Gibson’s “Original Custom Shop”: 1964 Tenor SG

In the early ’60s, a teenage Charlie Wood wrote a letter to Gibson. In 2011, the same Charlie Wood, a little older and far wiser, wrote another letter. With the former letter, he ordered an instrument, and with the latter, he sold it. Upon ordering, the instrument Wood received wasn’t a standard catalog guitar but a peculiar amalgamation of Gibson hardware and specs. This instrument in hand, combined with the letter Wood wrote in 2011 upon selling it, paints a picture that explains the origins of many of our custom vintage instruments: Gibson’s original custom shop.

A New York native and bluegrass fanatic, Wood, like most kids, idolized musicians like the Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. So, you see… no typical, corn-fed tenor would do. Wood was on the hunt for an electric tenor guitar with specific features. Wood’s brother had a Fender Jaguar, and to him, that was as cool as it got. In his own words, “It had to be a Fender.” However, when Wood wrote to Fender asking if they would build him a tenor guitar, he received no response. Disappointed but not deterred, Wood penned another letter, this time to Gibson. To his surprise, Gibson responded, “They were happy to make anything [he] could pay for.” Wood was confident, knowing that the $40 a week he made working at his father’s sawmill was enough to finance a custom instrument of his choosing. He was particular that his tenor guitar should have the following:

“All tuning pegs on the topside of the peg head a la Fender, dual pickups, dual volume and treble controls, vibrato tailpiece, and a guarantee that I would be swarmed with girls.”

Charlie Wood, an excerpt from his letter to Gibson

Gibson was able to remedy all of his requests personally, except for the last. The music magnates quoted him $500, including a hardshell case. After a deal was made, Wood received his new tenor guitar in early 1964. The 1964 Gibson Tenor SG pictured below was the result of his specifications. 

As a sign of Gibson’s times, this is an SG-style body in their standard Cherry finish. However, inline-tuning pegs on one side of the headstock were not something that Gibson was well known for. Luckily, Gibson launched their Firebird series in 1963, and along with it, a new headstock design featuring just this. So, this Tenor received a mini Firebird-style headstock complete with four single-line Deluxe Klusons and double-ringed buttons. These dual pickups are humbuckers with four-pole covers, accompanied by dual volume and tone controls, as Wood requested. The strings feed into a four-saddle tune-o-matic bridge, and a horseshoe Bigsby serves as the “vibrato tailpiece.” This instrument is fitted with a thin tenor neck and, as a final touch, Gibson’s “Custom” truss-rod plaque. 

In Charlie Wood’s case, his first-person perspective about this Tenor SG from its beginning allows us to contextualize Gibson’s original custom shop as part of this story. For many of our other custom instruments, this same history was (unfortunately) not recorded. So, how can we determine how Gibson handled custom-ordered guitars? Aside from inference based on our existing evidence, we can’t. However, Gibson themselves are more than capable. 

Below is a video Gibson posted to their social media channels on March 17, 2022. This never-before-seen footage was uncovered while digging through their vault archive in 2020. The team discovered an unmarked reel of film, and once it was produced and digitally remastered, they released it: a promotional video filmed at Gibson’s Factory in 1967. The 20-minute-long video is an incredible piece of music history that we highly recommend watching in full. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the section starting at (15:34). 

In this section, the narrator states:

“Performers grow to know the sole of their instrument and demand very individualized custom craftsmanship. In the Gibson Custom Shop, the individual requirements of the musician find expression. Working almost entirely by hand, these artisans give personalized service to musicians throughout the world.”

1967 Gibson Factory Tour

This video gives a first-hand perspective into Gibson’s factory of the late ’60s and, for a brief moment, specifically highlights their custom build capabilities. As Wood alluded to in his original letter, the possibilities were (reasonably) endless as long as you could fund it. We believe that all of our Gibson oddities are a direct result of this. From the simplest custom inlays, colors, and spec changes to fully imagined custom instruments, each one probably began like Charlie Wood’s Tenor SG. He was a passionate musician who knew exactly what he wanted but couldn’t find it on the market. Wood’s dream tenor was made possible thanks to Gibson’s original custom shop. And now, we all have the privilege of appreciating this instrument and other custom Gibsons for years to come.

