Home

Nacho nails it

8 Comments

Anyone who’s read my eclectic blog knows my love and reverence for Leo Fender and his creations. Here’s the story of a gentleman who shares that and uses it to make the world a better place.

Tragic but true:
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were few who had much interest in older instruments. You could buy ‘em cheap, because they were just old guitars.

Here’s a photo of our old Boy Howdy Band, taken in Naples, Florida, in June, 1972. From left to right are my still-best friend, John Klingler, drummer Mike Collins, and me on bass. My bass back then was a used Gibson EB-3. The guitar John’s holding is a 1952 Fender Telecaster.

John, Mike, Jim Boy Howdy Band, 1972

Old Teles and their predecessors — made by Leo Fender’s small company from 1950 to 1954 — are now reverently called “Blackguards,” because of the single-ply black pickguards Leo fitted them with. These early Fender guitars — the Esquire, Broadcaster, one with no model name now called a “NoCaster,” and the Telecaster — all looked much alike, sharing the neck headstock, body shape, pickguards, and control layout.

Today, John’s Telecaster, if in nice condition, would be worth $50,000 or more. John bought it in Tampa for $250 in 1972 and proceeded to sand it to bare wood, stain it, route a hole for an old humbucking pickup in the neck position, and fit it with a pickguard he made.

I watched him do it and neither of us gave it much thought. John was handy and was just customizing an old guitar.

After playing the modified Tele for a few months, John sold it to someone for $250 and bought a beautiful Gibson Firebird. But this little anecdote just proves that old Telecasters were not, at that time,  recognized as being particularly valuable . . . except by a few unusually perceptive people.

52_Telecaster

Meet Nacho Baños:
Let’s meet someone who was not only perceptive, but went on to “write the book” on old Teles and related Fender guitars. He’s regarded as the world’s foremost expert on Leo Fender’s guitars, and, happily, is generous enough to share that info with anyone.

Nacho Baños

Nacho Baños, a native of Spain, was in the U.S. working on his MBA in the early 1990s. He fell in love with the Telecaster, especially the original Teles. He scrimped and saved to buy them when he could, and over the years began to amass an incredible amount of info. He took photos of Teles and their component parts, and talked with others who shared his enthusiasm. Nacho is an absolute gentleman with a engaging personality, and soon gained a worldwide reputation for his knowledge and the kindness with which he shared it. The attached ToneQuest Report magazine has his bio and an interview, and I urge you to read it. They call Nacho The King of the Telecasters, and he is, of course, that and more:

TQRJun15_01_Page_01

TQRJun15_01

The book:
Eventually, Nacho decided to write a book, and THE BLACKGUARD — Telecaster Style Guitars from 1950- 1954, was published in 2004 or so and is considered the bible of Telecaster lore. At over 400 pages, the 12” x 12” book, with its slipcover, weighs over 10 pounds and has over 2,000 highly detailed color photos of 50 early Esquires, Broadcasters, NoCasters and Telecasters. The amount of info in this volume is stunning.

Blackguard Book And Sleeve

Nacho self-published 5,500 of these books, and, knowing print production like I do, I suspect that he sold them at about half of what they cost him to print. Proceeds from the book went — I told you Nacho was an absolute gentleman — to establish a foundation building homes and a school for the poor in India and providing clean water in Africa.

I treasure my copy (#3196), not only for the images and information in it, but for the gracious inscription Nacho penned in my copy. The book is out-of-print  — if you see one for sale, buy it — but this website has many photos and gives you an idea of Nachos’ love and knowledge:
The Blackguard Book

Blackguard 2

Blackguard 1

Blackguard 3

Nacho nails the Blackguard:
With the help of some famed guitar-slingers and old-world craftsmen, Nacho has somehow arranged to make a few reproductions of some early Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. They are jawdroppingly accurate, and — best of all — they are sold at about a tenth of what a vintage guitar costs. As lovers of fine old paintings revere every crack in the varnish on an old masterpiece, so do those of us who love the old Fenders.

Nacho and Billy Gibbons

Two gents who know their Teles! Nacho and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

Using the best components money can buy, and guided by years of examining — and owning and playing — hundreds of the old Fenders, Nacho has nailed the look, feel, and tone of these old classics. Uncanny. He also recreates Statocasters from the days of Buddy Holly.

