|Original 1956 Capitol Promo photo courtesy Yvonnick Guitton|
Gene Vincent with Cliff Gallup, guitar: "Race With The Devil"
|Cliff Gallup, far left--feeling the Bop.|
Below: Several examples of Cliff Gallup's guitar magic, 1956:
|Above: Cliff Gallup, seated on the left, in the studio, 1956. "Jumpin'" Jack Neal holds the upright bass, Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson, standing, Gene Vincent with acoustic guitar, seated on right.|
|Ad from 1968 for Cliff Gallup and the Four C's "go go show."|
|Guitar Player Magazine article by Dan Forte, 1984|
The author playing in Norfolk, Virginia, with guest Dickie Harrell of the Blue Caps on drums.
The author (left) playing with Gene Vincent's second guitarist Johnny Meeks at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, CA, 1992. Also pictured: Lloyd Martin, bass; Dave Stuckey, rhythm guitar.
|Cliff Gallup in later years with his Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar|
If there’s one thing that I have learned through the years, it’s that very few people have the desire to achieve results through complete immersion and unhealthy obsession. And yet, in my experience, the ones who obsess over the small details, who toss things over in their mind over and over and over until some new fragment of information reveals itself—these are the people who make things happen. These are the people who get results. They are the nerd version of the Olympic gold medalists, who train every day for years, waiting for the moment that all their training pays off.
|The loan document dated November 8, 1954 for Cliff Gallup's Duo Jet (courtesy Joe Carducci/Gretsch Guitars and Cliff's daughter Bonnie Creef).|
There has been confusion as to whether or not Cliff had his 1954 Duo Jet re-necked, or if he got a second guitar. Dickie Harrell and Lowell Fayna remember a guitar being stolen from Cliff, but not specifics. However, the fact that the guitar with the later neck has both a fixed-handle Bigsby and what appears to be the 1954-era pickguard lends weight to the idea that his original guitar was re-necked, as many of them were due to defective necks. This is some cloudy water to wade through, because in Cliff's folder of saved receipts and financial documents, there was no record of a second Duo Jet guitar. The only things we have to go by are long-ago memories and a few photos. None of the details known or the photos prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.
|Cliff with Duo Jet featuring inlaid fretboard. Note: larger truss rod cover indicating later manufacture (photo courtesy Joe Carducci/Gretsch Guitars and Cliff's daughter Bonnie Creef).|
The aforementioned Lowell Fayna was a good friend of Cliff’s, and promised to be a solid lead in the search for Cliff’s Duo Jet, because Virginia locals said that Cliff had sold Lowell his Duo Jet when he bought the Country Gentleman.
Below: Edward Ball's Manual of Gretsch Guitars of the 1950s.
|Above: One of the first Gretsch Duo Jets, manufactured in 1953, with script headstock logo, small white "wedge" pickguard, and no block inlay position marker on the first fret.|
Another detail about these
Duo Jets made from 1953 to 1956 was that they came stock from the
factory with a “G” fixed (non-vibrato) tailpiece and a Melita adjustable bridge. A Bigsby vibrato could be custom ordered, but added considerable cost. The
retail price of a Gretsch Duo Jet in 1954 was $230. Adding a Bigsby vibrato tacked on another
$50, or an additional 20% to the price of the guitar, so it was a rare and
costly addition during the time that these guitars were made.
|A stock Duo Jet made in 1954 showing the standard Melita bridge and non-vibrato "G" tailpiece.|
|Gretsch's new "Cliff Gallup Model" reissue guitar.|
|Above: The guitar spotted at Gruhn's in Nashville.|
Below: The guitar found recently at Gruhn's, serial #15694:
|Above: Removal of the Bigsby proved that this was a factory, custom-ordered Bigsby vibrato--there are no other holes present where a stock "G" non-vibrato tailpiece was mounted previously.|
Of all the “made in 1954, model year 1955” Gretsch Duo Jets on the planet, this was the important question. How many of these instruments had a FACTORY Bigsby installation, and how many had Bigsbys added later, to make these Duo Jets resemble Cliff Gallup’s guitar? The only answer is an educated guess, which is that a very, very small number of 1954 Duo Jets had factory Bigsby installations. Of the 50 to 75 Duo Jets made in the same batch, an educated guess (based on the number of guitars that have shown up with stock “G” non-vibrato tailpieces and the Duo Jets known to have added Bigsby vibratos much later in an attempt to look like Cliff Gallup’s guitar) would have to be a small handful of Bigsby-equipped Duo Jet guitars that came from the factory. The factory Bigsby was an expensive option that had to be custom ordered. Ed Ball’s statement sums it up: “Rarer than hen’s teeth would be an understatement.”
|Original Bigsby vibrato price in 1953: $50.00|
Ad from August, 1954, showing Duo Jets on sale for $224.50:
After I first published this article, it was brought to my attention that the stock price of a 1954 Duo Jet was $230, and that in a rare catalog insert (one I had never seen!) from November, 1954--the hard case was listed at $44.50.
$230 plus $44.50 equals $274.50. As much as I wanted the guitar I just found to match the loan document for Cliff's guitar, I had to concede--it was much more likely that the total sale price of the guitar was for the guitar and CASE, rather than the guitar and Bigsby Vibrato.
The original part of my belief that this guitar might be Cliff's relied on that theory that his guitar had come from the factory with a Bigsby vibrato, which would be a rare thing, indeed.
I pored over all the known photos of Cliff playing the guitar. It sure seemed as though his guitar must have come with the Bigsby from the factory. Even the photos of his earlier Western band The Virginians showed the Bigsby on the guitar, or so I initially thought:
The jury is still out, but I have to agree--looks like a "G" tailpiece, not a Bigsby.
This is where it starts to get REALLY interesting, if these guitar geek details haven’t put you to sleep yet.
Here's the version most of us have seen:
The "standard" Bigsby aluminum bridge made since around 1955 or 1956 has a base with the studs permanently mounted in them, and a compensated bridge saddle with an angled "rocker" bottom on the outer edges.
|Early 1953-1954 Bigsby Aluminum Bridge assembly with upside-down oval head bolts used as the "rocking" part of the bridge, as found on serial #15694.|
As much as I would love to think that Cliff's guitar had a factory Bigsby, I now think that it probably didn't, which means that the guitar I just found in Nashville was definitely not Cliff's missing guitar.
Below: Cliff with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, sans guitar:
|17th fret "anomaly" found on both Cliff's guitar in vintage photo and serial #15694 found recently in Nashville.|
However, what's pretty amazing about this journey of discovery was finding out just how rare that batch of 1954 Duo Jet's were, and how much rarer that batch was with added Bigsby vibratos on them. Even if the one I found isn't Cliff's, it's pretty amazing to me that it's from the same batch with all the same features, and best of all--it plays and sounds amazing.
I hope that the search for Serial #15654 continues, and I hope that it turns up. We won't really know the answer until that happens, so keep your eyes open!