Yesterday was a rough day for me, but today I can breathe just a bit easier. Travis Bean, the great luthier that designed the Travis Bean guitar with its aluminum neck passed away yesterday.
Everyone here knows my interest in guitar pedals, but a few of you know that I have large passion for Travis Bean guitars.
For those of you not familiar with Travis Bean, he was a luthier that partnered up with Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer in 1974 to form Travis Bean Guitar. Travis, also known as Cliff to his old friend, came up with an idea to “solve” the truss rod adjustment and neck warp issues found in conventional guitar necks. Since he was a biker and was involved with the 60s/70s car culture of Burbank he thought a metal neck would easily solve this problem. For his first prototype he carved a neck by hand and welded a headstock on it. This neck was a bolt on neck like a strat neck. His good friend, legendary luthier Marc McElwee, helped him set it up, and they were both impressed with the tone. They figured they had something so they decided to go into business and start a guitar company.
Before going full bore, they needed to refine the original design. The next version is really close to the final production model. They changed the neck from bolt on to be a single piece of aluminum from headstock to bridge. No joint at all. The pickups rested directly on the neck and they carved the headstock. The whole neck assembly would slide into a Koa body. The fit was tight and perfect.
Production of these guitars had to move from hand carving and filing to something more robust. Travis and Marc enlisted the help of a few master machinists and invested in milling equipment. Eventually the necks were turned on a lathe and machining and fabricating necks were held to tight tolerances. Pretty soon, their shop grew to include a machine shop, wood shop, paint booth/office area and final assembly/electronics.
Gary Kramer left the company in 1976 and Travis Bean Guitars continued until 1979. There were approximately 3,650 guitars and basses that left the shop.
Back in the 70s the notable musicians that played the guitar were Jerry Garcia, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Roger Fisher. Today, players would include Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Tim Midgett, Duane Denison, Stanley Jordan, Slash, Yannis Philippakis and more.
Today, these guitars are hard to come by, but what I enjoy, is that they’re being played. Even though, they are “vintage” instruments, you still see them on stage. Travis wanted them played, and I know he was very happy knowing that they were still making noise out there.
Rest In Peace
Cliff Travis Bean
Aug. 21, 1947 – Jul. 10, 2011