SUPERSOUND (1958) - BURNS-WEILL (1959) - FENTON WEILL (1960-)
An archive of photographs of all known BURNS-WEILL guitars, annotated with my own observations and accompanied by information drawn from public forums and personal correspondence with Paul Day and Adrian Turner.
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!
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. Matching bass.
Burns-Weill RP/Streamline 'mk.1'
Offset body, plastic back, controls on raised scratchplate section. Matching bass.
Burns-Weill RP/Streamline 'mk.2'
All angular, bigger body. Matching bass.
Add to these various evolutions and odd variations as Jim tweaked in already typical fashion, while construction quality improved via increasing experience and the acquisition of better equipment, e.g. a router rather than just fret saw, auger and other equally basic tools!
Further general notes from Paul Day:
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
FIRST EFFORTS, FOOTE-ERA Jan-May 1959
Alan Klein of the 'Al Kline Five' (sic) with split two-piece pickguard 'Al Klein' model, Besson 'Electone' pickups, and simple trapeze tailpiece.
"Bought as a prototype (because you'd never seen anything like it and *just had to have it*) at the end of 1958"
Only Currently-known Example, Possibly the same instrument with 'Al Klein' removed, and changed tailpiece, or is the second of two Prototypes:
Differs from advertised model and design notes in having no vibrato unit, and a two-part Pickguard, Secondary plate lost
Dating from approx. early Dec '58, this is the oldest known surviving Burns guitar (apart from the Supersounds)! Built with Besson pick-ups and Besson-supplied bridge and tailpiece, this hollow body featured a plastic back (like the Burns Weill Super Streamline RP1Gs).
Same guitar, after restoration:
(note wild full-depth white binding on headstock sides!)
I wonder what the sticker on the back of the headstock used to say?
This is one of the earliest instruments built by Jim Burns and therefore among the first UK-origin solid six-strings. The neck/body chassis is virtually identical to that of the shortlived Supersound 'Ike Isaacs Short-Scale' model. This was introduced in December 1958, but by then the company had severed its association with both builder Jim Burns and endorsee Ike Isaacs. Apparently production also ceased accordingly, because apart from the prototype advertised at the time, no Supersounds of this sort have so far been documented.
However, Jim Burns stated he did actually make around 20 in total and therefore the logical assumption is that, as the design was essentially his (being closely based on a solid he built earlier in 1958 for guitarist Pete Dyke), Jim instead produced the remaining examples independently. This conclusion is corroborated by music press data and owner information, while photographic evidence from early 1959 includes four featuring the Burns-Weill badge on the headstock. These appropriately employ scratchplate-mounted electrics supplied by Henry Weill, as the split with Supersound forced Burns to make some necessary changes.
This particular guitar pre-dates all these instruments, as various aspects indicate it was made in late 1958, very soon after Jim Burns' tenure with Supersound had been terminated. It lacks a large scratchplate and is equipped with a pair of direct-mounted, Besson-branded pickups; differences that denote it was built before Jim had sought Henry Weill's services.
This is very obviously a direct descendant of the Ike Isaacs model, although the latter's two selector switches are absent. These components were supplied by Supersound and therefore no longer available to Jim, so he simply covered the relevant holes in the body top. The upper one is hidden beneath a small black plastic plate that would otherwise have held a switch, while the second is obscured by the suitably elongated control panel.
Replacing Supersound's single-coils, the two Besson Electone pickups were originally intended for archtop acoustic guitars, likewise the single-saddle wooden bridge and metal tailpiece. All have been modified by Jim to suit solid-body use, but this early un-branded Burns still has many features in common with its Supersound predecessor, including the 23-inch scale neck and a carved top body, the latter complete with a cream plastic panel forming the flat back.
Like earlier instruments made for Supersound, this guitar was built in the basement of Jim Burns' lodgings in Buckhurst Hill. Here he was helped by Peter Farrell, the son of his landlady, Louise, and all three would become fellow directors of the Ormston-Burns company, when this was established at the end of 1959. The initials B. F. are pencilled on an interior wall of the body centre section and these could stand for Burns and Farrell, offering a hidden hint to the instrument's origins.
The lack of an actual brandname doesn't detract from the significance of this six-string, as it's undoubtedly an extremely early Burns and one of very few known to still survive. It provides further proof of Jim Burns' position as THE true pioneer of the UK-made solid body, because back in 1958 the market for this type of electric didn't even exist and therefore no other British builder had considered catering for it.
The guitar has been the subject of comprehensive but considerate refurbishment, but all-important character and originality has been retained, ensuring that the very impressive end result is in keeping with this instrument's obviously high historic value.
from Historic and Notable Guitars by Paul Day, May 2012
Kenny Fillingham of Rory Blackwell & The Blackjacks with 1-piece pickguarded Single-pickup version? One Knob?
