Alan Entwistle In His Own Words
It was sometime way back in 1961, I was one of those poor unfortunates who had to suffer that very British institution, the "Public School". My father was the chief engineer at a sawmill up 120 miles of dirt track road from the capital of the then colonial Lagos, Nigeria. No suitable schools so I was off to "Lindisfarne College for young gentlemen", Ruabon, North Wales!
It was well after lights-out in our dormitory and I was listening to radio Luxembourg by means of one of those old suitcase style valve radios stuffed under my pillow, when suddenly I heard this totally amazing, strange and oddly disturbing sound that seemed to simply penetrate and live in the deep recesses of my skull, I knew then it had taken up residence for all eternity!
Mind you, shamefully, I didn't know what it was! I had to embarrassingly ask Mike Durband my friend in the bed next to me. "It's an Electric Guitar you idiot, and that is Apache, the Shadows latest hit". He then rambled on about how they were Cliff Richard's band and were originally called the Drifters, "you surely knew that", he continued.
But I had ceased listening to him. The Sound had taken me over. I wanted an "Electric Guitar"!
That following summer (1962) my Parents were on leave in UK and bought a house in Clevelys, near Blackpool, the house next door to the Victoria Arms as it happened.
It had a garage and I managed to get some wood, some fretwire and some machine heads. For want of having only basic tools, the body ended up a 2 inch thick piece of Mahogany and was unashamedly oblong (No sign of Bo Diddley's or Gretsch's legal team however). The neck, a piece of beech with the frets hammered in to the nearest foot, and yes it is true, I did invent slanted fretting! The bridge was another piece of mahogany as was the nut, and the machine heads were violin pegs!
The missing ingredient however was the pickup and this was quickly resolved by a midnight trip to the phone box over the road which kindly donated the inner workings of its earpiece!
And guess what, when I finally got the kit together - a length of crudely twisted together wires ran from the guitar to my father's Grundig Radiogram - to my surprise it actually worked!
My parents, my sisters and the Victoria Arms did not share in my enthusiasm for all this noise however, and moves were quickly made to curtail my damage to the eardrums of others. It was shame because I had also "invented" distortion by practically destroying the Grundig's speakers (I knew nothing of Link Wray of course).
Time moved on and I was expelled from boarding school along with three others for 'borrowing' two of the masters' cars in the early hours and driving them all around North Wales. Sadly we were caught!
My Father by this time had been posted to the small island of Dominica in the Caribbean and I was quickly and quietly shipped out there, to the utter disgrace of the whole family!
Dominica was not a bad place at all, the sun shone brightly, there was no winter and the young West Indian girls were remarkably friendly. There were three things in Dominica that were deadly however, hurricanes, the locally made rum, and the West Indian Girls' boyfriends, not necessarily in that order! I had an acoustic guitar there to which I had fitted a propriety pickup, and what's more I had a good teacher, Lionel Pinard, who was the lead guitarist of a band that laboured under the entirely original name of "The Shadows", but really they played instrumental Calypso and Ska. Lionel had a powder blue Futurama 2 (Hagstrom built) and the rhythm guitarist, Tony had a '52 Butterscotch Tele, which years later, after he moved to the US, was thrown in the bin by his parents because it was cluttering up the house!
1965 and I was to be found attending Blackpool College of Art. I was 18 and living in digs, and most nights you could find me at the "Blue Room" in the Stanley Arms. These were heady days - Rock had moved on from The Shadows and over the next couple of years or so guitarists were certainly finding their feet. I was no exception, I progressed from a Dutch made Egmond Semi, to a Hofner Galaxy, and it was here where I cut my teeth working on guitars. At the time most instruments (with the possible exception of Fender, Burns and Gibson) were pretty unplayable, and electronic faults were common. The thing was that most guitarists were scared stiff of taking their guitars to bits - I wasn't!
Word got round first with the guys in my own band, followed by guitarists and bass players in other bands. I was playing in a local band at the time (Andromeda, though not the better known Andromeda) and our Art school band was The John Evan Blues Band that later kind of morphed into Jethro Tull. But it was a concert at the Winter Gardens headed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience that did me. Hendrix just blew me away - I have in all honesty never seen anyone play like him before or since, and my guitar just went in the cupboard, for what I thought at the time was all eternity. Even Mrs Mercer, my grumpy Blackpool landlady, felt sorry for me as I moped around the place wallowing in my self imposed sorrow. There should be a law against players like Hendrix I thought, it's simply grossly unfair to up and coming crap guitarists!
