Friday, February 18, 2011

A Rare Byrdland

The guitar pictured above is a one-off Gibson Byrdland, originally built for and owned by Country/Jazz guitarist, Billy Byrd. Byrd is probably best known as a guitar player for one of Country music's most popular early recording artists, Ernest Tubb. The Byrdland was co-designed by Billy and Hank Garland.

Both of the legendary guitar greats made the Nashville studio scene take its rightful place in history during the '50s.  Along with Chet Atkins, Harold Bradley and Grady Martin, Garland and Byrd were the leading pioneers of Jazz influenced guitar being infused into what was at the time known as Hillbilly Music.

The name of the guitar was derived from a combination of their last names: Byrd-Garland and was in production from 1955 to 1969. Limited runs were also made in the '70s. This particular guitar is a rare double cutaway instrument with one even more unusual exception, a scale length of 25.5" versus the normal 23.5" short scale normally associated with the model.

The guitars were not as popular as many of Gibson's f-hole style guitars, primarily because the length of the scale is different than other Jazz-type archtop guitars and therefore, uncomfortable for many player's style. Also the guitar depth was 2.25" as opposed to the more popular L-5 model, which measured around 3.5". The most notable exception is Ted Nugent who prefers this scale and makes use of the feedback produced at high volume by the thinline,  archtop instrument.

Andy Reiss and I interviewed Billy Byrd for Vintage guitar magazine in the mid-'90s after his health had taken a turn for the worse. He was interested in selling the guitar and I had been trading in celebrity-owned instruments so he offered to consign it with me. Unfortunately, the price he was asking was never reached, however the Country Music Hall of Fame took note and accepted it on loan for display. The guitar was featured on the front of their brochure and to my knowledge is still in their posession today.

A movie titled "Crazy" was released some time back about the life of Hank Garland, who was injured in a car crash and suffered severe brain damage. The film does not paint a very good picture of either Garland or Byrd in my opinion but does give viewers some sort of idea how important these exceptional guitarists were to the music of the time.

Pictured below is a black Byrdland in its normal, single cutaway configuration. This particular instrument was owned by my dear friend, John Laffoon from Indiana. John prefered this guitar because it allows a player to stretch the chording fingers much further than the standard 25.5" or (for players of Gibson's Les Paul model) 24.75" scale. The Byrdland also inspired Gibson to produce their ES-350 model, which has the longer scale and full depth but sports hardware which is a bit less elaborate.

I have been very fortunate to play, own or be the caretaker of many rare and exceptional guitars. I hope this blog allows me to share some of them with others who also enjoy the craftsmanship or history of these pieces of musical history. If you enjoyed finding out about Billy Byrd's guitar,

Ray Butts book

After many starts and stops, the book on Ray Butts, who invented the EchoSonic amplifier (used by Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins and other trend setting guitar players) and the Gretsch Filter'Tron humbucking pickup is back on track.

With the able assistance of Tim Masters, one of the world's best known proponents of the EchoSonic, and Katha House, Ray's daughter, I am atempting to write a history of the man, his inventions and the music and people they influenced.

For guitarists, audiophiles and people who simply loaved the unique sounds of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" or Chet Atkins' "Mister Sandman" this book hopes to uncover the mystery of one of the world's rarest amplifiers - the first with built in echo.

Keep watching for further details!