Colin Green's (far right) featured a full-size pickguard covering most of the body front, and a pale headstock.
This guitar was advertised for sale by Foote of London W.1 on 10th January 1959 at 49 Gns. (£51.45)
A Supersound-derived model
with large pickguard, dot markers, hard tailpiece, and (looks like a) Burns-Weill badge on headstock
Another very early 'transitional' model
Sculpted Body with headstock shape flaring to the right. Burns-Weill headstock badge, despite pickups being non-Weill Besson units. 21-fret Rosewood fingerboard with no triple dot on octave. Vibrato Unit and Metal-buttoned Van Gents might be later upgrades?
Notes from Paul Day:
It certainly is an early example and could be viewed as the 'missing link' between the similarly-shaped, Ike Isaacs-derived Burns-Weill and the Burns-Weill range proper, introduced around May 1959. Henry Weill's involvement is confirmed by the scratchplate, but the pickups (presumably original) are actually Besson-branded units intended for acoustic guitar use, rather than Weill-made single-coils. Coincidentally, Besson were the first to advertise the Burns-Weill line at that time, including an earlier mention of a 'short-scale solid' at £35 - possibly this model? That's £16 cheaper than the presumably preceding Ike Isaacs style Burns-Weill, which in turn was £15 less than the ill-fated Supersound original.
Marty Wilde's RP2G, pictured March 1962
An early prototype, presumably presented for use on Oh Boy! TV show, which ended May 1959.
Two-Piece pickguard with 4th control knob: protruding level suggests a rotary switch?
One dot on 12th fret, ebonised headstock, rosewood fingerboard.
Two-piece guard with no secondary pickguard, predecessor of the Flyte/Mirage design 14 years later!?
Where was the wiring passing through? Rectangular jack plate seems unique, to hide wider aperture for drill access to pickup routs?
Notes from Paul Day:
My guess is that Marty Wilde’s Oh Boy special was one of Jim’s first angular design electrics, as the body styling and scratchplate are significantly different to those that soon followed. Jet Harris is pictured with a very similar four-string equivalent and both examples employ rosewood fingerboards, as do other very early Burns-Weills, with only a single or double dots at the 12th fret, preceding the more common sycamore alternative that sported Jim’s soon-to-be trademark triple dots.
Marty pictured with it in a in a contemporary magazine, circa 1959-62
Jet Harris with Burns-Weill bass, same spec as Marty Wilde's guitar:
Rosewood Fingerboard, ebonised headstock, no 12th fret triple dot.
Both Marty Wilde and Cliff and his band (including Jet) were the weekly resident guests on the Oh Boy! TV show, so it's worth considering that these may be prototype companion pieces, presented to the show's 'top stars' backstage at Hackney Empire Spring 1959 for promotional/artist feedback reasons, given that Burns-Weill was active from January 1959, and first advertised May 1959, the same month the 'Oh Boy!' TV show climaxed.
The Mungo Jerry bass:
Rosewood Fingerboard, Black headstock, Now with one-piece scratchplate and uniquely-shaped 2nd pickguard. No perspex back.
Text aligned left on nameplate. Only 20 frets. No triple-dot at 12th fret
MAIN RANGE, BESSON ERA May-Dec 1959
The 'Fenton' closely aped the outline and diminutive dimensions of the best-selling, Japanese-made, Guyatone/Antoria six-strings, first seen here in late ’58.
Available in Black or Cherry Red
6-String in Red
Fenton Bass - Rosewood Board, closed-top pickups
Fenton Bass - Maple Board, open-pole pickups
Fenton Bass - Similar or same example as above
RP1G, Super Streamline Mk 1
Presumably this shape is the RP1G (cased example auctioned 2010), note solid-topped pickups
Rory Gallagher's RP1G missing knobs and secondary pickguard. Non-original bridge
Ade Turner: "Mine's exactly the same as Rory Gallagher's - Only the pickups are slightly different (like the Atlas units with the solid black stripe down the middle). It actually had an early type punched label on the back (common on many early Weill's) marked RP1G. I also have a similar era Bass marked with RP1B with the same type label and have seen loads more with them on - or a witness mark where the label had been.
Don't get fooled into thinking there were quantities of these made. Jim Burns didn't have the best memory - and it was in his nature to "Big things up a bit". Also, in those days adverts were often placed in mags etc... to pre-empt sales rather than sell existing stock. ie: to gauge the interest and see if an item caught on or not. Electric solids were very scarce - so a customer could fairly easily be fobbed off for a bit while things were finished off. This is why the models varied quite a bit - as parts moved around to meet supply/demand.
To my knowledge only 3 of these guitars have ever surfaced - the one I have, Rory Gallagher's and there was also one which surfaced in the Newcastle area many years ago - but this one seems to have dropped off the radar. So, it might have been lost - or it may be the one that I have?
