Well were do I begin with the Box Guitar?
I guess it really started in 1986.
A 1971 Strat was my number one guitar. I'd been gigging quite regularly for about 8 years since I was a young teenager. A friend of mine paid a visit one day with Stanely Jordans debut album and at the time it totally blew me away, I couldn't figure how it was possible to play like that, I thought it was done with mirrors. I was ready to give up playing all together but something inside me sparked and I Iocked myself away for 2months and learnt a bunch of the songs off Stanley's album including Fundance note for note. It didnt take long for the touchstyle technique to feel natural. by the 3rd month I had it under control and was relaxing to some Frank Zappa when it occurred to me that I could play the Stanely Jordan thing far better on 2 guitars.
Thats were it started, I found a small block of wood and sat it in between 2 strats and started playing this way. In a short space of time I was doing solo and band gigs around Melbourne using this guitar set up. I recorded my first album, "Seeing Double" this way in 1987 at David Briggs Studio (Little River Band) The original master tapes of this Album are now lost but it had some great stuff on it, I've managed to salvage some of it from old tapes and compiled a version of Seeing Double on the website.
This guitar set up was incredibly heavy and awkward to play so thats when I started cutting up any old electric guitars I had and rejoining them as twin necks. (thank god I didn't cut up my number 1 Strat, I think I almost did at the time)
I made 2 of these twins, one of which included an old roland guitar synth as the top half and a strat copy as the bottom half, it was wild.
The other original twin necks can be seen in the short video clip titled "From another World" This twin neck was a beautiful guitar but alas I cut it in half again and rejoined it with the 2 necks side by side to make one wide neck and this was the birth of the modern Box 12 String guitar.
I made 2 of these versions. both had headstocks with 12 machine heads and modified floating tremolo bridges. I was featured with one of these 12 stringers in 1989 July's edition of Guitar Player Magazine, page 12 with Jennifer Batten on the front cover. This guitar still survives today but alas the other one had to be cut up. Thats when I decided to cut the headstock off, make a one piece fretboard and reshape with a smaller body. At this stage I also enlisted the help of guitar builder "Ian Noyce" to make me a headless prototype and he came up with a guitar design and brass trem bridge design similar to the Steinberger. I made 2 of these and they went on both the headless guitars but still they were incredibly heavy due to the amount of brass involved. Both these guitars still survive, one was sold to Mike Kernan (songwriter for Madonna) from Boston and the Noyce proto type unfortunately got cut up. I was able to join this guitar back together at a later date and I still have it. I used this guitar to record the "Calling" Album and it was a beautiful sounding guitar with EMG pickups. It can be seen on the front cover of the Calling Album being held out of the water like excalabur. That was me under the water and I got an ear infection for a week getting that photograph.
The year was now mid 1990 and I was in my third year of music college. Somehow I had convinced the bank to lend me a substantial amount of money to develope this guitar and take out patents. I already had provisional patents in Australia covering all aspects of this concept I could think of and had to enter the world stages of the patent so I took out patents in USA, Germany and Japan.
Before I new it I was out of money and having peddled the idea to manufacturers in Australia to no avail, in desperation I walked out on college, bought a ticket and jumped on a plane with my last $700, my 2 headless prototype guitars and headed for LA.
The first thing I said to the Taxi driver once I got out of LAX was take me to Hollywood. Needless to say my $700 started to go down very quick after 2 nights in a hotel room. I checked out of the room and not knowing what to do I walked across the road, hired a small car and drove to San Francisco. After lots of hours driving I lobbed up at the offices of Guitar Player Magazine and met up with Tom Mulhurn, who had written 2 articles on me in the mag. Tom took me out to lunch and we chatted about American politics amongst other things. After Lunch I said my cheereo's to the Guitar Player staff and not knowing what to do next just headed for the mountains hoping that the ocean was on the other side. I got over those hills with barely any fuel left in the tank, found the coast and spent several days driving back to LA getting my head together.
On arrival back in LA I dropped the car off, got my $200 deposit back which was all I had left and headed for Venice Beach on a Bus. I found a youth hostel on the beach with cheap beds and that place became my office for the next year. I rang up Mike Kernan in Boston who had contacted me through the publicity in Guitar Player and he agreed to buy one of the headless guitars prototypes. I had to re wire the controls so I went searching for a music repair shop. I found a guitar workshop close by called Carruthers Guitars, lo and behold John Carruthers looked at the proto types and said he could make these guitars for me.This was the birth place of the SR-648.
