinet.

Carl with Epiphone 12

Besides the 1963 white Jaguar and the fire glow Rickenbacker 360/12, Carl Wilson used some other guitars in concert. These include a sunburst Epiphone Rivera 12-string, that he used on Help Me Rhonda, and Sloop John B.

Carl Gibson ES-335

Carl also owned a Blonde Gibson ES-335, with a Bigsby that he purchased in 1970 from a friend for $300,

Carl - Gibson ES-335 12 string

In addition to the Epiphone 12 string, Carl also owned a red-burst Gibson 12 string Es-335, both a black Les Paul, a sunburst Gibson ES-345, and a red Les Paul, and an Olympic white Fender Stratocaster.

Carl with yellow Stratocaster

He also owned the a tobacco-burst Epiphone 12 string pictured above and, a yellow Fender Stratocaster, that he named Old Yeller, and a yellow Fender Telecaster.

Carl's red Baldwin 12 string

He also owned a blonde Fender Stratocaster, a red Baldwin 12 string, and a Les Paul Jr.

Carl with Yamaha APX700

As for acoustic guitars, Carl owned a Martin D-41, a Gibson J-200, and a Yamaha APX700 acoustic-electric.

Carl with Fender XII
and Dual Showman amp

Over the years a few guitars were stolen that include a Fender XII 12 string, and a Martin D-76 Bicentennial model.

Carl with a white Fender Telecaster

There are a few unusual guitar that he also played which included a white Fender Telecaster with a Bigsby unit. Fender did not offer those until 1967.

Carl and Al Jardine may of received that gratis from Fender, since the Beach Boys did start endorsing Fender products in 1962.

A music dealer once offered Carl a Mosrite, like the ones The Ventures played, in exchanged for endorsements, but he turned that down.

Carl with custom Fender Lucite guitar

Fender also built Carl a special one-of-a-kind Lucite guitar. This guitar  was a prototype model that never went on the market. It was hand built by Roger Rossmeisl. The body was somewhat similar in shape to a Stratocaster.

Fender custom Lucite guitar
This guitar had twin Seth Lover designed Fender Wide-Range Telecaster pickups. The unusually shaped neck was straight off of a Fender Starcaster, which was another Rossmeisll creation. The neck was capped with a rosewood fretboard, that had block pearloid markers.

The guitar also had a vibrato unit, similar to the Fender Mustang vibrato.

Al Jardine with '62 Fender Stratocaster

Al Jardine is usually seen playing his stock Olympic White Stratocaster.

Al Jardine with a black Stratocaster

Though at some venues, he used a black Fender Stratocaster.

Al Jardine -
white Fender Jaguar

However Al also played a Fender Jaguar on some songs.

The 1967 white Telecaster with the Bigsby unit, that Carl is playing in a few videos may have actually belonged to Al. Al has a relationship with Fender Musical Instruments and Senior VP Richard McDonald. They still ship him equipment if he needs it.

Al Jardine with Martin D-45

During the 1980's and 1990's,  Al usually plays a white or red 1962 replica Stratocaster, with a rosewood neck, through a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. He also owns some Martin acoustic guitars.

Fender Twin Reverb amplifier

The Fender Twin Reverb was designed to be a combo version of the Dual Showman, although it has two 12” speakers with  85 watts of RMS power.

Through the later years the Beach Boys generally relied on Fender Twin Reverb amps in concert, I’ve also read that at one point they used Dumble amplifiers.

Mitchell Pro-100 amplifier

Carl owned a Mitchell amplifier the he really liked.

Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour
During their 50th Anniversary concert, the Beach Boys played through Fender Hot Rod Deville amps.

Carl was the  usually the only Beach Boy to play guitar or bass on their recordings, although some of their first albums featured the members of the band doing the instrumentals.These were the albums done before the Wrecking Crew stepped in to do the instrumental parts.

Carl playing bass in the studio

In an interview Carl stated that most of the guitar parts were recorded using a direct box to the mixing console unless Brian wanted an over driven sound and then they cranked up the amplifier.

David Marks at a guitar clinic
David Marks, he said the group originally used Fender flat-wound strings on their guitars. Carl stated that he switched to Ernie Ball medium gauge strings in the mid-1960’s. As the years progressed he continued to use Ernie Ball strings, but went to lighter, slinky strings.

David Marks and the Marksmen

As for David Marks, he left the Beach Boys after the first five albums, but he maintained a career in music; first with his band, David Marks and the Marksmen, and later as a studio player. He is seen in this picture with a 1960's era Epiphone Crestwood guitar.

David Marks with Dennis Wilson

Marks studied classical and modern music with Warren Zevon, and Robert Kraft. Marks also worked and recorded with composer Mike Curb, who wrote a lot of television theme music, and in the 1960’s put together a group called The MIke Curb Congregation.

Marks came back to The Beach Boys in the 1990’s when Carl became ill. It was only supposed to be a temporary gig. Sadly Carl passed away, and Marks stayed on and was prominently featured in the 50th Anniversary concert.

Early concert with
Al on bass and David Marks

As the years have passed, there have been a lot of legal feuds between the band members. Money talks.

Beach Boys 50th Anniversary

After the 50th Anniversary tour ended Mike Love, through legal maneuvering took possession of the legal name; The Beach Boys, from Brother Record Incorporated. That keeps the money flow going.

