Supersound Double Cutaway Bass Guitar (1959)
Serial Number: None
Early in 1959 the Supersound company re-located from the Dartford area to Hastings. Instrument manufacture resumed soon after this move, but as Jim Burns’ employment had already been terminated, the relevant woodworking required was now handled by a local cabinet maker, conveniently situated next door to the new Supersound premises.
Debuting the previous year, Supersound’s SCB single-cutaway bass had already achieved the status of the first British-made, four-string solidbody. The double-cutaway DCB soon followed, but the amount of Jim Burns’ involvement with the conception and completion of this revised design is open to conjecture.
Body styling isn’t simply a double-cutaway version of the SCB’s shape, although the distinctive flat-bottomed lower bouts are common to both basses and also to some Supersound six-strings. The DCB’s horns are angular, unlike the smoothly curved single example on its earlier stablemate, but they’re equally sharp-pointed, while comfort contouring on the front and back is another shared feature.
On the evidence of the surviving Supersounds produced after Jim Burns’ departure, his absence was keenly felt concerning certain aspects of construction and design. The bass necks in particular suffer from an obvious lack of awareness about proportions and shaping, with overly beefy dimensions contributing to a distinctly player-unfriendly feel that contrasts those made before by Burns. The glued-in neck still lacks an adjustable truss-rod and the shorter scale length also stays the same, likewise the 20-strong fret count. However, the rosewood fingerboard’s full-width position markers are pearl plastic rather than cream, while the previously matching cream binding is replaced by a black equivalent. These easily seen cosmetic differences help to visually identify the Hastings-origin instruments.
The body on this DCB bass appears to have been re-finished in black over the original white, with the neck again left natural. As on the SCB, the headstock is faced with black plastic and carries the Supersound logo in gold. Tuners are again a German-made guitar type, equipped with ornate buttons and bone posts, but on this particular bass all four are actually right-hand versions, with the treble side twosome accordingly installed upside down!
The black plastic scratchplate features gold-painted edges and carries a confirmatory ‘Supersound Bass Guitar’ legend, while the company logo also accompanies the ‘Hi Fi’ title adorning the plastic cover of the bar-magnet, single-coil pickup. As on the SCB, the position of the latter follows the pioneering lead set by Fender’s Precision bass, partnered by similarly simple volume and tone circuitry. The single bar-saddle bridge is like that used by the earlier SCB, as is the somewhat primitive tailpiece hidden under a plated metal cover.
The family likenesses between the SCB and DCB basses are obvious, but the latter’s differences indicate that it came later and accordingly lacked the advantages of Jim Burns’ input. Despite any related drawbacks, it was still a very advanced-looking four-string for 1959 and certainly deserves to be better remembered. This particular DCB appears to be the only fully functioning and almost all-original example in existence, making it yet another rare and important instrument that helps to cement Supersound’s place in the annals of the English electric. Paul Day (Dec 2012)
Supersound Short Scale Standard (1958)
Serial Number: None
By 1958, the Supersound company was already established as a maker of instrument amplification and decided to explore the production of solidbody electric guitars. At that time, the latter were still quite a rare commodity in this country and the market was accordingly equally minimal. But this obviously didn't deter Supersound boss Alan Wootton, who enlisted the services of Jim Burns to help with design and manufacture, as he had already built some six-strings of this type.
One of Jim's earlier instruments formed the basis of the shortlived Supersound 'Ike Isaacs Short-Scale' model, introduced late in 1958, but it was preceded by a plainer alternative that could best be described as the 'Short-Scale Standard'. For this, Supersound supplied Jim Burns with the materials required to fulfil his part of the production process, which involved building the body/neck chassis. The company then completed each guitar, carrying out the necessary paint and finish work, plus the installation of pickups, circuitry and hardware.
The Supersound 'Short-Scale Standard' is certainly the first solid electric to be produced in Britain and this example is currently the only known, fully-functioning survivor from those trail-blazing times of well over five decades ago. Built before Jim Burns' departure from Supersound in late 1958, its vintage is confirmed by the use of pine for the body, which was Supersound's choice of timber back then. The single-cutaway styling is along the lines of the Ike Isaacs model, although the body is significantly more sizeable all round. The outline is also less curvy, with unusual flat-bottomed lower bouts that would become a distinctive feature of various later Burns instruments. The end result is quite chunky in looks and feel, but player comfort is enhanced by some contouring on front and back, the shaping again being similar to that seen on certain subsequent Burns models.