While I was waiting for the first innitial run of the SR-648's to be made I found a job to keep body and soul together and did a deal with the hostel owner to hire his office. I started chasing publicity and began contacting all of my guitar hero's. Unfortunately Stevie Ray Vaughn died before I could meet him and that was a trajic day. The shock right across America was displayed everywhere and I heard some incredible live concerts on the radio in tribute to Stevie.
I met and got to know many other guitar players and one of the first was Stanely Jordan who I met up with back stage at the Universal theartre in LA. I bought 2 of my guitars and we sat and jammed for quite a while, the bazaar thing was he had a cousin touring with him who looked like him and could also play like him. Coincidently Stanleys manager at the time also managed Carlos Santanna and I was salivating at the prospect at meeting him. One by one I met all my guitar hero's including Steve Howe from Yes, Jimi Page, Steve Lukather, Frank Gambale Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai and many others. I tried to meet up with Frank Zappa but he was very sick which I didnt know at the time. I did get invited by Dweezil to come and meet him and his band at their rehersal studio "Joes Garage", Upon arrival Dweezil played a hilarious prank on me in true Zappa style which turned me into Gumbie and I could not demo the guitar to save my life. Eddie van Halen also invited me to his studio to demo for him but unfortunately in my naivity I got a bit excited and offended him severely, he swore at me.
Anyways enough of the name dropping, back to the guitar! In the developent of the SR-648 I had to figure out the bridge system so John Curruthers directed me to Trevour Wilkinson who gladly helped, he in turn contacted Ned Steinberger and Ned sent us out a few S trem bridges which Trev then modified, adapting 2 bridges into one so that we had 2 independent whammy systems for the 12 strings, of course it weighed a ton but it worked beautifully and I did a deal with Ned to modify and use his bridges on these guitars.
By the time NAMM came around in 1991 I had the first 2 SR-648's in hand and I was invited to play on BBE's stand at the show which was shared with Trev Wilkinson.
After the first day I had drawn an incredible amount of interest to the stand but the BBE staff felt it was all directed at the guitar and not directed at their product even though I was playing through their equipment. They gave Trev $100 to get rid of me so I ventured off and played on many other stands, securing a Seymour Duncan and other endorsements in the process. The funny thing was the next day I gave one of the guitars to the demo dude for the stand opposite BBE's and he drew all the attention to that stand. Trev found this pretty funny.
I also played on Arlene Roths "HotLick" Stand who was located next to Emmett Chapmans Stand. Emmett and his instruments should be recognised as the original and innovator of this concept of multi string touchstyle instrument and it wasnt until much later that I realized this. At the time though I had barely even heard of the Chapman Stick and was amazed at the incredible talent of some of the players that where playing on his stand.
I had business cards and flyers printed up for the show and handed out hundreds of cards to interested parties. At the end of the show I discovered that the contact Ph number was wrong, Doe!!!
I continued to work out of my little office on Venice Beach for the next year and managed to play with some pretty happening muso's.
One night I was playing at a blues jam in Santa Monica and I noticed this face with a moustache who I mistook for Seymour Duncan and I thought "shit" I'd better play my arse off as he's come to see if I'm worthy of his endorsment. Afterwards this guy came up to me and he turned out to be Bobby Kimball from Toto (though he wasn't singing for them at the time). We struck up a bit of a friendship and had plans to do some recording and put a band together.
Another time I was sitting in a shop playing away on one of my guitars and Larry Corryelle happened to be in the store, he sat down infront of me and insisted I keep playing which I did and we kept in touch for a while.
LA is that sort of place where you can meet up with anyone one on a level playing field and seems to be a very relaxed place to do business.
By 1992 NAMM I'd managed to secure distribution across the States, had a few sales under my belt but was strapped for cash and couldn't supply any demo guitars to the distributors and really promote the guitars the way I had invisaged so I decided to try to sell the concept to who ever I could and spent that NAMM talking to various guitar companies including Gibson, Fender, Hamer, Jackson and Washburn to no avail. (I Still have number 007 from the original run of SR-648's which I kept for myself and I have recorded many albums over the years with this guitar. It has also been hand signed by Les Paul and Jim Marshall and another legend in his own mind called "Stu Box" This Guitar is fitted with Semour Duncan Hot/Cool rail pickups and sounds awsome but I dont play it that much any more mainly due to its bulky neck and overall weight).