Time of course waits for no man, woman or aardvark, and, after a brief stint in Accrington as a boutique owner (we sold weird clothes, guitars and second hand records), I emigrated to Auckland NZ in 1971 together with my first wife Chris, my 18 month son Ian, and daughter Karen who was still inside Mum at the time. I got a job with Sydney Eady's who were Aucklands major Rock Shop in those days. Sydney Eady was the father of Bruce Eady who owned the Jansen factory where I also worked when they were doing a guitar production run assembling Jansen Invaders and Beatmasters.
If my memory serves me correctly (it was long time ago and I was in my early twenties) I worked with them until 1974 when I went off and started custom building guitars with an American friend Bob Hagen. Bob and I were not particularly successful but the Jansen experience did give me my first production experience and my first hand made pickups were on the Hagen Entwistle guitars.
What is not mentioned these days - it's probably been forgotten, is that when Burns sold out to Baldwin in 1965 two of Burns' senior employees and one director emigrated to NZ and joined BBG (Jansen). These were Jim Farell (Burns partner and Sales Director) who became Jansen's Sales Manager, Norman Holder and his brother (I can't for the life of me remember his name). Norman eventually returned to the UK and co-founded Shergold guitars along with Jack Golder. The other brother and Jim stayed in NZ with Jansen.
Although officially Jansen made guitars until around 1973, they actually made odd batches up until 1979. A young friend of mine, Dave Story, who was often at Bob and my Dominion Road, Mt Eden workshop and shop (called Rockculture), worked with Jansen and assembled the final Invaders. Dave had developed a new Tremolo that was based on the Burns Mk 2 tremolo and took it to California where he impressed Gary Kahler sufficiently for him to take it on as a product and further develop it into the well known and excellent Kahler trem.
Jansen was a NZ company but its influence reached far and wide. They exported to Australia, the US, Canada and even small quantities to UK. A little while ago there was an article in the US Guitar Player magazine singing their praises. And, arguably, the world's most famous instrumental was played on a Jansen Jazzman - "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris.
As a matter of interest, for the first five (1960-65) or so years Jansen guitars were designed and overseen by Ray Simpson. Ray holds the honour of building one of the world's first solid body electric guitars (1945). I have actually seen one these and it was a portent of things to come. It was rather like a Steinburger, and even had the rail so that you could sit it on your lap, but what was interesting (and dangerous!) was that it had a mains powered onboard valve preamp, along with electrostatic pickups! Ray went on to form his own company in Auckland and manufacture his range of Simpson guitars.
I last saw Ray in 1980 when he had his own guitar workshop at United Sound Systems down in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane (Australia). He was a very nice man, full of amazing anecdotes and the sort of person you could listen to for hours. By that time he may have been in his late 60s, and I think he had had enough by then. Like many pioneers his work had gone largely unrecognised. As with Jim Burns, far lesser people had taken on the accolade of electric guitar development claiming many of Jim and Ray's ideas as their own!
In 1980 I moved to Brisbane Australia, and set up a guitar workshop underneath the house I rented. I did guitar repairs and customising at night and worked at a place called Toombul Music Centre during the day. One day a young Trevor Wilkinson walked through Toombul Music's door. Trevor was working over the road spraying and panel beating cars, but his real love of course was guitars and he showed me this strange Aluminium sand cast body and neck, which had exchangeable wooden wings. It could be a flying V, an Explorer or a Les Paul Jnr. He also had a Perspex Tele that he had made whilst he was at Southport Art (College).
Trev and I approached the Owner of Toombul Music with the idea of him investing in the Ally project. Barry was an incredibly successful business man and someone that I count as friend. But unfortunately Barry had the imagination of a hard nose business guy (which basically meant no imagination at all!) and so Trev got no further with that one.
In time I left Toombul and, with a partner, opened a shop of my own. It was in the Red Hill district of Brisbane and we aptly named it the "Guitar Garage". In fact it was Trev who painted our massive shop sign and he did "Guitar Garage" in a kind of Gibson script. It was wonderful to behold but, as we all stood outside admiring the finished product, a mutual friend of our's, Paul, said "shouldn't Guitar be spelled Guitar not "Giuter"! (which he pronounced as Gihooter Garage).