It is a myth that it was routed out from the back - It was most definitely routed from the top. The red flick switch was quite a deep affair though, and the small amount of deep routing under the switch, only left a couple of millimetres of wood behind it - so maybe, they thought the plastic would add a bit more substance to the back - just in case. It does make it quite heavy though. Burns also tended to "glue and screw" his neck joints - so the plastic may also be covering 4 screw heads by the neck joint - who knows? On later guitars, the screw heads were hidden under the fingerboard.
The RP1G or Superstreamline - whatever it is/was called - is actually quite a comfortable/useable guitar and balances nicely with easy reach etc... It was only the woodworking/build quality that lets it down really, and the fretwork/material was a joke - definitely hand made and largely un-playable - but this is understandable at this early stage. It is something that I hope to re-issue at some time with an authentic build - but with a better fingerboard and adjustable bridge etc.... I'll get around to it one of these days. - Ade Turner
Unusual early RP2B, Deluxe Streamline Mk 2 bass
Unusual neck pickup and extreme treble pickup placements, plus 2nd pickguard shape/position/fixing method. Only 18 frets, Perspex rear plate, andreversed shape to tailpiece.
RP2B Deluxe Streamline Bass
Relatively conformist 'production' model bass
and on ebay again 2015:
Surprisingly consistant example in unrecorded Red-Burst, note string packet n case, and smaller secondary pickguard:
Mark Griffiths' Burns Weill RP2B:
Note - refinished, rea comfot contouring, solid top pickups and only 8-screw pickguard
The Midnighters with RP2B c.1959-60
Burns-Weill Badged RP2B, subtly refined headstock & body shapes, 22 frets
Unbadged, but VERY similar to the previous example, albeit with different knobs, tuners, lost 2nd guard.
Suspicion - Since this is a restoration, maybe it's a new pickguard copied from the cracked example above?
Pickguard screwholes differ on my old hacked-about one
Body shape especially on bass-side has been drastically reshaped, non-original!
Van Gent Bass tuners, Unusual offset V-shaped neck-profle.
Post-factory body-contouring and highly impractical rear-mounted jack-socket(!)
Prog band Egg's bassist, c.1967 judging from the velvet pants! Relocated jack socket.
The Dominators with an RP2G c.1959-62
Note 'Atlas' style (Adeson terminology) pickups, and added vibrato unit.
Jim Clegg of The Dominators, c.1959-62
Only extant RP2G example has 'Burns' clipped from nameplate, indicating either i) unwillingness to credit Burns for woodwork/confuse the 'market'? ii) the woodwork was outsourced from another builder. Paul Day assures me Weill stated in interview that post-JB all bodies were all made in-house by HW in UK 'factory', and necks made by a local gunsmith
So what is this above then? Did Roger buy-up pre-milled stocks of the unsold/uncompleted ("Jim quit suddenly" - HW) Burns-Weill RP2G bodies c.1962? The headstock shape and 2-dot octave inlays suggest Wenzel Rossmeisl made his own necks, but why stick with the 23 3/8" scale with red dot inlays when there's a lot of room to position the bridge on the unrouted body blanks, and no other obviously red elements on the Roger model's body?
Paul Day states that he interviewed Weill and double-checked with widow Betty, and both denied any business dealings with Roger.
The bodies must therefore have come from JB somehow? The sharp body edge on base behind the tremolo plate would appear to be an indication that the body was milled in anticipation of a wraparound bridge... which is not a feature of the Roger 1963. The later curvy/contoured Fenton-Weills do not seem to have this sharp corner by the time they sported vibratos and 6-a-side headstocks. I'd like to see an early 3-a-side FW's body to confirm this...?
Melody Maker 20th Feb 1960
Melody Maker 19th March 1960
"The various Burns-Weill models continued to be advertised by dealers throughout 1959, until the first Ormston Burns ad appeared in the Dec 19 MM, with the ‘new’ Burns solid then being listed during early 1960. As you say, that anachronistic Burns-Weill ad in the Feb 20 1960 issue seems odd, but I really don’t think Henry was thinking about such niceties as ‘smoothing the transition’. After the very acrimonious parting with Jim, he simply wouldn’t countenance including his competitor’s name, so instead I would say this ad might’ve been scheduled before the split and Henry simply forgot about it in the aftermath of Jim’s sudden departure, or else the mistake concerning the now obsolete brandname wasn’t noticed until it was too late. My reasoning is based on the fact that this very same ad appeared a month afterwards, identical except for the appropriate name change to Fenton-Weill, which also provided speedy public confirmation of Henry’s decision to soldier on alone." - Paul Day
MY RP2G RECREATIONS FROM ROGER FACTORY CLOSURE STOCK: