Metal Machine Music: The History of Metal Guitar

From the National Band to Travis Bean, James Trussart, etc., the body and neck of the guitar are all made of metal and have a history of nearly a century. Join us and draw history for them.
Before we start, let’s solve some problems first. If you want sensible information about metals related to long hair and extreme debris, please leave when you have time. At least in this function, we only use metal as the material for making guitars.
Most guitars are mainly made of wood. You know that. Usually, the only metal you will see is contained in the piano grid, pickups, and some hardware such as bridges, tuners, and belt buckles. Maybe there are a few plates, maybe there are knobs. Of course, there is also string music. It is best not to forget them.
Throughout the history of our musical instruments, some brave people have gone further, and in some cases even further. Our story begins in California in the 1920s. In the middle of that decade, John Dopyera and his brothers established the National Corporation in Los Angeles. He and George Beauchamp may have collaborated to design the resonator guitar, which is National’s contribution to the search for greater volume.
Nearly a century after the introduction of the resonator, the resonator is still the most popular type of metal guitar. All images: Eleanor Jane
George is a Texan juggler guitarist and keen tinker, now lives in Los Angeles and works for National. Like many performers at the time, he was fascinated by the potential to make traditional flat top and bow top guitars sound louder. Many guitarists who play in bands of all sizes want to have a louder volume than existing instruments can provide.
The resonant guitar invented by George and his friends is a shocking instrument. It came out in 1927 with a shiny metal body. Inside, depending on the model, National has connected one or three thin metal resonator discs or cones under the bridge. They act like mechanical speakers, projecting the sound of strings, and provide a powerful and unique sound for the resonator guitar. At the time, other brands such as Dobro and Regal also made metal body resonators.
Not far from the national headquarters, Adolph Rickenbacker runs a mold company, where it manufactures metal bodies and resonator cones for the National. George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Adolph worked together to merge their new ideas into electric guitars. They established Ro-Pat-In at the end of 1931, just before George and Paul were fired by National.
In the summer of 1932, Ro-Pat-In began to produce electroformed aluminum electronic products for cast steel performance. The player puts the instrument on his lap and slides a steel rod on the string, usually tuned to the open string. Since the 1920s, few lap steel rings have become popular, and this instrument is still very popular. It is worth emphasizing that the name “steel” is not because these guitars are made of metal-of course, many guitars are made of wood except Electros-but because they are held by the players with metal rods. I used my left hand to stop the raised strings.
The Electro brand evolved into Rickenbacker. Around 1937, they began to make small guitar-shaped steel from stamped sheet metal (usually chrome-plated brass), and eventually thought that aluminum was an inappropriate material because every guitar manufacturer would Metal is used as material. The important part of the instrument must be considered. Aluminum in steel expands under high temperature conditions (for example, under stage lighting), which often makes them untimely. Since then, the difference in the way wood and metal change due to temperature and humidity has been sufficient enough to allow many manufacturers and players to move quickly from the other direction of the guitar (especially the neck) that mixes the two materials. run.
Gibson also briefly used cast aluminum as his first electric guitar, namely the Hawaiian Electric E-150 steel, which came out at the end of 1935. The design of the metal body obviously coincides with the appearance and style of Rickenbackers, but it turns out that this approach is impractical. The same is true for Gibson. At the beginning of the second year, Gibson turned to the most understandable place and introduced a new version with a wooden body (and a slightly different name EH-150).
Now, we have jumped to the 1970s, still in California, and in the era when brass became a hardware material because of its so-called enhanced sustain quality. At the same time, Travis Bean launched his team from Sun Valley, California in 1974 with his partners Marc McElwee (Marc McElwee) and Gary Kramer (Gary Kramer). Aluminum neck guitar. However, he was not the first to use aluminum in the relatively modern neck structure. The honor belongs to the Wandrè guitar from Italy.
Both the Kramer DMZ 2000 and Travis Bean Standard from the 1970s have aluminum necks and are available for purchase at the next Gardiner Houlgate guitar auction on March 10, 2021.
From the late 1950s to the 1960s, Antonio Wandrè Pioli designed and produced a series of outstanding looking guitars with some notable design features, including Rock Oval (introduced around 1958) and Scarabeo (1965). His instruments appear under various brand names, including Wandrè, Framez, Davoli, Noble and Orpheum, but in addition to Pioli’s striking shape, there are some interesting structural features, including the aluminum neck section. The best version has a through neck, which consists of a hollow semi-circular aluminum tube that leads to a frame-like headstock, with the fingerboard screwed down, and a rear plastic cover is provided to provide proper smoothness sense.
The Wandrè guitar disappeared in the late 1960s, but the idea of ​​an aluminum neck was re-developed with the support of Travis Bean. Travis Bean hollowed out a lot of the interior of the neck and created what he called a chassis for the aluminum through-neck. Including a T-shaped headboard with pickups and bridge, the whole process is completed by a wooden body. He said this provides consistent stiffness and therefore good ductility, and the additional mass reduces vibration. However, the business was short-lived and Travis Bean ceased operations in 1979. Travis appeared briefly in the late 90s, and the newly revived Travis Bean Designs is still operating in Florida. At the same time, in Irondale, Alabama, the electric guitar company influenced by Travis Bean is also keeping the flame alive.
