Back in the Swinging ’60s, one of the coolest things hip companies could do was own a guitar company. After all, guitar-driven pop music was red hot, especially after the success of the Beatles in ’64. The baby boom showed no signs of letting up and “Boomers” were hitting high adolescence – prime guitar playing years. Thus, guitars were blessed with the Midas touch, veritable gold mines guaranteed to swell the bottom line as large corporations sought to diversify. The resulting gold rush yielded a number of strange bedfellows, with many guitar companies owned by conglomerates that may or may not have a clue about making and marketing guitars. Most came down on the latter side: CBS (TV) bought Fender, Seeburg (jukeboxes) bought Kay, Norlin (beer, etc.) bought Gibson, Avnet (hotels?) bought Guild, Gulf and Western (oil) bought Merson/Unicord (Univox), King Korn Stamp Company (trading stamps) bought Westheimer Sales (Teisco, Kingston). Even new guitar importing companies were fueled by money from elsewhere: Strum & Drum (Norma) came from nuts and bolts; W.M.I. (Teisco del Rey) came from photographic supplies.
It was amid this corporate feeding frenzy that Baldwin guitars were born, the result of a collision between the quest for guitars and the fortunes of Burns guitars of London. At least Baldwin made musical instruments, although, as it would turn out, that didn’t make much difference in the final outcome.
James Ormston Burns was born in England in 1925 and following World War II became involved in making guitars. In the late ’50s he was part of Burns-Weill, making some of the earliest production guitars in England. In ’60 he founded his own company, Ormston Burns Ltd., which began selling guitars branded “Burns London.” Among his most endearing guitar designs were the pointy, horned Bison and a guitar made for Hank Marvin, England’s answer to the Ventures. Burns guitars were generally well designed and produced, with feather-touch vibratos, a unique “gear-box” truss rod adjuster (which ended up on many Baldwin-era Gretsches), and nifty electronic features like the “Wild Dog” setting on the Jazz Split Sound (basically an early out-of-phase tone).
Since most of Burns’ guitars ended up in the Baldwin line, there’s no need to go into them at length. The most detailed source for information on Burns guitars is The Burns Book (The Bold Strummer, 1990) by Paul Day. If you want to know about a Burns-built guitar, you need this book.
Jim Burns was an affable (if eccentric) personality whose forté was guitar design and technology. Alas, his strengths did not extend to business and financial management, and by ’65 his company was deeply in debt to suppliers and creditors. Despite the good times for guitar sellers, Burns London was in desperate need of a rescue. This is where the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company of Cincinnati enters the picture.
The Baldwin story goes back a bit further, to Cincinnati in 1862, when a reed organ and violin teacher named Dwight Hamilton Baldwin opened a music store and eventually became one of the largest piano retailers in the Midwest. Joining him as a bookkeeper in 1866 was Lucien Wulsin, of Alexandria, Kentucky. Wulsin proved industrious and ca. 1873 became a partner in the Baldwin store. In 1890, Baldwin decided to go into piano manufacturing and began building upright pianos. He passed away in 1899 and Wulsin took over the operation.
Several generations of the Wulsin family continued to run the company. The piano building thrived and Baldwin became the first American piano company to win the Grand Prix Award at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1900. Baldwin also raked in top honors at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 and London’s Anglo-American Exposition in 1914. As early as 1935, Baldwin pioneered electronic organs and developed the electronic church organ. Over the years, Baldwin endorsers have been as diverse as President Harry Truman, composer Aaron Copeland, and Liberace.
In ’61, Lucien Wulsin III took over the reigns of the Baldwin empire, and by ’65 they were ready to jump on the guitar bandwagon. Coincidentally, Leo Fender was having health problems and decided to put Fender Musical Instruments on the block. At the time, Baldwin became aware that Burns of London was also in search of a savior. Baldwin made an attempt to purchase Fender, but was outbid by CBS, the huge broadcasting and entertainment company looking to get into “leisure time” markets.
Spurned by Fender, Baldwin dispatched treasurer Richard Harrison to England to negotiate with Jim Burns about purchasing his floundering company. Harrison recalls that Burns was pleasant enough, but that he spent most of the next several weeks in talks with Burns’ attorney trying to sort out the terrible state of affairs at the guitarmaker. Reportedly the purchase price was in the neighborhood of $380,000 – a pittance compared to the $13 million CBS plopped down for Fender, although, of course, there could be no comparison between equity values. In any case, the amount didn’t matter much because, as Harrison recalls, very little cash was involved in the deal. Most of the purchase price went to pay off notes. In September ’65, Baldwin Piano and Organ took over the assets of Ormston Burns Ltd., a.k.a. Burns London.
