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tonym: My 1959 Gibson Les Paul TV Junior

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Tonym - On Guitars

Following on from my recent piece about guitar collecting, eyeplug have asked me to write a little weekly piece about the guitars I have in my collection. So, starting from oldest to newest, this first week, I’m bringing you a profile of 2 guitars I own, both identical, dating from 1959, made by Gibson in their ‘golden age’ of building solid body electrics.

If either of these guitars had only LES PAUL written on the headstock, I’d be a very wealthy man but alas, these are the “junior” Les Paul’s, originally built as a student guitar but strangely much more succesful originally than the proper Les Pauls. Fortunately for me though, these are the rarest and most desireable of the Juniors for a number of reasons and I’ll explain why shortly.

Les Paul, the man, was a guitar wizard who was one of the pioneers of the electric guitar. In fact if he is to be believed, he actually invented it but was laughed out of various guitar factories who didn’t think his idea would ever be viable. The only electric guitar you could buy originally were the hollow bodied jazz type of archtop guitars which would then be fitted with a pick up to amplify the strings. Les Paul wanted something a bit more user friendly and Gibson were the first company to provide this.

The Les Paul guitar was originally built in the early ’50’s and Les was asked to give his name to it in a sponsorship deal due to his recorded successes with his partner mary Ford. All early Les Paul guitars were
“Goldtops”, painted on the face with a gold finish and these were followed by Les Paul Customs in the mid ’50’s. However, it wasn’t until 1958 when Gibson produced what has become the Holy Grail of electric guitars, the “Burst”, a sunburst stained Les Paul Standard. These were only produced for 3 years because they were a dismal failure but alongside the whole Les Paul range were the Juniors, a lot more basic, aimed at the student market. The Juniors were first made in 1955 but by 1958, the shape had changed to what is now known as a double cutaway Junior and these too were phased out in the early 1960’s.

The standard colour for a double cutaway Junior was a stained red but during the three years of production, another colour was added, TV Yellow, which apparently showed up better on the television. There were about 500 of these made but they have become iconic for a number of reasons. Firstly, Keith Richards of the Stones started to use one in the late 1960’s and he was followed by the ultimate rock and roll outlaw guitarist, Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls who supposedly bought them because they were cheap at the time. Then there is the scarcity value to factor in. You can buy any amount of the standard red Juniors but try finding a TV Yellow one and it can be a long search.

What makes these guitars so great is their simplicity. They are fairly light, solid mahogany body and neck with a rosewood fretboard, and they only have one pick up in the treble or bridge position and one tone and one volume control, that’s it. No fancy switches or anything luxurious. Then there is the sound! Crank up a Junior through an old valve amp and you get the meanest sound known to man. That’s the sort of sound I like for my own band, Long Tall Shorty, so it’s the perfect guitar for me.

As I mentioned previously, I have 2 of these, one is totally original but the other possibly has a more interesting history. I bought it in the early 1990’s from a roadie who had previously worked with another band I was in called the Angelic Upstarts. He had got a job working with a singer called Stiv Bators who had to go to Paris for a recording session with Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone. Unfortunately, Dee Dee and Johnny had a bust up over the writing credits of a song called Chinese Rocks and Dee Dee smashed JT’s guitar up and poured bleach over his clothes! The aforementioned roadie was left with the remnants of the guitar and for a few years it was in a case under his bed which is where I first saw it, with the neck broken in 2 places, at the headstock and also at the heel, the bit where the neck joins the body. I’d seen this guitar several times and eventually managed to buy it, still in bits and I took it to a luthier to be repaired. At the time, completely ignorant about the soon to become “classic” guitar market, I had an extra pick up fitted and an extra tone and volume control added. A few years ago, I decided to get it put back to it’s original spec at great expense and the whole thing was refinished in the original yellow colour and I’ve used it as my main guitar ever since. Last year, I went to see Walter Lure, guitarist in Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and got him to sign the back of the headstock of my JT guitar. He was really interesting and I have to say, it’s the only person I have ever asked for an autograph, but I just thought it’d be cool to have him scrawl his moniker on this particular guitar.

