I got my first guitar as an 11th birthday present, it was a no name really crappy acoustic with heavy strings and an action that made it virtually unplayable. I filed the bridge down to lower the action, but after a few weeks of playing, it was resigned to the cupboard in the front room, only to be sold a few months later to a boy who lived in the next street
Fast forward to me, age 14 (AD 1962), a lad at school was building an electric in the woodwork class and the woodwork teacher assured him that attaching a Fender style headstock on with 2 dowels and wood glue would be fine (it wasn't), when it was finished, the woodwork teacher (who played mandolin), strung it up and immediateley, the headstock started pulling forward and eventually broke clean off ... I, on the other hand, took the harder option of building mine at home in the air raid shelter in the back yard, half of which was used as a coal shed, my Dad's bike occupying the other half when he came home from work.
I had gotten interested again after standing outside and hearing a live group playing at Ashfield Labour club, they did Del Shannon's "Runaway " really well.
I had bought a plank basically for the neck and a friendly guy at a local woodyard helped me out by slicing down both sides of the neck up to the headstock and even cutting the headstock thickness down for me . I had gotten all the measurements from a lad called Tommie, who had a Hofner Colorama (which had a Strat style headstock), I traced the shape and copied on a piece of hardboard, the fret measurements as accurately as I could, then set to work with a rasp, various files, a plane and an old spokeshave.
After about 10 days (and both hands aching), I had the neck done (no truss rod, mind you, I didn't even know they existed ) and a completeley flat fingerboard . I had gone to Manchester and bought fret wire and a Vox pickup Plain chrome, like a Telecaster neck pickup, from a music shop and then I installed the frets and filed the edges (they turned out remarkably well actually).
The body was next, I'd copied the colorama, but hated the matching cutaways on it, so just drew with a pencil what I wanted it to look like (A Fender Strat), after getting the shape as near as I could, I cut it out with a coping saw (broke 6 blades doing it, as the body wood was about 1-1/4 inches thick ) . The spokeshave and loads of sandpaper came next and I used drills and chisels for the pickup route and neck pocket . I painted the neck with a poyurethane type varnish and wet sanded it down with 1200 paper afterwards, then buffed it up with brasso . The body was painted in Dulux pillar box red which took forever to dry and try as I might, I couldn't get rid of the grain marks in it.
I made a tremolo unit from a brass rod, drilled by my Dad at work which had 7 holes (6 for the strings and one for the tremolo arm) , which I fitted by using my Dad's tap and die set, so it unscrewed like a "proper" tremolo (that actually took 5 days )
This was pushed through a square housing and given back to my dad to take back into work and have a bicycle chain single link brazed on each end to keep the rod in place, a small spring was then bolted onto the links, which rested on the bottom plate (think a Bigsby with a smaller spring each end instead of one big one )
I used an old radiogram and connected it with ariel wire to test it, it buzzed like mad, but was actually fairly much in tune and playable apart from the intonation, so I marked the pattern of the Colorama's bridge on the steel rod and took it off and filed it so it had flats on it (similar to the Telecaster "Compensated " saddles now available, maybe I should have patented that!)
Myself on the left, Ronnie Grundy centre, Alan Ormandy on drums and Steve Barnes on the right , photographed in "The Jollies" Oldfield Road (you can just make out my Watkins Dominator bottom right)
About six weeks after me making it, two schoolmates Steve Barnes and Ronnie Grundy came up to me at school and said they were in a group, they were thinking of getting rid of their lead guitarist and asked me if I wanted to audition (I said I would, even though I had no amp), so My Dad went and bought a Watkins Westminster 5 watt valve amp for me (which looked exactly like a Dansette record player )
I toddled off to the audition and ended up getting the job . The group was me on lead guitar, Steve on rhythm, on a Hofner club 40, Ronnie on bass (on a big semi-acoustic guitar which wasn't a bass, but he used a bassy tone and just played the bottom strings). The group was completed by Alan Ormandy on drums .