Jim Burns remained on with his old company for about a year in a consulting capacity, fairly typical in this sort of deal. However, new product development ground to a halt as Baldwin adjusted to the shock of inheriting a product line targeted at an entirely new market. Upon leaving Burns/Baldwin in ’66, Jim Burns continued to make guitars carrying the Ormston brand name. In the early ’70s he became involved with the Hayman brand, and later in the decade (when the Baldwin fiasco was long over), resuscitated the Burns name on some interesting new designs, including the Flyte and the Scorpion. Burns passed away in ’98, revered as one of England’s great guitarmakers.
The plan was that Burns would continue to manufacture guitars in London and ship them to the U.S., branded as Baldwin guitars. Reportedly there were a few early models from ’65 that had both names on them, and those that did likely had already been produced at the time of the sale. Following these were some in-production models on which the Burns name was actually excised, and the Baldwin name inserted. Since the name was usually on the pickguard, this meant cutting out the Burns name and gluing a piece of pickguard material engraved with the Baldwin name over it. Once the existing Burns parts were used up, the Baldwin logo was incorporated into the parts, as normal. If you have a Burns/Baldwin double logo or one of the glued-over Baldwin brand guitars, you know you have one from this transitional period.
Other than the new name, the ’65 Burns line initially continued intact as the Baldwin line. Guitar models included the Nu-Sonic, G.B.65, G.B.66, G.B.66 Deluxe, Bison, Baby Bison, Hank Marvin, Jazz Split Sound, Vibraslim, Double Six (12-string) and Virginian. Basses included the Nu-Sonic, GB66, Jazz Split Sound, Bison Bass, Shadows, Baby Bison, and Vibraslim basses. Depending on the model, headstocks on most of these early Baldwin guitars were in-line, on-a-side or the trademark large scroll. Burns guitars tended to have a variously shaped clear plastic emblem stenciled with the model name situated on the headstock, with no Burns logo (which was engraved on the pickguard). All Burns/Baldwin guitars had bolt-on necks (until the later classical). Necks were adjustable, with access underneath the neckplate into a geared mechanism usually called a “gearbox.” Fingerboards were typically unbound rosewood with pearl dot inlays; the octave had a regular-sized dot in the center with a smaller dot on each flank. Like many European designs, Burns guitars usually featured a zero fret. Pickguards were typically black/white laminated (tortoise on better models, in order to allow the engraving of the logo). Knobs were generally black plastic “Pilgrim hat” or “bell knob” types with a chrome insert on the top.
Nu-Sonic and the G.B.s
The Nu-Sonic was kind of a frumpy little budget guitar with slightly offset double cutaways and a considerably thicker upper horn, much like a “reverse shark fin,” introduced the previous year in ’64. The waist was relatively thick and the lower bout was flat at the endpin. The head was six-in-line with the model name on a little piece of clear plastic at the throat. The guitar featured two Nu-Sonic single-coil pickups, a metal compensated adjustable bridge, and a simple in-body vibrato. Controls were a three-way with one volume and two tones. Finishes were black or cherry. The Nu-Sonic Bass was essentially the same except for having a covered bridge/tailpiece assembly.
The G.B.65 was new in ’65 and was Burns’ first acoustic-electric. While supposedly a “jazz guitar,” this looked more like a single cutaway dreadnought than what we usually associate with jazz. The body was hollow mahogany, whereas the flat top featured a flamed sycamore veneer and two asymmetrical two-piece diamond-shaped soundholes. The G.B.65 had a three-and-three head that flared out right at the top, which culminated in three angles sort of like a stretched out Gibson. Two Rez-o-Matik pickups with bar magnets sat on laminated surrounds. There was an elevated pickguard and controls (three-way, volume, tone) were mounted on more pickguard material on the lower bout. The bridge was a simple bar type, with a simple trapeze tail with a “B”-stenciled diamond insert.
The G.B.66 was another new model in ’65 from just before the takeover. It came in two versions, a “standard” and the DeLuxe. This model was an offset double cutaway with rather squarish cuts and a bit of a hook on the upper horn. This also had a mahogany body and a flat flamed sycamore veneer top, but with two regular bound f-holes and elevated guard. The head was three-and-three. Unlike the G.B.65, this guitar was semi-hollow, with two Ultra-Sonic pickups, also surround-mounted, with a three-way on the shoulder and volume and tone top-mounted on the lower bout. A metal compensated adjustable bridge and trapeze similar to the G.B.65 completed the picture. The finish was red sunburst. The DeLuxe model was similar except for having two new Bar-o-Matik pickups and a third “density” control on the treble horn. This came in a golden sunburst finish. Some DeLuxes had bound fingerboards. The G.B.66 Bass was a bass equivalent, with the covered bridge/tailpiece.
The Nu-Sonic guitar and bass, G.B.65 guitar, and G.B.66 guitar and bass did not last long in the Baldwin lineup and were eliminated in mid ’66, so these are among the rarer of both the Burns and the Baldwin lines. The G.B.66 DeLuxe may have been made a bit longer, but it was gone by the time the ’67 catalog was produced.
The Baldwin Bison was the final version from the Burns era introduced in ’64. This had the dramatically inward-pointed horns of the original, but incorporated many features from the more popular Burns Marvin. The horns were roughly equal and looked a bit like a buffalo. The Baldwin Bison had a full scroll Burns headstock, large three-piece “split” laminate tortoise pickguard, three Rez-o-Matik single-coil pickups (the name is stenciled on the pickup cover), and a Rezo-tube vibrato. Earlier Burns vibratos had worked kind of like a hybrid Bigsby/Jazzmaster unit. Set in a rectangular, top-mounted housing, strings wrapped around a bar to which the handle was attached. Tension was provided by a spring attached underneath. The more recent Rezo-tube design borrowed more from the Stratocaster-style vibrato. The tube idea was to sink individual tubes perpendicular from the top through which each string loaded. The idea was to isolate harmonic interaction, though the net effect was not all that different from the vibrato block in a Strat. This attachment assembly then connected to three tension springs functioning pretty much like on a Strat. Early Rezo-tube vibratos used during the transitional period from Burns to Baldwin were noticeably longer (approximately 6″) than later versions. Usually a plastic gasket surrounded the back end of these units. An odd twin-bar assembly was mounted diagonally over the Rezo-tube back, function unknown (perhaps to eliminate accidental touching of the vibrato while adjusting control knobs?). The Bison offered considerable tonal flexibility with one volume and two tone controls, like on a Strat, but with two separate three-way selectors to provide different pickup combinations. The Bison came in black or white finishes, and remains one of Burns’ most interesting designs.
The Baldwin Bison Bass was essentially the same in a bass version. There was, of course, no vibrato, but the bridge/tailpiece assembly still employed the Rezo-tube technology. In place of the guitar’s diagonally bars over the vibrato, the bass had three diagonal bars over the middle pickup to serve as an arm rest. Unlike the guitar, the Bison Bass had only one three-way selector.
In ’65, just before the Baldwin takeover, Burns introduced a downscale version of the Bison called the Baby Bison which was intended for the export trade only, not to be distributed in the U.K. The Baby Bison had a simpler body that recalled its bigger brother, but the equal pointed horns did not point inward. The headstocks on these transitional Baby Bisons were long, flat three-and-threes with a center V-notch cut out of the top, yielding twin peaks or a sort of winged effect, with the model name on a V-shaped clear plastic emblem fitted just under the notch. The pickguard was simplified into two pieces, one with the logo on the upper horn, the other down on the lower bout with the controls (three-way, volume, two tones). These had two oval “Bar-Type” single-coil pickups mounted on laminated rings, and one of the long Rezo-tube vibrato units. Again, the Baby Bison Bass was a four-string bass version, with the Rezo-tube bridge/tailpiece assembly.
Also coming into the line from Burns’ glory days was the Split Sound, sometimes also called the Jazz Split Sound, originally introduced in ’62 and one of Burns’ most popular models. The Split Sound featured offset double cutaways and was essentially Burns’ version of a Strat. The horns were a little more pointy, and the upper horn curved in similar to a Bison. These transitional models featured a six-in-line headstock with kind of a gently rounded center “throat ” and a rounded Strat-style end. This had a single large black laminated pickguard carrying three Split-Sound pickups perpendicular to the strings (no slanting as on a Strat). The Split-Sound pickups had oval metal covers and six exposed pole pieces offset three-and-three between bass and treble sides. Most distinctive were the controls, which included a volume and tone plus a four-way rotary pickup select which included stops for Split-sound, Jazz, Treble, Wild Dog, the latter being a kind of wimpy out-of-phase effect, one of the early guitars to feature such wiring. The Split Sound featured a Series 2 vibrato, basically the hybrid Bigsby/Jazzmaster unit described previously. Atypical of Burns guitars, the Split Sounds had metal knobs.
The Jazz Split Sound Bass was the bass version, differing in that the four-in-line head had two throats, the pickups (without offset pole pieces) were slanted slightly toward the bridge treble side, all parallel, and the bridge/tailpiece assembly was a simple covered affair. These both came in a red sunburst.
The Hank Marvin guitar was introduced in ’64 as a tribute to the great English picker who fronted the Shadows, Britain’s answer to the Ventures. Its offset double-cutaway shape was similar to the Split Sound, with the hooked upper horn. Offered in white only, this had the deep scroll headstock. Like the Bison, it had a “split” three-piece pickguard assembly of laminated tortoise, the logo now down on the treble horn. The Marvin had three Rez-o-Matik single-coil pickups mounted at an angle, like the Split Sound Bass. These had the long Rezo-tube vibrato system and simplified electronics, with a three-way select, one volume, and two tones.
The Double Six was basically a 12-string version of the Hank Marvin, also introduced in ’64. The headstock was a long, flat version of the flared types found on the G.B. models. The laminated black pickguard was split, like the Marvin, with three slanted pickups, now Tri-Sonics, with three-way, volume, and two tones. The bridge was a simple adjustable bar-type with a covered stop tailpiece. The Double Six came in natty green or red sunbursts.
Named for Marvin’s backup band, the Shadows Bass was basically the bass version of the Hank Marvin guitar, again in white only. Again, with a laminated tortoise “split” three-piece guard, it had three slanted bass versions of the Rez-o-Matik pickups. A Rezo-tube stop bridge/tailpiece assembly fixed the strings, and the slanted bars sat over the pickups as a handrest.
The Vibraslim was a Burns double-cutaway semi-hollowbody introduced in ’64. Unlike, say, an ES-335, this had a slightly extended upper cutaway and there was a slight taper to the bass bout, giving it a little more dynamic feel. A solid wood core extended down the center of the guitar, with hollow wings on the side and a pair of f-holes. These early Baldwin semi-hollow Vibraslims had a bit of a point on the treble horn; later hollowbodies had a more rounded horn. The head was the flared three-and-three as found on the G.B. guitars. Two ring-mounted Ultra-Sonic pickups were controlled by one volume, two tone, and a presence control, all mounted as thumbwheels along the bottom edge of the elevated pickguard. A three-way select was also mounted in the pickguard. The Vibraslim had an adjustable metal compensated bridge and a top-mounted Mk. 9 vibrato, looking somewhat like a Hagstrom, but operating with a bar and handle assembly attached to a spring under a humped housing behind the bar. These came in a red sunburst finish.
Another new model introduced in ’65 just before the Baldwin takeover, the Virginian was in the mode of the G.B.65 guitar, a single-cutaway flat-top dreadnought shape with a mahogany body and veneered flamed sycamore top. The Virginian, however, had the deep scroll headstock and a pair of new Bar-o-Matik pickups on either side of a round soundhole (double-ring rosette), sitting on oval surround with center points pointing inward toward the soundhole. However, the soundhole was an illusion because it was another semi-hollowbody, with a slab of wood down the center. The pickups had a white oval line stenciled around the polepieces and sat on goofy oval laminated rings that had a point on one side pointing into the soundhole. The three-way select sat on the upper shoulder, while the volume, tone, and density controls were top-mounted on the lower bout. A laminated black pickguard was glued under the soundhole. A rectangular adjustable bridge/tailpiece assembly was mounted on top of a large, clunky wooden mustache bridge reminiscent of other bizarre bridge ideas of the times. This was another highly popular Burns model. Transitional Baldwin Virginians from ’65 continued to use the Bar-o-Matik pickups, however, by ’67, if not before, pickups were changed to the slightly larger “…bar-type Rez-o-Maks,” which were slightly larger and the white oval stencils had angular notches on the ends. These were slightly larger than the earlier pickups and sat on larger surrounds.
All these early Burns/Baldwin guitars were shipped directly to Baldwin’s Fayetteville, Arkansas, electronic organ factory (along with their other plants) managed by Stan Krueger. Krueger had attended the University of Cincinnati following the war and when he graduated in 1950, he got a job with Baldwin’s research department. After a five-year stint, he was put in charge of manufacturing in Cincinnati.
Ca. ’58, two things converged that caused Baldwin to relocate its manufacturing operations. One was the city’s desire to put in a new highway that would have meant the loss of Baldwin’s lumber yard. The other was an intractable conflict with a union. Just as Epiphone had a problem in ’52 when it left New York for Philadelphia to escape labor disagreements, Baldwin moved manufacturing to Arkansas. Eventually it would operate plants in Fayetteville, Booneville (which would handle Gretsch), and DeQueen (which would handle Ode banjos). In ’62, Krueger was put in charge of managing all the Arkansas facilities.
From the start, Baldwin encountered problems with the Burns guitars being shipped in from the U.K. “The problem was that Burns was using a polyester finish,” recalls Krueger. “Not polyurethane – polyester. That worked fine for England, but when it got here it couldn’t handle the climate change.” Or, as Duke Kramer, who joined Baldwin later as part of the Gretsch acquisition, tells it more graphically, “The polyester finishes exploded!” Baldwin eventually hired a fellow whose job was just to refinish damaged guitars, but there were so many he never caught up!
