I was recently asked about a guitar I used to call the Frankencaster and thought I’d post some pictures and tell its story. Mainly as a brain exercise to see if I could remember.
The guitar started out as an early eighties ’52 reissue, one with the super thick urethane finishes that I couldn’t stand. I bought it used around 1990 and shortly after, I striped the paint off the body and re-sprayed it copper with a spray can. I used the guitar that way until I left the Fly Rite Trio in ’92.
The body was one of the heavy ones and I was always thinking about chambering it to make lighter. Plus, I had been thinking about putting a guitar together that matched the Summertone amp I had built a few years earlier. So at that point, I took the guitar apart. I started by milling 5/16’’ off the top of the body and then cut four chambers to shave off a few ounces. For the top I used a piece of knotty pine because I loved the look of Gretsch Roundups and added a piece of 1/4’’ rope for binding which seemed like a good idea at the time, hahaha. I finished the body and the neck with shellac. I later found out that shellac wasn’t the best finish for necks because I wore through it in less than a year.
For pickups I used a set of old Carvins that I had and made some Bigsby looking covers for them. That’s when I discovered that the cover has more to do with a pickup than just appearance. I used a B-5 for the vibrato. I ended up cutting the tension bar off shortly after I put it together and went with the neck shim angle/ bridge height that I still use today for my tele conversions. I played it for number of years with my band Smiths Ranch Boys during the mid nineties. I was constantly changing pickups and experimenting with pickup covers.
In 2004 I needed something to test out an original Charlie Christian pickup that I had so I took the guitar apart again, planed the pine top off, made the chambers larger and glued a new top on. I got a lot of play out of that guitar. Below is a photo of the remaining parts and a video of one of the first Smith’s Ranch Boys shows at Linda’s Doll Hut (it looks like a DeArmond for the bridge pickup). Who knows, maybe some day it will get put back together for the next phase of its evolution. On second thought probably not.
Nothing makes me happier, or do I find more inspiring, than seeing friends kick ass doing something they love to do. I first met Smokey Hormel back in the 80’s, going to watch bands around the LA area. He played in a western swing band called the Radio Ranch Straight Shooters and a few other blues bands at that time. I later took his place in the Radio Ranch Straight Shooters after Smokey left to pursue other projects.
I clearly remember one time in particular seeing Smokey play at the Shamrock Club. He was with a small combo and played Benny Goodman’s Till Tom Special. It was the first time I had seen someone play a Charlie Christian solo note for note. Seeing Smokey play like that was super inspiring to me. I later learned that he had studied with the great swing guitarist Jimmy Wyble. Since then, Smokey has continued to have a successful career as a musician and recording artist.
A few months back Smokey emailed and asked if I’d put a tele together for him with one of my CC pickups at the neck position. I was thrilled! I put together a guitar with a Marc Rutters body and neck, my CCesque pickup in the neck position, my tele bridge pickup, wound by Curtis Novak, and I inlayed Smokey’s name on the pick guard.
Smokey has played and recorded with everyone from Beck to Johnny Cash to Adele, as well as many other talented musicians. Last night I got a text from him saying he just used the guitar I made for him with Beck on the Colbert Report. Here it is…
Check out all the incredible projects Smokey’s worked on, and is involved with now on his website here. Thanks for the continuing inspiration Smokey.
I just finished up with the modifications on this Harmony Rocket. In the past I haven’t given these guitars much thought but I’m really happy with the way this one turned out, both in playability and in the way it sounds. I probably won’t pass the next time one of these comes my way at a good price. Here’s a list of what’s been done: custom neck, C.A.R. pickups, custom pickguard, cast bridge with wood base, Bigsby B-6, flatwounds and wiring, which includes a three-way toggle switch and an out of phase switch.
Here’s a quick demo
Now that Rolf Hartogs and his Smith Special are back home in the Netherlands, he’s had some time to sit down and play it with his own amp. You make the guitar sound great Rolf! Thanks for the note and the clips.