At the Guitar Garage we built a lot of custom guitars, did repairs, customising, rewinding pickups, making custom pickups, as well as selling guitars of course. Trevor did our finishing and refinishing. In fact he actually hand made his first (Wilkinson) tremolos in Brisbane after which of course he eventually headed off to LA and then back to UK to make his superb range of Wilkinson hardware and his FretKing guitars.
We were quite possibly the one of the very first workshops to explore the concept of Retro, with such oddities as four pickup Strats, Vox style Teardrop Basses and three pickup Les Paul Customs.
Also during my time in OZ I teamed up with Queensland acoustic maker Dale Coulthard and made a series of electrics called Lyrebirds, so called because the cutaway horns faced outwards like a lyre. As a side note when I was working in China, designing and making "Alden" guitars, almost as joke, and inspired by copious quantities of the excellent "Tsingtao" beer, we decided to re-release the Lyrebird, and totally to our surprise the guitar really took off in Mexico! Tequila has a lot to answer for!
Although the Guitar Garage plodded along, it was hard trying to sell anything original into the Australian market. Really they just wanted Strats and Les Pauls with little variation on that theme. Time to pack my bags I thought, and hopped on a plane to the UK. At first I worked as resident luthier at Rock City in Newcastle, during which time I was developing a unique passive inductance tone circuit that would eventually become the ATN system (Advanced Tonal Network). The first units were a little crude so a lot of refining had to be done and I then moved once again, this time to a small farm building on the outskirts of San Antonio on the Island of Ibiza (it was a bit of a hippy sanctuary in those days). As with Entwistle pickups the secret of tone generation lies in how the coil is wound. I had always found it mildly annoying that the vast majority of guitar tone controls were basically useless appendages, musicians simply didn't use them and all they did was muddy up the sound. They were, like our appendix, there but useless!
I reasoned that if they could be made to produce a useful tone structure, or better still if they could made to serve beer or coffee, then at least they would have some purpose in life. Unfortunately the beer and coffee proved difficult so I settled for tone generation!
Six glorious summer months went by and I returned to the UK in October of '88. I duly set about small scale manufacture of the ATN units. But I had a problem - as the ATN was now a fairly compact unit designed to fit into almost any guitars control cavity without any internal woodwork being carried out and wire easily into the instruments existing tone controls - I had to find a way of protecting as well as disguising the inner workings of the circuit.
The answer came from the same Paul who had informed us about the incorrect spelling of the Guitar Garage shop sign. It was all very simple really, at the time Paul and I were engaging in one of those 3 pint bottles of beer they used make back then, Paul had the bottle top in his hand and was turning it over and over, with a sort questioning look on his face. "Would the ATN fit inside one of these tops" he asked. "I'm not sure but there is only one way to find out" I replied and promptly brought over one of the open ATN units.
Well fitted perfectly, and was totally sealed by pouring black epoxy resin into the bottle top over the already fitted circuit, leaving four differently coloured wires emanating from the black resin.
Now to take the ATN around to retail music shops we needed one in a guitar, and about half a dozen or so to sell. Six bottles of beer later that was not a problem!
The very first retail outfit I visited was the Music Box in Accrington, and after hearing the ATN's performance on my Strat, they promptly ordered a dozen of them. Well that was a dozen 3 litre bottles of beer and the phrase "drinking the profits" had taken on real meaning. But it was a pleasant enough experience, except that my Australian girlfriend Maureen was constantly remarking that "there must be some place that makes these bottle tops for the breweries". Paul and I would respond with comments such as "Oh it's very difficult, they always keep information like that to themselves you know".
We travelled all over UK cold calling on music shop after music shop, and of course our orders increased quite dramatically, but by now we really had to find a source for the bottle tops. Maureen was getting quite fed up of picking us up off the floor! Somewhat reluctantly I called Whitbread's head office and eventually got through to the correct department - "You want them for what? Am I hearing this correctly, you need our bottle tops to imbed circuitry into!" I think their whole office were falling about the floor laughing by the time he managed to get out the phone number of the bottle top manufacturers!
The ATN was remarkably successful. When used on an ST type guitar for example ( it could be fitted to almost any electric guitar) it replaced the normal tone capacitors, and wired directly into the guitars tone pots, really only four wires to solder in, and what's more it was passive, so no batteries required and thus once wired up it was virtually maintenance free.
Basically by rotating and mixing the two tone controls, a massive array of sounds were available to the guitarist and all of these sounds (unlike conventional tone controls) were useful, the unit was a winner and we sold thousands of them!
