The Guitar Collection

The Guitar Collection of Guy Mackenzie

Notable British Guitars

BM (Barnes & Mullins) SG2 (1968)
Serial Number: None

BM SG2 - vintage electric guitar from 1973This six-string solid was built by Shergold (Woodcrafts) Ltd., the company started in the latter ’60s by ex-Burns man Jack Golder, who called this particular double-cutaway design his ‘Pie Crust’ model. The nickname alludes to the heavily indented edge around both front and back of the body, the visual end result being similar to the ‘German Carve’ construction employed on instruments from makers such as Mosrite and Rickenbacker.

The guitar was made in 1968, prior to the company building bodies and necks for Dallas Arbiter’s Hayman range. In suitably modified form, the latter subsequently provided the basis for the best-known Shergolds, but before these appeared Golder was exploring other ideas on electric guitars, including a twin-cutaway semi-solid and also the Les Paul-influenced Triumph marketed by UK distributors Rosetti & Co.

The SG2 shared various features with these other late-’60s Shergolds and components common to all three included their Dutch-made Van Gent machine heads, as employed on earlier Burns/Baldwin instruments, likewise a free-standing, six-saddle bridge, the latter being partnered by a somewhat basic, bent metal string anchor. The rosewood fingerboards also came courtesy of surplus Burns/Baldwin stock, while the stylish strap buttons had similarly been used by both brands. The SG2 boasted a bolt-on sycamore neck and unusually this was secured via three ‘mirror’ screws, complete with chrome-dome caps.

Like its equally early Shergold stablemates, the SG2 was equipped with two German-origin pickups, these being Bill Lawrence designed, sizeable single-coils sourced from Schaller. The accompanying control layout was another common factor, comprising master volume and tone pots, while two large, toggle-type selectors governed pickup selection and additional tonal tweaking.

The very obvious ‘BM’ logos belong to distributors Barnes & Mullins, but the SG2 does not appear to have been an official instrument of this UK company. Barnes & Mullins have confirmed that, although they certainly sold the next generation Shergolds, this earlier model isn’t mentioned in any of their literature from the latter ’60s. The complete absence of evidence is somewhat surprising, but points to the possibility that the guitar was the prototype for a projected Barnes & Mullins-branded electric.

Certain aspects of construction also support such a conclusion. The first concerns the tuners, which have actually been installed upside-down! This fundamental error contradicts the consistent high build quality usually associated with Jack Golder, but wouldn’t be considered overly important on an initial sample instrument. Another clue is the presence of some handwork in the pickup cavities, executed after the body was sprayed and thereby indicating either a routing mistake, or possibly made necessary by a change in the choice of pickup finally utilised.

The scarcity factor offers further indication of prototype potential, as so far only one other ‘Pie Crust’ solid has come to light during the past 40-plus years. Also now residing in the Guy Mackenzie collection, this is an all-orange Shergold version, custom-built by Jack Golder in 1986 using leftover original components, such as the neck, body and hardware. The far more soberly finished BM SG2 may seem less eye-catching, but it’s certainly an equally rare bird. Now in excellent, fully restored condition, this represents another fine example of English electric originality.
Paul Day (Oct 2013)

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)

For further information on the Supersound company please see the Story of Supersound website.

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)

For further information on the Supersound company please see the Story of Supersound website.

Supersound Single Cutaway Bass (1958)
Serial Number: None

n 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)

For further information on the Supersound company please see the Story of Supersound website.

The Guitar Collection YouTube Channel features many videos about classic electric guitars including:

An interview of Jim Burns by Paul Day from 1994

Guy Mackenzie interviewing Roger Newell (of Marty Wilde’s Wildcats, Rick Wakeman band, Trux and more!)

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)

For further information on the Supersound company and the involvement of Jim Burns please see the Story of Supersound website.

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

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