The glued-in mahogany neck carries a bound rosewood fingerboard and bar-type, cream plastic position markers, as used on the Supersound Ike Isaacs. The short, 23-inch scale length and 22 frets are additional common factors, likewise the overall shaping and proportions, but an obvious difference concerns the electrics, which are instead all mounted on a large black scratchplate. The two own-made pickups are basic, bar-magnet single-coils, each bearing a black plastic cover sporting the Supersound Hi Fi logo. The twin selectors duplicate the switching circuitry of the Ike Isaacs, although the partner control pots number three rather than four.
The simple, single-saddle bridge is aluminium and strings anchor in a somewhat crude tailpiece block hidden beneath a chromed metal cover. The tuners are an acoustic guitar type, equipped with bone posts that sit very low through the overly thick headstock. In fact, the latter's black plastic facing was subsequently removed to allow enough usable height for stringing purposes. Another cosmetic change concerns the body, as the original white finish has been stripped at some time and instead a clear lacquer coat reveals the two-piece pine construction.
Despite any such subsequent alterations, the guitar is essentially the same as when built almost 55 years ago. Such a lengthy time-span means this particular oldie is the earliest known, UK-made, solid electric, which adds appropriate historical importance to its already undoubted rarity and acknowledged innovative status. A thorough but sympathetic renovation has restored the instrument's original playability and performance, ensuring that this Supersound 'Short-Scale Standard' is a credit to its pioneering creators. Paul Day (May 2012)
Supersound Single Cutaway Bass (1958)
Serial Number: None
In 1958 the Supersound company decided to partner their amplifiers with solidbody electric guitars, which was a brave move back then, as this type of six-string was still very scarce, with a correspondingly small market to match. Knowledge was equally limited, so guitar builder Jim Burns was employed to help with design and manufacture, as he had already dabbled in this field.
Although the equivalent bass was virtually unheard of in Britain, that year Supersound built just such an instrument for The Ted Taylor Four's bassist, Teddy Wadmore. He had seen a Fender Precision owned by a US serviceman, but the post-war import embargo on American-made products was still in force and this innovative Fender four-string wasn't available in the UK. Immediately aware of its potential, Wadmore borrowed the bass and showed it to Alan Wootton and Jim Burns at Supersound. They came up with a design that didn't copy the Precision, but instead combined elements from the Fender with features better suited to Teddy Wadmore's requirements.
It became the very first British-built solidbody bass guitar and Supersound soon made other four-string electrics along similar lines, this example being one of them. As with Supersound guitars of that time, Jim Burns built the body/neck chassis and the company completed each instrument. Differing from the radical Fender Precision, Wadmore's bass employed a quite conventional, single-cutaway outline, presumably in accordance with his wishes, but styling then changed to a more curvy and sharp pointed body horn, much like the shaping seen three years later on the Burns Bison.
Like its stablemates, this early Supersound's body features flattened lower bouts, plus front and rear contouring, and these distinctive design aspects also appeared on some subsequent Burns models. Departing from Fender's format, the Supersound spreads 20 frets over a shorter, 30.5-inch scale length, while the glued-in, chunky neck has a pronounced V-profile. It shares the six-string's bound rosewood fingerboard and full-width, cream plastic position markers, but the heel join is long, smooth and chamfered. As on the Teddy Wadmore original, a traditional-type headstock carries Framus guitar tuners with fancy buttons and bone posts, while the black faceplate bears a gold Supersound logo. Interestingly, to provide sufficient front height, the machine heads have been neatly recessed into the rear of the very thick headstock.
The re-styled scratchplate is black with gold edges and boasts another Supersound emblem, this time accompanied by a confirmatory 'Bass Guitar' title. Electrics comprise volume and tone controls plus a Supersound Hi-Fi single-coil. Equipped with a bar-magnet and suitably branded black plastic cover, this is mounted in the same position as the Fender Precision's pickup, and the Supersound was arguably the only other four-string in the world to follow Fender's lead at that time. The same doesn't apply to partner hardware, as a simple, single-bar saddle bridge is accompanied by an equally basic, block-type tailpiece that's topped by a chromed metal cover.