It was around this time that I was approached by Hohner regarding the ATN. Interesting I thought because up to this time no manufacturer had considered using the circuit (although a number of custom builders were installing them in their guitars). I travelled down to Bedwas in South Wales and entered into discussions with Phil Sutcliffe the then MD of M.Hohner ltd.
It turned out that Phil was interested in more than just the ATN, he had this idea of building a kind of European Super Guitar, an instrument that broke away from most of the accepted norms of the time, and it was the kind of thing I was thinking of as in 1990 we were living in a world of "Super Strats" and many retail shops had become galleries for Charvelle Jacksons, Kramers and endless variations on that one theme! The only really interesting instruments seemed to dwell in the second hand section of the average music shop.
I joined Hohner, and we started working almost immediately on what was originally called "Project Super Lynx" after the Hohner Professional Lynx guitar which kind of formulated our first thoughts regarding our projected "clean sweep".
However just so as we could get the ATN system up and running, and into the market place, I drew up a guitar, that unbeknown to any of us at Hohner at the time, was to seriously kick off the "Retro"scene in guitars. It was the Hohner Hollywood, a name coined by Paul Day.
The Hollywood (or JT60) was unique in that it had a Fender Jaguar style body married to 3 single coils and a standard ST type fulcrum trem. And of course it was fitted with an ATN tone circuit that operated through the guitars two tone controls. One problem at the time was that we had no real workshop down at Bedwas, so I travelled up to Haltwhistle in Cumbria and together with Chris May we made the first Hollywood prototype at Overwater Basses.
Phil Sutcliffe and myself took the prototype JT60 Hollywood to the 1991 Winter Namm music trade show in Anaheim California where it received a mixed reception. The Hohner sales guys in general were indifferent to it and two of them were actually incredibly antagonistic over it as was one particular dealer I seem to recall. The reason was apparently the Jaguar shaped body. But I also think that the Hohner US sales team were not particularly guitar oriented (unlike Hohner UK) and, in line with their German parent company, these guys were mostly dealing in harmonicas and accordions so they probably were not too savvy that young guitarists in the US and Europe were scouring the second hand shops for old Jaguars and Jazzmasters. Also, if your Rock and Roll heyday had been during the 70's and early 80's, then Jaguars and Jazzmasters were about as fashionable as flat soled shoes and you could buy them for next to nothing (I picked up a Jazzmaster for £75). This was also true of many other vintage guitars that now fetch telephone numbers.
The 70's and 80's were really the era of the Strat, the Les Paul and the SG, with the odd Tele thrown in for good measure! But a storm was brewing, thanks to the likes of Ry Cooder, David Linley, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty, to name but a few, who all bucked the trend and steered a course well away from the conventional.
Thinking we might have had a lemon in the JT60 we decided, after Namm, that we it would perhaps be a good idea if we also launched an ST style guitar with an onboard ATN system, just in case the JT60's sales weren't up to the mark. At the same time the Revelation project was moving on, still with no workshop, and after working all night to make the Rev's new laminated core pickups I flew out the next day to Paris where Hohner France's guitar guy, Pierre Chaze, had organized for a Paris guitar workshop to build the prototype Revelation ATX as it was now called.
The ATX design was the result of a combined effort between Pierre and myself. I had drawn up a 24 fret instrument and Pierre wanted this to be extended to 27 frets. The resultant guitar really did, at the time, look astonishing. Its shape was the shape of things to come, perhaps belonging more to the approaching century than early 1991. Its finish was a kind of metallic purple into pink (which we later called Martian Sunset, a termed I coined myself but I shouldn't admit to that really!). It was also the first guitar to feature the new Wilkinson VS100 tremolo as a non locking trem was a major part of the design brief.
The ATX and three JT60 prototypes were displayed at Frankfurt '91 but these were, for some inexplicable reason, hidden from view in a small room on the Hohner stand and just shown to a select few. I recall Eddie Allen of Guitarist magazine commenting that it was the best thing he had seen at the show, but to be honest most of the "select few" dealers that were shown the guitar were about 500 years old and not guitarists! So in a sense we did not come away from Frankfurt '91 feeling very optimistic and it took all of Phil and my efforts to keep the project alive during this period.
After Frankfurt Hohner had set up a "guitar team" which was made up from a mixture of our available guitar people (Wolfram Kriel, Peter Storch, and myself - later Trevor Wilkinson would join us). The rest of the team were mainly sales personnel with Phil Sutcliffe heading the team.