Here’s the website to learn more and see some photos of these guitars:

Nacho’s Guitars

Nachocaster 2

Nachocaster 1

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 12.41.08 AM

Labors of love from a man whose love for Leo Fender’s creations have shaped his life and brought joy to so many other guitar lovers. And, along the way, homes for families, and a school for their kids, and clean water for whose who wouldn’t otherwise have it.

Leo would be proud.

A great instrument instructs the player . . .

Leave a comment

One of my more unusual guitars is a Hallmark Barris Kustom from Bob Shade. This guitar is shaped and painted to replicate custom-hotrod-builder George Barris’ personal crest. Barris, a buddy of Shade, is the fellow who designed what I consider to be the koolest kar ever made: The TV show Batmobile:

Image

Barris is called the King of the Kustomizers; he also designed and built the Munster Koach, the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck, the Kitt car, the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, and the MonkeeMobile, among a host of others:

Image

Back to this guitar. Bob, whom I’ve known for 20 years, has given me some good deals and trades on guitars and in return I’ve given him my trifling skills as a photographer, writer, and/or sketch artist/designer. We have fun together because we love guitars and kool kars and we both have a wacky sense of humor. Since the Barris Kustom guitar Bob made as a six-stringed version of Barris’ crest is either a prototype or a mistake, it doesn’t have exactly the same control circuitry his production models have. It has a single knob for volume and a single Shade-recreation of the early 1950s Carvin AP6 pickup. No tone control.

Image

That being said, it is one of the best-sounding and playing guitars I have. It has a maple/rosewood neck of the Tele/Strat scale, though bound. It’s a solid body and fairly lightweight. It comes with Bob’s version of the old Mosrite tremolo. The Carvin-clone pickup gives it a spanky yet very articulate sound, especially since I use LaBella light-gauge flatwound strings on all of my electric guitars. It sure doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill guitar, does it?

Image

Played through one of my old Fender tube amps at jams and such, this guitar is amazing. Like an acoustic guitar, the lack of tone controls or a second pickup forces the player to make any sound changes with his fingers: Where the pick or fingers strike the strings, how hard, how frequently. With that AP6-type pickup, all those dynamics come through and it just sounds great in any mix and on any song, whether it’s Blind Albert Reed, Buddy Holly, or John Denver.

Image

Kool guitar!!! Thanks, Bob and George!!!

Dreaming of Fenders

Leave a comment

On this 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, it’s appropriate to discuss one aspect their impact on American kids: The desire to play rock-and-roll music themselves!

Image

The world was never the same for me after watching this!

I had heard many rock-and-roll records, but it wasn’t until the Beatles that I wanted to play that music myself. I played sax in our elementary school band but after watching the Ed Sullivan show that February Sunday night in 1964, I knew I’d never feel the same way about it.

Image

Later that year, my mom and dad gave in to my begging and ordered me a Silvertone guitar for Christmas from the Sears catalog. It was a solidbody in sunburst (a Japanese Teisco-made 1435 model) and cost about $65. It looked great but the thing was miserable to play, especially when fitted with Black Diamond strings, which was the only kind you could buy at the drug store. I had no amp, and I almost killed myself when, using some parts I found in my dad’s tool chest, I made a cable that had a 1/4” microphone jack on one end and a two-prong electrical plug on the other. I didn’t realize that an electric guitar needed an amplifier, so I was ready to just plug it into a wall outlet. Luckily my dad walked by just before I plugged the thing in and explained some things to me!

I was able to use an old shortwave radio that had a mike input jack as my amp after that.

Image

One day in 1966, when my family was living in Marathon, Florida, one of the kids in my ninth-grade class brought in a full-color Fender Electric Instruments catalog he had ordered by mail. I vividly remember four or five of us boys spending every lunch hour for the next week reading that catalog and studying the photos. Our discussions were funny as I look back on them:

“Hey! Are these the coolest guitars in the world or WHAT?!?! I wish I could buy one!”

“Yeah, but these are described here as professional instruments. I don’t think they sell them to kids.”

Image

“They have student guitars in the back of the catalog. Kids could buy those ones.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think they sell them anywhere but in California.”

“I bet you’re right about that. I’ve never seen one in the stores.”

“Don’t forget you’ll need an amplifier, too. So we’d better study those.”

Image

“They’re expensive. That Stratocaster model like Buddy Holly played is over $250!!!”

“My folks would never buy me something that expensive!!!”

Image

“If these Fenders are so great, why don’t the Beatles play them?”

