THE GUITARS OF JAMES ORMSTON BURNS
REFERENCE & RESOURCE PAGES:
SUPERSOUND (1958) - BURNS-WEILL (1959) - FENTON WEILL (1960-65)
ORMSTON BURNS (1960-1965) - AMPEG (1963-64) - BALDWIN (1965-69)
SHERGOLD WOODCRAFTS (1967-69) - ORMSTON (1968) - HAYMAN (1970-75)
BURNS UK (1973-77) - BURNS ACTUALIZERS (1979-82) - SHERGOLD (1975-92)
An archive of all known photographs of FENTON-WEILL guitars, accompanied by my own research, information from Paul Day, and collectors Will Twynham and Patrick Bryan, and including relevant passages from Paul Day's excellent 'Absolute Beginners' article in Guitar & Bass Magazine 2015.
Henry Weill was already known for making guitar pickups and Fenton-Weill branded instrument amplifiers (prone to noise problems, and nicknamed "Henry's Hummers"!) before his involvement with Jim Burns in BURNS WEILL. Following Jim's unexpected (and unwelcome) departure from the partnership, Henry decided to continue making instruments under his previous brandname, believing the Fenton-Weill name hinted at Fender associations, which he surmised made good commercial sense for use marketing electric guitars.
The range initially continued unaltered from the Burns-Weill range, since one of the settlement arrangements made after the dissolution of the Burns-Weill partnership included Henry being granted exclusive ownership of the designs for the models. A few transitional examples emerged bearing the brandname Weill London, as the ever-frugal Henry simply chopped ‘Burns’ off the existing head plates. Once stocks were exhausted he used a new Fenton-Weill version through 1960, before switching to a small metal badge in 1961. Styling of the Burns-derived models quickly became more streamlined; Henry didn't think much of Jim's original designs and he set about re-vamping the range, adding cutaways and curves throughout. After the pair split, Henry built bodies in-house, but necks proved more problematic, so these were instead supplied by a gunstock maker and the parts were then put together in the FW factory.
Melody Maker 20th Feb 1960
Melody Maker 19th March 1960
1960 RP2G "Streamline Deluxe"
Also known colloquially as the "Martian Cricket Bat", the "Solid Body Electronic Guitar" was the first model advertised by Fenton-Weill in 1960. Essentially a continuation of the shortlived Burns-Weill Streamline Deluxe RP2G and RP2B, in also conceivable that the advert was an attempt to sell-through existing unsold Burns-Weill stock with suitably-clipped name-plates. NB: The RP2G was mentioned as available (but not pictured) in Besson adverts from 1960/1961
This Contrabass may be an earlier Burns Weill example. The body has been cut down.
It features large closed-back pear-shaped Van Gent bass tuners with white buttons, which appear to be original.
The Contrabass was soon refined with changes to the shape of the body and pickguard in the bass-horn area, as in the following photo of Jeff White in 1961/62. Also, the jack socket position was moved from the side of the body to the pickguard.
1960 RP1G "Streamline Super"
This model was a re-styled version of the earlier Burns-Weill Super Streamline RP1G.
Subsequently revised again and Incorporated into the American Range in late 1961 as the 'Twinmaster'
This example was restored and refinished. Fixed Tailpiece and soft-heeled neck-joint, so probably dates from 1960/early 1961
Note: Original shaped case and Letraset control legends!
This immaculate example features no serial number, but does have an early Symmetrical Vibrato coverplate, also seen on early Amazons from circa May 1961, suggesting it's also from early 1961:
Note: soft-heeled neck joint, and no pickup selector switch, early 'T' cross-section strap buttons. Jack socket still on side of body.
circa 1961 RP1G (early tremolo style)
1960 Deluxe (Guitar and Bass) Original retail price £39-14-6d
The Deluxe model was initially a continuation of the original 1959 Burns-Weill Fenton model, but with closed-back plastic-buttoned Van Gent tuners. Soon the body gained an upper cutaway, and shortly thereafter the pickguard was elongated at the bass horn to suit the new body shape. With the next revision the bass horn became sculpted back into a point, and finally the Jack Socket migrated from the side to the pickguard (red example below was later non-factory relocation to pickguard). Ultimately supplaced by the Hohner models in 1961.
Henry Weill says in a 1977 interview with Paul Day that these early guitars were made in small batches:
"Originally we made 3 guitars, 2 guitars, perhaps half-a-dozen guitars. But the thing that was important to us (as a company), and which enabled us to develop; not to see mass-production, but larger runs, was... (to get) orders from people lke Hohner. Well, this was something we used to do; We used to make up a sample of something, take it to somebody like Hohner and say: 'How would you like us to make you a hundred of those, and you can have the design exclusive?', you know?
Internally, the body and pickguard of this Deluxe are marked '4'.