The problem was that the sales guys were not in agreement with the guitar guys. They pushed hard to water down the Revelation project and make the guitar more conventional so that it all really got quite heated and the result of all this bickering was a six month delay before initial production started.
The argument on the Guitar guy's side was that every guitarist who had been fortunate enough to see the Rev ATX proto in that tiny room in Frankfurt had been pretty well knocked out by it. The sales guy's argument was that people just wanted an ST and wondered why we had not just forwarded such a project! Anyway some design changes were made in the direction of the "conventional", which I have always thought was wrong, but there you are.
In June of 1991 at the British Music Fair, held at Earls Court, the lame JT60 Hollywood was finally released to a mostly unsuspecting world. Nobody was expecting much of it, and the bets lay on Hohner's ST59 ATN (the earlier mentioned ST copy Hohner had commissioned as a safety net for the uncertain JT60). Nobody, including myself, was expecting that the sales figures for the Hohner JT 60 broke All of their records for one guitar. Over 2500 for that show alone, and I have no idea what the follow up orders were, retro had obviously arrived!
It never ceases to amaze me how the UK is such fertile ground for major paradigm shifts. With the above under our belts we were now being listened to within the company, and it was my basic goal to raise Hohner guitars to the same level as their harmonicas, previously Hohner had been considered as a low end guitar distributer, the Hohner Professional Range that was running before I joined the company had already gone a long way towards changing Hohner's image and the JT60 and Revelation series pulled the whole game up to another level.
Trevor and I designed the bolt on neck RTXs and RTS Revelations with 24 frets and these were in production before the set neck 27fret ATX. The ATX was the first Hohner guitar to retail for over £1000.
The pickups for the Revelation series were designed by me but made by David White. For us David, who already had his excellent range of "Old Glories" vintage ST pickups, was the obvious choice to make the ATN unit.
Wolfie Kriel and myself were now heading the Hohner Guitar Research Team jointly, and one of the first motions we passed as a deliberate move to lift up and enhance Hohners guitar image, was that no Hohner Guitar should retail under £200. All guitars under this price would be labelled Rockwood, for the electrics and Leyanda for the acoustics. We obviously hit a very sensitive spot, management were outraged by our decision and the ruling was overturned the very next day!
I was beginning to learn the ins and outs of corporate politics and I didn't like it! I was travelling constantly to Horevice near Prague in the Czech Republic to oversee Revelation production, the factory (Delicia) had quite a long history of building electric guitars and their craftsmanship skills were really excellent. At the time I was there they were also building Kramers.
The Hohner Professional guitars were made by the Cort factory in Korea, and again the standard of workmanship was high. Later production was moved to Saehan and these were definitely not of the same standard, but this was right at the very end of my tenure with Hohner. I had no say in the matter and it was purely a decision made in an office somewhere by persons who probably didn't know one end of a guitar from the other, the deciding factor probably was that Saehan were a couple of dollars cheaper. (I have seen 50cents make a difference to who gets a contract, quality disregarded!)
Around late '94 we opened the Hohner Custom shop in Bedwas with a brand spanking new high tech workshop. Our idea was to tweak existing Hohner instruments to the customer's requirements for which we used a variety of high end parts including Entwistle White, Seymour Duncan and Kent Armstrong pickups and Wilkinson, Bigsby and Gotoh hardware. We also custom wound pickups as well as the Revelation ATN pickups on our two winding machines. We even imported special Pearl and Tortoishell scratchplate material from the US and had a low pressure (environmentally friendly) spray booth.
The mags certainly gave us rave reviews and it seemed for a while that we could do no wrong! Then one day a construction company in Taiwan bought Hohner and ceased all mid to high end guitar production. My Team and I (Ray Adams, Paul Tozer, and Andrew Holden), with exception of Ray Adams, all resigned as did Phil Sutcliffe. I had just got remarried to an Anglo Indian lady, so I took the cue and headed off to India for about a year.
India is a great place to chill, eat the worlds No 1 cuisine every day, drink Kingfisher (also every day) and straighten ones head out! However when I returned to the UK, Hohner in Bedwas was not doing well and they had asked Phil Sutcliffe to take back the reins. Phil consequently asked me to return and sort out the mess in what was once Hohner's custom shop.
