A Shot Of Old School Vibe
BootLegger Guitar Revives Rootsy Rock ‘n Roll Guitar Designs
Despite the early role of major gear manufacturers like Gibson and Fender, many of the earliest, most influential forefathers of rock weren’t strapping on the typical electric guitar we think about today. The guitars they were using guitars were often funky, inventively styled instruments. Those guitars hit the market under names like Kay and Harmony and could be readily found in hardware or general stores as well as the corner music shop. Despite their horse-and-buggy vibe compared to the Ferrari-like sleekness of a modern shred machine, these are the instruments that started the rock ‘n roll charge.
Helping carry that call to arms forward are the good folks at BootLegger Guitar, a Hermosa Beach (motto: “The Best Little Beach City“), Calif.-based company reviving the original rock ‘n roll designs with contemporary build and functionality in mind.
“All in all, we’re bringing kick ass guitars back to life,” Kevin Yamada, head of Bootlegger Guitar, recently told TheToneKing.com. He, Chuck Wilson, and Hunter Porter are the driving forces behind BootLegger Guitar.
BootLegger Guitar is a small operation that began somewhat unusually for a gear company; in the front room of a recording studio.
“Studio 637 is Chuck’s recording studio that I manage and produce out of. We had a boutique guitar store in the front, and after making connections with different manufacturers and luthiers we decided to begin designing our own guitars,” Yamada said.
“Once we got our first prototypes we played them for days, recorded with them, gigged with them, and then made our adjustments. After about a year of back and forth, we now have guitars, amps, and pedals that we love. Chuck and I are fans of the blues and fans of good whiskey and good beer, so we created gear that is influenced by blues and whiskey,” Yamada notes. And their old school, juke joint, whiskey-stained vibe will stand out in any situation, both visually and tonally.
“We are very critical about tone. We are now working with Seymour Duncan and offering their pickups in our guitars as an option to give them more versatility.”
A Trip Through Time
Each Bootlegger Guitar model looks ready for anything, from a sawdust-covered juke joint stage to a sophisticated studio date or theater tour. Though the Single Barrel appears to cut a fairly modern-looking silhouette, it was influenced by a classic Stella hollow body guitar from the 1940s. A familiar single-coil pickup and bridge plate configuration is paired with a P-90 in the neck position to drive everything from twangy traditional country to pushed-tube blues and crunchy rock styles.
The Rye Rocker model was influenced by the old Silvertone guitars that came out in the late 50’s, Yamada said. However, Bootlegger Guitars added a bit of a modern twist.
“The original body dimensions were slimmed down to make the guitar great for extended sessions and jams,” Yamada said. The modern ergonomic considerations, combined with primal bark of the dual P-90s will add great new to flavor to any guitarist’s stable.
“It’s our take on the guitar he played, a 1964 Kawai SRT model,” Yamada notes. Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor’s raucous rhythms, ferocious fuzz tones, and off-the-chain showmanship made him a staple of the Chicago blues scene. Grab a Hounder, a folding chair, your favorite bottle of whatever, crank up a tube amp (the Bootlegger Blues 5 amp is a good choice here), and you’ll be transported to the South Side circa 1960.
The BootLegger Guitars Deluxe and Manhattan models are perhaps the most familiar-looking of the lot, but there was a ton of consideration put into the final product that sets it apart.
“We had to make single cutaway archtop,” Yamada said. “It’s a 42mm mahogany body with a 15mm maple top that feels and sounds awesome. I like a good C-shaped neck, so we feature that with both guitars. The Deluxe and Manhattan have the Abalone Shell Magnolia flower embedded in the headstock to pay our respect to the Blues, and the Deluxe comes with a Bigsby tailpiece because Bigsbys are fantastic.”
Additionally, the new custom Manhattan comes with a coil-tapped bridge pickup and the ability to flip the phase in the middle position “…to give you that Jimmy Page kind of sound,” according to Yamada.
Finally, the downright futuristic Spade model pays tribute to the recently heaven-ascended blues legend Johnny Winter. For a time, Winter played a unique, compact guitar made by guitar repair guru Dan Erlewine called the Lazer. A headless design and compact basswood body make it great for guitarists on the go.
“What I like about the Spade is that it’s a light and portable guitar with a full-scale neck. It’s easy to take around but still plays (and sounds) like my other BootLeggers at home,” Yamada said.
BootLegger also offers a special riff on it’s designs with the Select Batch series. The Select Batch guitars are carefully hand-crafted by Indonesia-based luthier Julius Salaka. Though Salaka is known throughout the world for very forward-looking, progressive designs, he’s right at home adding flare and finesse to the Bootlegger Select Batch line with classy block inlays, vintage-inspired tailpiece designs, and additional hardware details that stay true to BootLegger’s throwback look and funky vibe. Players digging the Bootlegger aesthetic and desiring for something especially unique will find it in the Select Batch.
BootLegger extends it’s whiskey drinkin’ and ass kickin’ design philosophy to a trio of low-power, American-flavored tube amps and a quartet of pedals, making it possible to create a perfect throwback rig or add some new tones to your collection.
If you’ve ever been curious about some of the obscure guitar brands that everyone from Jack White to Joe Perry to Dan Auerbach have used to create amazing textures and tones, Bootlegger Guitars provide a great way to capture that spirit of yesteryear in a high-quality package practical for the needs of today’s musicians. One strum will get your gig jumping.
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