Mike Love

Prior to that, Mike Love was touring as America’s Band along with Bruce Johnson and David Marks.

Al Jardine and
the Endless Summer Band
Al Jardine began touring as The Beach Boys; Family and Friends; a band that included several children of Beach Boy members including Brian's daughters, Wendy and Carnie.  A court order was issued to halt using Jardine from using that name. He also toured as the Endless Summer Band, with his son Matthew.

Lawsuits and counter suits resulted. The 50th Anniversary Concert was a truce, and the band rallied to record one more Brian Wilson song called That’s Why God Made The Radio.

Due to discontent and legal bickering between the members, and the deaths of the two Wilson brothers, it is unlikely we will ever see the original Beach Boys perform together again. But it was such a good run while it lasted. And we still have all those great recordings.
The Beach Boys in the U.K.
The Beach Boys music lives on despite the fact that the remaining members are in their mid-70's. Their music is upbeat, fun,  great to dance to, and the lyrics speak to many generations.

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

Categories: General Interest

J. Geils Guitars From His Estate Are Being Auctioned

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 12:41
J Geils

On Sunday, November 19th, 2017, the Fine Musical Insturments department of Skinner Auctions, will be offering the remaining guitars and musical instruments from the estate of J. Geils.

J Geils
John Warren Geils, better known as J. Geils passed away on April 11th of this year. He had sold off much of his collection of vintage guitars and amplifiers prior to his death. His collection of vintage Italian sports cars was auctioned off earlier this year.

The New Guitar Summit

Though he is best known for his guitar work in the J. Geils Band, Geils went on to play Jazz guitar in the Boston area. He was part of the New Guitar Summit with Duke Robillard, and Gerry Beaudoin.

J Geil's Italian sports cars at KTX

In addition to his musical career, Geils also owned and operated KTR Motorsports, a business that serviced Italian sports cars. He also had a degree from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in mechanical engineering.

D'Angelico Excel

The upcoming auction at Skinners features some of J’s favourite guitars; including a beautiful 1940 D’Angelico Excel Archtop model, that is expected to fetch between $6,000 to $8,000.

Stromberg Master 400

Also featured is a rare 1940 Stromberg Master 400 archtop guitar, that has a price tag of $8,000 to $12,000.

1954 Fender Stratocaster

An original sunburst 1954 Fender Stratocaster (the first year this guitar was offered) is being offered at a price of between $25,000 to $35,000. This guitar is in pristine condition.

1952 Les Paul

A 1952 Gibson Les Paul gold top guitar that has the original P-90 pickups and trapeze tailpiece is among the items being sold. This guitar is expected to fetch between $8,000 and $12,000.

Gibson Nick Lucas

Geil’s 1929 sunburst Gibson Nick Lucas Special acoustic guitar is being offered for $5,500 to $6,500.

Ignacio Fleta guitar

His rare handmade 1976 Ignacio Fleta classical guitar is being offered for $20,000 to $30,000.

Lloyd Loar Mandola

J. Geils also owned an original 1924 Gibson Lloyd Loar H-5 Mandola. This is the larger version of the F-5 mandolin. It is being offered at between $35,000 to $55,000.

Fagnola Violin

While they are not guitars, the upcoming auction also features a fine Italian violin ascribed to maker Annibale Fagnola that has an estimated worth of between $10,000 and $15,000.

Pedrazzini cello
His cello built by Italian maker Giuseppe Pedrazzini that is expected to sell for between $25,000 and $35,00 along with a gorgeous silver-tipped cello bow made by Christian Welhelm Knopf that will sell for between $1,800 and $2,400.

For those of us that would like to own a guitar that belonged to a music legend, but can’t ante up a lot of money, do not despair. Some of J’s less valuable instruments are on the block, and the bidding for these instruments starts at just $20 USD.

Vega Duo-Tron

This 1950 Vega Duo-Tron electric archtop guitar is being offer for a bid starting at $20. The volume and tone controls are mounted on the guitars trapeze tailpiece.

1940 Vega Electric guitar

Also offered is a 1940 Vega electric archtop with a unique slanted pickup. This is reminiscent of a similar Gibson model of the same era. 

Harmony Monterey

A 1955 Harmony Monterey archtop guitar, with an added DeArmond pickup is offered as well.

Stella Guitar

A 1965 Harmony Stella guitar is also offered, that will certainly sell in a low price range.

Gibson EH-150 Lap Steel

J’s 1937 Gibson EH-150 lap steel, along with its original case is being offered. It is in pristine condition.

Broken 1977 Les Paul Double

I’d love to know the story behind this next guitar being offered. It is a 1977 Les Paul Special. The neck is broken in half, and all the parts are gone.

Two vintage guitar amplifiers are also on the block.

Epiphone Electar Amp

One is a gorgeous 1939 Epiphone Electar Zephyr that has a stylized wooden cabinet, with a large wooden E design over the grill.

Supro Amplifier

The other amplifier up for bid is a 1949 Supro model 1600U amplifier.

J Geils Estate Auction

There are many other items offered at this auction, that include Senhheiser and Beyerdynamic microphones, a group of speaker cabinets and amplifiers, guitar cases, speakers, awards, photographs, gold and platinum records, road cases, recording equipment, tour jackets, and tee shirts.

And trumpets; J played the trumpet and collected them.

Check out the online catalog.

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

Categories: General Interest