Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sonic Duo

Introducing my personal link to the past, my 1963 Fender Duo Sonic

To tell the truth, I don’t even remember buying it, but it was in 1971 when, as a poor film student in LA, I was motivated to spend $65 of my hard-won cash on an old, really beat up Fender Duo Sonic electric guitar. It worked OK with it’s two single wound pickups, plastic pic guard and chromed tone/volume knobs. But the paint was chipping off badly in many places. It actually looked like it had been dragged behind a car for a good while with enough road damage to reveal that three different colors had adorned the solid, Strat-shaped alder body during its life.

Of course, today, road worn vintage guitars of many makers get added value for looking “road worn”, and intentionally ding up beautiful, newly-manufactured classic models to increase their values.  I don’t get it. Yes, I admit it increases their value with certain prople who give a shout about that kind of thing.

Well, I’m sorry, but to me, road-worn equals damaged crap and always has, so that’s when I decided to strip the paint off the body and to attempt a “refinish”, I think it’s called.

The original layers of paint were VERY difficult to remove and took hours of applying the remover goo, scraping the nasty stuff off, and continually washing the remover off my hands since it was so corrosive. I remember that I considered quitting trying to remove the paint several times but, being a film student with some free time, I trudged ahead.  My only regret is that I took no pics of the process with my Pentax Spotmatic 35mm.  I do have this one pic taken in my Hollywood apartment of me playing it but it was taken before my “re-finishing” job. The guitar was blue, the last coat anyway. Red and white where below that, but then finally, just wood.

So, in the tradition of the greatest luthiers, I roughly sanded off the wood surface, stained it walnut with cheap house stain, and liked it much better even though, today, with the market for old really “road worn” guitars, the 1963 Pre-CBS Duo Sonic that I have would probably be worth maybe $1,200 or so since, besides the paint removal and subsequent staining default, it is still a working model with stock parts.  So, in my Woody Allen-ish-ness, I’m pretty sure that by removing the old paint and staining the wood, I actually decreased its value quite a bit..

But, I wouldn’t sell it anyway. And, here’s why. 

I really like that little guitar. Originally designed as a student guitar, the Duo Sonic is light, and it has a scaled down maple neck, so with my stubby little digits, it allows me to reach a bit farther on the chords. The other good news is that the Duo Sonic guitars, in 1963, were manufactured in the same plants, by the same people, with the same materials and to the same standards as all the solid body Strats, Teles, and other solid-body guitars in the Fender line at that time. That's not a bad thing.

It’s really a sturdily built guitar, which is really a good thing considering the lack of attention it has gotten in the 40 plus years I've had it, most of the time not even having the comfort of even a gig bag for protection. Poor thing.

It always works and I don’t know why. The only things I have done for the guitar has been an occasional dusting and finally a new set of strings in over 40 years. But, hey, I didn’t want to over-do the care either.

But, recently I have been thinking that I owe that Duo a bit of gratitude for sticking with me all these years of Neil Young jams (with Neil's recordings, of course) and infrequent practicing.

So, I’ve given her a nice cleaning with shea butter (smells nice, too). I took her to see Asheville’s own Guitar Mama for a good going-over, and the new set of stings I mentioned earlier. (I don’t want you to think that I may have changed the strings two times in 40 years. Oh no, only once.) The Guitar Mama, Autumn, said "It's a nice little guitar - you should keep it", which is a pretty generous appraisal since her store is an Authorized Stringed Instrument Warranty Service Center for Fender Musical Instruments and Autumn is a well-qualified luthier.

I am practicing with the Duo Sonic more often now and having some fun with it, but I do respect its age, even though I was in high school when it was born in California, so it couldn’t be that old. 

Could it?

BTW, did I mention that Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn owned and played Duo Sonics?

Part of my stringed collection


  1. Wow that is so classic...really a beautiful guitar.

    1. Thanks, Billy. I'm glad I've kept the Duo Sonic all these years.

  2. Great Blog, Billy! I remember the Duo-Sonic. I was lucky to have parents who would spring for $750 in 1963 for a new Fender Jag and Deluxe Reverb amp! I love the photo of you in the 60's Peace/Love cross legged position. It's great that you brought your Duo Sonic back to life!

    1. Thanks, Bobby. A Jag and a Deluxe Reverb amp - nice combination! I think I remember that you don't have those anymore. What happened to them? And yeah, I think the pic is pretty funny but I wish I could grow my hair that long. I could still grow the mutton chops but they would be quite white now. And I am oh so slim in that pic! Ha!