A great instrument instructs the player . . .

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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:


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:


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.


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?


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.


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

Batmobiles and Me . . .


TV Batmobile

Today’s sale of the original TV-show Batmobile reminded me of my slight brush with the history of the various versions of the car.

A kid in the 1950s and ’60s could be a fan of both Superman and Batman, and I was, but Batman had a couple of extra things going for him: he had a cave and he had a cool car. The primary Batmobile of the 1940s was a good-looking unit, and no other comic-book character had anything remotely as cool as this:

1940s Batmobile

In 1950, the editors of the Batman comics decided it was time to update the Batmobile, and this one was born:

1950 Batmobile b

This 1950 Batmobile had a crime lab built into the back seat and still had the spooky and amazing front bat-face thingie and the neat swooping rear fin. Not a thing wrong with this baby:

1950 Batmobile a

But by the mid-1960s, even I had to admit that 1950s Batmobile, still used in the comic books, was dated-looking.

We had just moved down to Marathon, Florida, and I had time on my hands. So, I decided to create a more modern Batmobile. I chose the front end of a Pontiac of the era and the back end of a Chrysler; combining those was easy; then I added a couple of canopy bubbles like fighter planes had. And, to top it all off, I added a couple of hood and side scoops like Corvettes had. I made sure it had a bat face on the front and two bat-fins on the back!

I drew a really clean version of the design and sent it to Mr. Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics who seemed to encourage kids to become involved in the books.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, when a postcard came from Mr. Schwartz; he always wrote on postcards. He was going to use my Batmobile in the comic books! And– WOW– I would get a free one-year subscription to all the comics he edited. He edited a bunch of good ones, too: Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Justice League of America!

Here’s what my version of the Batmobile looked like when it appeared in the comic books:

JBP Batmobile b

JBP Batmobile c

JBP Batmobile a

I was so proud! Then the TV show came out, and the Batmobile on the show made mine look like crap.

Here are a couple of photos of the TV-show Batmobile taken before it even had its glossy paint job; it’s still wearing its flat-black primer:

Original Primered TV Show Batmobile

Rear, Primered Batmobile

I was devastated at first, but then figured, “Okay; they have pro guys designing TV-show cars and I’m just a kid! No wonder their’s looks so much better!!!”

One problem was that I could no longer tell my pals I had designed the Batmobile, because the first thing they’d say would be, “THE TV-SHOW ONE?!?!?!” And I’d have to reply, “No; the lame one they use in the comic books and comic strip.”

Eventually– and we’re talking over a year; maybe more– I grew sick of seeing my Batmobile in the books and strips and wrote to Mr. Schwartz again: “Why do you keep using my Batmobile design when the TV-show one is ten times better looking?!?!?!” And a few weeks later, a DC Comics postcard came with his response: “Yours is easier to draw.”

Oh, well. They’ve come out with a 1:43-scale Corgi die-cast version of my Batmobile, which is one of the rarest and costliest Batmobile die-cast models because it is lame-looking compared to the TV-show one and not much sought after. A very generous Batmobile historian and enthusiast in England was nice enough to send me one a couple of years ago; I darn sure wasn’t going to spend over $250 for it on eBay!!! Too bad they used a baby-blue paint for the color:

JBP Batmobile Corgi Die-Cast

Yes; I’m proud of my lame creation, but, to me, there is only one Batmobile, and it isn’t the one I dreamed up sitting on the side of my bed in Marathon, Florida, and it isn’t the ones in the comic books and strips and it sure isn’t any of the recent Batman movie Batmobiles; it’s this:

Batmobile On Set

Cars With Fins!

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Perhaps the prettiest car I ever had was this 1958 DeSoto Firesweep Sportsman, given to me by my dad when I first started driving. Here’s a drawing from an ad:

He had bought me a ’58 Chevy first, but that car was a loser, so he bought himself an Oldsmobile and gave his DeSoto to me. Here are my mom, my brother Jeff, our then-new Chihuahua, Tiger, and me standing by the DeSoto in Apalachicola, Florida in 1966, just as I started driving; don’t know what I’m pointing at here:

There were a lot of cool features to the DeSoto, but the push-button automatic transmission may have been the coolest. Here’s a Web photo of the dashboard; the transmission controls are on the left side of the dashboard. See ’em?

Another dash photo. Look at the groovy knobs! Of course, this was before the government made car-makers have safety uppermost in mind when designing a dashboard. I’m not certain this car even had seat belts; I suspect it didn’t, unless my dad put them in later. He had an aftermarket AC put in and it worked so well it would fling ice at you from the rear deck.

Here’s a great Web photo of some lucky person’s pink DeSoto convertible. How I would love to have that car!!!

Many cars today look like little bars of soap rolling down the road. I loved it when cars looked like jet airplanes or the TV-show Batmobile!