After about 3-4 months, we had progressed a little, Ronnie had a Hofner solid Strat copy bass (really nice guitar) and an RSC bass amp (which Steve and I carried home on the bus, as Ronnie was working that Saturday), I had progressed to a Rosetti airstream 2 and a Watkins Dominator (wish I still had THAT), Alan added to his drumkit and Steve stuck with his Hofner (which had THE lowest action I have ever seen, but it didn't like roundwound strings, so he had to use flatwounds). Speaking of strings, they were all heavy guage back then (probably 12's or so ), Steve and I quickly started using a Banjo 5th as a first and using a first as a second, second as a third and so on, ending up with a usable light guage set (Apparently Eddie Cochran started that off).
We were doing instrumentals at first, Walk don't run. The cruel sea, Peter Gunn theme etc, but we started to do vocals as well, getting 3 reslo mikes and plugging them in one of the Dominator's spare inputs via a 4 input into 1 adapter, which was basically 4 inputs each with a volume control and all of them then mixed into one output.
A typical set list would read:
September in the rain
Twist and Shout
The Hippy hippy shake
Will you stil love me tomorrow
Zipedee doo dah
Shakin all over
I should've know better (Steve on harmonica)
Hey Baby (the Bruce Chanel original with me on harmonica )
Weaste Independant Methodist church, where we practised
I was never happy with the Rosetti, it was hard to play, so I bludgeoned my Dad into signing for a Stratocaster, which I would get on HP . I went into Disc City ( a record shop), on Cross lane, where the owner had said he would give me a way better trade in price than all the Manchester shops, even taking the Westminster in PX as well. We sent off for one (I wanted a maple fretboard sunburst one), but about six weeks later the shop owner said someone from Fender had rung him up and asked if I would take a brand new Daphne Blue one with a rosewood board, as it had been shipped to Ireland and the guy there didn't like the colour (it was very hard to get anything from the States as there was a trade embargo on at the time )... I told him yes and another 2 weeks later it came in the shop.
I picked it up around 3 pm on the Saturday and as we were playing that night, didn't have time to set it up, so by the time we finished for the night, I was calling it not fit to burn, despite the fact that people drool over pre CBS strats, this one was set up by an imbecile, the action was well high, the trem was decked with 5 springs (and made a resounding "clang" as it hit the body when you let go of the arm) and the strings were 12 guage again with a wound 3rd ... I came off with my ring finger bleeding, so the next day, set about it, I changed the strings, took 2 springs off lowered the action, set the tremolo up to float and intonated it properly (which had to be done anyway, after changing from a wound 3rd).
I played that for around 18 months, during which time, Alan the drummer left, I think his dad wanted him to take a job at Butlins doing a summer season (he evrntually dropped that and ended up in the Stuart Charles string band ). We tried various drummers out, ending up with a guy called Norman (never did find out his last name!), he was older than us and a heavy drinker, he also kept failing to turn up for rehearsals, so we sacked him.
I remembered that my uncle Ian, played drums at the Gainsborough club in Pendleton, so I went up one night and asked if his son, my cousin Steve Revel, was any good on drums. He said Steve had tried his drums a few tmes so we took a big chance and asked him to come to a rehearsal (we rehearsed in the Weaste Independant mission hall, on Derby road, just round the corner from where I lived in Leopold street) . Steve turned up with his dad (and his dad's ancient drum kit, complete with massive bass drum). He was very basic, but we encouraged him and the second week (4th practice), he turned up with a brand new purple drum kit .
His playing improved but was just basic, no fills or anything, so I said to him "Why don't you do a little fill at the end of that verse?" he said "like what?", so I went "diddly diddly duf du duf splat"....He copied it exactly, so if he'd never heard the song, we'd sing and play each one and then one of us would "sing" how the drums went at that part ....By 3 months he was brilliant and had an almost photographic memory for the fills .
