What's a Muleskinner, anyway?

My name is Deke Dickerson. I'm a full-time musician, with lots of interests. One of those interests is writing. I write for guitar magazines such as Guitar Player, Fretboard Journal, and Vintage Guitar. I also write music articles, liner notes, and books that accompany box sets.

Once, a long time ago, I thought it was weird to have your own web site. Then, I thought that myspace and Facebook were immature (turns out I was right about that one, but I'm on them anyway). When I heard the word "blog," I decried I would never have one. And yet, here I am. Enjoy...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

From GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE,


Duane Eddy’s 1960 Howard Doubleneck guitar



This futuristic Jetsons rocket ship of a guitar looks ready to go into orbit at any time.  It was made in 1960 for instrumental hit-maker Duane Eddy by a Phoenix amplifier guru named Tom “Howard” McCormick.  McCormick is known for his unique amplifiers, but little is known about his guitars. 

Duane Eddy was and still is the ‘King of Twang,’ and he is most remembered for his Gretsch and Guild signature model guitars.  In the late 50’s, however, he used to switch back and forth on stage between his Gretsch 6120 and his Danelectro 6-string bass.  McCormick reckoned Duane needed a doubleneck that would do the same thing.  Duane recalls that this instrument sounded and looked great, but he rarely used it due to its prohibitive weight.

McCormick made unorthodox guitar amps, and this guitar is no exception.  The necks are made of fiberglass with rosewood fretboards, and the backwards-Explorer headstocks predated Robin guitars by two decades.  The pickups are super high fidelity, and the dense guitar sustains forever.  Other features, such as the inside-out Strat jack mounted on the side, the six oven knobs and five switches, and hand-milled vibrato are great reminders of an era where the future was so bright, you had to wear shades.  Where are the jet packs they promised us?

I never knew that Howard made any other guitars than Duane's doubleneck, but there is a flyer for Howard guitars and amps inside the case of Duane's doubleneck.

Howard Guitar Flyer, collection of the author.

After viewing the flyer, this author recalled seeing some student model Howard guitars long ago at the fabled Chicago Store in Tucson, Arizona (long since plundered).  How many of these guitars or amps were made?  Not many, just judging by the fact that only a couple Howard amps and zero guitars have turned up on eBay in the last ten years.

Photo from the good old days of the Chicago Store in Tucson, taken around 1998.  Note blue Howard student model in foreground.  Don't worry, all this stuff is gone--the fabled burial ground of vintage gear is no more.

Duane played the doubleneck on 'American Bandstand' with Dick Clark in 1960, and a few live shows around the same time.  

Duane uses the Howard on Bandstand.  Photo is Copyrighted.

Duane found the guitar to be too heavy to use on stage, and the pickups sustained too much in a live setting.  Duane put the guitar into storage, pulling it out at least one more time for a Guitar Player article written by Teisco Del Rey in June 1993.


This guitar is imbued with unexplainable, mystical luck.  When Duane agreed to sell the Howard doubleneck to this author, the guitar was taken out of Duane's storage locker at Sound Check in Nashville and shipped on the last day of April, 2010.  Two days later the Cumberland River flooded downtown Nashville, and the Sound Check facility (a massive rehearsal and equipment storage location) flooded.  Thousands of instruments, many of them vintage and historic, were underwater. 

Read about the flood at Sound Check here.

Most of Duane's prized instruments he had collected through the years were ruined.  50 years after it was created, somehow the Howard doubleneck escaped a tragic end through a narrow crack in the door.  

Duane (ever the gentleman) has played down his losses and has asked those who are close to him to not publicize his story, because so many other musicians lost everything they owned.  However, the story, as it relates to this crazy Jetsons doubleneck guitar, makes it the luckiest guitar I know of.  Just having it around makes me feel like everything is going to be alright.

Read about Duane's contributions to the flood relief efforts here.

Little may be known of Tom “Howard” McCormick, but this author hereby declares this guitar as the coolest guitar ever made.  May the Twang be with you.