To shop the listing, click here.

Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle’s 1954 Gibson J-185

Sometimes, you come across a vintage guitar whose history has been lost with time. With every hand it passes through, the original owner’s story is gradually whittled down until what was once a redwood is now a twig. And yet, sometimes, you are lucky enough to find a guitar with a history that is so carefully preserved and documented that it stays evergreen. That is the case with this 1954 Gibson J-185, owned by country music legend Bill Carlisle. 

Born in Spencer County, Kentucky, William “Bill” Toliver Carlisle, Jr. was raised in a musical family. He and his brother, Cliff, grew up performing together. The two cut records throughout the 30s and 40s, sometimes together as the Carlisle Brothers but often separate, each gaining success in their own right. While Cliff was prolific, mastering steel guitar and blending blues and country, Bill became somewhat of a country-singing comedian. He recorded some of the funniest, raunchiest country music of his time, taking on an alter ego named “Hot Shot Elmer” for his live performances. As this character, he would leap around the stage over tables or chairs. His high-energy, high-flying stunts garnered two nicknames: “Bounding Billy Carlisle” and the more well-known “Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle.” 

Photo of Bill Carlisle in the center, jumping as “Hot Shot Elmer” (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

Carlisle’s biggest solo hit was “Tramp on the Street,” and accompanied by his band, The Carlisles, had hits with “Too Old to Cut the Mustard” and “No Help Wanted.” By the 60s, his children Shiela and Bill Jr. joined The Carlisles, and the trio performed as a family. Their biggest hit was “What Kinda Deal is This?” in 1965.

Carlisle and his children performing “No Help Wanted” as The Carlisles at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, playing this 1954 J-185

Carlisle continued to perform throughout his life at the Grand Ole Opry until his passing in 2003. A year prior, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, introduced on stage by Dolly Parton. His legacy in country music cannot be overstated; he was known for his comedic approach and precise, fast style of guitar playing. Multiple of his hits were rerecorded by the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Marlene Dietrich, and Hank Williams. He wrote the gospel hymn classic “Gone Home.” He even gave Chet Atkins his first job in the music industry, playing for Carlisle on a Knoxville radio show. 

Carlisle purchased this 1954 Gibson J-185 in Sunburst at the height of his career. Earlier photos of this guitar show a standard J-185 pickguard on the treble side, with a second one added to the bass side of the body. Carlisle favored the double pickguard look à la The Everly Brothers. Later, Carlisle added the two large, scalloped pickguards that you see present on the guitar today. The rest of the specs are all factory standard, some of our favorite touches being the hyper-flamed maple back and sides, gold tuning pegs, and Maltese cross inlaid rosewood bridge. 

You will find many photos and memories inside this Vox Case (more on that later). There are multiple headshots, and in one, he is posed with Martha Carson, a country/gospel legend in her own right who performed with Bill in The Carlisles before his children joined. This photo was owned and signed by Carlisle, along with another shot of him on stage for WSM Radio. You will also find a lyric sheet for “Blues Stay Away From Me,” which we believe could be in Carlisle’s handwriting, but it was not signed, so we can’t be sure. Nonetheless, it was specially kept in this guitar case for a reason.

When posed side by side, two photos in the case show when Carlisle added the large, scalloped guards to his J-185. In 1965, he was photographed performing with his children at the Grand Ole Opry, playing this guitar with the former pickguards. Just a year later, in 1966, he is seen performing with his children at the Tennessean’s Centennial Park Concert. The scalloped guards are visible in this photo. Lastly, you will find a beautiful memorial card signifying Bill Carlisle’s passing on March 17, 2003. 

We know a giant, Italian-made Vox case seems out of place for this Gibson flattop, but we mean it when we say the two belong together. This is the case Carlisle kept this J-185 in, even signing the back of it. With time, the signature has faded, but we found a photo of the signature when it was in better condition. We have placed it inside the case in hopes that the two will never be separated, even if the signature is no longer visible. 

When watching videos of Carlisle performing, you can feel his joy for his music, family, and instruments. We couldn’t help but fall in love with him and his beaming personality and thought it only fitting to honor his memory with this story about his life and treasured J-185.