“It’s probably because they live in England. That’s a long way from California. Maybe they haven’t heard of Fender guitars.”

“They play Rickenbackers, and those are made in California.”

“Maybe Fender guitars are just for surf music.”

“No; you can play any kind of music on these. It says so right in the catalog!”

“Well, they sure are amazing looking.”

“If you could have any one of these you want for free, which one would you take?”

John's Strat

By the time the Beatles recorded their Revolver album, John and George had matching Fender Strats!

We took turns borrowing that catalog overnight and reading it over and over.

I remember I wanted a Fender Jazz bass and a Bassman amp, because a bass, played with single notes, was more like a saxaphone than a guitar was.

Over the years, I had several Fenders. I still do and still get a thrill out of those wonderful instruments and amps. But I’ll never forget the excitement of reading that catalog over and over and dreaming of having whatever Fender guitar, or bass, or amp I wanted for free.

He Had A Hammer . . .

Leave a comment

Very sorry to hear of the passing of Pete Seegar at the age of 94. Hearing Mr. Seeger back in the 1950s, I learned that music can have the power to persuade, to provoke, to humiliate, to change. Sometimes Pete Seeger would see and confront evil and, sometimes, he was able to conquer it. Thank you, Pete Seeger. The world will miss you.

Image

Fun With Fender; or, The Saga of Rex O’Saurus

Leave a comment

My friends and I sometimes get carried away on Facebook, but we have a lot of fun doing it. This afternoon, I saw on Shorpy.com an 1898 photo of a government scientist looking at an enormous radio vacuum tube or valve; it may have been the first radio tube. It struck me as comical, so I cropped and sepia-toned a version of the photo on Facebook, with a mock serious caption. Then I found, cropped and toned an old photo of two guys with a giant speaker and put in a second mock-serious caption. Here’s some of the banter that followed:

Leo's Brother And Big TubeMe (original post): In this rare photo, Leo Fender’s older brother, Freddy, examines a newly developed power tube for the proposed Super-Duper-Quadruple Reverb amp, which never reached the production stage. During testing, Freddy and Leo inadvertently flipped the On and Standby switches at the same time, causing a power outage in the Fullerton, California, area that lasted for several days.

Big SpeakerMe (again): In another rare photo, two unidentified employees of the Fender Musical Instrument Company move one of the four prototype speakers for the proposed Super-Duper-Quadruple Reverb amp into Leo Fender’s test lab. Made by the Jenson Speaker Company, this 142″ speaker was remarkable not only for its size but also for its weight of 276 pounds. The bass response was said to be impressive.

Nutty Friend #1: Can you hear me now? Good!

Me (again): There is a long-standing but never confirmed story that a young Fender employee, Rex O’Saurus, was standing in front of this proposed amp when the first power chord was played through it, and was spontaneously vaporized by the resulting sound blast. It’s true that Mr. O’Saurus was not seen again after the incident, but it may be that he was merely disoriented and wandered away in a dazed condition.

Nutty Friend #1: He later turned up with Marc Bolan and T-Rex, playing cowbell.

Me (again): Jimmy, I’m not certain that is the same Rex O’Saurus, but a clue might be found in his reply when a magazine writer asked him about the incident. His response (“Pardon me? Did you say something?”) could possibly point to a severe hearing impairment earlier in his life. Who can say?

Nutty Friend #1: It’s all hearsay, methinks…

Nutty Friend #2: Huh? (cups hand behind ear)

Me (again): Tyrone O’Saurus, brother of the missing Rex, has said that he hasn’t heard from him since the incident happened in 1965.

Me (again): Mrs. Terri Dactyl, sister of the long-missing man, has said that her brother Rex was an unsung hero of the music world and should be honored as such. It is rumored that the Fender Corporation may retire from service the metal dustpan used to dispose of Rex’s possible remains and, in his honor, have it nickel plated and engraved with the phrase “Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust; We Fired Up the Amp and Rex Went Bust.”

Nutty Friend #3: So Terri Dactyl and Rex gave birth to T-Rex, Bang a Gong, I’m gone!

DustpanMe (again): Just received an email from Oswald Leonidas, historian at Fender, who proposes a contest for the best tribute poem to poor Rex O’Saurus. I will be the judge and remember the lines have to fit on this historic dustpan. My entry: “We’ll Miss Young Rex; He’s Gone, Alas; But You Must Admit; This Amp Kicks Ass.”