I released the "Blond" and the "Black Widow", both designs were based on an old Grimshaw GS7 that I had found when rummaging through Paul Day's enormous collection. Both of these models were quite successful and featured a new circuit I had developed called ARC (Acoustic Reality Circuit). This made these guitars into Hybrids, in other words they were primarily electrics that could be turned into an electric acoustic at the flip of a switch. Well nothing new about that, at the time there were a number of guitars with this facility, but these were all Piezo based circuitry and had the inherent problems associated with piezos fitted to solid electric guitars, such as high levels of feedback and increased mechanical noise if a tremolo was fitted. The Blonde and the Black Widow's acoustic circuit was actually coil based, did not require a preamp and had absolutely no inherent feedback problems. It also sounded great with an ordinary guitar amp, no need for a specialized acoustic rig.
The instruments were, as I said, quite successful but if the ARC had, for example, been fitted to an "F" brand guitar, with all the attendant marketing, I think it may well have been huge!
1998-99 I had moved the Hohner guitar development workshop (as it was now known) to Malaga in Southern Spain. It was a one man band now and I built prototypes (about 2 or 3 a month) and took them over to UK or Germany were they were evaluated. I produced a whole new range in Malaga, The Reno, The Springfield, the Baton Rouge and the Phoenix Bass. Some of these were sold in the UK but most of the production went to the US.
The last few months working for Hohner were interesting, Gareth Jones was MD of Hohner UK, and Keith Twine had joined the company from South Africa as products manager. About this time I had been talking to Barry Gibson the owner of Burns London about the possibility of producing a range a Burns guitars in the Orient. Fender with their Squier brand and Gibson with Epiphone had both done this successfully, so there was no reason why Burns couldn't do the same. We even made a number of prototypes in the Malaga workshop- Burns are quite unique eccentric British guitars, Barry and myself are really amongst the few people who understand the quirkiness of Jim Burns' designs (it's an age related thing I'm sure!). The UK sales guys were all for it, and we were all set to go, but unfortunately any deal with Burns had to be accepted across the board by the whole Hohner group, and as Hohner USA were now in control of guitar production, they lacked the desire to take on Burns- in fact they failed to even check out the Burns samples that had been specifically taken over to the NAMM show in Anaheim for them to evaluate!
Well one man's loss is another man's gain, Burns went on to tie up eventually with Sutherland Trading (more about that later) and in hindsight perhaps Hohner would not have been good business partners with Burns, as they were at this point in their history more interested in low end guitar products, and that could have been a disaster for such a prestigious and pioneering British guitar company.
It was at this point also that Hohner USA finally pulled the plug on all guitar development, so sadly we had to close the Malaga workshop and I left Hohner for a second and last time. Not being one to sit around and wait for things to happen, I approached Mike Podesta of Cranes in Cardiff with some new circuitry ideas. Well I was in the right place at the right time, Mike invited me to join the guitar workshop at Cranes, where we did local and national guitar repairs, set ups and customising. Around this time also I became involved in consultancy work for Tanglewood, who were already making serious inroads into the acoustic market, and had made something of a landmark statement with their Tomkat electric guitar.
Before long I was sent out Weifang, near Qingdao in China, to work on a new version of the Tomkat guitar, which utilised my pickups and electronics. This first China trip certainly opened up new doors for me, the factory that was building the Tomkat was owned by a Korean gentleman, Ken Kim, and Ken's factory was arguably the best in the area at that time (2001) and with Qingdao being easily accessible to Korea from Seoul he employed a fair number of Korean engineers to control and oversee production.
Also at that time I was introduced to a Korean pickup making factory that was close to Qingdao. I had not been too impressed with Chinese domestic pickup production, it was simply bung a winding using rubbish cheap winding wire onto cheap ceramic magnets, put on as many turns as the bobbin would allow (to theoretically get the power up) and vacuum process the hell out of it! The word 'tone' was not in the Chinese pickup manufacturer's dictionary! The Korean pickup company did however produce some nice pickups and had the knowledge, willingness and equipment to make even better ones.
I saw an opportunity here. Due to increasing commitments at Cranes, in China and at a new workshop in Malaga, I was finding it more and more difficult to make individual and small production pickups in UK. I also had a desire to get my pickups out onto the world market, which wasn't really possible under my present circumstances. I could have sacrificed my other R&D and workshop work and just concentrated on pickup production in the UK or Spain, but then they would have ended up seriously expensive pickups, that really only a few guitarists could buy and frankly I am not into the elitist thing. There had also been a lot of advances made in coil winding technology during the years I had been making pickups, and it was now perfectly possible to program random pattern winding (scatterwinding) and repetitive pattern winding onto advanced machines. I could now produce pickups that I used to meticulously make by hand, in a reasonable enough volume and most importantly at a price affordable to any guitarist. I could only have dreamt of that possibility back in the early 70s, and now it was a reality.