Bill Carlisle performing the gospel hit he wrote, “Gone Home”, at 90 years old on the Country Family Reunion Gospel Series.

For more photos and info about this guitar, click here.

Works Consulted:

“The Carlisles.” Bear Family Records, Accessed 29 Aug. 2023.

Down on Music Row. Photo of Bill Carlisle and Children Performing. Facebook, June 16, 2016, 7:59 PM.

“Jumpin Bill Carlisle 1954 J-185 – Update 6/29/14.” The Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum, 29 June 2014,

Variety Staff. “Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle.” Variety, Variety, 4 Apr. 2003,

Fender’s Forgotten Custom Colors: The Thinline Telecaster

In the mid-60s, Fender faced a predicament. Remedying it would result in the launch of a new model and color experimentation to the extent Fender had rarely reached before. This is the Thinline Telecaster and its slew of custom colors that are seldom seen. 

While it is well-known that CBS implemented many changes to the brand following their acquisition of Fender, at least one was not planned: running out of lightweight ash. As their supply dwindled, Fender got creative. Their first attempt was a chambered body. For a short-lived period in 1967, Fender routed out the Telecaster body underneath the pickguard.

An Internal picture of a 1967 Smuggler Telecaster, showing the chambers routed out in the factory
A 1967 Fender Telecaster that received “Smuggler” routes underneath the pickguard

This was not advertised, as many players at the time were unaware these chambers existed until taking off the pickguard. These Teles were eventually dubbed “Smugglers” as many players used the cavities to hide illegal substances. By 1968, The Telecaster had returned to its unchambered body. This Smuggler design, while fleeting, acted as a catalyst for Fender’s exploration into chambered and semi-hollow bodies. Going forward, Fender weighed their options with something new. 

Before finalizing the Thinline design, Fender tested a few prototypes. We are lucky to have these examples in our store, allowing us to study this history! We have already done a blog post on these prototypes and much more! Click the button below to read more about them.

In late 1968 Fender launched their new model, The Thinline Telecaster. A riff on their infamous Tele, but with new construction and a semi-hollow body. The body design had a solid center, with two hollowed-out wings and a glued-on back. This allowed Fender to use heavier, more readily available ash while maintaining a relatively light guitar. While the Thinline did not appear in the main catalog, Fender circulated a special advert for the model. This leaflet announced this model’s “Groovy Natural” finishes.

A photo of the 1968 Fender Advertisement for their new Thinline Telecaster model
Image Credit:

After the launch of this model, Fender created several display guitars, presenting them at NAMM or other trade shows. These Thinlines came in every color of the rainbow, and for years dealers and players alike were unaware of official names for these colors. That is, until a few years ago. 

These photos were posted online and instantly cleared the confusion. Handwritten on the back of a 1970 Fender Price List by Freddie Tavares himself were the names of “New Colors For Telecaster Hollow Bodies.” When this list came out, we were fortunate enough to have an example of every color in our collection, allowing us to match each finish with each name listed. 

1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Jet Black

1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Canary Yellow

a photo of a thinline in Canary Yellow

1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Salmon

1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Lavender Lilac, with a Purple Pearloid Pickguard

A photo of a thinline in Lavender Lilac
A photo of a thinline in hot pink

1969 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Hot Pink

1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Kelly Green

By late 1971, the model was in its second design. These Series II Thinline Telecasters featured two Seth Lover-designed humbucking pickups and a “bullet” truss rod that adjusts at the headstock rather than the neck heel. These examples almost always came in Natural Ash, Mahogany, or Sunburst. However, we have seen some catalog custom colors outside the standard finishes. 

a photo of a series 2 thinline in Candy Apple Red

1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Candy Apple Red

1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Lake Placid Blue

a photo of a series 2 thinline in Lake Placid Blue
a photo of a series 2 thinline in sonic blue

1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Sonic Blue

We have even seen unique finish and spec combos like these Thinlines below. One is in Ocean Turquoise, and one is in Canary Yellow, both with a Purple Pearloid Pickguard.

Unfortunately, The Thinline Telecaster was not an immensely popular model. This was due to several reasons: the new design, the rapid change to Series II specs, the overall opinion on CBS-era quality, and the poor advertisement of the model. All of these played a part in lackluster sales. As a result, these Series I examples are scarce, exponentially more so in custom colors.

