Saturday, June 13, 2015

Roo hops and swings into guitar mission

BRISBANE musician Roo Friend has been hopping into an interesting project, customising baritone guitars.
Roo has produced prototypes that are fretless under the 5th and 6th and tuned to C, F, Bb, Eb, G and C.
He says the guitars are "very thrilling to use once you get the knack, great for bass-less gigs".
His youtube post at proves that thrill.
Roo has a long and deep involvement with music as you can see in a quick google. He says he based his playing style on some Joe Pass theory.
The picture shows a Yamaha Pacifica that is "prototype 3".
While talking about JP: The late Brisbane jazz legend Sid Bromley, who hosted many great players for their Brisbane visits had a close friendship with Joe and told me about it in the 1980s, when I visited his St Lucia home. I have documented this only in recent years on a post on my other site but repeat it here to save readers opening another page:
"Entering Sid's house – 1950s bungalow style – was like a trip into a bebop party room. He had an upright piano and a drum kit set up ready to go.
He took me on a tour of his record collection – wall to wall and so heavy he said he needed to have the foundations underpinned.
We loosened up with a few bottles of XXXX Light, his brew of choice, then he sat at the piano and played some of the most discordant music I have heard, without any clear melody or beat.
After about 10 minutes, Sid broke the welcome silence with a simple statement: "Tea for Two, isn't it great? It virtually plays itself." Sid, a then retired Customs officer, had a long-established routine of a trip to the Big Apple every year to keep up to date with the state of the art, and I guess he was in a neo-bop interpretative mood.
I ASKED who had been in the party room and he said Ella had sat in my chair and Louis had sat 'over there'. Sid's favourite acclamation was "Out of nowhere", which he would use where others would say "gee" or "wow". A few hours later I was saying "out of nowhere" when he showed me a letter from one of my jazz heroes, Joe Pass, dated in the 1960s, carrying Joe's stamped letterhead and thanking Sid for what he had done for him.
SID had read or heard that Joe was out of the scene because of medical reasons (aficionados will know what I am saying here) and had written to him while he was in an institution, appealing to him to get his act together and return to performing. Joe's letter said Sid's expression had been the turning point that had made him realise that if someone in a far away place like Australia cared about him he should indeed lift himself from his low. Joe said he had asked his wife to investigate moving to Australia but all she could get was tourism oriented. Sid said he had met Joe several times since that interchange, which had occurred almost two decades previously. So that's it: Sid Bromley's great gift to jazz has been put into print. I finally have got it off my chest."

The 'Joh. Mitt' guitar: A long story

YOU are looking at a very old guitar, probably one of the rarest of its brand, which drifted into obscurity after World War I.
I have owned it for just 30 years since I bought it from a secondhand shop in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
Thanks to the web I have been able to get an insight into its history. It carries a brand plate on the back of the headstock, and when the internet came on stream in the late 1990s I searched for clues but found none.
The penetration of the internet into the cultural crevices improved. It was just two years ago that I tried again and found references to some who could help - the Estonian jazz musician Joh Mitt, and his email address. Here is the story as it unfolded.

My email to Mr Mitt:

For about 30 years I have had a seven-string guitar  with a brand plate saying:
TEL. 26-64
It seems to be very old as the phone  number has only four digits. I  am wondering if you are
related to this Joh. Mitt and if you may be able to say when  the guitar was  made, or tell me anything about it or the maker. "

HOPE had all but faded when ...
"Dear Mr Rumney,
 I received your very interesting inquiry about the old guitar you own. My apologies for not being able to reply sooner.
 I am a retired musician, trumpet player, music arranger, conductor from Tartu, Estonia. The Joh. Mitt you mention is indeed a relative from my father's side of the family but I have never met him. In 1940 (I was born in 1948), when the communists took power, any trace of him was lost, probably to Siberia.
To my knowledge, he traded musical instruments, mainly selling wind instruments (I have played a trumpet originating from him), pianos, other keyboard instruments as well as musical scores, and, as it now turns out, guitars as well - this is a very interesting find since I wasn't previously aware that he dealt in guitars as well.
He started his business already before the First World War in Imperial Russia, in Tallinn, Estonia, ordering instruments from all over the world and reselling them.
As a quality assurance, he marked the instruments with Joh. Mitt (which is also my signature, I was named Johannes in his memory).
I think the instrument might be up to 100 years old. It probably came to Australia with an Estonian refugee or migrant.
 You might also find a signature of the instrument maker somewhere inside the guitar. I presume that the instrument was probably ordered from Russia and sold in Estonia.
 I also read about you from your blog profile with great interest, since I’m a devoted fan and interpreter of jazz music myself. I have been playing jazz from an early age, beginning with dixieland, followed by swing, cool jazz, and, at the present I also play funky style. We also have an orchestra called 'Swing' together with other retired music professionals.
 Johannes Mitt ."