Contoured Mahogany Body and 'Blown-in' Black finish on 24 1/2" scale length Set-Neck.
Original Height-adjustable Ebony Bridge and folded metal tailpiece
Uniquely-shaped 'bat-wing' Secondary Pickguard, unlike those on other known Deluxes.
Teardrop-shaped Van Gent tuners with plastic 'rugby ball' buttons
Some other examples:
Red top string nut
Besson Advert c.1960
c.late 1960 early Triplemaster
This example: Serial No. 23
The Fenton-Weill catalogue continued to evolve via a vibrato tailpiece option, plus the three-pickup Triplemaster.
Heelless sculpted neck joints are first introduced late in 1961
Later solids included the export market Tux-Master and the American Label line, which first appeared in November 1961, featuring some fresh model names and revised design ideas.
The company was also kept busy making components and complete instruments that were respectively employed and marketed by numerous other companies.These included the Broadway 1857 and 1925 basses built for distributor Rose Morris' in-house "Broadway" banner. Another customer was Dallas, whose Tuxedo Six was simply a re-titled American Label Twinmaster; and one version of the company’s Solid Special also came from the Fenton-Weill factory. Some such guitars were also re-badged as Fenton-Weills, but never officially appeared in company catalogues.
Transitional 2-colour headstock badge on 3-a-side
c.1961 DALLAS Tuxedo 6
Two-pickup model with pointy treble horn and sculpted heelless neck/body joint
This example refinished in metallic blue
another in red, but branded Fenton Weill. In France, perhaps an export-model?
Comment from Paul Day: Photos of Henry’s Frankfurt stand in the early 60s show FW instruments of various vintages alongside each other, plus plenty of separate scratchplate assemblies etc., all available to any interested importer or distributor. The guitars pictured include early Triplemasters etc. rubbing shoulders with small-bodied solids like those made for Dallas and Hohner. Different headstock shapes are equally abundant, but all carry the Fenton-Weill badge in either plastic or metal form.
1961 Hohner Models:
Woodwork believed to be Stuart Darkins' work, with Weill pickups fitted. Most of the hardware is typical of early sixties Darkins/Vox manufacture. It also has a bolt on neck, unlike most F/W guitars of this era. Furthermore, known later Weill bolt-ons seem to be naked bolts into the wood covered by a plastic plate, whereas the Holborn features a regular fenderesque metal plate.
Melody Maker 13th May 1961
The Amazon, Zambesi and Apache Set-Neck six-strings were introduced in May 1961. These were styled like Hofner’s earlier Holborn, although the Ambasso bass strongly resembled Fenton-Weill’s Deluxe four-string.
The low-priced Apache had a solid slab-sided mahogany body finished in an unusual beige nitro finish. Two Weill bar magnet pickups were fitted onto a dark purple scratchplate. No mini scratchplate. Open backed Van Gent tuners.
Second in line was the Zambezi, which featured a solid slab-sided mahogany body with a "maple" veneer under a clear nitro finish, very much like the Holborn. Two bar magnet Weill pickups fitted onto a black scratchplate. The mini scratchplate was white with "Zambezi" engraved into it. Fixed tailpiece and open backed van gent tuners.
Top of the range was the luxurious "Amazon", featuring a sculpted and sanded solid Sycamore or Mahogany body with a blended in heel-less neck. Finished in a clear nitro finish. Two powerful separate magnet Weill pickups fitted onto a red or sometimes black scratchplate. Mini scratchplate was either black or white (depending on main plate colour) with the "Amazon" legend engraved.
Featuring teardrop shaped van gent tuners.
In Sweden these styles were sold under the Fenton Weill brand as the "Twin Master" or in a short scale as the "Zam Master"
Melody Maker 4th Nov 1961
Melody Maker 3rd Mar 1962
Hohner Amazon 444
An early Amazon wihout shaded neck, and featuring symmetrical Vibrato cover-plate
Original Price £45
1961 TuxMaster (export-only model) aka "DualTone"
also sold in UK under the Dallas brand as the 'Tuxedo 61'
Paul Day comments:
Fenton-Weill enjoyed healthy export sales, even in America. Sweden proved to be a particularly good market and over there some models were sold under different names, such as Tux-Master and Zam-Master, while the Twin-Master was nothing like the UK equivalent. The name Dualtone doesn't appear in any UK ads or my company literature. Fenton-Weill initially favoured '-master' model suffixes and the '-tone' types (e.g. Twistratone, Spectratone) didn't appear until around 1963. I note two or three US sources advertising this model as the Dualtone, while one more-accurately calls it the Tux-Master. Unless corroborative evidence comes to light, I conclude the Dualtone designation was either one used for US export examples of this model, or else it's an internet-origin title, concocted because nobody knew the correct name.