Saturday Night Shuffle
Here are two video’s I’ve put on Youtube.
I really like the sound of the pickups, very, very clear!!!! And I really like the way all three settings sound different, but the volumes are still in balance with each other.
The neck pickup has less output than your rail pickup on my telecaster but I set the rail pickup also a lot closer to the strings. But the CAR pickup is a lot clearer. I can’t compare the pickups to anything else, I just think they really sound fabulous very dynamic and great response.
I can’t tell you how happy I am with the guitar, I’m playing every day again, the fun in playing has returned, thanks for that!
Cheers and say hi to Jill!
Guitarist, Rolf Hartogs, from the Netherlands made the long journey to the Mojave desert this week to pick up his custom ordered Smith Special. It was an honor making #002 for Rolf. As soon as he found out we were working on our own model, he jumped in whole heartedly. Its a pleasure meeting a customer in person and having a chance to show, talk about and play the guitar together. Here are a few photos and the specs. We’ll post a video soon.
Broken Arrow’s own JD McPherson has been tearing up the road with some great vintage tones for a while now. We recently had the privilege of installing some custom parts from TK Smith for JD on a brand new tele including an inlaid pickguard and a Charlie Christian pickup. TK did a great job with the parts and JD came to us to have them installed. After the new parts were installed, we did a full setup to deal with some playability issues. JD took it out on the road and after talking with him this morning he says this Tele is his new number 1! Thanks JD.
Check out TKSmith.net for some really cool custom parts and guitars.
Catch JD this Friday, May 9th in OKC at the Performance Lab JDMcPherson.com
The original pickup and guard.
I recently had the pleasure of working on long time friend Sean Mencher’s Telecaster. We’ve talked about doing this modification for a few years now so I was honored to finally get my hands on it. Sean’s a big Merle Travis fan so we set his Tele up like Merle’s Bigsby. The modifications include C.A.R. blade pickup with a custom walnut trim ring, custom bridge, a cut down B16 and a custom bakelite pick guard.
I first met Sean when he was playing with High Noon from Austin in the late 80′s, one of my favorite bands to share the bill with when I was playing full time with the Fly Rite Trio. In the mid 90′s while I was living in Encinitas, CA, he came by for a visit and you can see in the photo above, its the same guitar.
A few weeks after Sean got his guitar back from my shop, he sent me this great video of him playing it. Still one of my favorite pickers today.
For a long time I’ve had the vision of this guitar in my head. 29 weeks ago I put my idea on paper with the drawing of the headstock below. This past week, I was happy to finally be able to sit down with the guitar and play it. My influences are obvious. I’m happier with the sound and how it plays than I had imagined it. I’m going to try and hang onto No. 001 even though I’ve always had a hard time keeping things I make, but maybe since we’ve already started building this model for others, I’ll keep this one close.
In the Shop With: Matt Codina
We had some t-shirts made up right after I did the headstock drawing and before I even started building the guitar. Kind of backwards but part of my creative process. They’re available in our store here.
Inlay on guitars goes back almost as long as guitars have been made. Some people feel it’s vain to put your name on your guitar but I’ve never felt that way. While in high school, I worked at a machine shop and my first boss had his name neatly engraved on all of his hand tools and cases. A guitar or bass are tools, especially for working musicians so I think thats why I like inlaying a name or a custom design on them.
I started doing inlayed pickguards for my guitars years ago before I ever considered doing it for other players. Pat Capocci was the first player to ask for it and it kind of snowballed from there.
I’m especially fond of the block letters done by Paul Bigsby and possibly a helper. All of our lettering is hand drawn and cut with my 1937 Delta Scroll Saw.
Of course with custom builds, like most companies, we inlay our headstocks, fretboards and continue to do a lot of pickguards. I’m lucky to have artist Ernie Brooks in our shop who has taken over a lot of our inlay work and does an amazing job. We’ve taken hundreds of photos of some of the inlay done in my shop in the last few years. You can see many of them here and a few below. Read The Rest