If we have one takeaway from this post, other than an immense appreciation of these rare custom colors, it’s a reminder that information in this industry is constantly changing — new stories, new examples, and in this case, new color names. If we ignore recent findings or research solely because of old industry practices or beliefs, we lose the ability to evolve and adapt to new information. We learn daily and encourage everyone who loves vintage guitars to do the same. 

a photo of every thinline color, in rainbow order

Works Consulted

Workplace Oddities: Innovation at Fender in the late 60s/early 70s

If the ‘50s were about establishing themselves as a tycoon of instrument sales, for Fender, the ‘60s were all about change. Looking back on it, some of these changes were welcome. The earlier years of the decade brought about many beloved Fender features: custom colors, new models, and a fun, fresh approach to their advertisements that few of their competitors could replicate at the time. The latter years, however, brought some of Fender’s most controversial changes. Many fanatics mark the brand’s sale to CBS as its downfall in quality, a clear departure from their earlier years. Adversely, some revel in this period – excited by the changes Fender made or the models the company launched under a new owner. Now, we’re not here to pick any lane; as we always say, “to each their own.” Instead, we will offer an additional perspective – an appreciation for the craftsmanship and creativity of Fender’s Research and Development Department in the mid-60s to early 70s. 

Roger Rossmeisl, posed with one of his signature German-style carved tops

In 1962, Fender hired German luthier Roger Rossmeisl. Well known for his work at Rickenbacker, he was hired to develop acoustics initially, though Rossmeisl eventually grew into archtops and semi-acoustics as the head of Fender’s R&D Department. Rossmeisl was responsible for several of Fender’s mid to late ‘60s models, including the Coronado, Wildwood, Montego, and LTD. 

We are lucky to have a Fender LTD in our store, allowing us to examine the fine detail and careful artistry that characterizes this model. Rossmeisl, with the help of his assistant Philip Kubicki, hand-crafted this limited-production run, making only 36 LTDs over a couple of years. Ours is a 1972 and was #33. This beautiful guitar features a German-style carved body, highly flamed maple, and a special headstock design with mirrored Fender “F” logos. These are but a few intricate specifications that make this model so remarkable. To examine it more thoroughly, click here to read our blog post about this specific guitar and how we discovered something special under its carved top. 

A young Philip Kubicki, in his early days at the acoustics division

Though his independent contribution as a luthier was undeniable, Rossmeisl’s mentorship and partnership with Phil Kubicki was one of his most valuable steps at Fender. In 1964, after being hired by Rossmeisl, Kubicki began as a production worker in the company’s acoustics division. Initially, the two did not work side by side. However, one fateful day Rossmeisl called on Kubicki for some advice on aging metal, and soon after, Kubicki became Rossmeisl’s direct assistant. Kubicki states that “[their] main focus was LTD and Montego production, but [they] always seemed to have a special project going on the side.” Special projects they had going on the side indeed. Over the years, we have had the privileged opportunity to purchase many of these Fender oddities, the prototype/one-off experimental guitars that Kubicki spoke of in this quote. These projects are unique and nothing short of incredible Fender History.

“The main focus was LTD and Montego production, but we always seemed to have a special project going on the side.”

Philip kubicki

This first example is a 1967 Telecaster that is semi-hollow. It has a spruce top, zebra wood back, and a maple cap neck. The body is double-bound, like a Custom Telecaster. The inside of the body is similar to a Thinline as it is built with a center block, even though the top lacks an f-hole. This gives the appearance of a solid body while remaining remarkably light at just 4 lbs 15 oz. As a one-off guitar, this Tele is well-documented and featured in Fender: The Golden Age 1946-1970 (Kelly et al.) and The Fender Telecaster (Duchossoir). This Telecaster, and most of the semi-hollow Fender rarities we have seen, seem to be prototypical or exploratory designs for the Thinline Telecaster. 

Our second example is a 1967 Stratocaster that is fully hollow and without contours. The top and back are crafted from red-stained zebra wood, with sides painted a shade of deep brown. Much like the spruce-top Tele before, this guitar is also double bound. 