After my first visit to China, Ken Kim asked me to design a range of electric guitars for him, and the format was to be "Retro". The brand name for these guitars was to be "Alden" (Alan David Entwistle), a name I had used in New Zealand and Australia for small production. I don't know how many Alden guitars I designed for Ken- I lost count around 150 and I really can't be bothered trying to work it out! I think we just about covered everything under the retro sun with Alden, we even re-released almost an entire Vox type range, not just Phantoms and Teardrops, but also replicas of the Soundcaster (arguably the first Strat copy) and the New Escort (TE type) as well as Gretsch, Gibson, Harmony, Hofner, etc. types! It was certainly a successful range, it had the correct image and was priced right, and although now no longer available, many similar items from that range are now in the Revelation range of guitars from Sutherland, that is also being constantly added to.
The design portfolio was now getting quite heavy, apart from the "Alden" range I designed a number of electric models for Tanglewood, the most prolific being the TW505 and the TW605. The 505 was a Zematis inspired LP type guitar, and the 605 a reworked SG type design (later versions reverted to a more standard format). Other work for Tanglewood included reworking their TSB59 (335 type) and RVB2 (Hofner inspired violin bass) to be more vintage correct, and TSB57/62 ST types. Some of my work also crept into the Eastwood and J Turser lines, but this was Ken Kim farming out Alden designs to other companies. Not all Alden designs were mine, after Ken and myself parted company (amicably), they moved away from the retro format and started to introduce Ibanez/Cort style electrics. Also, not all of the pickups on Alden guitars were of my design, Ken on occasions would simply put cheaper (although still Korean) pickups on some of the models, but these were mostly on the guitars that were produced after I left- certainly all of the ones sent to Cranes Cardiff, and Music Ground, used pickups designed by me.
I had also been doing quite a bit of work for Burns London, this included reworking the original 1962 Black Bison and Bison Bass wiring into a more modern format, whilst still retaining all of it's vintage character- not an easy task, it involved an awful lot of trial and error before we were all satisfied we had got it right. In 2009, Barry Gibson at Burns London officially asked me to join his team as "Chief Engineer" an eccentrically British title that dovetails nicely into the Burns philosophy of "After all we are British"!
My work with Tanglewood also increased considerably along with the almost meteoric rise of this company's sales and subsequent production. Tanglewood have won the hearts and minds of players all over the world now, and a lot of this is down producing a consistently very well made product, that does exactly what it supposed to do, and at the right price. The amount of work that goes into putting together a new Tanglewood, is to say the least mind blowing when I look back on it. It's selecting the correct timbers, trying out different pickup and EQ systems, selecting machine heads, neck profiles, quality fretwire- and we even devised a 49 stage QC system that covers the whole instruments inspection from headstock to endpin!
However, in spite of the constant work I was doing for Tanglewood, I was by 2012 beginning to feel that I was neglecting my preferred work with electric guitars, basically I love designing and redesigning electric guitars and of course producing innovative circuitry and pickups. Tanglewood had reached a point in their history where their acoustic side had grown at a phenomenal rate but conversely their electric side had declined considerably and what they were producing whilst of excellent quality was in reality standardised designs that could not really be evolved much beyond their existing state, so consequently I felt locked into a situation where I was unable to create and develop new products. We did however have one serious last stab at producing a very innovative guitar and this was in fact a development of the earlier Tanglewood Tomkat. I redesigned the shape, designed some special pickups for it (Entwistle Nemesis AFG) together with an advanced tone circuitry, and also introduced a very revolutionary new tremolo, this unit is known as the Entwistle Magnatrem, and basically it is a pivot tremolo that uses two very powerful neodymium magnets as a trem setter. The unit stays in tune better than some locking tremolos!