This Supersound started life with a white painted body, but it was later re-finished black, while the neck is natural wood. Virtually all else remains as it was when the bass was made nearly 55 years ago, and, apart from the obvious age and extreme rarity factors, it's currently the only known example in near-original, fully playable condition. Such a combination makes this Supersound Single Cutaway Bass four-string a very important instrument from the formative era of the modern UK music industry. Paul Day (May 2012)
Burns Short Scale Deluxe (1958)
Serial Number: None
This is one of the earliest instruments built by Jim Burns and therefore among the first UK-origin solid six-strings. The neck/body chassis is virtually identical to that of the shortlived Supersound 'Ike Isaacs Short-Scale' model. This was introduced in December 1958, but by then the company had severed its association with both builder Jim Burns and endorsee Ike Isaacs. Apparently production also ceased accordingly, because apart from the prototype advertised at the time, no Supersounds of this sort have so far been documented.
However, Jim Burns stated he did actually make around 20 in total and therefore the logical assumption is that, as the design was essentially his (being closely based on a solid he built earlier in 1958 for guitarist Pete Dyke), Jim instead produced the remaining examples independently. This conclusion is corroborated by music press data and owner information, while photographic evidence from early 1959 includes four featuring the Burns-Weill badge on the headstock. These appropriately employ scratchplate-mounted electrics supplied by Henry Weill, as the split with Supersound forced Burns to make some necessary changes.
This particular guitar pre-dates all these instruments, as various aspects indicate it was made in late 1958, very soon after Jim Burns' tenure with Supersound had been terminated. It lacks a large scratchplate and is equipped with a pair of direct-mounted, Besson-branded pickups; differences that denote it was built before Jim had sought Henry Weill's services.
This is very obviously a direct descendant of the Ike Isaacs model, although the latter's two selector switches are absent. These components were supplied by Supersound and therefore no longer available to Jim, so he simply covered the relevant holes in the body top. The upper one is hidden beneath a small black plastic plate that would otherwise have held a switch, while the second is obscured by the suitably elongated control panel.
Replacing Supersound's single-coils, the two Besson Electone pickups were originally intended for archtop acoustic guitars, likewise the single-saddle wooden bridge and metal tailpiece. All have been modified by Jim to suit solid-body use, but this early un-branded Burns still has many features in common with its Supersound predecessor, including the 23-inch scale neck and a carved top body, the latter complete with a cream plastic panel forming the flat back.
Like earlier instruments made for Supersound, this guitar was built in the basement of Jim Burns' lodgings in Buckhurst Hill. Here he was helped by Peter Farrell, the son of his landlady, Louise, and all three would become fellow directors of the Ormston-Burns company, when this was established at the end of 1959. The initials B. F. are pencilled on an interior wall of the body centre section and these could stand for Burns and Farrell, offering a hidden hint to the instrument's origins.
The lack of an actual brandname doesn't detract from the significance of this six-string, as it's undoubtedly an extremely early Burns and one of very few known to still survive. It provides further proof of Jim Burns' position as THE true pioneer of the UK-made solid body, because back in 1958 the market for this type of electric didn't even exist and therefore no other British builder had considered catering for it.
The guitar has been the subject of comprehensive but considerate refurbishment, but all-important character and originality has been retained, ensuring that the very impressive end result is in keeping with this instrument's obviously high historic value. Paul Day (2012)
Jim Burns Bison Prototype/Custom One-off (1981)
Serial Number: 810186
The regular Jim Bums Bison is a very rare bird, but this far from standard example is a singularly special instrument that represents an important part of the '80s' chapter in the story of Burns, both man and brand.
The serial number indicates the guitar dates from 1981 and is the 186th instrument built by the Jim Bums company, based in Littleport, Cambs. However, close examination confirms that it's actually the original prototype for the 1980s' re-incarnation of the Bison model. The latter was launched in 1981, but construction of the prototype commenced in late 1979, before being completed during the following year. Essentially hand-built by Jim Bums, this was the Bison then shown in company publicity material.