It weighs only 6 lbs 7 oz, with a noticeable lightness the second you pick it up. Accompanying the body is an intensely flamed Jazzmaster-style neck with a bound fretboard and block inlays, topped with a large CBS-era headstock. You will notice that this guitar also lacks an f-hole, allowing for the same solid-body illusion we saw with the previous Telecaster.

Because Rossmeisl was once in charge of producing Fender’s Wildwood Acoustic line, and both he and Kubicki started in the acoustics department, it is only fitting they would develop this 1966 Telecaster in Wildwood Green. Fender’s Bill Carson even supposed that the duo used surplus Wildwood with this design.

This guitar may have the oddest combination of appointments out of all the prototypes in our store. Along with a bound body and Jazzmaster-style bound neck with block inlays, this guitar also features a Mustang tremolo system. The headstock has no Fender logo, though it is unclear why. There are two f-holes found on the front of the body, and one is even reversed, giving a mirrored effect! A custom-cut pickguard is fitted to the front of the body to make room for the second soundhole. The sides of this body are even painted in Sherwood Green. This guitar was featured in Guitar Player Magazine’s April 1992 issue and as a highlight in Electric Guitars and Basses: A Photographic History (Gruhn and Carter).

The pair loved experimenting with Telecasters, and this one from 1971 is another prime example. While the body may look like it is made of solid Zebrawood, this is another illusion. It is actually an ash body with a thick Zebrawood veneer applied to the top and back. The sides are painted brown, though, with time, the paint has worn away around the edges revealing the ash underneath. The high contrast of this grain pattern is paired with high contrast appointments, taking us back to the early 50s with this black pickguard and maple neck, complete with a walnut truss rod plug on the headstock. Even in their experimentation, Fender calls back to their roots.

Last is this jaw-dropping Circa 1970s “Stringer” Telecaster. Interestingly, this guitar did not leave the factory until 1975, after Kubicki and Rossmeisl left Fender. However, it was built by one or both of them while they were working in the R&D Dept. This Telecaster is strung together (hence the nickname) with many different kinds of wood used by Fender at the time. The body is made of Ash, Alder, Rosewood, Mahogany, etc., paired with an incredibly dark, solid Rosewood Neck. The neck and the black pickguard look to be appointments pulled from Fender’s Rosewood Telecaster design.  

All of the prototypical designs mentioned above were never pursued further. We have never seen other examples of these guitars (though if you have, send them our way!!). We are privileged to compare each of these oddities to the next, admiring how they are similar and how they differ. This is something that we wanted to share with you. We would give anything to go back and exist as a fly on the wall, watching Roger Rossmeisl, Phil Kubicki, and everyone in the R&D Dept at work crafting these creative instruments. Truly, stories like this one at Fender are what it’s all about for us.

Works Cited:

Gruhn, G., & Carter, W. (1994). Electric Guitars and Basses: A Photographic History. Miller Freeman Books.

Gruhn, G., & Carter, W. (1994, April). Rare Bird. Guitar Player Magazine.

Kelly, M., Foster, T., Kelly, P., & Kelly, P. (2011). The Golden Age of Fender, 1946-1970. Cassell Illustrated.

Duchossoir, A. R. (1992). The Fender Telecaster: The Detailed Story of America’s Senior Solid Body Electric Guitar. H. Leonard.

Works Consulted:

Image Credits:

Signed, Carved, and Numbered: A Full Examination of our Rare 1972 Fender LTD

Picture this: one day, you’re scrolling online doing a bit more research about a 1972 Fender LTD you’ve just received in stock. You’re just about ready to stop, believing you’ve found sufficient information…until you come across a 1999 Vintage Guitar Magazine article written by Philip Kubicki.

You casually skim the paragraphs, looking for insight from the man who helped build the guitar beside you. Finally, you read a line and pause. Five minutes later, the LTD is on a workbench, and you’re carefully positioning a mirror inside the F-Hole, trying to catch a glimpse of something special underneath that german-carved top. 

Fender’s LTD was a limited production model offered for only a couple of years. Each guitar was hand-crafted by Fender’s Research & Development Head, Roger Rossmeisl, assisted by Phil Kubicki. Reading the Vintage Guitar Magazine article about this model, it is clear through Kubicki’s words that the two put intense time into this beautiful, intricate model. 