This model was marketed in the UK as a Dallas Tuxedo 61, which ties in with the Swedish catalogue Tux-Master in terms of re-titling logic. There are adverts for the Tuxedo 61 in relevant Melody Maker back issues, showing it as selling new for around £35. Dallas literature from that time is thin on the ground, and although I have a flier promoting the FW-made Solid Six and Tuxedo Six, there's frustratingly nothing on the 61. As I mentioned previously, the Fenton-Weill badged version is not in any of the company's catalogues, although I agree it seems a comparatively common lower-cost model. That said, I think most of those I've seen on the internet have been located outside the UK, so maybe they're all export market Tux-Masters?
The true identity of the equivalent Fenton-Weill remains a mystery, but obviously it could not have bene known by the 'Tuxedo 61' model name, as this was Dallas property.
Note: Heel-less neck joint
Some examples feature a pointier pickguard shape?
This may be refinished, and/or may be a prototype. Serial number 1xxx, suggesting 1961
And there are also two single-pickup variants known, one with Sycamore fingerboard (no serial number)...
..., and a second with a Rosewood board
Melody Maker 18th Nov 1961
Melody Maker 18th Nov 1961
PAUL DAY comments: The Fenton-Weill 'Stereo Reverberator' was introduced during 1959, as confirmed by this example's early livery. The company proudly boasted about being the first in the UK to recognise the possibility of using the Hammond spring reverb device with guitar amplification. It was also claimed to be the first ECHO unit not to employ motors or tapes, but of course this sort of hype conveniently confused the two effects. The addition of an internal amp and speaker gave it 'Stereo' status, at least according to more Fenton-Weill marketing spiel, but in reality the little elliptical driver distorted like crazy and the amp's meagre wattage made it a poor match with any halfway decent combo of the time. The guy on that website seems to think it sounds wonderful, but I really must disagree. I used one of these horrors when it was brand-new and it proved to be absolute rubbish! Of course, these days any device that distorts is held in high regard, but back then this was the very thing we were all trying to eradicate!
I believe the guitars and amps were all shown in a single catalogue, the 1962 edition with the Hoffnung cartoon on the cover, if memory serves me right. By then the impressively titled Stereo Reverberator had indeed received a new combination of two-tone vinyl covering, with dark end panels contrasted by a sandy-coloured centre section. By now the latter also carried a Stereo logo to partner the Fenton-Weill badge and this was the incarnation I had the misfortune of plugging into. I expected to hear what Fenton-Weill's effusive advertising promised, but unfortunately the sonic reality was very different and I was doomed to disappointment by an ensuing distorted din, albeit delivered at a far from useful low level, while the actual reverb effect was also pretty rubbish. I was assured everything was working as it should, likewise my ears, so I promptly abandoned the idea of parting with 35gns for something that sounded so bad!
Melody Maker 11th Nov 1961
1961 AMERICAN LABEL RANGE
Twinmaster / Triplemaster / Stereomaster / Contrabass
The medium scale 2-pickup, short-scale 3-pickup mono, or stereo guitar, and the bass versions of the revised 6-in-line headstock Super Streamline model.
Also offered with Twister body shape from June 1962-1963/4
Contrabass with Super Streamline body shape and Penetrone pickups continues to be offered through 1963/4, alongside the Twistratone Bass.
Late 1961 Contrabass. Heeled set-neck joint
The Cossacks with a Contrabass, circa 1961
late 1961 Triplemaster (non-vibrato)
This example: Serial No. 1434
Adjustable truss rods introduced (on high-end models?). Secondary Pickguards appear to have became pointier and more flamboyant as the year progressed.
Note regarding the 1962 Catalogue:
There were actually two versions, varying by just one guitar, i.e. the unusual semi-acoustic six-string, which is pictured in very different guises.
1962 BELL Carousel
Woodwork of Eastern European derivation?
Electronics by Henry Weill
Marketed by Bell from 1961-2 only
Another example with Burns vibrato unit
An example with a Broadway vibrato unit fitted:
1962 Triplemaster (with vibrato)
Serial number 22xx
Late 1962 Contrabass, heel-less neck joint, and pickguard shape has evolved to echo the Twister range
And a Blonde example, quite similar to the above:
1962/3 Dallas Solid 6 / Special model no 4440
"Though I personally built many of this model for Fenton Weill in Acton around 62/63 I can't recall a name for it. I believe most went for export which may explain the scarcity of it in the UK. It was for a time the bread and butter model and a good many were made."
The Twister Range, July 1962
'The Twister' model featured EKO pickups and pickguard assemblies, while the Twistmaster, Triple-Twistmaster, and Stereo-Twistmaster were the Weill-made pickup-equipped Twister-styled equivalents which were offered to complement the original 'Super Streamline' American Label range of solids.