My post script to Mr Mitt:
"Dear Mr Mitt,
"Thank  you very much for your detailed response. I searched the internet several tiimes since the late 1990s for references to the brand as the guitar has been a much cherished possession, even in its current damaged form.
About 1986, just as I was coming to terms with the seven-string design I hid it in a basement when I went on holidays from Sydney. It rained for all the four weeks and, when I came back, the basement had been flooded.
I don't think the water actually reached the guitar but the glue softened in the extreme humidity, verging on steamy, and dampness. When I picked it up, the soundbox fell into pieces. It broke my heart.
Although I attempt some guitar repairs this one was too big for me but in the 1990s a luthier friend [Kent of Kent Guitars, Maroochydore, Queensland] glued the soundboard, back and sides together for me to get it playable again.
Delighted, I sat down to string it - but when I brought just two strings to concert pitch, the bridge broke off. The second heartbreak was just as agonising.
 Since then I have simply hung the guitar as a display piece on my wall, stopping from time to time to enjoy the experience of its heritage as I always knew it must be very old. I do value it very much and now I have the motivation to knuckle down and restore it.
I have a long and deep love of guitars and have managed to repair quite a few over the years, although I have no trade qualification.
The 'Joh Mitt' has a nice timber inlay as a small feature at the centre of the soundboard below the bridge (which has now been kept inside the guitar, where I put it almost 20 years ago!). The mother-of-pearl and more timber inlay around the soundhole is also very nice.
A very interesting feature of the guitar is  the adjustable action. The neck is hinged inside the body and adjustable with a key-type screw mechanism that is similar to the old wind-up clocks so it can be tightened or loosened. I would presume this design allows the adjustment of the intonation, rather than just a set-up to suit the player's preference for higher or lower action. But I did not get the chance to use this possibly unique feature. I have not seen another guitar with anything like it.

Several years ago I found one of your records listed on a South African jazz club's website and several other references to you in other languages but this was the first time I was able to track down your address. Or maybe have the courage to jump the language barrier. Perhaps the translation program in the search engine works better now ...
 Just dreaming now: When I get this guitar in action, I should get across there and have a play with you ...  It is so delightful to make contact with you like this and I hope to meet you one day. "

So that's the story behind my Joh Mitt guitar, still awaiting that restoration. :)

Monday, June 08, 2015

Status strat draws attention

THE reference to a Status Silhouette in an earlier post drew the attention of a guitarophile called Paul from Leichhardt, Sydney. Here is the record of our correspondence.

PAUL: I read this story of yours with interest: sts-are.html I found this email address for you online, and hope you don't mind me contacting you using it rather than posting a comment that requires obtaining a Google account, which I'd prefer not to have to do (the blog does not allow anonymous comments as you probably recall). 
I was drawn to the story because I have been offered a Status Silhouette in good condition for free, but it's quite a bit of travel and inconvenience for me to collect it and so I'm tossing up whether to go for it or not. I'd be looking at using the body to assemble a 'partscaster' from other bits and pieces I already have - decent neck, bridge, pickups and electrics. But I don't want to go to all the trouble of collecting the guitar if the body is cheap old ply. 
Basswood I can cope with, anything better than that is a bonus! Your $5 'sick guitar' bargain with the mutilated you recall anything about the construction of the body? Wood type, size/body thickness and bridge holes compared to a 'standard' Strat (either a MIM or US, for example). 
Info I am afraid I cannot get from the current owner of the guitar... Any help you can give me would be much appreciated!
If not, no problem. though it worth the time for this one email to potentially save me a fair bit of wasted time. 
Thanks, Paul 
P.S. Great work with your own luthering, btw! 