I remember him breaking his big toe on his right foot which meant he couldn't pedal the bass dum, so Ronnie said he'd do it, so we put the bass drum pedal on the front of the drum, Ronnie used the back of his heel and we got away with it (he played the beat as he played the bass notes on his bass )
We carried on like that, eventually getting a decent PA system for about 2 years,doing quite nicely, we played everywhere from Supporting the Drifters at the kubiclub, Slack street Rochdale to every Pub on Cross lane in Salford (well, every one except one, which didn't have a music licence), we did The Talk of the North and Oldham Astoria the week after the Beatles played there (apparently Brian Epstein offered the manager Cilla Black, the Fourmost and Billy J Kramer in their place but he refused) ............Then one day, Ronnie announced he and Steve Barnes were leaving and joining The Irwells
Steve Revel and I tried recruiting a bass player and rhythm guitarist, we ended up with a guy called Colin, who I eventually sacked and we couldn't seem to find a decent bass player .....after a few months, Steve said The Irwells had asked him to join them, after the drummer leaving and did I mind, I told him to go for it
I filled in a couple of temporary spots, one with Mike Sweeney's group (which resulted in me hastily putting the Strat back together one Saturday afteroon, while I was cleaning the frets and restringing it, primarily out of boredom......... I played with them 2 weekends while one of their guitarists was busy helping his dad who ran a haulage company) and another couple of weeks with an old schoolmate, Derek, (who's group was pretty good, but he had a pretty violent temper and was always "Going off on one", so I bowed out)
12 months or so passed, I ended up having to sell the strat and had more or less given up groups, when I heard that Johnny Parker (ex New Religion) had left after nearly being killed in a van crash....(Pete Oliver who went on to Sweet Chariot) was "dead" for 3 minutes in the same van crash. I knew Johnny, we had talked before about starting a group, but he was already with the New Religion.. I went up to his house and asked if he wanted to start a group, he said only if he could bring in Keith Jones (a brilliant drummer who actually lived in the next street to me). I jumped at that, so johnny said he was going on holiday for 2 weeks, so he'd see me when he got back
I only had one problem, I had no guitar!, I didn't really have enough put aside to buy a decent one, so I thought I'd try to build yet another one, I managed to get the plywood surround from an industrial sewing machine and started to shape it .
After taking a break at the weekend to go into Manchester and buy pickup wire, I met a friend of mine, he said he had some Obeche wood if I wanted a piece, so I took him up, I realised after I got it, that it wouldn't be wide enough for a strat headstock, so I cut out a telecaster shape and started on the neck.
The wood was like Maple, very smooth grained, I used the fret spacing template I had originally used for the first build and it turned out pretty good (I'm not too shabby when working with wood).
The body was a bitch to do, but at least the neck pocket was easy to cut out, tenon saw down the sides then a chisel across the neck pocket end, and finally chiselling the depth out which was easy because I used the layers of ply to judge the depth accurately.
I'd got volume and tone pots and knobs fron Mazels on Oxford Road, along with a control plate and bridge off a Telecaster copy (only this had the output jack on the control plate ).
I had also asked the guy in there for a wiring diagram which he did for me. I ended up getting another Vox pickup which fitted the bridge perfectly.
My brother Jack playing the "Furocaster" I made
After making a scatchplate out of a white plastic sheeting they used where I was working, I roughly assembled it for a body-neck check and to see if the electrics worked, they didn't!... I tried everything to no avail so I rotated the volume knob and heard a scratch noise, purely as a last resort, I tried it with the volume knob off...It worked perfectly, the tone knob was wired backwards too, so I unsoldered them and soldered them the right way, but the volume, for some reason, was well low, so, running out of time, I switched them back ( I used that guitar with the backward turning volume and tone knobs for 3 years and considering the neck didn't have a truss rod, it kept straight as a die and never gave me any trouble whatsoever, the intonation was really good too for a homebuilt).
