When Leo Fender released first released the Telecaster to the world (via the Broadcaster and Esquire), his earliest customers were country and western musicians. Some, like Jimmy Wyble and Jimmy Bryant, came to C&W via the jazz world, where the archtop guitar ruled the roost. Or course, Leo’s solid body design took off, but what if he had taken the Telecaster shape and built it up like an old-school archtop? If you’ve ever dreamed of such an instrument, then check out this guitar made by Maryland luthier Tim Bram:
Tim got his start in solid bodies, making his first as a teen in 1976. For the next three decades, he worked a cabinet and furniture maker. Though he wasn’t primarily a luthier during that time, Bram continued to hone his craft. His love of the Telecaster began when a friend dropped off a repair job. “It was ’50s tele that was so beaten up that it was considered by many to be worthless,” Bram says. “I took my time and fixed it, but still left the patina only a guitar that old should have. Once it was playable again I couldn’t believe how incredible it sounded. It was hard to return it to the owner!”
After discovering Robert Benedetto’s book Making an Archtop Guitar, a fire was lit. “I loved the art, skill and challenge of a hand-carved archtop, but didn’t want to do the same traditional one that most archtops are modeled after. The Tele theme came to my mind again. This approach wasn’t done as a novelty, but more to create a guitar that can be played as an acoustic or an electric that was smaller than traditional archtops, and then of course as a tribute to the great ’50s Telecaster that I had to return.”
Bram builds his archtops the traditional way: the sides are heat bent and clamped into a mold. The top and back are contoured with a fish tail gouge, then radius-planed and scraped to achieve a shape that “looks good, feels good and most importantly, sounds good.”
The tops are made from Sitka spruce sourced from Alaska; sides come from special woods he has stored away over the years. “I am always looking for special pieces that others may overlook when I am at a supplier or lumber yard,” Bram says. He finishes each instrument with a nitrocellulose lacquer, and allows it to cure for at least 10 days before buffing and polishing.
“Because I make each guitar by hand, the options can be great,” Bram says. “Tone woods all have different tonal qualities, but if a customer wants something out of the ordinary, I am willing to try something new.” When it comes to hardware and electronics, the sky’s the limit.
The prices for the “Tribute Archtop” range from $4000.00 to $5000.00. “I enjoy discussing the options with the customer and establishing a price,” Bram says. “Custom instruments are very personal and all planning should be treated that way.”
If you think you have a Tim Bram archtop in your future, contact him by phone at 410-360-5179, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about his guitars here:
Check out this video of Tim Lerch playing a Tim Bram:
Guitars and cars have always gone together. From Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” to Wilson Picket’s “Mustang Sally,” if you’ve got a six string, it’s not hard to link it to car culture. In the 1960s and 70s, a lot of this action was headquartered in Southern California, where hot rods and surf wagons tore through the streets, their big block engines rumbling all the way to Fullerton. Now G&L is cementing the link further with the R/T collection, featuring the ASAT Classic Bluesboy 90 and ASAT Special, painted with muscular MOPAR colors:
That color is called Go Mango, and if it rings a bell, perhaps you remember it from this:
All of the colors from the R/T Collection come from the 1970 Dodge lineup, like Panther Pink:
To ensure the colors’ authenticity, G&L turned to Mitch Lanzini, owner of the world famous Lanzini Body Works (featured on TV’s Overhaulin’ show). For Lanzini, the project made perfect sense: “Back in the day, Leo Fender would go to the automotive paint store and look at the colors, and that’s where your Sherwood Forest Green, Seafoam Green, and Fiesta Red came from. Those are all car colors.”
Surprisingly, Lanzini says he’s always been more of a guitar guy than a car guy. His connection to G&L goes back decades. “I was in a band in the 1980s with a guy who worked at G&L,” Lanzini says. “I knew that G&L were good guitars. That was as about as close as you could get to Leo Fender.” Later, he worked on a car for David McLaren, VP of BBE Sound (G&L’s parent company), and when the talk turned to guitar, they cooked up the R/T series.
The ASAT Special retails for $1600 with a street price around $1220.
The ASAT Classic Bluesboy (not shown) features a Seymour Duncan Seth Lover alnico humbucker in the neck position. Retail price: $1750. Street price: $1312.50
Shipping will begin in mid-March, so gentlemen, start your engines!
For more on the R/T series, head to G&L:
Wham, bam, thank you NAMM. Fender is introducing a bevy of Teles at 2015 NAMM, and there’s something here that should appeal to just about anyone. They won’t all be available immediately, but you can’t start fantasizing right now. And as we all know, there’s no bigger turn-on than new guitar smell!