Deke Dickerson

Note: The author would really like to find Tom "Howard" McCormick's family to get the full story, see more photos, and do a proper article on the history of "Howard" guitars and amps.  Please email the author here.

With special thanks to Duane and Deed Eddy, Teisco Del Rey, and Glen Harrison.

16 comments:

  1. I have put 2+2 together and come up with a little more to the Tom Howard Mccormick story. Tom relocated to Texas sometime in the late 60's. I have found an newspaper article from April 1973 about Grand Prarie 606, a music store and factory owned by Tom, building pedal steel guitars and some amps. He was in Phoenix for 18 years. Tom was born in Oklahoma. I have one of his custom ordered tube amps being restored now and will send you pictures when it returns home.

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    1. My husband is one of Tom Howard McCormick's grandchildren. Thank you for the kind words about his guitars. He has several children who would be happy to share his story. I sent an email with our contact information. Please let us know if you are still interested. Thanks again.

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    2. Cary--Just now saw your response from April! Definitely--send me pictures of your amp, I'd love to see it! Send it to my regular email--eccofonic@earthlink.net Thanks!

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  2. I just obtained a Howard S-10 with pad and a Georg L. pickup. I was wonderong if I could find out any history of this PSG of the company that made it. Any information about it would be helpful. Thank You Ed (ewbkdb@yahoo.com)

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  3. Robert Allen McCormickJuly 19, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    my name is Robert allen McCormick I from what I know am Toms first born grand child I never knew my grandfather if anyone could help me learn more about him that would be great I would have never found this page if it wasnt for my half brother whom I had never spoke to seen a picture of or heard his voice until a week ago after years of looking he found me now I cant wait to meet him for the first time.

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  4. Actualy my brother David Wayne McCormick was Toms first born grandchild. My brother still possese two of my grandfathers steel guitars, and one of his amplifiers... I was lucky enough to have known my grandfather and have many fond memories of him. My father Thomas Howard McCormick II would have been able to tell my grandfathers story in it entirety, but my father lost his battle with cancer on 9-26-13 of this year........

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  5. I bought a Howard Steel guitar and Howard tube amp last year. I am intrigued by this man Tom Howard McCormick as what i have found out about him is very interesting. I think he may have been a genius. I am going to hold on to this old amp and Steel guitar even though i don't play steel.

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  6. I met Tom in his shop back in the mid 70's and he built me a custom 12 string pedal steel with 2 pedals and 4 knee levers. It was custom made with longer legs since I couldn't slide my long legs under his standard models. He also gave me a few lessons and I talked him in to making me a custom slide tone-bar out of a piece of stainless steel bar I brought him. He made it to fit my big hands but said he would never do that again because the stainless was so hard it burned up his turning bit.
    I still have that Howard 12 string pedal and just restrung it recently but I never did learn to play it very well.
    Rocky T

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  7. I love and miss my dad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

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  8. I love and miss my dad,as I stated in the comment above!!!!!I also want too say he was a the best dad in so many ways !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND HE WAS SO BRILLENT!!!!!!!

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    1. I love reading about this man. A real American pioneer and apparently he really was brilliant. I have one of his steel guitars and a cool tube amp he made.

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  9. LOTS of grandchildren :-)

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  10. https://reverb.com/item/682353-tom-howard-mccormick-student-model-early-60-s

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  11. I just talked to a man who was trying to buy my Howard Steel and Howard Amp. He says Tom did not build amps but rather got them from Alamo amps out of san Antonio Tx. I am really confused now. Is he correct? He said Tom just put the Howard name on and said he built them. That makes no sense to me, but he seems sure. He offered me a small amount for both the amp and steel. I will not sell these.

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    1. I heard he made some himself, but I also read that he worked with someone or some company to make the Murph or Murphy amps. I am not sure though.

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    2. Tom certainly built amplifiers-I worked for him and at times with Buddy Wheeler. Tom had a shop in phoenix, at that time it was next door to a lumber yard.

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