Comparison with relevant pictures proves it to be one and the same instrument, as the neck and body match exactly, both being significantly unlike their equivalents employed on production Bisons. Although other components supply similar confirmation, the guitar does display some differences, but, based on authoritative information, it can be safely concluded that these constitute later changes carried out by Jim Burns himself, rather than being modifications made by any subsequent owner.
After appearing in the brochure and having been used to assist initial production, this initial Bison was returned to Jim's workshop in the Burns factory at Littleport. There it was systematically cannibalised for parts, which meant many of the components originally fitted and pictured were removed as and when required, until virtually only the basic neck and body assembly remained intact.
Jim Burns often made unofficial 'one-offs' for personal sale and he eventually utilised the prototype Bison's surviving chassis for this purpose. The maple neck had suffered damage at some time, but it was skilfully repaired, while the various missing components were replaced with whatever counterparts Jim had to hand, including the pickups, controls, scratchplates and vibrato unit. Most of these available substitutes had previously been discarded due to some defect or damage, and many were also mismatching, but the end result was a fully functioning, surprisingly cohesive instrument. Jim duly disposed of his custom creation in the Littleport locality and it ended up in London around 25 years later.
Regardless of any alterations, this is indeed the very first Jim Burns-branded Bison, with the original woodworking executed by the man himself. Conversely, the rebuilt and revised version is one of the last instruments to be constructed by Jim, being completed shortly before his departure from the company in late 1982 and after which he stopped personally making guitars. The styling and handcrafting involved echo earlier Bums six-strings, extending as far back as those produced for the Supersound company in 1958, which means this one-off example completes a 25-year circle of design and manufacture by Britain's best-known guitar builder.
All these factors certainly elevate the historical importance of this unique electric and with such status in mind, the guitar has undergone significant but sympathetic restoration. This includes the re-instatement of some original features, while still retaining many of Jim Burns' own later amendments. In addition, carefully considered small improvements have been made to provide the best possible appearance, performance and playability, but the instrument's inherent individuality and pedigree remain very much intact. Paul Day
Historic British Guitars
Burns Vibra-Artist (1960)
Serial Number: None
Introduced in December 1959, the Short Scale De-Luxe Artistes model was the first electric to emerge from the newly formed Ormston-Burns company. This six-string solid soon received some significant refinements, while the unwieldy title was abbreviated to the much more manageable Artist (or Artiste, as Burns used either spelling). By May 1960 the guitar was sporting an integral vibrato tailpiece and the model name was altered to Vibra-Artist to match.
In this revised form, Jim Burns' first creation for his own company was undoubtedly an advanced electric at that time and accordingly far ahead of any UK competition, incorporating innovative features such as a 24-fret fingerboard; contoured, heel-less neck/body joint; a comprehensive control system and built-in vibrato unit. The Vibra-Artist continued in production for a further two years and during that time it underwent amendments to certain aspects, although many of these alterations were mainly cosmetic and the basic design remained essentially the same.
The absence of any serial numbering system on these early Burns makes it difficult to establish their age, and this can only be achieved by noting relevant date-related changes to construction and components. The features of this example indicate that it was made during 1960, as the fingerboard is sycamore rather than the later rosewood, and an ultra-slim neck adopts the distinctly asymmetric profile favoured by Jim Burns for the early Artists. In addition, the three Tri-Sonic single-coils are the smaller type with chromed covers that lack any logos. The slim depth body means these have to be top-mounted on the black plastic scratchplate, which also carries all controls. These ostensibly comprise volume and tone pots per pickup, plus a three-way lever-type selector and rhythm/solo slide-switch, but on many Vibra-Artists the circuitry can offer series, parallel and out-of-phase aural options.
The accompanying output jack is the original mini type, which is unusual, as over the years most owners tended to replace this component with the standard 1/4" size socket. Another modification quite common to many Vibra-Artists concerns the bridge, because the original Burns' design suffered from various rattles and buzzes, so players often cured these problems by replacing the whole assembly, usually with something simpler. Such alternatives included the stand-alone, Bigsby-made, single-saddle bridge, while this example employs a modern, more basic equivalent.
The glued-in neck and one-piece, contoured body are mahogany, with the latter's quite compact dimensions being determined by the maximum measurements of the available raw material. Standard finish for the Vibra-Artist was a cherry red body and headstock, with a black 'blown-in' neck, but although this guitar has been repainted at some time, the colour match comes quite close to the real thing. Despite the short (23 3/8") scale length, the fingerboard accommodates a double octave's worth of frets, i.e. 24, and the novel, smoothly shaped heel-less neck/body join allows easy access to all.
