We recently profiled the amazing session guitarist Bob Bain in our May 2017 issue. Bain has recorded hundreds — if not thousands — of iconic, historic, and popular tracks for artists (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald), television shows (Peter Gunn, Batman, The Wild Wild West), and the movies (The Pink Panther, Jaws, Rosemary's Baby), and he still performs today at 93 years old!
Now, the Fender Custom Shop is producing a truly remarkable tribute to this great and much-recorded guitarist (who also logged a 22-year tenure in Doc Severinson's band for The Tonight Show) — a limited-edition replica of the 1953 Telecaster Bain used on countless sessions and live gigs. It's called the "Son of a Gunn" (get it?), and only 30 instruments will be made available worldwide. Current price of this model is $9,500 retail. LEARN MORE.
Bain's '53 Tele is notable in that Bain did what Leo Fender himself hoped players would do with the iconic plank — he modded it to meet his individual performance needs. Looking for a single guitar that could cover rock, country, jazz, pop, and most anything his session calendar called for, Bain added a humbucker in the Tele's neck position, and he also installed a Bigsby.
GP was able to talk to the Fender Custom Shop's Master Builder Paul Waller and Vice President of Product Development Mike Lewis to get some insights into the building of this incredible Telecaster.
As you studied Bain’s Tele before crafting the “Son of a Gunn,” what were some of the elements about the original that you feel made it so playable and/or sonically brilliant?
Waller: The two main elements of Bob’s ’53 Telecaster that make it unique are the Bigsby tailpiece and the very early produced PAF humbucking pickup. Bob bought the guitar in original condition at a music store. He made a down payment and monthly installments until he was able to take it home and call it his own. Being in the spring of his career, he was traveling and working a lot. He really needed a versatile electric guitar that would corral all the sounds required in the business.
Did Bob share any cool stories about the modifications?
Waller: Bob had a friend, Tiny Timbrell, suggest installing the Bigsby tailpiece along with a humbucking pickup in the neck position on the Telecaster, so he could get the tones required from two separate guitars. This way, he only needed to travel with the one electric guitar for all gigs. As soon as the modification was done, he had exactly what he wanted and needed.
What were some of the main challenges in crafting the tribute model?
Waller: Recreating the heavily worn feel of the instrument, along with getting the color and wear patterns right. In my first attempt at making a prototype, I nailed the neck shape and overall feel. Bob complimented me on that, which says a lot coming from a guy who has played the same guitar for more than 60 years! At first, the color was a little too dark, and I had to make a second body to get it right. It looks great now, and Bob was pleased.
Anything surprising that you noticed about the original?
Waller: Another interesting thing I noticed on the “Son of a Gunn,” was heavy wear in the waist of the treble side of the guitar – where the guitar rests on your leg while playing in a sitting position. See, Bob’s career was mostly session work and performing while sitting down. We think of most electric guitar players running around a stage, jumping off of platforms, and using the guitar as a sort of theatrical prop. Bob is a gentleman who performs jazz and classy big band-style music. It’s the kind of music you wear a suit or tux to perform. I think it’s so cool that the waist of the guitar has been eroded as much as the neck.
Anything else you’d wish to share about the process?
Lewis: Bob Bain’s signature guitar tone has become a part of pop culture for decades. The original was Bob Bain’s go-to axe on countless recording sessions and movie soundtracks, and he’s still playing that same guitar today! When Paul brought this project to the Fender Custom Shop, he took so much pride in capturing the qualities of Bob’s signature sound in each of these 30 guitars that will live on to be played by guitarists for many decades to come.”
Waller: Working with Bob has been a humbling experience. To study the instrument of a man who has recorded so many songs that have entered the ears of several generations makes you feel like you have a lot to learn. I just hope I can capture and deliver that sentiment through all of the dings, dents, and scratches on this guitar.