Gary Kramer, Travis’s partner, left in 1976, founded his own company, and started working on the aluminum neck project. Gary worked with guitar manufacturer Philip Petillo and made some modifications. He inserted a wooden insert into the back of his neck to overcome criticism of Travis Bean’s neck metal feeling cold, and he used a synthetic sandalwood fingerboard. By the early 1980s, Kramer offered a traditional wooden neck as an option, and gradually, aluminum was discarded. The revival of Henry Vaccaro and Philip Petillo was originally from Kramer to Vaccaro and lasted from the mid-90s to 2002.
John Veleno’s guitar goes further, almost entirely made of hollow aluminum, with a cast neck and hand-carved body. Headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, Veleno began producing its unusual musical instruments around 1970, and finished the production of these instruments in bright anodized colors, including striking gold models. Some of them have a V-shaped bedside table with red jewels inlaid on it. After making about 185 guitars, he gave up in 1977.
After breaking up with Travis Bean, Gary Kramer had to adjust his design to avoid patent infringement. The iconic Travis Bean headstock can be seen on the right
Another custom manufacturer that uses aluminum in a personalized way is Tony Zemaitis, a British builder based in Kent. When Eric Clapton suggested Tony make silver guitars, he started making metal front panel instruments. He developed the model by covering the entire front of the body with aluminum plates. Many of Tony’s works feature the work of a-ball engraver Danny O’Brien, and his fine designs provide a distinctive look. Like some other electric and acoustic models, Tony started making Zemaitis metal front guitars around 1970, until his retirement in 2000. He died in 2002.
James Trussart has done a lot of work to maintain the unique qualities that metal can provide in modern guitar making. He was born in France, later moved to the United States, and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where he has been working for more than 20 years. He continued to make custom steel guitars and violins into various finishes, blending the metal appearance of resonator guitars with the rusty and bronze atmosphere of discarded machinery.
Billy Gibbons (Billy Gibbons) proposed the name of the Rust-O-Matic technology, James placed the guitar body on the component placement for several weeks, and finally finished it with a transparent satin coat. Many Trussart guitar patterns or designs are printed on the metal body (or on the guard plate or headstock), including skulls and tribal artwork, or textures of crocodile skin or plant materials.
Trussart is not the only French luthier who has incorporated metal bodies into his buildings – Loic Le Pape and MeloDuende have both appeared on these pages in the past, although unlike Trussart, they remain in France.
Elsewhere, manufacturers occasionally offer conventional electronic products with unusual metallic distortions, such as the hundreds of mid-90s Strats produced by Fender with hollow anodized aluminum bodies. There have been unconventional guitars with metal as the core, such as the short-lived SynthAxe in the 1980s. Its sculptural fiberglass body is set on a cast metal chassis.
From K&F in the 1940s (in short) to Vigier’s current fretless fingerboards, there are also metal fingerboards. And some decorations have been completed that can give the original traditional wooden electric appearance an attractive metallic feel-for example, Gretsch’s 50s Silver Jet decorated with gleaming drumheads, or introduced in 1990 A JS2 variant of the Jbanez model signed by Joe Satriani.
The original JS2 was quickly withdrawn because it was obvious that it was almost impossible to produce a chrome coating with safety effects. Chromium will fall off the body and form cracks, which is not ideal. The Fujigen factory seems to have only completed seven JS2 chrome-plated guitars for Ibanez, three of which were given to Joe, who had to put clear tape on the gaps in his favorite examples to prevent Cracked skin.
Traditionally, Fujigen tried to coat the body by immersing it in a solution, but this resulted in a dramatic explosion. They tried vacuum plating, but the gas inside the wood was exhausted due to pressure, and the chromium turned into the color of nickel. In addition, workers suffer electric shocks when trying to polish the finished product. Ibanez had no choice, and JS2 was cancelled. However, there were two more successful limited editions later: JS10th in 1998 and JS2PRM in 2005.
Ulrich Teuffel has been manufacturing guitars in southern Germany since 1995. His Birdfish model does not look like a conventional musical instrument. Its aluminum-plated frame uses the traditional metal hardware concept and combines it Transform into a non-subject. The “bird” and “fish” in the name are two metal elements that fasten a pair of wooden strips to it: the bird is the front part of which is bolted. The fish is the rear part of the control pod. The rail between the two fixes the movable pickup.
“From a philosophical point of view, I like the idea of ​​letting the original materials into my studio, doing some magical things here, and then the guitar finally comes out,” Ulrich said. “I think Birdfish is a musical instrument, it brings a specific journey for everyone who plays it. Because it tells you how to make a guitar.”
Our story ends with a complete circle, returning to where we started with the original resonator guitar in the 1920s. Guitars drawn from this tradition provide most of the current functions for metal body structures, such as brands such as Ashbury, Gretsch, Ozark and Recording King, as well as modern models from Dobro, Regal and National, and Resophonic such as the ule sub in Michigan.
Loic Le Pape is another French luthier who specializes in metal. He is good at rebuilding old wooden instruments with steel bodies.
Mike Lewis of Fine Resophonic in Paris has been manufacturing metal body guitars for 30 years. He uses brass, German silver, and sometimes steel. Mike said: “It’s not because one of them is better,” but they have very different voices. “For example, the old-fashioned ethnic style 0 is always brass, the ethnic double-stranded or Triolian is always made of steel, and most of the old Tricones are made of German silver and nickel alloys. They provide three completely different sounds. .”
What is the worst and best thing about working with guitar metal today? “The worst-case scenario might be when you hand the guitar over nickel plated and they mess it up. This can happen. The best thing is that you can easily make custom shapes without too many tools. Buying metal does not Any restrictions,” Mike concluded, with a chuckle, “For example, Brazilian brass. But when the strings are on, it’s always good. I can play.”
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Post time: May-11-2021
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