History of the Custom Electric Guitar Builders

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by deejaid, May 12, 2015.

  1. deejaid

    deejaid Supporting Member

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    Hi guys. Lately I have really been getting interested in custom built electric guitars of the 70's. I love the natural woods and all the brass. Just cool looking guitars to me.

    Anyway, has anyone ever documented the rise of all the custom guitar builders of the 70's and the emergence of all of the boutique builders that are around today?

    I have a book (forget the name off hand) about the history of Charvel guitars. Very cool book. It seems that the mid 70's saw a bunch of custom builders coming out with guitars to rival Fender and Gibson. For those of you active in the guitar world in the 70's, was there a general feeling of disdain for the Norlin era Gibson's and CBS Fenders that jump started the small builders?

    I'd like to learn more about these cool small builders and hopefully some of you can shed some light on what was going on back then.
     
  2. serial

    serial Member

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    If it's the Charvel book that came out a while back (paperback)-it's pretty poorly done and a lot of the good stuff isn't even covered. There's a BC Rich book in the works that looks to be really great and would be right up your alley. Then there's this:
    [​IMG]

    ;) (disclosure-I wrote this book)

    As for general consensus about Gibson and Fender in the late 70s (when I first started playing)? That depends on who you ask. We all still drooled over Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, RDs and the occasional Explorer. Hamers, Deans and BC Riches were dream guitars until 1980 or so when their lower-priced models started showing up. Guitar Player Magazine was about the only mag out there, so you waited a month to see cool ads or got catalogs from guitar shops. Vintage stuff wasn't really big like it got in the 80s/90s, so a new silver burst Les Paul Custom or an all-black Strat were status symbols.
     
  3. John C

    John C Supporting Member

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    I've started to put notes together into something that attempted to track the rise of the custom Fender-style builders but never did get it together like serial/Steve did with his Hamer book.

    The family tree is really intertwined - a lot of it starts with the original Schecter company (Dave Schecter/Van Nuys era). And Schecter was intertwined with Charvel for a while as they had the same financial backers in the middle 1970s. Plus there were the big parts suppliers like Mighty Mite, Boogie Bodies (the main people behind that are now Warmoth - I think someone left the original company and took the "Boogie Bodies" name with them).

    You wind up today with the "direct descendant" of Schecter, Tom Anderson, still going strong. Tom worked for Schecter from roughly 1977 until 1984 when Schecter relocated to Dallas.

    You wind up with the "once removed" companies that were Schecter dealers, but they all had luthiers/builders working for them doing guitars from Schecter parts and other parts. Once Schecter curtailed their parts business most of the them started their own lines. Of those, Pensa is still around out of Rudy's Music - they were originally Pensa-Suhr but John Suhr left at the start of the 1990s. There was Valley Arts; they built a well-respected line of guitars but wound up taking on Samick as a partner, who eventually bought them out. One of the founders of Valley Arts wound up at Gibson at their Historic/Custom shop in Nashville; he convinced Gibson to buy the name from Samick and they had a brief run as an active company (but Gibson subsidiary) in the early 2000s. Strings & Things in Memphis also wound up with their own line, St. Blues. St. Blues was revived 5-6 years ago.

    There are some "twice removed" from Schecter builders that are still around. John Suhr, of course, left the Pensa arrangement at the start of the 1990s - first to build amps with Bob Bradshaw under the "Custom Audio Electronics" name, then spending a few years as a Master Builder in Fender's Custom Shop, before going out on his own almost 20 years ago. I would consider Don Grosh to also be a "twice removed"; he was briefly at Valley Arts just before Samick took over and forced the founders out. At that point he left to start his own shop (which is now in the Denver area).

    Schecter is of course still around; their current owner bough them circa 1987-88 and returned them to California. They have maintained a USA custom shop, but it has ebbed and flowed as to size and output over the years.

    James Tyler was around back in the early days; he has always been his own shop and is one of the few that's been around this long that doesn't directly go back to Schecter.

    As an aside I'll mention Dudley Gimple - Gimple worked at a Schecter dealer in Minnesota, and made his way to California. He built some spec guitars, and wound up giving one to Sterling Ball (Ernie Ball's son, who had worked for a while at Music Man before returning to the family company). Gimple wound up taking a job with Valley Arts; he designed some of their models (I think it was the 7/8 scale Tele-style with the carved top). Ernie and Sterling Ball wound up buying Music Man after they went bankrupt, and eventually hired Gimple away from Valley Arts when they were ready to put the instruments back into production; Gimple is still EBMM's main designer, responsible for pretty much all of their designs except the Sting Ray Bass, Sabre Bass, Bongo Bass, and Armada guitars (the Sting Ray and Sabre are the old Leo Fender designs).