ME: No worries about the email - feedback is welcome. I should put a bit of effort into the blog as I have been doing this and that with my guitar passion and have some great stories, yet to be told. 
 The Status body has been kicking around the garage all that time. I was thinking about using it in something but it's ply and I haven't put any effort into it. Just had a look - and the grain in the top lamination is really nice; this one has a red burst intruding from solid on the sides into the top. 
The layer appears to be quite thick, at least a couple of mm, so it could be worth fiddlling with as the body weight and feel are good, medium to lightish, and with a solid, as far as I go, it's a bit of an academic argument whether solid timber would make a better guitar than a ply construction. 
 The neck I got with this one is fabulous, thin-ish and really comfortable. The bloke who had it really loved it as there was considerable thumb wear and the low action had worn grooves into the frets all the way up to about the 10th - it was really played a lot and I don't know what whoever was on when they drilled through the fretboard to bolt the neck on when they only needed to fill the screwholes and redrill. 
Oh well, I guess they call 'em bolt-on necks but ... I would get the guitar for the neck but yours could be worth loving for itself ... I have seen a couple go through gumtree over the years and been tempted. 
From memory they were about $100... They are not all that common .. seem to get a bit of respect ... google entries indicate they are Uk-made, or I think one post said Korea ... but all the ones I clicked had been sold, which could be a good sign. 83/1075081204. 
 I think the compnents were pretty good, not those soft screws that take only one slip with the screwdriver, and the pickups are good for me in their new home. Cheers, John 
 PS. Looking at the body again in better light... the top lamination is actually pretty thin.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Calling all ColTone owners

A NEW community of interest takes shape, here, today,  in the vast internet universe. It's the ColTone Club.
Membership costs nothing and it promises a bit of fun for owners of a guitar of  a rare brand, the ColTone.
The club has two foundation members - Craig Skinner of Canberra and me (John Rumney of Redland City, Qld).
Craig read my post about my ColTone and emailed me, so I asked him for some pics of his axe and a few words:

 "As promised, please find below a couple of pictures of my Coltone MJ-1L in all it's glory.
This was an eBay purchase from a chap who said it originally came from Townsville but he didn't have much more of a history than that.
It was in original unloved condition when I got it. I think that even the strings were original because the high E string had broken and been tied back together!
The tuners were also rusted and jammed, but after they were replaced with replicas and a nice set of flat wound strings, she tuned up nicely and sounds like the vintage songstress she should be.
All the electrics etc work just fine and the original pickup even still has plenty of drive, which my neighbour across the road has commented on (but in a nice way).
This one would have been just above bottom of the range back in the day, with only single pickup and tremolo, but I'm hopingthat will just make her all the more rare now.
From what research I've done, it's most likely a '63 model rebadged Teisco, based on body shape, pick guard style, and head shape, which means she's already over the half century.
Also from my research, it seems that these still aren't worth a lot, but have a bit of a cult following. I must say that it does feel pretty special to own something quite this rare and quite this cool."

Thanks, Craig. And so the ColTone Club is under way. I am really proud to give a space where guitar owners can express such lovely sentiments and add to the body of knowledge about this rare brand.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back in 'action' - how's that for a 'guitarpun'?

My apologies to those who over the past few years have left comments to which I haven't replied. I neglected this blog but now will give it some TLC. I will start with answering some of the questions that have been posted:

Megan wrote:
I have a ColTone, but know absolutely nothing about it.
By Megan on Vintage electric guitar is big-headed instrument on 3/11/11

I also know very little about mine. I acquired it some years ago and its neck was like a fence rail, and the big head makes it feel, as I said, like you'll take out someone's nose if you swing it around in a hurry. My attention to this guitar hasn't progressed much since the earlier post. It has been on my wall as a display piece. I was told Coltone was a brand that an Australian company 'maybe Maton' put on a cheaper Japanese issue but this is just folklore of someone who was perhaps just trying to remember the flower power days. I would appreciate getting any info on the brand because it's obviously needed on the net, so we can all sleep at night knowing that the mystery has been solved.