This guitar known as the TSB 94 got some amazing reviews, and it was in many ways this very instrument that inspired me to make a very important decision and that was for me to concentrate my future solely on electric guitars. It was a big decision for me to make because the feeling at the time was that the electric guitar was dying, in fact some reports were actually saying overall the product was some 60% down on sales from the previous year. I did however find this rather hard to believe, as it really is quite difficult to do Rock Music without an electric, one can hardly pour forth torrents of sonic energy with an acoustic guitar, a ukulele and a kazoo! Rock music is not simply just a genre, it has been since its outset in the 1950s a statement of nonconformity and rebellion, the entire change that most of the world went through during the 1960s was powered by Rock Music and it's results are still echoing to this day. So I didn't particularly see this genre about to simply disappear over the horizon, and it certainly was not going to be drowned out by any amount of acoustic instruments!
Two years before in 2010 Gareth Jones of Sutherland Trading (Burns' distributors) invited me to design a whole new range of retro guitars, and for this range we revived the name "Revelation". It was a bit of a slow start at first and the initial production we used a factory close to Weifang, however the whole range was fitted with Entwistle pickups and within a short while both dealers and public were beginning to like what they saw and heard. Sales for Revelation gradually started to climb- myself, Kevin Lee and the sales guys at Sutherland started to feel a considerable swell of enthusiasm over the product, and it was beginning to look like the myth surrounding the demise of the electric guitar was being dispelled.
Such was the growth of Revelation and Burns that I actually decided to move to China so that I could be pretty well 100% on site and hands on whilst the product was being made. I preferred to work in southern China so that I was close to Hong Kong and very fortunately we found an excellent small factory quite near to where I live, so since 2012 I have been working with this one factory and I have to say they have taken to working with Revelation and the Burns club series very enthusiastically.
Now in 2015 Revelation is probably one of the bestselling electric ranges in the UK and is certainly climbing up across Europe and Australia as well. Personally I think the success of Revelation is down to producing a high-quality guitar at the right price, but not just that, we really do spend a lot of time listening to what both amateur and professional guitarists tell us, in fact just as an example one young guy from India sent us a post on our Revelation Facebook page asking if we would do our RJT 60 model in a left-handed version, well there and then we decided to do it and wrote back to the elated young man that the left-handed RJT 60 would be available in around 3 months time, and I have to say he was right because since then we have sold an awful lot of left-handed RJT 60s and this encouraged us to produce even more of our models in a left-handed format. I think we must now have one of the biggest ranges of left handed guitars in the market place. Another reason for our success is probably down to the kind of models we produce- we do some very unusual stuff, almost as a joke we produced a 4 pickup version of the RJT 60 and it sold out within a week of it landing in the UK. We are fortunate I guess that we are not dictated to by men in suits, we are a real guitar company made up of guitarists, and when we design a guitar we don't design it to meet a price point, we build the guitar first tally up the price and put it on the market. In this way we are not scrimping and scraping or arguing with the factory over a dollar or two (believe me this does happen with many guitar companies). We also really do believe in fair trade- we know the factory has to make money, we know the workers have to have a decent standard of living, and so we don't end up in huge discussions trying to push the factory into making our guitars at sweatshop squeezed prices, and frankly I think the factory certainly appreciates this, because they go all the way to making the very best guitars for us.
We are now also producing for the first time my own Entwistle guitars, these are high-end instruments made to very high specs with all the best materials and we are initially test running them in Spain, and when I mean test running them we have quite a group of professional and semi-professional gigging musicians out there using the guitars on a daily basis and coming back to me with that all-important feedback. I always did intend to produce my own electric brand, but I have shied away from directly putting my name on the headstock until such time as I found the right factory to produce the very high quality that I personally demand, and now we have that factory! Entwistle guitars will of course be released in the UK shortly...
Entwistle pickups are now also doing extremely well, we literally have hundreds of testimonials from guitarists enthusiastic about using our pickups. Once again our philosophy is the same- to produce excellent innovative products at an affordable price.
We are now the leaders in producing neodymium magnetic pickups. Neodymium is a rare earth magnet that is overwhelmingly sourced in China, and I decided to start working with this material around 8 years ago, and it took a fair bit of research because using neodymium we have to use different specifications in the manufacture of the pickups, compared to standard alnico or ceramic- you can't just throw a coil around a neodymium magnet it just doesn't work like that.
Neodymium is not just about power, it gives a very well defined signal combined with excellent string separation, and it also makes possible very effective passive equalization such as is fitted to the new Revelation RBJ NeoBass.
Well now that brings me to 2015, we are presently just rounding off a large shipment of Revelation guitars bound for the UK, with some very interesting new models on board.
The end- for now...