Johnny Paycheck's 1967 Bunker

January 20, 2006

Another artist who performed at the Nugget was Johnny Paycheck, who was still ten years away from hitting the big time with “Take This Job And Shove It.” Paycheck dug the funky stylings of Bunker’s creations, and asked Bunker to make him a guitar. The result is the specimen you see here—a 1967 vision of the future. And it was built for a country and western singer!

This particular Bunker features tuners mounted on the side of the body, no headstock (like the famous Steinberger L-2 bass that would come years later, but Bunker had the fashion sense to put on a fake “headstock” made of Plexiglas and Naugahyde), an odd 262" scale length, and a covering of gold, metal-flake Naugahyde. In addition, each “pickup” was actually six individual pickups—one bobbin for each string.

The most incredible feature of this guitar, however, is a totally unique concept, never attempted before or since—and probably with good reason. To solve the problem of fitting a vibrato on a guitar with body-mounted tuners, Bunker created a vibrato assembly with a spring-loaded neck-to-body joint. A rod and pivot assembly transfers the motion of the vibrato arm to the neck, and moves the neck of the guitar around in the socket to create the vibrato. While the device is a masterful stroke of design genius, to make it work, the neck-to-body joint must be constantly lubed with a heavy graphite gel. And even then, returning the strings to pitch is a dicey proposition at best. Bunker claims that with today’s technology, he could get it to work perfectly, and I believe him. (Check out for Bunker’s current offerings.)

I bought this guitar out in the desert near Las Vegas a few years back with an unproven provenance that it was made for Johnny Paycheck. When I phoned Bunker to ask him about it, the first words out of his mouth were, “Is that the gold metal-flake one? I built that for Paycheck in 1967, when we worked together at the Golden Nugget.” Sometimes, when things seem too good to be true, they really are true.

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