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

It’s all in fun and no disrespect is intended to Fender Musical Instruments or anyone else!

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

8 Comments

Perhaps the scariest three minutes of music ever recorded were by Nehemiah “Skip” James in 1931, in Grafton, Wisconsin, for the old Paramount blues label.

Image

Here’s the original recording of Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues. The way I heard it was that it refers to James working the “killing floor” in a Chicago slaughterhouse.

Any guitar player who has tried to do this song can tell you that it isn’t easy. I think James recorded it in Em tuning; for the sake of not popping strings, I’ve shifted it to Dm in my poor attempts to play it. This style of fingerpicking blues evidently originated in or near Bentonia, Mississippi, where James was from. My dad drove us through Bentonia when I was a kid; it’s a wide spot in the road near where Highway 49 crosses the Yazoo River.

Image

The idea of someone doing this song on an electric guitar is not so novel– I do it on a Strat– but doing it with a band, live, and with an accordion and drums as part of the deal . . . well, it took Lucinda Williams and her fine band to manage that and the following YouTube video is, to me, stunning. Their spare arrangement just nails it:

Sorry I can’t provide any info on this video; the intro, showing someone playing James recording his song on a Stella guitar, is very well done. Folks who knew Skip James, who died in Philly in 1969, say he wasn’t a very happy person much of the time but I suspect he’d love what Ms Williams and her associates did with his wonderful song.

AN ASIDE . . .

It occurs to me that it was almost exactly 50 years ago that our family drove through Bentonia, Mississippi. At the time, the late summer of 1963, we were living in Houma, Louisiana, which is southwest of New Orleans. I don’t know what possessed my dad to move there; they must have had a great airport as flying was the only thing that he cared about. I remember that we were living there when John Kennedy was killed.

My mom, my brother Jeff and I loved Houma. It was deep in the Cajun bayou country and the food, music and people were wonderful. Near Houma was a smaller town called Thibodaux, on the banks of Bayou Lafourche, where my dad took us to a superb little seafood restaurant on the weekends; here’s a photo I took of Jeff standing on Thibodaux’s main drag. Moody and magnificent, wasn’t he?

Jeff In Thibodaux. LA

Here are my mom, Jeff and me in front of our house on Willard Avenue; I’m the geeky-looking guy wearing glasses; I wasn’t moody or magnificent, but at least I was cheerful:

Jim, Mom, Jeff 2

Anyway, there was a hurricane about to hit in that area and it was something to worry about. All that part of the Gulf Coast is low-lying, and the Houma/Thibodaux area especially so. If you recall the Swamp Thing comic books, they were set in Houma. So my dad decided the smart thing to do would be for us to hop in the white DeSoto and spend a few days in Yazoo City, Mississippi (250 miles due north and on higher ground), and Bentonia is 15 miles south of that town.

As it happened, the hurricane came up as far as Yazoo City so we didn’t escape much. But I got to see Bentonia, never dreaming that one day I’d wish I’d paid more attention to it!

Murphy Inspects . . .

1 Comment

Tremolux & Barris Custom, Murphy

Murphy inspects my 1966 Fender Tremolux amp in its custom JD Newell cabinet with two Weber 12A125A speakers; the amp has been at Don Oliver’s studio for a couple of years and returned last evening.

Murphy hasn’t seen this amp before!

The Tremolux is not a Fender amp that’s often seen; they were only made for a couple of years. I had wanted one since I first saw the cover of the Blind Faith album; Clapton is shown here with that amp at the Rolling Stones December, 1968, Rock and Roll Circus event as a member of the one-shot Dirty Mac Band, consisting of Clapton, John Lennon, Keith RIchards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.

Clapton's Tremolux

I believe Clapton endorses a new Tremolux combo amp made by Fender nowadays, but I’m sure it isn’t much like the original ones. For one thing, they cost over two grand.

I have the original piggyback head cabinet for my Tremolux, restored by Rocco Egizio of Rockometer Amp Cabinets in Chicago, but I don’t have a proper speaker cabinet for that configuration, so it lives as a combo. One day I’ll find a speaker cabinet, but it has to be a 4-ohm one for the Tremolux.

The guitar is my Hallmark Barris Kustom, which sounds nice through the Tremolux. For you gearheads out there, the Barris Kustom has a single pickup with just a volume control; the pickup is Bob Shade’s recreation of the old Carvin AP-6 classic.

Older Entries