5. Westone Thunder 1A
I STRUGGLED a fair bit to make the transition from four strings to six – much as I love playing guitar, I still struggle! The main reason back in the early days, though, was that I didn’t actually have a six-string guitar to play. I borrowed a nice little Yamaha SG200 for a while, but sadly, had to give it back. But eventually I I did bite the bullet and bought my very first six-string.
It was June 1982, with the Falklands War grinding towards a conclusion thousands of miles away, when I found this nice secondhand Westone Thunder 1A in a junk shop in York while on a family holiday. For the princely sum of £60, it even came with a proper Westone fitted case! Built in the famous Japanese Matsamoko factory, it was actually a really good, solid instrument, with nice timbers, decent hardware and that most contemporary of features – a rather hairy active circuit which could drive amps into distortion with consummate ease.
Not long after this, we got Automatic Slim up and running and when I wasn’t plonking away on the Westone at home, it doubled as a spare for the band’s guitarist, Ian Cundy, who used it for slide, tuned to open D. For this reason, there are no pictures of me playing it, but a few of it on a stand on Cundo’s side of the stage at gigs…
It was a nice guitar, but it wasn’t a Telecaster – and by then, I desperately wanted a Telecaster, more of which in a minute. I ended up selling the Westone to Cundo, who then sold it to an unknown third party.
An interesting footnote: I’m reasonably certain I spotted my old Westone Thunder advertised for sale on Facebook last year. The seller was in Maldon, the asking price about four times what I paid for it in 1982! I was tempted, but not THAT tempted.
6. 1982 Vintage reissue 51 Telecaster
And so to my oldest friend, the guitar I’ve owned the longest and gigged the most by a mile, my cherished 1982 Fender USA 52 Vintage Reissue Telecaster.
It must have been one of the very first of Fender’s reissue guitars – they were launched in 1982 to almost original specs, when Fender completely revamped its by-then very out-of-date range. (The one thing they got wrong was the spacing of the dots at the 12th fret, which is wider than that on a genuine ’52, apparently because the machines being used at the time to make the necks couldn’t be adjusted to replicate the vintage spacing!)
In 1984, I worked in Chelmsford town centre, as did my pal Howard Bills, ‘Slim’s bass player, and we would regularly meet for lunch (planning the band’s campaign of world domination), before adjourning to Hodges and Johnson’s Chelmsford music shop in the shopping mall underneath the Chancellor Hall. Downstairs was all cheesey home organs and pianos, but upstairs they had a pretty decent stock of guitars and amps – including a rather characterful secondhand Tele .
The original owner had hung on to the snazzy tweed case and well as removing the original neck pickup, hacking a chunk out of the body and pickguard to accommodate a Gibson PAF humbucker and fitting a six-saddle bridge. (Presumably going for a bit of a Keef vibe.) The original pickup and the original bridge (which had the serial number stamped on it) were with it.
In exchange for £270 all this, plus a very impressive ally flightcase became mine. It was paid for in something like ten easy instalments – money I’d saved from finally giving up smoking.
It’s always been a really cool guitar, with an incredible vibe about it and the more I gigged it and the more beaten up it got, the cooler it became. In an age of artificially aged “relics”, I promise you every nick, scratch and bang on this Tele is genuine – inadvertently created by its dangerously clumsy oaf of an owner over the course of 3,000-plus gigs!
Soon after getting the Tele, I started playing a bit of slide with ‘Slim and so the Tele spent most of the next 25 years or so strung with 11s and set up for slide in open A. I swapped out the original bridge pickup for a hotter, less microphonic DiMarzio Pre B and that – give or take the odd top E tuner to replace machines snapped off or bent by thrusting the headstock into all manner of unmentionable places – is how it remained until August 2017, when I decided it was high time to return it to something like its original glory.
The bridge and pickups which came off the Tele went straight into another guitar I built specifically to play slide with ‘Slim. I call it the “Slimcaster” – it will feature in this series at Number 46, so stay tuned!
The original 52 resissue bridge had long ago emigrated to LA with Owen on a blue Tele he built in his Purple Melon days. That same bridge would later tour North America, opening shows for The Who with Tal Wilkenfeld – by that stage on another of his Tele builds – a much travelled bit of hardware!
Suffice to say, I claimed back the bridger, also managing to score an incredibly toneful set of Seymour Duncan Custom Shop pickups. All that remained new single-ply Bakelite scratchplate and a brilliant refret by the estimable Martyn Booth to transform it into as good a Tele as you’ll find anywhere. Ironically, that refret – very necessary after all those gigs, not to mention deep grooves in a few frets, the result of early, cack-handed experiments with a ridiculously heavy brass slide – cost me exactly the same as I paid for the guitar in 1984!
Strung with a set of Curt Mangan 10s, it’s an absolute killer guitar – one of the half-dozen or so which never leaves my guitar rack.