An Ass For Every Saddle

The Ventures were my first rock band crush. I wanted to be like them, look like them and sound like them. I had begged my parents for an electric guitar after a young counselor brought one to day camp and played it for us. My school buddy Larry turned me on to The Ventures, and that, as they say, was that.

The original Ventures lineup with Nokie Edwards on bass

Before that, I didn’t play guitar. I had briefly taken violin and piano lessons, but I couldn’t stick to it, because it was the electric guitar that had captured my imagination. Compared to the cutting twang of the guitar, those old orchestra instruments seemed quaint and boring. I dreamed about owning a Jazzmaster because That’s what The Ventures had on their album covers. I was absolutely convinced that the JM was the secret to their sound. I hounded my parents mercilessly until the caved in and took me to a little music shop in Chicago to look at guitars.

When we returned home I hadn’t gotten an electric. Instead, my folks rented an old Gibson LG-1 acoustic from the music store, and signed me up for some lessons. I think they imagined I would tire of this phase just like the previous instruments, and they would just return the guitar. Imagine their surprise when I kept at it.

Actually, the LG was good practice. It was a “student” model with a short scale and small neck, but it was crudely made and not set up very well. The impossibly hard to play action and huge strings built up my calluses and toned my tiny hand muscles. It was like training with weights on. I knew it was torture, because Larry had a ES-330 with nice low action, and I was certain that’s why he sounded better than me. He’d let me play it for a few seconds, then grab it back and I had to return to the LG.

Then, a shocking thing occurred. The Ventures changed guitars. Suddenly, without any warning they appeared on new albums with these crazy looking, brightly colored instruments. I was sure that they were made of fiberglass, just like the surfboards the Beach Boys sang about.

Brightly colored headstocks, and horizontal logos. Obviously this made a lasting impression.

I stared at this album cover and daydreamed about Mosrite guitars like the ones The Ventures used. Well, maybe that’s not all I daydreamed about.

After a while it became clear that I wasn’t giving up on guitar. I sometimes wonder what my mom and dad would have thought if they knew that the next step would alter my life forever.

My parents took me to Main Music in Skokie, Illinois to purchase an electric guitar. They were a Mosrite dealer so I headed right for that display. To my horror, I realized that they were just made of wood, not the brightly colored fiberglass I had imagined. Only moderately let down, I indicated to my father that the Mosrite was what I wanted. Alarmed by the price of the Ventures axe, my dad gestured to a nearby Teisco, bristling with gold foil pickups. “This one has four microphones on it,” he said.  “And, it’s more affordable.” Instinctively I knew it was junk. The salesman was pushing a gently used white Fender DuoSonic because it “had better resale value with the Fender name.” Still not convinced that the electric guitar was anything more than a fad, my Father split the difference price wise, and bet on the Fender brand name. He was clearly thinking resale.

The Gremlins electrified at last.

At long last I finally had an electric guitar, even if it wasn’t a Mosrite, it was mine. The 2nd hand Duo Sonic wasn’t my first choice, but it was what my parents could afford. It was pretty much a piece of crap compared to professional instruments like Larry’s Gibson with the big P90s, but it was small enough for a young boy’s hands, and it was white, so I could pretend it was fiberglass.

As disappointing as the DuoSonic was, it was the gateway drug to a lifelong addiction. When I look back at my path I can clearly see the influence of my earliest impressions. It’s no coincidence that my current guitars sport the German carve like my beloved Mosrite design, and the Dantzig (and Hamer) logos appear horizontally in the center of the headstock. Many of the names of guitars I have designed over the years like the DuoTone, and SuperPro are a tip of the hat to my first electric. So in retrospect, that little white Fender did me a solid service. I’ve only learned recently that my DuoSonic with brown pick guard was only made in that configuration for four months! Ironically, today for some reason these budget student guitars are now coveted by a new crop of young guitarists. Eventually they’ll move on too—I couldn’t wait to trade up. I guess there is an ass for every saddle. I still want that Mosrite.

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Jol Dantzig is a guitar builder, designer, writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ovation, Gretsch, and was a founding partner of Hamer guitars—one of the first boutique custom guitar brands. Dantzig’s work has been played by hundreds of artists including Sting, Steve Stevens, Larry Coreyell, Dug Pinnick, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo’, Nick Lowe, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, John Abercrombie, Glen Campbell, Rick Nielsen, Kenny Vaughan, Lita Ford, James Honeyman Scott, Elliott Easton, Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, Martin Barre, Lyle Workman, Brad Gillis, George Harrison, Jeff Ament, Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Tweedy, Nancy Wilson—and many others.