The Vibra-Artist's attributes were reflected in an asking price of £78, which was about a third more than that of the earlier Artist. This made it an expensive electric for the time and, like virtually all Burns, it was aimed primarily at the professional performer, rather than less experienced players. Even so, it soon began appearing in the hands of many embryonic axe heroes and certainly helped to establish Burns as the UK's most prominent guitar maker. The Vibra-Artist's styling, components and cosmetics created a distinctive combination that have made this model an iconic electric of the early '60s era, displayed to good effect by this sympathetically restored example. Paul Day (April 2012)
Broadway 1925 Bass Guitar (c1962)
Serial Number: None
Broadway was a brandname belonging to UK importers/wholesalers Rose-Morris and appeared on a wide range of musical instruments and related equipment. This comprehensive catalogue naturally encompassed electric guitars, which were added when demand increased dramatically at the start of the '60s. The majority of Broadway-branded solid bodies were imported from Japan, but Rose-Morris augmented the range with some British-built examples and these home-grown alternatives included a couple of bass guitars, introduced around 1961/62. The cheaper of the two carried the Rose-Morris catalogue designation 1925 and it was actually the UK-made equivalent of an earlier, Far Eastern-origin four-string that had been sold under the Star brand banner as the 1869 model. Similarly styled, but slightly different from its predecessor, the British-built 1925 still targeted the beginner bassist, while the appropriately simple format also stayed the same.
The slab mahogany body is scaled down in size and its offset shape hints at the Fender Jazzmaster. The headstock is equally Fender-ish and carries Van Gent-made guitar-type tuners, which were a common component choice at that time. The glued-in neck is also mahogany and carries a rosewood fingerboard, although earlier examples employed maple and this material change mirrored other UK-made electrics of the era. Frets number 19 and are spread over a short (27.5") scale length that was also a popular preference back then.
The body and headstock are finished in dark cherry red cellulose, while the neck is black, and this contrasting combination was also seen on electrics from makers such as Burns and Fenton-Weill. In fact, while not conclusive, all available evidence indicates that this compact four-string was indeed built by the latter company, as various aspects of construction, components and cosmetics provide appropriately strong links to this UK maker.
Like the distinctive metal strap buttons, the chrome-covered single-coil is certainly from Fenton-Weill, sitting in a shallow recess near the neck end and screwed straight to the body front. The partner controls comprise volume and tone pots, plus a somewhat optimistic rhythm/solo slide-switch. Along with the output jack, these are carried on a thin, white plastic scratchplate that runs the length of the body's right side. A small, separate section up on the left horn provides a distinctive visual touch, echoing the appearance of the Japanese-origin original.
Strings anchor in a combination bridge/tailpiece that's the same as the type used on some equally inexpensive Vox basses of the period. Mounted on a chunky black plastic plinth that provides necessary height clearance, the rather basic, bent steel baseplate features two adjustable bridge saddles and is topped by a clip-on, chromed metal cover.
Although Rose-Morris literature suggests otherwise, the 1925 bass guitar actually carried no brand logo or any other ID indicator. Despite a shortlived production span lasting only around two years, it proved quite popular with beginner beat groups in the early '60s, as the £35 selling price made this quite stylish, four-string solid more affordable than some of the contemporary competition.
This particular instrument had been subjected to a few owner-perpetrated, misguided modifications, but these have now been rectified as part of a thorough restoration and the end result now represents an ideal example of one of the lesser-known, but equally important, entry-level British basses. Paul Day (April 2012)
Eastwood 'Blue Moon' (1980)
Back in 1980, any new single by UK act Showaddywaddy was virtually guaranteed chart placing, helped in no small way by the band's accompanying high-profile exposure on national television.
Showaddywaddy approached British guitar maker Brian Eastwood, requesting a six-string that would visually represent and help promote their latest release - a revival of the oldie 'Blue Moon'. Such a commission was naturally welcome, but it came with a completion deadline of three weeks, which was reduced to a mere seven days when the record charted earlier than expected!