The only thing I had real trouble with, was painting the body . I didn't want the ply edges showing, so I used car filler/undercoat primer to disguise it, that worked well, but after trying various colours of duplicolor over the undercoat, they all looked terrible (and really cheap and nasty looking), so I was looking for something to use to cover it with...Fablon up to the rounded edges?.. tried that..terrible. I tried various ideas out when My Mum said she was throwing an old fur coat out and why didn't I try that! ................. I took the back of the fur coat and cut out a piece for the front of the guitar and stuck it on, slicing and "bending" it around the edges (using evo stick contact adhesive) and finally the back (The imitation tele bridge was a top loader), it looked better than I thought it would, mind you, I had a hell of a job with the control plate and pickguard, till I shaved the areas where they would go with an old cuthroat razor, then it was possible to fit them and at last I had something playable.
I ended up, as a joke, drawing a backward "T" and making up the word "Teddy" in Fender style font with a permanent line marker and getting letraset and putting a big bent '70's style "FUROCASTER" on the headstock !
I went to Johnny's house, Keith was already there, Johnny had said don't bother bringing an amp, I have two, so we tried out a few songs, in all honesty it wasn't good, neither of the 3 of us knew each others songs, so we all sat down and wrote out a list of 5 songs we would practice for the next week.
That turned out a LOT better, we had started to gel, so we kept at the rehearsals for another 5 weeks, I'd wired one of Johnny's amps up with one input into another inside the amp, this doubled the output, so he switched amps and used that for his Fender Precision bass and the other (they were both actually bass amps ) for a PA amp, we got two 2x12 cabs for the PA, Johnny already had a shure mic,My reslo was no good through the PA, so I bought a second hand Beyer mic (actually way better than the shures ) and I also got dirt cheap, a Selmer treble'n'bass 50 head and a 2x12cab .
We even managed to squeeze 2-18 inch speakers into a 37 inch cabinet, by filing a flat on one of the speakers edges and staggering them on a baffle board we'd built, that set up was ace
Johnny called at our house the week after and said Mike Sweeney had got us a booking at Salford's club (The Willows).. I think Mike was with the Speakeasy by then, we all knew one another.
We turned up at The Willows, with both Johnny and myself with tonsilitis, but determined to give it a go .... loads of things went wrong. I caught a string by accident on the opening number, resulting in a fairly obvious duff note, my speakers (which, I'd swapped out from the originals as they got wet and blew, so I got Fane ............BIG mistake, they were crap when turned up loud), were crackling, which was really annoying, although it wasn't that noticeable out in the audience, it was on stage
After the first spot, Ged McClellan (from the Speakeasy, and who a few years before had pinched my girlfriend !), came over and said he only lived a few yards away and I could borrow his Marshal rig if I wanted, so we both carried it back to the Willows for the second spot, which turned out a hell of a lot better, we were really on form, despite the bad throats hurting like mad , so Mike Sweeney in the wings,beckoned me over and said he'd come on as a guest singer and we could do (completeley unrehearesd I might add) a rock and roll medly (which we did), that went down well as it gave Johnny and myself a breather from the vocals for 20 minutes (we did Roll over Bethoven and Johnny B Goode and a few others which were all basically 12 bar blues ) by then our voices were rested, so Mike exited and we did our best song....our version of Tim Rose's "Morning Dew" (our own VERY rockified arrangement), that went down a storm so we did a few more before we finished for the night. Incidentally Ronnie Grundy was in the audience and said it was THE best version he'd ever heard, which boosted my ego a fair bit
We carried on practising and widening our repertoire including "Living above your head" by (I think) Jay and the Americans and "The sun ain't gonna shine anymore " ( no mean feat for a 3 piece)....... Johnny and I found we had a natural empathy for harmonising with each other and when Keith (the drummer) said "I quite like Mowtown ", we worked on a closing medley 23 minutes long, starting with a rocky version of "The midnight hour" (and you ALWAYS made sure you'd been to the toilet before THAT !).....We ended up doing Mowtown, Hendrix, "You keep me hanging on" by the Vanilla Fudge and some current chart material ............One day, Johnny aked if we could do "The wind cries Mary" so I said "OK, I'll try and learn it", to which he sheepishly said "Err, can I play lead?" (I'd never associated Lead guitar with him as I'd only known him to play bass), but he was superb, so I learned the bass part and we switched guitars on that number to some audience members surprise, every time we did it (I used to announce him as "Our OTHER lead guitarist")
The name "Reils " (with the weird spelling ) came about at a pub where we had a residency in Ashton under lyne. We had gone (VERY briefly) as "Johnston, Parker and Jones", which we didn't like so we were searching for a name (we nearly bought a huge van that had belonged to a church group, with an actual collection box, on one of the front mudgards with "Little sisters of the Poor" on it and for a good 5 minutes we actually thought about using that name). Anyway, the landlord had put a sign outside saying "tonight ... REILS" (trust us to get a dyslexic landlord !). We just went along with it.