By now the accumalating debt from the patents and money I had borrowed became too much. I had to let the patents lapse and decided to take a break for a while, packed it in and headed back to Australia where I took some musical jobs one of which was a terrible gig touring around Australia with a Doors Tribute band in which the singer actually thought he was "Jim". It was Truely Spinal Tap. One time I led the band off the stage after the encore to a packed house, took the wrong door and the whole band followed me down the side of the stage and into the female toilets in full view of the crowd. When we got into the toilets we realized we were in the wrong room and had to single file back out of the toilets, up the stairs onto the stage and out the right door. "Rock and Roll". there were many such moments with that band. Not long after I was sacked also over a Spinal Tap incident.
I'd also organised a tour with a band I put together called the "Voices Tour", made up of Bobby Kimbal on Vox, Glenn Hughes (Ex Deep Purple) on Bass/Vox, Virgil Donati on Drums and myself on guitar. We'd booked about 18 shows around the country over 3 weeks but unfortunately it all fell through at the last minute.
It was now mid 1992 and I decided to continued with the 12 String Guitars so I set up a little workshop near my home town and with the help of some friends, figured out how to make these things, experimenting with many Australian (East Gippsland) Hardwoods in the process, including Blackwood, Sassafras, Silverwattle and many types of gums including Mountain Ash, Red Gum and Iron Bark, plus some of Tasmania's pines (softwoods) including Huon and KingBilly pine. I had gone back to a 2 piece bolt on neck idea and this is where the Australian Shape headstock first emerged, though it was the wrong way around at that stage. The biggest hurdle was using the Steinberger Bridges and I got Trev Wilkinson to send out what was left from the stock. It soon became apparent that I would have to come up with an alternative to the Steinberger systems as it became too difficult and expensive to get hold of and modify. They were also too heavy for my liking. I was also commissioned by Aus Music at this time to write an instructional Book and Video on how to make your own electric guitar. I ran a pilot course in the Melb Juvenile Justice Centre which was also videod to complete the Book and Video.
At this stage my 4 year old son was struck down with Juvenile Diabetes just as we were finishing and selling a batch of guitars out of the workshop, I persisted with the workshop and had a display stand at the Melb Guitar show that year where I also performed but it soon became apparent that my sons health was more important as his illness was highly unstable and I made the decision to close the workshop to share the task of managing his illness with my partner which was a full time job in itself.
We moved to the country to do this and I lost contact with most of my music connections. 2 things happened at this stage: 1: Computors were getting more powerful so I bought an Apple Powermac which allowed me to continue writing and recording. 2: The house in the country had a decent shed so I was able to set up a little workshop and I dabbled around with the many SR-648 bodies I had left over from the previous workshop. This was the birthplace of the LM series.
The LM series (Named after Lenny Matt a great guitar player friend from Melbourne) was my answer to the Steinberger tuning system hurdle I'd had with the guitar. I actually put a headstock back on the neck with staggered machine heads like that of a Rickenbacker 12string to help keep the headstock small. I reduced the scale length to that of a Les Paul to keep the guitar compact and used a simple bridge plate with conventional Strat saddles as the fixed bridge. So I was able to utilise the left over bodies and keep an income coming in by setting up a WebPage and selling over the internet. There were only ever a small number of LM's that were hand made and sold, (less than 10) and after one of the headstocks broke during shipping to a customer I decided to reinvestigate the headless concept again. (A guitarist by the name of Bobby Ferrara from NewYork convinced me to lend him LM serial number 001 and as far as I know he still has it.
At about this time I observed the emergance of the Warr Guitar. Being a long scale instrument I also decided to do a long scale version of my guitars because at the time most of the Touchstyle players were doing their thing on longer scale instruments such as the Stick and the Warr Guitar.
Over the next few years as James grew up I kept dabbling with the headless concept in my spare time (I was now back in the workforce to pay the bills) and came up with a bridge/tuning design that was relatively simple.
We had moved several times again and finally bought and settled in a house not far out of Melbourne in 1999 and this was the birth place of the JC-35, JC-34, SR-640, SRB-640, SRB-648 and JCB-34 models. (though not all at once)
first came the JC-35's and 34's and I developed a bridge that used 2 spring loaded tuning knobs (one for each set of 6 strings) to slide along and locate each individual string tuning bolt and this seemed to work quite well for a while until I realized there where too many parts involved. It didnt take much for a part to break and render the tuning system useless, so I was constanly sending out replacement parts to keep customers happy.
Every aspect of these neck through instruments where hand made including the bridge and consequently the labour price reflected in the end sale price but they were still cheaper than a Stick or Warr guitar.
By this stage the Megatar had also emerged and this was also a cheaper long scale version to the Stick and Warr.
I persisted with this bridge concept and used it on the SR-648's which was still a bolt on neck version. One of the last bolt on neck SR-648's can be seen and heard on the Unity Video clip on the home page.