Based on an idea by artist friend, Jim Cooper, Eastwood worked flat-out for a sleepless 72 hours to turn the original cartoon concept into 3-D reality. Successfully achieving the seemingly impossible task of creating and completing such a complex custom one-off within the allotted week, he delivered it, with paint still drying, just in time for the group's appearance on BBC TV's "Top Of The Pops" on 27th November 1980. Eastwood's under-pressure efforts certainly weren't in vain, as his guitar made an impressive debut and was subsequently featured on other TV shows and live performances by the band.
This suitably sad six-string employs the headless guitar principle, with both the bridge and tuners obscured by a white cloud. The latter carries lightning bolts that emanate from the volume and tone controls governing a purpose-built, powerful pickup hidden within the body. Short denim-clad legs terminate in blue (suede?) shoes and are intended to enhance the visual effect, but these are easily detached if desired.
Exuding animation and comic-sad character, the Eastwood 'Blue Moon' is a true testament to the custom-maker's craft. Although a fully functioning electric guitar, its somewhat limited practical playing abilities are far outweighed by ultra-photogenic appearances. This unique instrument has been employed to eye-catching effect in numerous prominent guitar books and magazines published during the past 25 years. More recently the "Blue Moon" was featured in 2008 on BBC TV's "History of the Guitar" and Showaddywaddy were reunited with the instrument on stage at the Princess Pavilion, Falmouth, U.K. on 8th May 2010. Paul Day (June 2012)
Paul Day - Guitar Expert
Paul Day is a world recognized expert on electric guitars.
He wrote "The Burns Book" which is the definitive work on Jim Burns and his guitars and has co-written books including, The Fender Book, The Gibson Les Paul Book, The Gretsch Book, The Guru's Guitar Guide, the Rickenbacker Book and The Ultimate Guitar Book. He has contributed to nearly 200 other books including from countries as diverse as Sweden, U.S.A., Japan, Germany, Holland.
In a writing career which spans over 40 years he has contributed as a writer or given assistance to over 30 magazines or publications including "Guitarist", "Guitar & Bass Magazine", "Gitarre & Bass" (Germany), "Guitar" (Japan) -some under different names including his own (!) and as the "Guitar Guru".
Paul has also acted as a consultant or given assistance to over 30 manufacturers of electric guitars, amplifiers and accessories including Kent Armstrong (pick-ups), Ernie Ball Music Man (guitars), Burns (guitars, amplifiers and effects), Hi- Watt (amplifiers), Hohner (guitars), Picato (strings), Sever (guitars) (Slovenia), Shergold (guitars), Status (basses & guitars), Tanglewood, Tokai (guitars) (Japan), Trevor Wilkinson (guitars).
Additionally, Paul has provided assistance, consultation etc. to many well known artists including, Billy Bragg, Gordon Giltrap, George Harrison, Steve Howe, Jeff Lynne, Chris Stein and in a playing career spanning almost 50 years he has performed with several bands including "The Downtowns", "Great Expectations", "Shine" and "Status Clone".
Paul has also provided expert advice to various distributors including "Aria" (U.K.), Barnes and Mullins, M.Hohner, John Hornby Skewes, Washburn and retailers such as Cranes, Music Ground, Warwick Guitars. Also his expert knowledge has been utilized by international salerooms and auction houses including Bonhams, Christies, Gardiner Houlgate, Sothebys- not forgetting, of course, HM Customs & Excise!
Finally, Paul has been featured in the local and national press, radio and on TV many times during his career including on BBC TV's "Pebble Mill at One", "The Tube" and, most recently, on BBC TV's acclaimed 3 part series "The Story of the Electric Guitar" in 2008. He also has a personal collection of around 250 guitars and a library of musical memorabilia and miscellania which includes details of over 2,500 different brands of electric guitars!
Paul Day really is, as one of his pen names suggest, "The Guitar Guru" and I have been very fortunate to have been a beneficiary of his invaluable help, restoration skills and expert advice for many years.
Guy Mackenzie. The Guitar Collection. June 2012.
Paul Day featuring in the BBC documentary "The Story of the Guitar"
Paul shows and talks about some of his personal collection as well the "Blue Moon" guitar which can be seen in Gallery 9, in the Eastwood 'Blue Moon' section above and in action with Showaddywaddy in the Archive.