If you’re wondering about builder Bill Harden’s inspiration in creating the BluesBird, think Coodercaster – a customized Frankenstein’s monster of a guitar based on a pickup or two that wail.
Ry Cooder made the original Coodercasters to his own specs – vintage Strats modified with el cheapo Japanese gold-foil pickups. The looks weren’t important – the tone was.
Harden is wise to all that. His BluesBird is an affordable roots and blues machine that really sings.
He starts with a paulownia double-cut body; the wood is lightweight, fine-grained, and solid. He then adds a maple neck with a beefy C shape and 14″ radius, and a rosewood fretboard with medium jumbo frets measuring 111/16″ at the nut. Scale is 25.5″. This is a guitar made to get down to work.
The pickups are, of course, the key. Harden uses his custom hand-wound “Esmeralda” Tele set that personifies high output. That humbucker neck pickup shoots out a solid 10k while the bridge pickup boasts ceramic magnets with an 11-12k jolt.
The tuners and bridge are from Wilkinson while the tone circuitry is Harden’s own “Wide Range” tone control.
We plugged into a suitable ’59 tweed Deluxe and stood back.
Simply put, it was impossible to make the BluesBird sounds less than rocking. That bridge pickup has the hard-driving charm of a P-90, offering up plenty of sting and distortion. The neck unit starts sweet and soulful, then can dial up a healthy down-and-dirty blues tone. Switch both on and you get a balanced union: they work lovingly together and don’t fight each other. You can go from Buck Owens to Hubert Sumlin to, yes, Ry Cooder.
Built in Chicagoland, the BluesBird comes in an appropriate Sonic Blue with a slightly distressed finish – leaving you plenty of space to continue to wail on it.
This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.