Marizio wrote:
maybe it is a Jumbo 280 does it have F holes or not ?
By Maurizio on Lifecycle of a 1960s Eko jumbo acoustic guitar on 12/19/10

My Eko has the old round hole. I'd love to have an f-hole model; that would be something special. At present the guitar is out of action as the bridge split because of all the hard work it has done for so long. I found Eko bridges selling on ebay for about $1 each in lots of a dozen or do... it's almost unbelievable that stock of them have come through the years. I didn't act and now can only curse for not buying at the time... however, I can easily put another bridge on... when I get the time and urge. Hell, the guitar must take a lot of stress from all the playing. I read somewhere that Django wore out a guitar every six months or so; it didn't say anything about the poor rhythm players who backed him; surely their axes were getting blunted, too.

Jay BB wrote:
Hello, I have just listed an old CoolTone Guitar on Ebay, I dont know much about it, it came from a very old friend of mine, so i know it is very old, maybe you could tell me a bit about it and what it would be worth about!! I also live in Brisbane. Regards jay
By Jay BB on Wanted: Info on ColTone guitars on 6/24/09

Jay, I am particularly sad about not making contact with you when you posted, as it was/is great to find a ColTone owner in my home region. I would be interested to hear more about the instrument you planned to sell at the time... by the way, I trimmed back the neck on mine to make it more playable... it had a weird triangular shaped neck that was a real wrist breaker. It was a bit like my first electric, a very early Ibanez that I bought in the mid to late '60s when I was just a teenager and plugged into an old 'radiogram' by connecting the live wire to the post on the top of a valve and the earth to the unit's chassis. As incredible as it sounds, I worked out this for myself and didn't even get sizzled.

Loko wrote:
i did a google search on contole guitars ,an you came up on it. I just got a 60s acoustic contole an i was wondering what you could tell me about the brand. I dont know anything about them never heard of them so any info you have would be appretiated.
By loko on Beware, mouse can bite on 10/18/08

I don't know if we're on the same fretboard here, loko. Mine's a ColTone, and I'd love to be able to help but ...

Joseph wrote:
Hey John,
I think I myself have one of these Bolero Guitars... and I have a few questions, as I haven't got a clue about this guitar. Just to make sure we're on the same page here... Does/Did your guitar have marble style inlays on the fretboard, two humbuckers, "Bolero" on the headstock, along with two triangular marble inlays on the head? What are these guitars worth? We were getting some work done on it from a luthier and he said it may be a rare japanese copy worth quite a bit of money. If you could possibly answer my questions, and also send me a picture of your Bolero (I dont have a working camera, and I would like to forward the picture onto friends in an email) to, that would be absolutely fantastic and very much appreciated. Thanks in advance,
By The Joe on Beware, mouse can bite on 9/19/08

My guitar was a dreadnaught-style acoustic, with a ply top. It originally had a heavy layer of lacquer like the old Eko, at least a millimetre thick. When I removed the finish, it sang like a bird. I cannot write about why I don't have it any longer; it is too painful. It was just a '60s Japanese issue (I think) that was obviously not 'up there' with the big-name guitars but after I liberated the sound it was probably the love of my life... as they say, better to have loved and lost... it sort of makes Jobim look a bit silly - he advised guitarists to buy the most expensive guitar they could possibly afford as cost equated with quality, but my old Bolero... I'm getting teary and must close. It's gettin' late and I'm gettin' sad. Goodnight everyone. See ya soon.

Again, thanks to everyone who has shown an interest in this blog, and I promise to keep up the posts.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Nephew 'steals' prized K Yairi guitar

I HAD a "K Yairi" guitar for about 24 years and failed to learn how to play it. My nephew borrowed it about two years ago now, which I guess means he is now the owner. I think that transfer happened much more quickly in his mind, perhaps around the time he first laid his thieving mitts on it.
The modern teen does not recognise the rights or relevance of anyone over 40 unless their name is Jimmy Page. But I'll show him your blog and refer this website to him so he can see "the dovetail slide show" and how "his" Yairi is put together.
Obviously I am enjoying a dayinthelifeofaguitar…..
David C

Wow, what a guitar

HERE it is at long last. The hybrid guitar that I created, or rather rebuilt, after buying the essential elements at garage sales for a total of just $10.
It wasn't easy. I'll get to the details of the task at a later date. Enough to say now. It works well.
The neck and all the electrical components came across to mate with the lonely body, keeping the standard strat-style 5-position switch, which I mounted in the sound hole to save rewiring.