Guitars, Not Pianos
Poly finishes weren’t the only problem. Baldwin guitars didn’t sell very well, either. And not because of poor finishes. As Kramer points out, Baldwin had assumed that since they knew how to sell pianos, they would know how to sell guitars. As it turned out, its sales force didn’t know how.
“I told them, ‘You can’t sell guitars and drums in the same place you sell pianos.’ But they wouldn’t listen,” he said.
As in many a merger before and since, the parent company thought it knew best. Without established guitar dealerships and the expertise to sell guitars, the Baldwin line quickly began to languish. However, the units kept coming in. Before they knew it, Baldwin was having to rent more and more warehouse space to house the unsold guitars.
“One of the reasons Baldwin wanted to buy Gretsch was they wanted the Gretsch sales force to move the Baldwin guitar products out,” muses Kramer.
Another problem Baldwin discovered involved import tariffs. They quickly learned that the tariffs were much higher on completed guitars than on containers of components. Ca. ’66 Baldwin began having the Burns factory bring the guitars to a state of semi-finish, but not final assembled. Thus, they would pack one container with bodies, another with necks, etc. Apparently the state of completion would vary, but these were then shipped to Fayetteville, where the parts were assembled. So it was really only the earliest Baldwins which were fully “built” in England. By ’66, Baldwin guitars began to be assembled in Arkansas.
Flat Scroll Neck
In mid-to-late ’66, Baldwin took further steps to reduce costs and, it hoped, boost sales. Some of this may have been due to finally clearing out the backlog of Burns parts. In any case, the main change was a redesign of the Baldwin neck. First, from this point on, all Baldwin guitars had the same neck, rather than different headstocks based on the model. Second, the new necks featured a flatter version of the scroll headstock. This was easier to manufacture than the previous design, which had a real, carved scroll. The new design had a thick, pseudo scroll blob that didn’t require elaborate shaping. Finally, fingerboards were bound and the triple-dot octave had three dots of the same size.
In addition, in ’66 several models underwent minor changes, while the Vibraslim got a major makeover, losing its name to become simply the prosaic Model 548. Although it looked the same (except for the new neck and the previously mentioned more rounded treble cutaway horn), the Vibraslim lost the internal wood and became a hollowbody, and the old Ultra-Sonic pickups were replaced by new Bar Magnet units. Instead of mounting the controls with thumbwheels along the edge of the pickguard, they were now mounted on the top of the guitar. On some models, the laminated pickguard was replaced with a see-through plastic one. And the old Mk. 9 vibrato was replaced by the shorter Rezo-tube. Similar changes were made to the Vibraslim bass.
Other minor model changes included new all-metal knobs on the Jazz Split Sound guitar and bass. The Shadows Bass was renamed the Shadow Signature. The Bison Bass, Shadow Signature Bass, Jazz Split Sound Bass, Baby Bison Bass, and Marvin and Baby Bison guitars all got new Bar Magnet pickups. Basses changed to a Rezo-tube bridge/tailpiece unit. The Jazz Split Sound Bass got a shorter scale. All got renewed expectations.
In addition to the new specs, the entire line received new numerical model designations; Model 525 Double Six, Model 503 Split Sound, Model 519 Split Sound Bass, Model 511 Bison, Model 516 Bison Bass, Model 524 Hank Marvin Signature, Model 528 Shadow Signature Bass, Model 560 Baby Bison, Model 561 Baby Bison Bass, Model 548 (formerly Vibraslim), Model 549 Bass (formerly Vibraslim), and Model 550 The Virginian. Except for the Vibraslim, the old Burns names remained, but clearly de-emphasized.
Baldwin poured a lot of money into marketing the new line, something Kramer immediately recognized when his highly frugal organization was drawn into the fold. Lots of space advertising, an expensive catalog. Baldwin tried. Guitarist Chuck Thompson was hired as a demo man, a la Gretsch’s Jimmy Webster, and toured the country in a Baldwin van. It didn’t help enough, and the warehouses continued to bulge.
Since most of you will not own a Baldwin catalog, it’s amusing (especially knowing the problems) and instructive to reproduce the intro copy, “Baldwin Fundamental Features,” from the ca. ’67 catalog defining the Baldwin difference.
“As you flip through these pages, there are a few things we’d like you to keep in mind. Things that are true of all our guitars.
“First, every neck we put on them, regardless of price range, is hand-carved. That means they’re inspected every second of their development. We’ve bound all the edges of the neck, too. If you don’t already know how important that might be to you, you will after you’ve played a machine-made, unbound neck for an hour or two.