Whether the Johnny Thunders story is true or not is irrelevant to me though because it’s just about the best guitar I’ve ever owned. The neck profile is perfect for me and the whole guitar just feels really comfortable. The other 1959 one I own has a slightly different neck profile but it’s still a cool guitar. I bought that one in the USA a few years ago because it’s always handy to have a spare that’s exactly the same as the one you’re playing in case you break a string. It’s pointless having a spare that dosen’t sound the same because if you do have to change mid set, you want to keep the sound the same.

The next guitar I am going to be writing about is a 1968 White Fender Stratocaster that I own. This is also a great, well-crafted instrument, but I’ll save that for the next installment in this growing series.

tonym

After leaving school and deciding that work wasn't for me, I got my first record contract at 18 with my band Long Tall Shorty. This quickly went kaput, the contract that is, and we were left scrabbling around releasing records on small independant labels for a couple of years until salvation dropped into my lap. I bumped into my old associates, The Angelic Upstarts who had just lost their bass guitarist and I blagged my way into the job. They were doing pretty well with a big Emi contract and records getting into the lower reaches of the chart and the best bit of all, American Tours so I spent nearly 3 years doing nothing but making music and having a great time. After that all ended I did a few gigs here and there but it had lost it's magic so I just gave up playing for a few years. Eventually in 2000, I got a new version of Long Tall Shorty together and have been making records and touring in Europe and the UK ever since. I also play sessions for other artists several times a year and have been working lately with a fabulous singer-songwriter called Kiria who just released her first LP. The future for her looks very bright and it's great to see that after 30+ years of making music, there are still young artists with as much enthusiasm and commitment as I had, trying to make great music.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Instruments Tags:, ,
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tonym: My life as a Guitar Collector.

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Tonym - On Guitars

I’ve been playing the guitar for three quarters of my life now and still recall the time the bug first bit me. In my early teens I would watch Top of the Pops on telly, but I only ever liked the bands with electric guitars. If an artist played a piano or acoustic guitar I’d quickly lose interest, but if they had a low strung Stratocaster or were wailing away on a Les Paul, I’d be glued to the box. Aged about 14, I suddenly got the idea that I could do that, too – but how to get a guitar? My parents used to sit there and if Alice Cooper or the Sweet came on, I’d be straining my ears to listen to the music while my Dad was going, ‘Look at that bloody poof’, or ‘Bloody hell, he’s got nail varnish on!’ So I honestly felt guilty as hell about wanting a guitar, it would have been easier to shut up because I felt they would accuse me of being a ‘bloody poof’ or something similar.

Walking past a junk shop near where I lived, I saw an electric guitar on the wall which was six quid and, as it was nearly Christmas, I figured that’d be a cool present. However, it wasn’t to be, because when we enquired about it, it transpired you needed an amp too and that was way out of the budget. Instead I was bought an acoustic guitar instead though with thick nylon strings and I was away, forget about being a racing driver now, it was all girls and guitars.

I initially had five lessons and was the star pupil as I used to practice for a couple of hours a day, but on the fifth week, I was shown an F chord and even with a week before the next lesson, I couldn’t get it right, so I gave up and never saw the guy again. However, as most rock guitarists will tell you, they can’t read a note of music and don’t need to, so being a guitar player is a cool job – you buy a phallic looking instrument, plug in to a mass of speakers and you don’t even have to study. That really appealed to me back then!

