Several yrs back I stumbled into a Guitar Geek Festival off site of the annual NAMM show I attend every winter, as I was already a fan of
Deke Dickerson's music
and was hoping to catch him live. Walking into the joint, I suddenly realized what I was in for with the collection of odd man out guitars and amps, I was just slack jawed and smitten by the sheer history of it all. It really was
a guitar geek festival and I drank up every bit of data I could, as my paradigm
of roots rock music shifted once again.
It was here at this Geek Fest that I discovered another musician that I had admired from the earlier days of the band, Big Sandy, was up to far more than
just pickin and grinning after leaving the Fly Rite Trio.
TK Smith had a small Display Placard that caught my attention immediately with
its creative inlay on a bakelite back board, card holder. This hit me nostalgic as
I had run a sign and acrylic fabrication shop in the late 80s doing things like this for the medical industry. I was really interested to found out more about his stuff.
(couldnt find an early picture, this display of TK's is more recent pic, Geek Fest picts are courtesy of my friend Dolly therockabillysocialite.com )
After that show I wish I could say I immediately ran to discover the treasures awaiting me on Deke's blog "Musings of a Muleskinner" muleskinner.blogspot.com
..but I was knee deep in my own business building guitar preamps and amps with the Nocturne Brain Co. and at that time,focused primarily on the rockabilly
aspect head first with gretsch guitar artists.
It was a few Geek Fests later that I started falling head over heels with the Bigsby guitars after purchasing the book about Paul A. Bigsby
which of course was so delicious a meal, I needed more and I jumped into
Deke Dickerson's The Bigsby Files . This website is something I just kept reading and studying over and over. It actually has some great rabbit holes, particularly the Jim Harvey stuff but I'll get to that later. For me the story of Paul Bigsby being first a motorcycle mechanic here in my beloved Southern California back when my own folks were children, and meeting up with a favorite western picker and singer, Merle Travis was pure magic to me. Then creating a new tail piece for Merle's guitar, and ultimately making the first solid body electric guitar as well as just being a bonafide industrial artist, seriously impressed me. Not just casually either, I couldnt stop thinking about all the artists that he affected and how I could identify as a guitar gear tinker myself.
I guess where this goes next is more than coincidence because one day I found myself looking for hairpin legs to attach to an atomic era coffee table I had been building, as well as seeking out a good bullet planter ( I live in 55' post & beam Rancher and am also obsessed with all things Atomic era) searching the inner-nets when I stumbled on some Atomic Living site and found some amazing furniture pictures that turned out to be made by TK Smith as well as fascinating MCM concrete screens and metal work!
This led of course straight to TK's blog, a brand new rabbit hole.
I did want to find out about him first and foremost and the one thing that cemented a bromance with his industrial art side was that he is a lifer Buick automotive man like I am. He has a fantastic story on his site about his father's car that is now his by fate.
My Grandpa Vega had a buick, My Dad had a buick and when he met my mom, she was stuck on the side of the road with a blown out tire on her BUICK! My dad was on the way to a gig with his band and the rest of that is a story for some other time, but I ended up happening 2yrs later..
All to say, TK Smith's story about his family buick history and his own 53' was near and dear to me, along with the fact that my own mama's maiden name is SMITH!! :)
As I absorbed all the info on his blog about cars, and atomic lamps, atomic ranch house furniture, hand made cabinetry, carve kitchen serving trays, etc.. It was only natural to want to meet this character and buy some of his guitar pickups and a custom pickguard for my own 52' tele that I'd previously installed a Lollar CC in the neck with bigsby B-16 vibrato.
I wasnt prepared to find out that Mr. Smith shares a kindred spirit for keeping things handcrafted in America the old fashioned way, when I drove out to his shop an hr down the freeway towards Palm Desert. I probably scared him when I walked into his shop and started bubbling on and on about all his machinery being vintage american built, but it was so much like the Sign shop I had owned when I was a young guy. I was totally like a kid in a candy store.
Despite my drool, he disassembled my telecaster, cut down the Bigsby and installed a set of his early Bigsby style Aluminum Pickups.
I dont remember why we ended up having to go over to his house during the install, but it involved a final soldering of the pickups into the control plate/pickup selector.
I cant even describe the fanboy wall of joy that over took me with my geeked out obsession for all things Atomic, but this McGiver of a man had completely remodeled a vintage Ranch house and his signature industrial artistry was all over this pad.
Dude, I was floored. But this was all
for divine circumstances to set a new course for me in my own journey as
a musician and manufacturer of guitar electronics.
*You can get a quick tour of the Smith Ranch here on the brick house website
TK Smith is a purveyor of vintage gibson amplifiers and I'd never seen any before much less actually plug in and play them, but here they were and this guy loves them.
That love is obviously infectious because once I got to fire up a Pre-war Gibson EH-185 with my first "bigsby-ized" telecaster, it was like being a kid again, kissing a girl for the first time in the school bus on the way to 1st grade (another story for another time). I couldnt think of anything else man, and when I latch onto something that is ALL I want to see, breathe, eat, and sleep until I have uncovered everything about it.
The sound of a bigsby style guitar and that early 40s pre war tweed Class A amplifier had an elusive sound that I had been after for years!! I'm not a great guitar builder and actually at best an over the top guitar assembler, but I've got a penchant for design and a golden ear for guitar tone. I probably live for the "sound" of guitars and amps on recordings more than I do wanting to learn how to play what I hear..but thats what drives me, and Mr Smiths gibson amps made the lights come on to what I'd been scratching my head over to get such a dynamic old school picking response from clean and crisp to fully on reedy woolly overdrive with just your wrist and that pick. That raw sound of Charlie Christian attacking the notes, the twangy barrage Jr Barnard wrestled out of his amp, it was so unique. You would think it would be obvious with the resources on google but it just wasnt on my radar at that time even though I'd been wandering in the general direction of it for decades. Go figure.
TK Smith and Deke Dickerson are directly responsible for opening my world to a door to the past that is much farther down the hall from the rooms that I was raised knowing about and experiencing with my fathers rockabilly and my own neo-rockabilly history. Those brothers have given me a hands on lesson of american roots music, art and industry.
oh and I should mention...
Amazon.com you need to get a copy of Deke Dickersons " A Strat in the Attic" and sit
down in a nice chair and eat that book up. It is really a great read
front to back, and I am currently awaiting arrival of his new "A Strat
in the attic 2" that just shipped yesterday to me. More unraveling is
Also on TK Smith (be sure to visit tksmith.net btw)
there have been some insightful articles written about him
check these out:
Fretboard Journal #32,
here's a snippet from their website:
and just out on gearphoria.com another great piece