“We put rosewood on all of our fingerboards. And the back of our neck is covered with polyester and buffed to keep it smooth year after year. We did that to the bodies, too. Sure, it is harder to do, but we think you’ll agree it’s worth it.
“All of our guitars have individually machined tuning pegs. In fact, every working metal part on a Baldwin guitar is either milled or cast.
“Nowhere on any of our guitars will you find any stamped parts with the single exception of the tailpiece cover which, of course, is not a working part.
“You won’t find any rivets, either. Every part is firmly screwed into place so that you’ll be able to clean or replace any part you may want to. And it means you can do it easily without special tools.
“Another Baldwin Fundamental Feature is our patented geared truss rod. It’s in the neck. And if the neck comes out of alignment, it can quickly and easily be corrected with this rod. Corrected with precision, too. For while most truss rods can be adjusted, they are on a 1 to 1 ratio. Ours is 16 to 1. You can see that an adjustment with that high a ratio will allow finer, more precise adjustment.
“The quality of the electronic components in a Baldwin guitar is excellent, even if we say so ourselves. We’ve devoted a lot of time and money to design, precision, and sensitivity.
“Take our pickups for just one example. To get sound from a metal guitar string, all you have to do is wind wire around a magnetic core and place it near that string. But if you want something more than sound, if you want sensitivity, if you want to hear all the subtle shadings of a given sound, then you have to design a pickup. We determined the exact number of windings needed to get sensitivity without sacrificing amplification. Each of our pickups is wound to that exact specification, not a fraction of a turn more or less. Nitpicking? You bet. But it’s the way to build a better guitar.
“Another example of the quality we build into Baldwin is our tone control. Our engineers designed two controls. We had our choice. Either could have been used. We chose the first because it sounded better to us. It is many times more expensive that the other. Chances are you never would have known the difference. But we would.
“Those are the things we call our Fundamental Features because they’re true of every guitar we make. That’s where you start when you buy a Baldwin.”
In ’67 Baldwin decided to add a less expensive budget line, the 700 Series. The 700s featured conventional ES-335-style equal double-cutaway hollowbodies made in Italy and imported into the Fayetteville plant for assembly with Burns necks and other components, including some Italian-made hardware and probably pickups. There were four guitars and one bass included in the 700 Series. 700 Series instruments came in cherry red or sunburst finishes.
The Model 706V was a two-pickup thinline with the new Baldwin neck, an adjustable fine-tune bridge, and a Bigsby-style vibrato with string rollers and a stylized “B” on the backplate. The last two pieces look distinctly Italian. The pickups, mounted on metal rings, were a new “Bar Type” that appear to be humbuckers, and sure look Italian. These had metal covers with six adjustable screw poles on either side of a stenciled oval with the Baldwin name included.
The Model 706 was the same guitar except for a trapeze tailpiece with a large “B” medallion. These are definitely different from the old Burns trapezes, and are also probably of Italian origin.
The Model 712 was a 706 with a 12-string neck. It appears the saddles on the bridge were simply double-notched, because the unit is otherwise identical to that on the 706. In other words, fine-tuning of string intonation was never considered! The Model 712T was the same 12-String but with a thinner neck.
The Model 704 was a bass version of the 706, pretty much identical except for two rows of four poles on the pickups and an attractive staggered tuner arrangement.
At about this time a slightly mysterious chapter to the Baldwin guitar history occurs. Apparently Baldwin hooked up with a luthier by the name of Clyde Edwards, reportedly from San Francisco, and hired him to design a line of U.S.-made Baldwin guitars at the Booneville plant. Very little is known of Mr. Edwards except he would go on to play a minor role in the history of guitar design. Because of his subsequent activities, it’s pretty certain that Edwards relocated to Arkansas. Given the timing of Edwards’ arrival and his later design activities, it’s entirely possible he was responsible for the modified headstock design, but this is speculation. Certainly, the new heads show up on his Baldwin guitars.
We do know that sometime in late ’66, a few guitars were designed by Clyde Edwards. These have no known model designation (there undoubtedly was one), and they never appeared in Baldwin catalogs or advertising. Basically, the Clyde Edwards was a single-cutaway hollowbody with a pair of f-holes and one of those upper shoulder profiles where the upper bout made an S-curve through the neck into the pointed Florentine cutaway. These were fitted with the new flattened, modified Baldwin scroll head necks and Burns pickups. Given the rarity of Clyde Edwards models (only three or so have been sighted), these probably never made it into full-scale production.
In addition to the regular Clyde Edwards model, there was at least one all-acoustic model made with a serial number that suggests it was made in November ’66. This had the trademark Edwards shape, but was (as far as we can tell) a one-off prototype.