AS far as wiring goes, all I had to do was extend the pick-up lead wires a few centimetres. I cut mounts for the pickups from the old scratchplate. It has been interesting to mount the strat's front and middle pickups close together in the front position. This appears to have given an unusual tonal variation when flicking through the pickup combinations.

A FEW slight adjustments are still needed to be made ... filing down the frets where the old neck suffered severe trauma, with the holes now plugged with dowel. I'll do this next time I have the strings off. And maybe give it a better finish as it has just a light protective coat because I didn't want to spend time 'finishing' it before I knew it would be worthwhile. It sure is!

NOW for some playing. See you later.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hybrid guitar project takes shape

An amazing cross-species mating continues as a day in the life of a guitar records the foreplay between a strat-style neck and a semi-acoustic body.
The body came from a luthier’s garage sale about six or seven years ago; the neck from a cheap fender copy just a few days ago at another moving sale. Yes, it has taken this long for me to come across a suitable mate for the body.

A SIGN, “guitar repairs”, outside a house on busy Bradman Avenue, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia, waved its message for years before I finally stopped the car to investigate.
This time the sign had a subtitle, “garage sale”.
My brakes went on, the following cars screeched with surprise and shock, and I got in there as quick as an Alvin Lee lick.
A lot of guitar parts were spread on trestle tables under the house. The vendor was preparing to move and liquidating a lot of odds and ends.
A semi-acoustic body with any fittings caught my eye. It had a black and orange sunburst finish, with a lot of scratches.

THE luthier told me the guitar had been US made but he could not remember the brand.
He had taken it to pieces because the wiring had broken down but he ended up using the neck, pick-ups and tremolo set-up in other repairs.
He had started work on the lonely body to get it ready for another neck, using hot glue to patch the tremolo hole with rough ply.
A sanding and spray painting then would have finished the bodywork, ready for attachment to other secondhand parts as they became available.
I asked show much. He said $5.

ALL the years since that Saturday morning near the Maroochy River, the body has been kicking around my garage and workshop. It is well made, with a block right through the top of the guitar to provide a solid foundation for the the neck.
The ply top is extra thick. A substantial block gives support under the bridge. The body is extra wide.
Such a flat-top semi-acoustic says “country and western”. Soon it will be back in action with the neck and pick-ups from the strat copy.
I hope for a 335-style sound. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Now, more dirty pictures …

GUITARISTS are advised: This is the place for sick guitar pictures. Today I can unveil the second most disgusting repair job I have seen.
The guitar cost $5 at a garage sale.
The vendor said he had planned to put a clock in it after he acquired it from the former owner who drilled 10mm holes through the fretboard and used coachbolts to hold the neck to the body.
The former user must also be scarred for life from punctures on his abdomen from the bolt-ends and nuts protruding from the guitar back.
The headstock still carries a brand, Status Silhouette. It must have been a pretty low-range strat copy. Google had one specific reference.
The Status failed to impress that reviewer but someone has loved this guitar before a mysterious mental illness caused them to attack it with a drill.

THE frets show a fair bit of wear and the finish has worn off the neck back.
The guitar certainly has been played at lot by someone who used much of the fretboard, not just one or two positions, which seems most common in fret wear.
A transfer of a near-naked girl is another reflection of the player’s love for the guitar.
No reason for the unusual fixing method is apparent. If the four screws through the standard backplate simply loosened up and lost their grip on the timber, as sometimes happens, the only remedial action should have been to plug the old holes with splinters and glue, redrill holes of the correct size and replace the existing set-up.
Yet this master luthier from Bizarro has removed two frets, drilled huge holes through the fretboard, screwed the nuts on from the back, then replaced the frets in a bath of superglue, leaving four cavernous holes.

NOTHING is easy. When I tried to dismantle the neck to allow me to plug the holes with dowel, I found the superglue had set around the screwheads. So I chipped away at them with a high-speed handtool until they freed up.
The neck and maybe the pick-ups will go on a nice semi-acoustic body I picked up a few years ago from a luthier’s moving sale. I’ve been keeping one eye open for a cheap neck for years but making this match work will be difficult.
I’ll introduce the combo in a new post soon.