West Coast Cowboys, Hurricane Katrina, P.A. Bigsby, and the Amazing TK Smith . . .

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by 100% Zulu Boy, Dec 14, 2017.


  1. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    So I grew up in Southern California in the shadow of the old American Legion Stadium in El Monte, and am just old enough to remember Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree on TV every Saturday night. I always loved folks like Merle Travis, Lefty Frizzell, Joe Maphis and the Collins Kids with their California Cowboy style and customized guitars. In particular, I've always loved the acoustic guitars PA Bigsby re-necked for some of those players, and I used to imagine how cool it would be to have a J-200 re-necked by PA in his shop in Downey, CA.

    As it worked out I never got a J-200 and PA passed when I was in the 5th grade, but somehow or another the dream never died. I lived in New Orleans in the 2000's and found a sweet J-100 that had a great voice in a Guitar Center while I lived there, but it got wet in the post-Katrina flood -- the guitar was in a case but the headstock was submerged for a while so the neck drank up plenty of water through the truss rod and tuner holes, and the only thing holding the bridge on were the bridge pins -- it was a mess.

    [​IMG]

    The photo above was what I saw when I first opened the case when I made it back home after the storm, and within a couple of days the finish turned green, the headstock wings fell off, and the headstock overlay curled up and was only held on by the tuner ferrules. Luckily what Gibson passed off as nitro back then was more like a thick layer of rubbery soft plastic that protected most of the guitar from the water, and as I rebuilt my house -- and our lives - I did my best to get the old girl into playing shape again. I rebuilt the headstock, got the neck reasonably straight, and I peeled off the so-called nitro finish off the entire guitar and then refinished it with a couple of cans of ReRanch nitro lacquer.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    It worked out pretty good considering what I found when I first opened the case; the guitar was never as playable as it was before, but I'm no luthier and had a few other projects to attend to at the same time . . .

    Fast forward 10 years; we moved from New Orleans to South Africa then California then New Orleans (again) and then, finally, to the NYC area. The J-100 followed me every step of the way, but by the time we got to NYC she needed some serious attention.

    And that's when I reached out to the amazing TK Smith; I'd seen some of his work on the web, and amazingly, I saw that he had re-necked a few old guitars with Bigsby style necks. We traded emails, agreed on the details, price and a timeline -- I asked him for a big V to C neck, one of his C.A.R pickups mounted in the soundhole, and a new pickguard done in the Bigsby style. I boxed up the old girl and sent her off to the high desert of Southern California where TK has his shop.

    We didn't talk much for a while -- I knew TK was crazy busy going into it -- but things started to happen this summer. As we were talking about the details once he got started, I made a couple of additional requests. I asked for a "suit of cards" inlay like Merle Travis had on his Bigsby electric guitar, the one that must have blown Leo Fender's mind and given him that "aha!" moment that lead to all the goodness that came out of his shop in Fullerton, and I also asked for a horseshoe inlay on the pickguard. This guitar and I, well, we've both been pretty damn lucky to make it this far -- I was advised by more than one luthier that the guitar wasn't worth saving, and well, I've heard the same thing about me, too -- in spite of that, we persisted.

    I found these pictures in my email yesterday -- TK, who is an understated kind of guy, wrote "I was playing (it) last night, it turned out great." If she plays half as good as she looks I'll be over the moon . . .

    [​IMG]

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    I'm so much looking forward to having this guitar back -- we've been through a lot together, and it's oddly satisfying to know that it took a disaster to make a dream come true.

    Thanks again, TK, for taking on this project and making it such a winner!

    ~j
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2017
    e???, Todd Lynch, JVJ and 24 others like this.
  2. MR.K

    MR.K Member

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    Nice story. Beautiful guitar
    I was thinking about Paul Bigsby yesterday. Good on you for saving your guitar.
     
  3. shallbe

    shallbe Deputy Plankspanker Gold Supporting Member

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    This is one of the coolest things I've seen on TGP in all my years. What a wonderful story. I hope you love the way it plays when you receive it.
     
  4. malakka

    malakka Silver Supporting Member

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    Congrats! TK's creations are really awesome! Would love to own something from him.
     
  5. Stringmaster

    Stringmaster Gold Supporting Member

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    Way cool! TK is the best!
     
  6. straightblues

    straightblues Member

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    Wow!!! Now that is something special.
     
  7. telephone

    telephone Supporting Member

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    So, that's your guitar. I check in to TK's site and IG every single day. So cool to connect the dots regarding this one. Congrats.
    Someday I'll get my PA/TK inspired build finished... Just need a little time.
     
  8. JeffHaddad

    JeffHaddad Supporting Member

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    That's gorgeous! I love TK's work!
     
  9. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Well, she arrived yesterday, what a bad-assed guitar.

    Can't say enough about TK's work -- it's hand-made but immaculate, and lives at the intersection of art and craftsmanship. As an object the design is faithful to the necks PA Bigsby built for the West Coast Cowboys; it's carefully judged and beautifully constructed. As an instrument it's wonderfully playable; it plays in tune up and down the neck, and the action is soft and inviting. Where the original neck on the guitar always felt like a middle of the road kind if thing designed not to offend anyone, the new neck feels like it's carved from a tree from a different time and place, and it takes the entire guitar back to 1952.

    Some people may get off on that -- I sure do -- and I'm sure a lot of folks wouldn't, but it's what I asked for and it's what TK delivered.

    I'm not usually the most trusting or patient guy you'll ever meet, but I'm glad I trusted TK with my old guitar and that I gave him all the time he needed to get it done. What I got in return is a lifetime guitar that weaves together many of the threads that make up the fabric of my life -- and that is a rare gift indeed.

    [​IMG]

    ~j
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2017
    e???, Todd Lynch, Lotus and 5 others like this.
  10. Shane S

    Shane S Member

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    The guitar turned out great @100% Zulu Boy! I love the story behind the guitar and you you two persisting. I hope you two have many years of music together ahead of you.
     
  11. Dexter.Sinister

    Dexter.Sinister Minister of EffedUpness, approximate ately Gold Supporting Member

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    Merry Christmas, Jefe. Beautiful tale.
     
  12. RoneB

    RoneB Member

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    Congratulations what a great story to read at this time of year.
     
  13. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Thanks, Dr. Rico! So good to have this guitar back, we've been through a lot together. :)

    Ever get up/down to the city?

    ~j
     
  14. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Thanks! The more I play it, the more I hear the soul of PA coming through. The guitar has a really ancient sound, in a really good way.
     
  15. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Thanks!

    Had to leave town for a week (and leave the guitar behind) but I'm settling in with it now, and I seem to find something new in it every time I pick it up and/or plug it in.
     
  16. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    You must be a committed TK fan to check his site and IG every day, but man, if you dig that mid-century vibe of his, well, he makes some tasty stuff.

    And what a pleasure to deal with -- both he and Jill are excellent to work with.

    Go for it!

    ~j
     
  17. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Thanks! It's been a long time coming for sure . . .
     
  18. telephone

    telephone Supporting Member

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    I'm well on my way...

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  19. 100% Zulu Boy

    100% Zulu Boy Supporting Member

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    Very cool -- what are you working on?
     
  20. telephone

    telephone Supporting Member

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    I'm working on a cross between the Hezzy Hall Bigsby and a Smith Special. Inlays and headstock shape (3+3) will be different of course. Templates are finished, as well as panels for top and back.

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