While the design of the LTD was similar to the Montego I and II, it was intended to be their highest-end model, rivaling the work of jazz guitar greats like John D’Angelico. Looking at the 1970 Catalog, Rossmeisl and Kubicki left no stone unturned or appointment unembellished when creating the LTD’s design. This is evident in the tremendous attention to detail demonstrated on each guitar. We are pleased to have a 1972 LTD in Sunburst in our store, allowing for a thorough examination of this ornate model. Ours is serial number 33. Only 36 LTDs were made, completed in batches of 6 at a time. This guitar would have been built with the last batch. Though a Natural finish was offered in the catalog, none were ever created.

This top is custom hand-carved spruce, with curly maple on the back and sides. The top and back carving was uniquely Rossmeisl’s and done in the German style. He learned this technique from his father and fellow luthier, Wenzel Rossmeisl. The neck matches the body in maple, coupled with an ebony fingerboard. Kubicki stated that the two imported the highest quality European wood possible to build these guitars, allowing for a better sound and lighter grain color. 

Each appointment is just as meticulous as the next. This “tilt-back” headstock is inlaid with Australian mother-of-pearl. Looking closely, you’ll notice that the decorative headstock design is the “F” from Fender’s logo, self-mirrored to convey hearts. This ivory nut is hand-cut and filed, and six gold-plated Grover rotomatic tuners round out the headstock design. This 20 fret, 25 ½” scale neck features 9 rectangular, custom-made inlays made of Australian Mother of Pearl. 

A custom ebony bridge was hand-fitted to the body, feeding into a gold-plated tailpiece with two ebony inserts. One proudly wears Fender’s signature “F.” This highly flamed pickguard is made of celluloid imported from Italy, carefully cut and bound by Rossmeisl. There are multiple binding layers around the body, neck, and headstock. All of the gold plating on this model is 24-karat.

The pair executed the electronics just as carefully. Rossmeisl and Kubicki tapped another Fender legend – Freddie Tavares – to design the pickups and circuitry for this model. This single pickup is a specialty humbucker completely shielded, grounded, and designed with a jazz sound in mind. The pickup is fitted with 6 individually adjustable pole pieces and, of course, gold plating. Mounted just under the neck, this humbucker is accompanied by Master volume and Master tone controls in the form of two small, black knobs mounted to the pickguard. The ¼” jack sits just below the knobs underneath the pickguard.  

Rossmeisl signed and dated a label applied to the inside of each guitar as his finishing stamp of approval. The labels were positioned right at the back so that you could see them through the F hole. The glue on our label has lost its tackiness over time but was carefully saved inside the case. We are thankful for this, as it allows for an even closer look. Although, as we would soon learn, Rossmeisl wasn’t the only one granting his signature to the model.

Kubicki’s insightful 1999 article had already given us crucial information about our 1972 Fender LTD. Yet, upon coming to the end of his first-hand account, he gave us one last golden nugget of knowledge. Kubicki quickly states, “I signed a few inside the top, so the only way to see my name is with a mirror.” It’s easy to miss in the article, bookended by names of Jazz greats that visited the luthiers in their shop.

This sentence led us inside our Fender LTD, using a lighted dental mirror to see if ours was one of the lucky few to receive Kubicki’s signature. While it seemed rare enough that we had one of only 36 LTDs made, could you imagine if this was one of the few guitars signed under the carved top as well?! After some positioning, we saw something… although we couldn’t quite determine what it was. It looked like a bit of scribble, maybe with a pencil, we figured. Once we got our mirror just right, this is what we discovered:

Amazingly, the inside of this guitar is signed not just by Phil Kubicki but also a second time by Roger Rossmeisl. It is even dated: 1971. We compared Rossmeisl’s signature on our LTD label to the one we found inside the top for further verification, and they match exactly. Finally, the anticipation that began building the second I read that sentence was over. Given its beauty, sound, and history, we loved this guitar from the moment we received it. But the excitement of this find took it to another level. This is a guitar with depth that reminds us why we love what we do.

Works Cited:

Catalog Scans Courtesy of: