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)
OVERVIEW - FIRST EFFORTS - FENTON - RP1G/B - RP2G/B
Here’s a brief rundown of instruments that appeared during 1959 and into early 1960:
Revised Supersound Ike Isaacs model
Single-cutaway body, plastic back. Initially used Besson pick-ups, but later employed Henry Weill electrics and branded Burns-Weill.
Derived from above, with slab-sided Guyatone-like body & headstock. Guitar £36, matching bass £42
Burns-Weill 'RP1' "Roy Plummer Super Streamline"
Offset body, plastic back, controls on raised scratchplate section. Guitar £50, matching bass also available.
Burns-Weill 'RP2' "Roy Plummer Special Deluxe Streamline"
All angular, bigger body. Guitar £56, matching bass also available.
Overview by Paul Day:
The Burns-Weill brandname first appeared on solids built by Jim right after he was sacked by SUPERSOUND. The earliest examples of these lacked ANY logo, but once Henry Weill became involved these guitars carried an appropriate headstock badge. Jim’s initial efforts were first advertised in the Jan 10 1959 MM by London dealer Foote, only four weeks after the one and only Supersound guitar ad, and Foote continued as Jim’s outlet until Besson started advertising what would be the Burns-Weill range proper in the issue dated May 30 1959. I've still to unearth a Supersound Ike Isaacs. Jim told me he'd made around 20, but now I know that these actually appeared under the Burns-Weill banner. By the time this Supersound was advertised in December 1958, the company had severed association with both Jim and Ike, so it looks like this guitar was still-born. Jim immediately enlisted the aid of Henry Weill, who told me he supplied the necessary electrics for what was a very similar solid. Henry Weill was already known for making guitar pickups and Fenton-Weill branded instrument amplifiers before his involvement with Jim Burns, and this trade-name inspired the 'Fenton' name for the first collaborative Burns-Weill model. At first, Weill supplied pickguard assemblies for Burns to use on his guitars, but once the need for Henry's marketing skills became apparent, the arrangement altered to Jim supplying woodwork for Henry to fit up with electronics and sell. I've now tracked down pictures of four players who bought these first Burns-Weill guitars back in early 1959, including a young Colin Green in his pre-Nero days. All these oldies are unsurprisingly few and far between these days, which is why I'm trying to concoct some magazine coverage while at least a few of those from the period are still standing!
In response to comments made concerning the poor quality of early electrics built by Jim Burns, it should be remembered that this was literally a cottage industry in Britain of the latter 1950s; demand for solid electrics was still small, while facilities, materials and know-how were in equally short supply. My recent research has confirmed that, despite such deficiencies, Jim Burns was a true pioneer, producing the UK's first commercially built solid electrics, with both six- and four-strings appearing in mid-1958, courtesy of the Supersound company and well ahead of any home-grown competition.
I can also dispel the 'rumour' concerning Jim Burns being given the boot by Henry Weill. I interviewed the latter at length when preparing The Burns Book and he made no mention of such a scenario, instead saying Jim had quit suddenly to start his own company, leaving an unhappy and irate Henry very much in the lurch. The same also applies to the adverse observations made about Jim Burns on the Supersound website, as my recent dealings with actual personnel and paperwork shows these to be far from accurate - a fact now acknowledged by the person who voiced the original somewhat vitriolic opinions, although as yet they haven't been corrected on the wonderful web.
I certainly wasn't taking offence at the criticisms being levelled at Jim's early efforts, just putting these oldies into the context of their time. I'm well aware of the nature and failings of such beasts (and their maker!), having owned and worked on quite a few, although I must admit that fret positioning was not one of their most apparent faults - perhaps there are particularly 'rogue' examples? Regardless of such deficiencies, these instruments were better than anything else the UK could boast back then and Alan Wootton's Supersounds were ahead of all home-grown competition, as the latter didn't emerge until 1959. The first Burns-Weill branded electric emerged in the January of that year, this being very similar to the still-born Supersound Ike Isaacs model, and it was followed four months later by the Burns-Weill range proper. The earliest version of the Dallas Tuxedo was initially advertised in April 1959 and the first Vox solids appeared in the October, while the original (single-cutaway) Watkins Rapiers weren't promoted until 1960. These dates certainly contradict some of the information found on the internet, but they're gleaned from back issues of Melody Maker and cold print tends to be more accurate than mere memory or opinion! Along with other info, such facts confirm that Jim Burns was, for better or worse, the first in the UK solid electric field, so he deserves due recognition. However, I wholeheartedly agree that later Burns and Fenton-Weill instruments were certainly better made, likewise many other electrics, as makers and players alike became more aware of what was required. Even the Tuxedo improved, with the Stuart Darkins' built chassis now equipped with electrics supplied by Henry Weill.
Paul Day, 2011