Despite the fact the Clyde Edwards Baldwin models never entered serious production, the company was apparently pleased with Edwards because he went on to work for the Gretsch division as their “master string-instrument designer.” In fact, the S-curve shoulders showed up again in Edwards’ first major designs for Gretsch, ’72′s Super Chet and Deluxe Chet guitars. The Super Chet also had roller knob controls set along the lower edge of the pickguard, an idea that Baldwin replaced on Burns guitars about the time Edwards arrived.
Edwards’ S-curve designs didn’t go away, and reappeared in ’76 on the dice-inlaid Gretsch Hi Roller, which evolved into ’77′s Atkins Axe and Chet Atkins Super Axe, with the pointed Florentine cutaway restored. Edwards received a patent on that shape. Then again, one more time with Gretsch’s final fling, the BST or “Beast” series was introduced in ’79. Both the bolt-neck BST-1000 and neck-through BST-5000 had the trademark Edwards’ S-curve shoulders. So, in a way, Baldwin’s Clyde Edwards guitars were the mother of the Beast…
In spite of the new guitars and production of a huge, colorful, and very expensive new catalog, Baldwin’s warehouses continued to burst at the seams. It was at this time that the Gretsch guitar company came up for sale. Gretsch was certainly a more attractive property than Burns; not only did it have a long-established history in the U.S. market, giving it more brand equity, it also had a network of established guitar dealers and a force of experienced salesmen. And Fred Gretsch, Jr. wanted to sell. However, as Kramer recalls, Baldwin was interested in Gretsch as much as a vehicle for clearing out its backlog of Burns/Baldwin guitars as it was for Gretsch itself. “Our job was to dump Baldwin guitars on the market so we could then concentrate on Gretsch,” explains Kramer.
There’s little point in discussing Baldwin and Gretsch here. It was not a marriage made in heaven, with the newly acquired Gretsch folks feeling they got the shorter end of the stick. The Baldwin-era Gretsches were chronicled in Guitar Stories, Volume 1 (VG Books) and more detail is provided by Tony Bacon and Paul Day in The Gretsch Book.
Hardcore collectors mark the decline of the Gretsch brand from the purchase by Baldwin, though that evaluation may not be entirely fair, and some very nice guitars continued to be produced, mostly at the new plant in Booneville, Arkansas, following the Gretsch factory fire of ’73. They may not be classic Brooklyn Gretsches, but taken on their own merits, they’re really not all bad.
According to Krueger, in late ’67/early ’68, some Baldwin production began to shift from England to Arkansas. Some of this was no doubt the assembly of the new Italian models, but apparently some components were actually fabricated in Fayetteville using Baldwin tooling. In particular, some neck production may have taken place, capitalizing on the expertise gained from the Ode banjo operation (Ode was purchased not long after the Burns acquisition). Krueger’s memory of the details is fuzzy, but it’s possible to encounter a late-era Baldwin guitar with American-made components…but how could you tell?
In any case, while the Gretsch sales organization proceeded to dump Baldwin guitars, the guitar business itself stumbled into trouble. 1968 was a miserable year and electric guitar sales plummeted. Valco, which had purchased Kay from Seeburg in ’67, hit the shoals and went belly-up in ’68, ending two of the world’s largest mass guitar manufacturing traditions. Harmony staggered, but managed to limp along until ’76, never again matching its previous glory. Many lessor Japanese guitarmakers also took a hit.
Also around this time, many European factories began to see wages escalate and trade with the U.S. became more difficult. The net result was the playing field was totally rearranged, with American companies pretty much abandoning mass manufacturing. European manufacturers were squeezed out and those Japanese companies that survived the bust quickly emerged in charge of the lower end of the guitar marketplace. This coincided with the development of the so-called “copy era,” which we’ve discussed at length at other times.
Model 801CP Electric Classical Guitar
Baldwin also didn’t fare well in the ’68 downturn. In ’68 Baldwin’s last guitar was introduced – the innovative Model 801CP Electric Classical Guitar. Paul Day also alludes to a Model 801C Contemporary Classical, but offers no details, and it does not appear in any sources available to us. In any case, the 801CP featured a new under-saddle pickup system called the Prismatone pickup in which each string had its own ceramic pickup sensor. While Jim Burns had developed his own system for amplifying a classical guitar as early as ’65, this new technique appears to have come from Baldwin engineers.
The 801CP was a grand concert-sized classical with a pumpkin-colored spruce top and mahogany body. It’s almost certain the guitar was not made by Baldwin. Indeed, if you ask me the guitar has all the earmarks of a Harmony guitar, though it could also have been imported. If so, we’d vote for Japan as the country of origin. The overall shape is a little squarish and the head very plain, which suggests Harmony, but some late-’60s imports also fit that description. The 801CP connected via a jack on the lower bout rim to a converter box with a volume control.