Now, all decent electric guitars are American, it’s always been the case and back in the 1970’s, these things weren’t cheap. As with all imported goods then guitars are actually much cheaper today than they have ever been. The Japanese made ‘copy’ guitars that looked exactly like the original Fenders and Gibsons and were often fine instruments – but they were a fraction of the price. The first guitar of note I bought was one of these, a used Antoria Stratocaster copy which cost £35.00. I was king of the block until a friend down the road bought a CSL Les Paul copy, but it was a start. Bearing in mind a real Stratocaster was probably about £165.00, these sorts of guitars got many people of my age playing and it all coincided with the revolution called punk rock. Suddenly, you didn’t have to have great equipment and expensive guitars. There was a saying that went, ‘One pick up is cool, two pickups are flash, and anymore than that are ridiculous. Of course, that was all bollocks because the first thing any punk band did with their record company advances was to buy the real guitars and amps, book into expensive studios and start living the life of proper rock stars. What such ideas did do was demystify the whole process and workings of the music industry – suddenly anyone could be in a band.

I began playing properly in clubs in 1978; in fact the first gig I got was supporting Sham 69 at the Electric Ballroom. Our band was lucky to have a drummer whose mother was secretary to Sham’s manager and our next gigs were supporting the Angelic Upstarts on their first tour of the UK. Jimmy Pursey, singer with Sham, saw us and offered us a record contract which was with Warner Brothers. One of the first things he did was to give me a Rickenbacker that had belonged to his guitar player. While not exactly the Holy Grail, this guitar was a proper instrument and I used it with a Vox AC30 that Paul Weller had given to me a few weeks earlier after a completely random meeting.

So that’s how it all started. Over the following years I did get to own Fender Stratocasters, Gibsons and all other manner of decent guitars, but bizarrely, the way I started collecting came after I’d actually given up playing which was about 12 years ago. I figured I’d had my shot at stardom and at the age of 28 I got a job. I then got married, had a son and just gave up playing and sold whatever bits and pieces I had left. About 10 years in the wilderness I started feeling like something was missing in my life so I began tinkering around with guitars again until eventually I had a small collection of oddities and slightly rare and desirable guitars. This led to me getting back to playing live and recording again and I started to yearn for better and better instruments.

I bought a 1972 Fender Stratocaster which is a pretty decent guitar but as I got better and had more spare cash, I started to trade up and up. Next I acquired a 1970 Stratocaster which was only two years older but there is a big difference to collectors. Between 1966 and 1971, Fender changed the design of the Stratocaster slightly and these guitars are now known as ‘Hendrix Strats’ because they are the exact same models as Jimi used. Prior to late 1965, Fender was an independent company, but was taken over by CBS, so you have pre-CBS Fenders which are the most collectable. CBS Fenders also have kudos because that’s what Jimi used. Buying a post 1972 Stratocaster is a bit risky because they aren’t that collectable and the design changed again with a fundamental fault, the neck plate, (the bit where the neck joins the body), was changed from four bolts to three, and I’ve always found that the tuning can be affected by playing too hard. The first time I realised that collecting guitars was a good idea was about eight years ago. I bought a 1965 Fender Stratocaster in Denmark St, Central London, for £3000. A couple of years later, I decided to move that on and the shop I bought it from offered me the three grand back. I found out they’d sold it two weeks later for over £4000! This seemed like a great way to buy anything you want, use it for as long as you want and then eventually sell it for a profit. How cool is that?

Over the coming years, I owned many guitars which were extremely desirable. These included a 1969 Gibson SG Special, bought for £1950 and sold for £2400, a 1969 Dan Armstrong Plexiglas, bought for £1300 in Italy and sold to a guy in Berlin for £2200, a 1974 White Gibson Les Paul, bought for £1850, sold for £2700 and any amount of other Les Pauls which I paid anything from £1200 to £3700. Without exception, I made money on
all of them which isn’t a boast; it’s just a niche I have found that I appear to have some sort of talent for. The guitar collecting market has obviously been affected of late by the contracting economy but it is still relatively simple to own a guitar you want and then sell it for a profit at a later date, you just have to know what you are buying and then buy at the right price. To my mother, I am some sort of guitar trading genius. She was always interested in antiques and it always mystified me as to how people could buy an old item and then make money out of it. Nowadays, I buy guitars that I know I will use and I also love to own certain models, but eventually you change your musical style or maybe just your tastes and then you’re off on the lookout for something different. I currently own a 1968 Fender Stratocaster which is painted in the original Olympic White finish. It is a super rare guitar because of the colour. If you change the finish of an old guitar or restore it and replace parts, you lower the value dramatically. Imagine buying a 50 year old car that was full of rust, the wipers didn’t work, the doors didn’t shut properly but you couldn’t change anything because it would affect the value? Guitars are the opposite – the more original parts that are intact the better. The ’68 Strat is the one instrument that I always think I’d never sell, but who knows?