    That's a thumbnail; I've left out a lot as I don't have any notes here. Plus my original detailed notes were lost to a crashed laptop and corrupted backup CD-ROM; I recreated about 75% of what I had from memory and wound up putting that project on the backburner, and have never come back to it.:eek:
     
  4. clemduolian

    clemduolian Silver Supporting Member

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    Big topic. I think you might want to start with Alembic, which begat Turner, Moonstone, and others...and that is just the S.F. Bay area.
     
  5. deejaid

    deejaid Supporting Member

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    Awesome info. Thanks guys. Serial, I'm buying your book when I get home tonight. Looks cool. I've always wanted a late 70's Hamer Special and would love to learn more.

    John, thanks for the history as well. It seems to me that the 70's was a time that people wanted things that the big companies weren't offering so they started making their own. I guess you could also include Larry Dimarzio and Seymour Duncan along with the small builders as leading innovators of guitar building in the 70's.

    To someone that wasn't part of that scene, it seems to me that the small builders were about hot rodding guitars, but I never realized that Hamer, BC Rich and Deans were dream guitars that the average guy couldn't afford until their lower priced models came out later.
     
  6. deejaid

    deejaid Supporting Member

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    Yeah, I'm in the Bay Area and have learned about a few of the companies here. I recently built a 70's inspired Strat with mostly vintage pieces, one of which was an all-brass tremolo made by Stars Guitars. They were another branch off of Alembic and specialized in brass parts.

    You are right. The deeper you dig, you realize how big and quickly the aftermarket parts of the 70's grew.
     
  7. Route234

    Route234 Member

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  8. Route234

    Route234 Member

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    You also had guys like Keith Richards with his custom 5 strings and Zemaitis building all those cool guitars for the Stones and Clapton and I think George Harrison.
     
  9. deejaid

    deejaid Supporting Member

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    Yes, the 5 String made for Keith by Ted Newman Jones is a favorite of mine. Very cool design.

    Why do you guys think it took until the 70's for the small builders to emerge? Were there small builders in the 50's and 60's that just were never able to break through?
     
  10. Bob Pollock

    Bob Pollock Supporting Member

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    Paul Bigsby. This was 1948
    [​IMG]
    Influenced Fender, and indirectly Gibson.
     
  11. Teleplayer

    Teleplayer Silver Supporting Member

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    When I was in high school, Paul Hamer's brother was a classmate of mine. I remember when Hamer started in the 70s. Saw many, many of their first guitars (a close friend had #25).

    Also, during the mid 70s, I had an SG that was re-finished by a cat named Doubleneck Dean - better known as Dean Zelinsky. Dean was working out of his garage in the North suburbs of CHicago back then - when he started Dean Guitars. I used to jam with his brother, who played violin. I remember when Dean would get into a car (or limo) and bring a bunch of guitars down to concerts at Chicago Stadium, the Chicago Amphitheater, etc. - and do whatever he had to do in order to get his axes into the hands of bands like the Cars, ZZ Top, etc.

    I also remember seeing Travis Bean guitars in some of the local shops around the same time. Memories.....

    And then there were all the Fender CS guitars in the mid 90s at many of the local shops - as well as Suhr, Anderson, Grosh and McInturff in the mid-to-late 90s.

    Played so many of these axes, I can't even keep track.
     
  12. serial

    serial Member

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    Dean Z was a guitar student of Paul Hamer's at Bob Gand's Music.

    Agreed that the Fender-style stuff is tough to track-very cool to see what's posted here though!
     
  13. '59_Standard

    '59_Standard Member

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    Just ordered that Hamer book - damn TGP. :)
     
  14. Teleplayer

    Teleplayer Silver Supporting Member

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    Bob's son is a longstanding friend. I used to spend half my life at his store (inside of Bob's place) when I as a teen. I remember Bob very well, and he recently passed. The guy could only play about 15 different instruments.
     
  15. serial

    serial Member

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    Gary was a huge help in putting together early pre-Hamer history for the book.

    Thanks 59 Standard-enjoy!!
     
  16. drbob1

    drbob1 Silver Supporting Member

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    There were SO many little companies back in the day, too. It's just that they were little and no one remembers them. Try and find a copy of Wheeler's "American Guitars". The original was done in the 70s and has lots of information on the small companies from the 60s boom. I think there was a second edition in the 80s or 90s.

    Of course, with the globalization of guitar production there are literally thousands of small companies on every continent building guitars, or assembling them with the help of other companies. The Blue Book of Guitar Values has 1200 pages, and while Gibson and Fender get 100 pages each, there are other pages with 5 or 6 small manufacturer's names. Trying to trace the history of all of them would be impossible. Serial, that was great information, though!

    I've owned or played a bunch of small print stuff over the years: Alembic, Turner, Travis Bean, Brusker, Baker, BCR, LaBaye (well, didn't own that one), Microfrets, LoPrinzi, Rico, Spacevox, Lindert, St. Blues, Heritage... And most of them weren't Fender derived or Superstrats.
     

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