Twister Range appears to have morphed into the Bigsby-equipped Spectratone Guitar/Twistratone Bass in 1964
1962 FENTON-WEILL Twister
Serial No. 2666
1962 FENTON-WEILL Twistmaster
Serial No. 2167
Original Price 70 Guineas
1962 FENTON-WEILL Twistmaster
Serial No. 22xx
And a Natural Finish example, gold fittings and dark brown pickguard
And a Blonde example with gold fittings, Weill-stamped tuners and black pickguard
1963(?) FENTON-WEILL Triple-Twistmaster
Currently on UK ebay, Aug 2017
Note: Triple pickup switch-bank, plus three individual volume controls edge-mounted under raised pickguard plate.
Also, unusual natural head with black blown-in neck!
1962/3 Twistratone Bass
1963 Dualmaster (also bass)
Originally a glued in neck type, the second series has a bolt on neck with a small neckplate of scratchplate material. Final version has smaller and more rectangular pickups - same as the ones used on the 'Spectratone' models
This guitar was available in white, see-through green and see-through cherry red, all with a black neck. On the early, set neck versions, the finish is a melamine coat, whereas the bolt on variants tend to have a regular nitro-cellulose coat.
The usual Weill dot arrangement at the twelfth fret (one large central dot flanked by two smaller dots) seems to have been abandoned on later models for a regular two dot layout.
Dualmasters are comparatively common in the UK, as they were also sold here via mail order and accordingly became the final Fenton-Weills to remain in production, before Henry switched all his attention to the growing disco business.
1963 Dualmaster in Green
Introduction of bolt-on necks, rectangular and/or 'Penetrone' pickups, and fibreglass experiments
1964? Dualmaster Bass
1964? Late Dualmaster
bolt-on neck, rectangular pickups
1964/5? Spectratone / Fibratone
Henry Weill spent a considerable amount of time researching and developing fibreglass as a body medium.
CRESCENDO MAGAZINE ADVERTS 1962-65
Lifted from scans available at the National Jazz Archive
R.S. Kitchen Ltd. advert which ran March 1962 through Sept 1962
Elliptically lists "- Burns - Weill -" amongst their stocked brands
July 1962 announcement of the forthcoming 1962 British Musical Instrument Trade Exhibition
August 1962 Photo feature on the British Musical Instrument Trade Exhibition at the Hotel Russell
Snappily-dressed Henry and Betty pictured, captioned "Fashion Notes..."
January 1963 Besson advert offering Twinmaster, Triplemaster and 4-pickup-Twister Guitar(!)
Fenton Weill 'Golden Arrow' advert which ran May 1963 through September 1963
October 1963 Photo feature on the 1963 British Musical Instrument Trade Exhibition, Henry Weill pictured
Fenton Weill Porta-Bass 15 advert which ran from December 1963 through August 1964
Besson no longer listed
Fenton Weill Porta-Bass 15 advert which ran from September 1964 through January 1965
Fenton-Weill address changed
Final Fenton Weill Porta-Bass 15 advert which ran in February 1965
Both Rose, Morris & Rosetti's addresses revised
June 1964 Crescendo magazine
c.1988 Making Music
Deluxe 24 1/2"
Streamline 25" (says Will)
Apache 25 1/2"
Dallas Solid 24 3/8"
Stereomaster 24" (Will recollects)
Triplemaster "Short Scale" (advert description)
Twinmaster "Medium Scale" (advert description)
Twistmaster 25 1/2"
Serial numbers are stamped into the tip of the headstock.
The earliest examples have no stamped serial number
A number (or letter) written under the pickguard and on the body seems only to indicate components paired for assembly within a batch.
It is widely believed that the first digit of 4-digit serials indicates the year of production,
1xxx = 1961
2xxx = 1962
3xxx = 1963
4xxx = 1964
nb: i have not yet found a 4xxx?
|'4'||Deluxe, written under pickguard and on body|
|23||Triplemaster, stamped on 3-a-side headstock|
|1053||Dallas Tuxedo "of the type white or less common sunburst, 1 or maybe 2 pickup"|
|1XXX||Dallas Tuxedo 61 aka Tuxmaster (pointy variant)|
|1283||Hohner Apache, "27" written under pickguard|
|1434||Triplemaster, 6-in-line, non trem. Heelless Neck/body joint|
|2189||Dallas 'Super Solid'|
|2381||Dallas 'Super Solid'|
|3001||Dualmaster, "early, off-White, set-neck"|
|3748||Dallas 'Super Solid'|
Bell Carousel numbers seem to follow their own sequence:
28 - "It also has 2 stamped on the headstock face by the nut."
33 - Sunburst, Duralumin pickguard, Burns vibrato