I had, by then, got a Fender Bassman 40 watt valve top, which was WELL loud, My Dad and myself had built a 4x12 cabinet and I had installed, 4- Goodmans audium 61, 12 inch bass speakers ( no more speakers cracklng or blowing out for me!!)....for some reason, I always seemed to end up using bass amps ......... one night,, Keith said he sometimes had trouble hearing the vocals for cues for when to come in, so I dug out the Dominator and we tried a normal guitar cable into it from one of the monitor outs on the PA amp . which worked out great., We used to put the dominator at the back of the stage behind Keith and we could all then hear the vocals with NO feedback
All was running well until I turned up for practice one tuesday to find Liam Morris (Ex Speakeasy ) with his gear up and running and my bandmates, all practising away. Johnny said " we thought the group needed an extra guitar " ( I wasn't pleased at this one bit, as it was Liam Morris, who'd talked Ronnie and Steve into leaving the Pages and joining him in the Irwells ) ... I did try for a good half hour, but Liam was (as usual) TOO bloody loud, saying the volume on his amp was broke, so I said turn it down on your guitar then, which went over his head :-/
I walked out, unplugging my amp and never getting my Beyer mic back (or my share of the PA speakers)........... I got out of Music for a long time after that and got married and we moved out of Salford.
Through Manchesterbeat and facebook, I now know Steve got out of music, Alan (original drummer), joined the Stuart Charles string Band. (Nothing after that),................ Cousin Steve eventually joined (then left) Stackwaddy .......... Ronnie Stayed with Sweet Chariot for many years (I had never seen them live, so when that video of them at Ashfield labour club was posted, that is the first time I have ever seen them, it brought back so many memories)................ Keith Jones is still singing and drumming in Darwen........... Johnny, sadly passed away a few years ago ...........Cousin Steve is in bad health (But doing OK)...............Mike Sweeney, is living the dream, as a BBC DJ by day (interviewing famous folk) and with Paddy O Hare and the Collective by night .............. Pete Oliver (Sweet Chariot) Has done everything from Joe Longthorne's Blackpool north pier show, to owning various pubs in Manchester. Portugal and appearing on "Phoenix Nights" amongst other things. Lastly heard of in Benidorm (best wishes to you Pete mate)
Me?, I have just sold my house and am waiting till spring next year, to bugger off to our Villa in Turkey, I have had (since getting rid if the "Furocaster" and Fender and watkins amps ) a Teisco guitar, a 30 watt Peavey amp (both given to me!), an Encore Strat copy (which I modded on an impulse, which ended up as a good player), I currently have a 1968 Fender Strat reissue (3 colour sunburst, Maple neck), which I finally got!!, Zoom foot controller,and play frequently recording on my laptop (I will put someting on youtube hopefully next year, as I play better now than I ever did ).
Do I regret anything ... Not one bit. Would I do it all over again? YOU BET.
Ted Johnston - 29/12/14