Baldwin’s acoustic/electric classical was perhaps not the first transducer-based amplification method for acoustics (Stromberg-Voisinet, a.k.a., Kay, had introduced a system back in ’28), but it was certainly at the front of the pack. Shiro Arai of Aria guitars in Japan also developed a system at about the same time. This was sold here carrying the Conn brand name. And Burns himself had devised something a few years earlier, though that never made it to market. So if you find one, you’ll have a significant piece of guitar history.
Baldwin continued to import components from the Burns factory until ’70, when it finally threw in the towel and shut down the Burns operation. Leftover Baldwin guitars continued to be sold, but by that time the company’s guitar efforts had been refocused on Gretsch, which would continue production until early ’81 (though some leftover stock was still being sold as late as ’83). Baldwin continued being active with amplifiers, purchasing the Sunn amp company, and in ’79 Kustom, briefly merging the Gretsch and Kustom operations. However, by the early ’80s Baldwin finally tired of these guitar-oriented excursions, which never did make them money, and returned to their core business of keyboards, which they continue to this day. And thus ends the story of Baldwin and guitars.
Steve Krueger can be contacted at Baldwinguitarman@hotmail.com.
Dating Baldwin guitars
Unfortunately, Baldwin guitars do not have a serial number scheme to allow convenient dating. There’s no decipherable pattern to Burns-made guitars with serial numbers; they really only served a warranty purpose. Given the fact the majority of Baldwins came to the U.S. in parts and were assembled in Arkansas, a date would have been meaningless, anyway! So you kind of have to go by the evidence:
September ’65 to ’66: dual-logo and glued-on Baldwin-logo.
Ca. early ’66 to mid/late ’66: transitional models with old Burns-style heads and engraved Baldwin logos.
Late ’66 to ’70: new flattened, “modified” scroll headstock and new features.
’67 to ’70 (probably really ’68): 700 Series with Italian ES-335-style bodies.
’68 to ’70 ( as late as ’74): model 801CP Electric Classical Guitar.
Just as Baldwin was casting around for a guitar company to buy in ’65, the company began manufacturing Baldwin amplifiers, which were produced at the Fayetteville organ plant supervised by Stan Krueger.
The only thorough documentation of Baldwin amps is the ca. ’67 catalog, so it’s impossible to tell just when various models joined the line or how long they were manufactured. For example, the humongous Exterminator was built in response to the Vox Super Beatle, and therefore did not come online in ’65; ’67 is a more likely date. Still, it’s useful to list the models and their specs so you know what you’re looking at when you find it.
All Baldwin amps were solidstate, had baby blue side panels, brushed aluminum control panels, and colored push-button controls. The styling was always more keyboard than guitar, but most who’ve played them say they kick butt!
The Supersound circuitry on the better amps, by the way, was basically preset EQ for Treble, Mid 1, Mid 2, bass, and a “Mix,” which probably let you combine two settings. The Supersound circuit was controlled by a three-way select that let you go from normal output to Supersound or both. That way you could create “a happening!”
The Exterminator – 28″ x 14″ x 481/2″, 100 watts RMS (250 peak), two 15″, two 12″, two 7″ speakers, two channels; reverb (depth), tremolo (speed, intensity), volume, treble, bass, three-way Supersound switch, five-slide Supersound control.
Model C1 Custom Amplifier with Supersound – 281/16″ x 10″ x 18″, 45 watts RMS (125 peak), 2×12″, two channels; reverb (depth), tremolo (speed, intensity); volume, treble, bass; three-way Supersound switch, five-slide Supersound control.
Model D1 Deluxe Amplifier with Supersound – 221/16″ x 10″ x 18″, 30 watts RMS (70 peak), 12″ speaker, two channels; reverb (depth), tremolo (speed, intensity), volume, treble, bass, three-way Supersound switch, five-slide Supersound control.
Model B1 Bass Amplifier – 34″ x 125/8″ x 213/4″, 45 watts RMS (125 peak); one 15″ and one 12″ speaker, two channels; volume, treble, bass, timbre.
Model S1 The Slave – 34″ x 125/8″ x 213/4″, 40 watts RMS (100 peak), one 15″ and one 12″ speaker, one channel; volume.
Model C2 Amplifier – 281/16″ x 10″ x 18″, 40 watts RMS (100 peak), two 12″ speakers, two channels; reverb (depth), tremolo (speed, intensity), volume, treble, bass.
Model B2 Bass Amplifier – 34″ x 125/8″ x 213/4″, 35 watts RMS (90 peak), one 15″ speaker, two channels; volume, treble, bass.
Ca. ’65 Baldwin NuSonic, not featured in the catalog. Photo: Steve Krueger.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.