The main guitars I use on stage these days are two Gibson Les Paul Juniors, both made in 1959 and these are also rare because they are finished in a colour called TV Yellow. I believe there were only 500 made in this spec so after 52 years, how many are left? The value of these particular guitars is also determined by other factors. Yellow Les Paul Juniors were used by Keith Richards and Johnny Thunders, both absolute axe hero icons and therefore the value is increased. Depending on who you believe, one of the ones I own was previously Johnny Thunders’ own guitar which I bought in three pieces from a roadie who had been in Paris working with Thunders when Dee Dee Ramone smashed it up after an argument. So that’s an interesting one, it’s been broken severely but it was possibly Thunders guitar which gives it provenance, so the value is being affected by these factors. All this doesn’t bother me, because when I play that guitar it just feels right. I pull the strap over my shoulder, plug it in and it does anything I want it to do. Comparing it to your favourite slippers wouldn’t be an overstatement.

The best guitar in my collection is a 1969/1970 Black Les Paul Custom, which weighs a ton but has the most incredible sound. I’m not a fan of Guns N’ Roses but there is a guitar solo on a song called ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ that has a great tone and I always wondered what effects the guitar player used to get that particular sound. I can tell you now, he didn’t! Plug this guitar into an old valve amp, whack up the distortion and it’s there. When recording, I play the rhythm guitar tracks on one of the Les Paul Juniors, but for all overdubs, guitar solos, power chords and so on, I use this Les Paul so I get two distinct tones but also the power that I want.

Finally, I also own a 1960’s Vox Teardrop guitar, which is exactly like the one Brian Jones used in the Stones, and a 1969 Les Paul ‘Goldtop’ – so called because the top has a gold finish with a sort of sparkly paint. Where the paint has started to fade, you get a greenish hue which is evidence of the arsenic they used in the paint back then.

The latest trend with guitars is “relic-ing” which is a process where you buy a brand new guitar that has been made to look old. The funny thing about this is that you pay a premium for the guitar, when in reality all you need to do is buy any old guitar, drag it around clubs for a few years, get a few scratches on it and you’re away – instant relic appeal. A lot of people buy these relic guitars because they want to look like they’ve been on the road for the last 20 years which is good news for people like me because I have been, and every scratch on my guitar is like a notch in the bedpost, they each have a tale to tell.

 

tonym

After leaving school and deciding that work wasn't for me, I got my first record contract at 18 with my band Long Tall Shorty. This quickly went kaput, the contract that is, and we were left scrabbling around releasing records on small independant labels for a couple of years until salvation dropped into my lap. I bumped into my old associates, The Angelic Upstarts who had just lost their bass guitarist and I blagged my way into the job. They were doing pretty well with a big Emi contract and records getting into the lower reaches of the chart and the best bit of all, American Tours so I spent nearly 3 years doing nothing but making music and having a great time. After that all ended I did a few gigs here and there but it had lost it's magic so I just gave up playing for a few years. Eventually in 2000, I got a new version of Long Tall Shorty together and have been making records and touring in Europe and the UK ever since. I also play sessions for other artists several times a year and have been working lately with a fabulous singer-songwriter called Kiria who just released her first LP. The future for her looks very bright and it's great to see that after 30+ years of making music, there are still young artists with as much enthusiasm and commitment as I had, trying to make great music.

More Posts - Website

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Instruments Tags:,
0 Comment