I was enjoying regular sales mainly to the States through my website when 2 things happened.
1. The bombing of 9/11. This terrible event killed many businesess and sales for me just stopped dead. I was reflecting on this event with Brett Garsed one evening and he explained he moved back to Australia at this time because he could not get work in the States even though he was one of the best guitar players on the planet. He mentioned that some of the most brilliant muso's he knew had to resort to working in hardware stores etc to pay the bills.
2. After the bombings the Australian dollar consistently rose against the US dollar from $.48 to $.78 and this made it virtually impossible for me to make a profit out of the handmade instruments so I had to come up with an alternative cheaper model series which I began with earnest in 2002.
The first Idea I came up with was to mould these guitars out of resin and matting (Kevlar). So I set about designing and making the proto type to the SRB-640. This proto-type had a 640mm scale length and had similar features to the JC-34's and 35's, that being the Batman style points on the bridge end of the body where the strap pins were located. I then had a 2 piece mould made from this proto type and designed an aluminium dual truss rod system that extended under the pickup cavities to the bridge location points. The Idea was to sit the fretboard and truss system in one side of the mould then lay the glass matting and resin in each half of the mould. Once the resin had set I would then join the mould together and pour the right amount of expandable foam through an opening. The foam would then expand and lock the 2 shells together. When the mould was seperated you were left with an incredible ridged and light weight one piece guitar that had amazing sustain since the nut and bridge where linked as one through the truss and frame system. Well there was only one that came out of that mould and this guitar did sounded amazing. The concept seemed like it might be feasible but when it came to painting the shell!!! The silicon needed to release the shell from the mould destroyed any hope of painting these guitars easily so I gave up on this idea. This one off also resides in the Box Guitar Museum and can be seen in my video clip to the song called "I Dont Know Why". I will also explore this manufacture technique again at some point.
The next idea was to make this guitar off shore in an Asian country so I set about redesigning the SRB-640 eliminating the laughable batman features of the previous proto-types. I made 3 prototypes and the bridge system actually angeled through the body and emerged on the end of the body for the tuning to take place, not a practical design to have made on a machine and was actually quite difficult to make by hand. None the less I persisted and engaged someone to take a proto type to China and find a factory to gear it up. I was confident that I could have these guitars made and retail for under $1000 by taking this approach and started taking orders based on this price. I spent a good 18months trying to go down this path but kept hitting brickwalls with the protection and legal aspects that where associated with this exercise so in the end I simply gave up on China and left this for the future. The first proto type that went to China can be heard on my album "Improvisations 1". I'd used Kinman pickups and this guitar also sounded fantastic. Unfortunately this guitar is lost in China but I still have proto type number 2 and this guitar also resides in the Box Guitar museum,
With customers patiently waiting for their backorders I sat down again, redesigned the SRB-640 and made a proto type which is the mother to the current model, bearing in mind that it had to be a simple design that could be made easily in Australia where I had total control of every aspect of the manufacture process and quality control. It also had to be made cheap enough to be competative. (I also fitted this proto type with Kinman Pickups and it can be heard on my live recording "Live at the Railway" The 2 highlights of this recording are "Voodoo Chile" and "James" which were also captured on video.
The first step to this model was redesigning the tuning bridge which I simplified and is now the current standard fixed bridge on all our guitars. Once I was happy with the bridge design I took it to a engineering machine work shop and had a batch of them made out of Aluminium. I then hired a couple of guys and we hand machined the first 100 SRB-640's as a one piece body and neck out of Kauri Pine. By the time number 50 was fretted I'd also geared the guitar up in a computorised router at the same place that was machining the bridges. (Number 2 and 3 of the production run of this model can be seen on the video footage captured of me playing on the main stage at the 2006 Melb guitar show)
I had filled the backorders for the SRB-640's and it was now time to concentrate on the JCB-34's of which I also had a number of back orders who had also been waiting patiently for several years. I set about redesigning this 34" scalelength version of the 12 string which utilized the same bridge as the SRB-640 and made the first 10. When the first 2 were fretted and the necks were shaped, Murpheys law struck a blow and both of these necks back bowed substainially for no apparent reason, so it was back to the drawing board to figure out why this had happened.... The problem was rectified and the JCB's were away.
The year was now mid 2006 and it was time to sit down and design a 6 and 7 string version of the SRB's and a 7string (bass string spacing) version of the JCB which have some very unique features that I will not disclose at this stage but I'm convinced will appeal to a wide range of bass players.
Stay tuned for these new models and other exciting developments on the 12 stringers...
To Be Continued.....