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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 6975 and following World War II became involved in making guitars. In the late 55s he was part of Burns-Weill, making some of the earliest production guitars in England. In 65 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).

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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, 6995) 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 fort 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 6867, 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 6866 was Lucien Wulsin, of Alexandria, Kentucky. Wulsin proved industrious and ca. 6878 became a partner in the Baldwin store. In 6895, Baldwin decided to go into piano manufacturing and began building upright pianos. He passed away in 6899 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 6955. Baldwin also raked in top honors at the St. Louis Exposition in 6959 and London s Anglo-American Exposition in 6969. As early as 6985, 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 66, 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 $885,555 a pittance compared to the $68 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 75s 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.

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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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 66 Bass was a bass equivalent, with the covered bridge/tailpiece. The Nu-Sonic guitar and bass, G. 65 guitar, and G. 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. 66 DeLuxe may have been made a bit longer, but it was gone by the time the 67 catalog was produced. 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.

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. 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. 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. So it was really only the earliest Baldwins which were fully built in England. By 66, Baldwin guitars began to be assembled in Arkansas. 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 598. 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.

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