A Custom Guitar

My 1960s vintage Airline Bighorn electric guitar is a fun guitar to play. It was given to me by a neighbor in west Baltimore in Carrollton Ridge when I lived there in the early 1990s. The guitar, Mondy, named after a sea monster from a TV show that aired in Baltimore in the 1960s called Captain Chesapeake, was thirty years old when I got it, and now it is sixty years old. The color of the guitar made me think of Mondy, the sea monster.

Mondy with stinkbug.

Mondy is getting some new frets and new pick-ups at Joe Glaser Instruments in Nashville and should be home in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to recording with the guitar when it returns. The same neighbor in west Baltimore also gave me a small Silvertone tube guitar amp that is a great fit for Mondy, most likely a catalog guitar amp out of the Sears Roebuck catalog in the 1960s. Mondy probably came out of the Montgomery Wards catalog, also in the 1960s.

Two years ago I performed a concert in Colonial Beach, Virginia, with a band called The Hard To Tell Band that closed the show. The leader of the band asked me if I would like to sit in with them near the end of their set. He handed me a Fender Telecaster and away we went. My wife, Sue, said she saw me come alive playing the Telecaster doing songs by Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Taj Mahal.

Sue kept encouraging me to find a Telecaster guitar that I could call my own.

Back in late June I went into Nashville to have lunch with a friend, Geoffrey Himes, a songwriting collaborator. We met at Arnold’s Country Kitchen, a meat and three restaurant near downtown. Right next door to Arnold’s is Carter’s Vintage Instruments, billed as Nashville’s friendliest vintage guitar store that features new and used instruments.

After lunch, Geoffrey and I walked over to Carter’s. There was a group of four folks waiting outside at the front door telling us that the store was limiting the number of customers due to Covid-19. We waited in the hot June sun, talking with the group of four who were visiting from Houston. We had a short chat about Rockefeller’s, a music venue that I had been to in the mid-1980s, which I was glad to hear was still in business. Then, the door opened, and two customers left. As the group of four didn’t want to separate, they let Geoff and I head in ahead of them.

Having been to Carter’s many times before, we headed straight to the electric guitars. I have owned several Fender Telecaster guitars but had not had one since the early 1990s. The last one I owned was stolen up in Boston while I was on tour with Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers.

There was a rack of what seemed to be about fifty guitars, and we found the Telecasters straight away. I spied an orange Tele and grabbed it off of the rack. I sat down and played a couple of riffs and really enjoyed it. Then I said to Geoff, let’s go into one of the isolated rooms to check the guitar out with an amp. We found an empty room and plugged the orange Tele into a Fender Deluxe Reverb. The guitar sounded like magic. It just sang, and everything about the playability was just what I like; medium action, good for string bending and tone; medium frets, just right for getting under the strings, but still good intonation.

Billy at Carter’s trying out a Telecaster.

I played the guitar for what seemed like an hour and gave it a good test run. This Tele was doing the talking, and I was listening. When we emerged from the iso room, I knew I had found a guitar that I wanted. But this was not a Fender Telecaster, it was called an Ithacaster, and made in Ithaca, New York. This was a brand new guitar.

When we went to Carter’s, I had a particular Tele in mind, a Telecaster Custom. Fender started making them in the early 1970s. The Telecaster Custom was a response to all of the Telecaster players that were retrofitting their guitars with a Humbucker pickup, a pickup that has two single coil pickups side by side rather than just one single coil pickup. Players started doing that in the mid-1960s to get a fatter, warmer tone from their Tele. Here’s a link to the history of the Telecaster Custom. Here’s a link to Mick Lopinto and Ithacaster guitars, the maker of the orange Ithacaster.

What do you look for when buying an electric guitar? Most players will probably say the wood (for the body and the neck), the nut width (important especially for fingerstyle players), the pickups, the bridge, the volume and tone pots and the tuners. I agree that all of these features need to be agreeable when choosing a guitar.

But before I look at any of those items I look at the color. The color has to be right. And it was, a translucent orange covering a single piece of swamp ash!

In science there is a term called summit disease, when an insect’s fears are stripped away as they climb to their demise. That day in Carter’s Vintage Instruments I experienced submit disease, when a person’s fears are stripped away as they reach for their wallet.

Billy’s wallet, a little lighter…

I’ll be pickin’ a song or two on the orange Ithacaster next Tuesday, August 17, for a live stream concert for The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore for their Tuesday Tunes series from 2:00 to 3:00 EDT. Here’s a link for the concert. I’ll be doing songs from my latest record, The Craig Demos, as well as some new ones and others from the back catalog. You can listen to songs from The Craig Demos here. You can read about The Craig Demos here.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit. As always, I am grateful for y’all reading and listening. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you in person for a concert soon. Thanks for supporting live and recorded music. Here’s wishing everyone some hot diggety dog days, or how about some mid-70s diggety dog days?

Maya, our dog…

Billy

p.s. I wanted to include a recording of Mick’s Ithacaster, and I was able to do a quick session today. I performed an instrumental blues tune that I recently composed. The guitar is tuned down a half step. I’m playing in “G,” but it sounds like “Gb.” We’ve been doing a make over on our shed, turning it into a cottage/studio, and I cut the instrumental in there. We haven’t put a floor in yet but that’s coming soon. Since there isn’t anything in the room yet the sound is full of room. I tracked from guitar to amp, no effects and played with my fingers. My new Ithacaster is so much fun to play. The first half of the solo is on the neck pick-up or the humbucker, and the second half is in the middle position, or both pick-ups, the neck and the bridge. Hope you enjoy it.

Billy’s Blues on the Ithacaster
Ithacaster and Silvertone in the studio, August 11, 2021

2 Comments

  1. Hi Billy

    Great to read your post. The guitar looks very exciting ( and expensive!).

    Had a first listen to your The Craig Demos album. Some really great tracks. I loved the instrumental Natty Don and also In your Arms. (Is that Sue singing on there). Janesville is superb too. Is this called Falling in love is divine. You sure ain’t lost it buddy!

    We are getting by over here. Main news is that my younger daughter Zoe is expecting a baby anytime now. I m pretty anxious about it just now.

    I m still playing when I can, either online or live every Thursday at a great pub in Sunderland.

    Recently I went a bit crazy and bought 1968 Martin D28 Brazilian rosewood and all!

    Not really sure it’s me. Bit too smooth. So will keep a while then maybe move it on. We shall see.

    Sorry this is a bit disjointed. Great to hear from you Billy and I haven’t stopped hoping that we ll get together hang out and play some music in the not too distant future.

    All the best. Love to Sue

    Dave

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. Greetings, Dave. Always good to hear from you. The Ithacaster is actually very affordable for a handmade instrument. I am just loving playing this guitar. Thanks for listening to The Craig Demos. Yes, that is Sue singing on “In Your Arms.” Congratulations soon-to-be Grand Pa. That’s big news. Hope all goes well with Mom and the new arrival. The Brazilian rosewood Martins are sweet. I’ll look forward to hearing you play that, if you still have it on my next visit. I am looking forward to sitting with you and having a pint and a song. It’s gonna be a big time. Best to you and Joy…Billy

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