The Limited Edition American Standard Telecaster HH is decked out with pearl block fingerboard inlays and dual Twin Head Vintage humbucking pickups. Available May 1, 2015.
If you’re in to different finishes, the Limited Edition Sandblasted Ash Telecaster is right up you alley. After the transparent finish is applied, the ash body is literally sandblasted, allowing the black grain-filler coat to peek out from the top coat. It comes with American Standard single-coil Telecaster pickups, and a Greasebucket tone circuit, to roll off highs without adding bass. Available in Sapphire blue:
And Crimson Red:
The news from NAMM is still coming out fast and furious. We’ll update these models with photos ASAP:
The original Gibson Flying V was made out of Korina, a tough-as-nails wood with great tone, but considered a real pain when it comes to building. That hasn’t stopped Fender with its Limited Edition American Vintage ’52 Telecaster Korina. Pickups on this bad boy are ’52 Telecaster single-coils. Available November 2, 2015.
The Limited Edition American Vintage Hot Rod ’50s Tele Reclaimed Redwood is made from—you guessed it—reclaimed old-growth redwood. It’s loaded with a humbucking neck pickup and a single coil in the bridge. Available September 1, 2015.
The Limited Edition American Standard Double-Cut Telecaster is designed for easy access to all frets. The ash body is outfitted with a Custom Shop Twisted single-coil neck pickup and a vintage-style Custom Shop single-coil Telecaster pickup. This butterscotch blonde beauty will be available on July 1, 2015.
The Limited Edition American Standard Offset Telecaster is based on a model originally conceived in the Custom Shop. This Tele/Jazzmaster hybrid features an offset body, Custom shop Twisted single-coil neck pickup and a vintage-style Custom Shop single-coil Telecaster pickup.
So there you have it—start counting your pennies or dropping subtle hints about your upcoming birthday, because chances are you’re going to want to put one of these new Teles in your (much) deserving hands, right?
For more information, head to Fender.
Perfection has an ugly side, as Phil Sylvester can attest. Dreaming of becoming a “big-time serious jazzer,” he enrolled at Berklee College of Music, but it wasn’t a smooth ride. “I learned so much about theory and technique that my standards were beyond my ears and my hands,” Phil recalls. “I felt like everything I was playing was terrible. I froze and put away my guitar for 15 years.”
During that time, Phil attended grad school for Architecture, where a drawing instructor had a profound impact. “He showed me a whole other model of learning: instead of trying to do it right the first time, learn what really matters by making a whole lot of mistakes,” Phil remembers. “He got me really comfortable developing skills through experimentation rather than through trying to be perfectionistic.”
Phil soon “jumped ship” and became a full-time visual artist. By 1996, his medium had become guitar. As you can see, his are a bit different.
“In my case, if I get into the typical guitar-building territory, with extremely fine craft tolerances, I tense up, and my perfectionism kicks in, so I have to actually build in that it’s not going to be that way,” Phil says. “It’s going to have scars and saw marks and all kinds of disruptions and inconsistencies.”
As it turns out, the modern masters of the art world used the same method. Phil brings up Matisse as an example: “His paintings seem really clean and beautiful, but when you get up close to them, they’re brushy and loose.” So what is Phil’s process? “I build it, then tear it down, rebuild it, tear it down, and rebuild it until it works the way I want. You rework the thing to its highest standard. Picasso would do that over and over again. That’s how his paintings got so good.”
But don’t think these guitars are just museum pieces. “As wacky as they look,” he says, “I am spending as much if not more time on how they sound and how they play.” Consider the Pheo Sfogliatella:
The body is built with pre-CBS Fender lap steel swamp ash. It breaks down small enough to carry on a plane.
“One of the keys to this guitar’s great sound is how the wings are attached to the body core,” Phil says. “They attach via long dove tail joints, pulled tight by springs to guarantee the strongest direct wood to wood contact at the joint. The springs also contribute some of the reverb-y sizzle that Strat tremolos create.”
The bridge pickup is a Red Volkaert favorite—the O.C. Duff Plank’ster. In the neck, a Vox Strat copy made in England. “I’m almost hesitant to talk about them because they’ll be too hard to find,” Phil says. “I’ve found six of them over the years. They are phenomenal.”
All of his guitars have gone to players, including studio musicians. “What I am pursuing is pretty conservative,” Phil says. “I’m really interested in why the golden age electrics of Gibson and Fender sounded so great.” He admits that it is a never-ending quest: “I’m still trying to build the best guitars in the world. I’m not saying they are that, but that’s what I’m shooting for.”