Ike Isaacs –
Sponsor of Burns Electric Guitars
Ike Isaacs, Jim Burns, and Supersound Connections
Burns Short Scale Model (1958)
The “Ike Isaacs Short Scale guitar”, with electrics built by Alan Wootton. This is thought to be the 1st commercially-available British-built electric guitar. The scale-length was probably 23 inches. Alan Wootton also used the short 23 inch scale on a later Supersound model.
Ike Isaacs was a well established jazz and session player in the UK in the 1950s and ’60s. Between 1975 and 1977, he toured with the Stephane Grappelli Quartet, and in 1987 moved to Sydney, Australia, where he taught at the Australian Institute of Guitar. Although he lent his name to the Supersound instrument, Ike Isaacs never actually used the Burns guitars professionally in his work, he preferred the more traditional Archtop hollow-bodied instruments by Ibanez. The Burns/Supersound promotion was a commercial arrangement only and ike was announced as having tested the guitars after production
Burns “Ike Isaacs” Guitar – Right
Dating from between early Dec ’58 and Jan ’59, this is the oldest known surviving Burns guitar.
Built with Besson pick-ups and Besson-supplied bridge and tailpiece from the Besson Aristone stable, this solid body featured a plastic back. This historic instrument (of “less than 20“) is almost certainly the guitar advertised for sale by Chas E Foote of Golden Square, London W.1 on 10th January 1959 at 49 Gns. (£51.45)
Supersound guitars emanate from a brief business partnership between Jim Burns and Alan Wootton and are arguably the 1st home-grown UK solid bodies. The liaison lasted only a few months during 1958/59 before Burns Weill pertnership and, of course, before Burns became the UK’s most famous maker. Early Supersounds were custom -built, but the brand’s premier production six-string was the “Ike Isaacs Short Scale” model, endorsed by one of the country’s leading guitarists of the era.
According to Jim Burns, around only 20 examples were made, although such a small quantity isn’t really surprising, considering the limited manufacturing facilities and a £66 price tag, which was certainly pretty hefty for that period. An appropriate advert appeared in the December 13th 1958 Melody Maker.
This also announced that a Standard Scale and a Bass guitar would soon be available, but whether either actually appeared is debatable, as apparently next to no Supersound instruments have been sighted over the past 50 years. The Burns Book ( now itself, a Collectors item), concluded that their style and construction confirmed the direct involvement of Jim Burns, an important, but hitherto virtually unknown chapter in UK guitar-making history. Jim Burns was a very unusual character, His collaborators remember him as not particularly technically-minded. but as a man of great ideas.
The team behind him then, was very important. They included, among others, Les Andrews (in charge of the handwork), Norman Houlder (in charge of the machine shop), Jack Golder (factory manager), Edward Cross (supplier of plastic parts and hardware), Derek Adams (pioneer of the original renowned Burns polyester finish), and Ike lsaacs (the jazz player, who added a professional player’s opinion to guitar development).
Burns’ jazz guitars comprised 2 instruments with Fender-influenced styling but with their own character and a different sound, while the Short Scale Jazz Guitar (1962-65) Was a decent and affordable item with the famous Tri-Sonic pickups. It was followed by the more popular Jazz Split Sound (1962-65), with its famous ‘Wild Dog’ setting. This was one of the most popular Burns guitars of its time and tends to generate strong nostalgia among English guitarists who were there in the ‘60s.
Ike with a Burns Black Bison Guitar, 3 pickup, twin cutaway.
Different models of the Black Bison guitar were introduced in 1961 (the original 4-pickup version), 1962-(2),1963 & 1964. Similarly, the Black Bison Bass underwent a radical makeover in 1964
The introduction of the Black Bison in December 1961 reflects the confidence that Jim Burns must have felt in his new venture. With its all-black finish, forward sloping horns and gold-plated hardware, the new guitar made a bold visual statement. Innovative features included 4 Ultra-Sonic pickups (developed with the help of the Goldring hi-fi company), novel ‘Split Sound‘ circuitry, a newly designed ‘boomerang‘ tremolo unit and a ‘gear box‘ truss rod system that was concealed within the neck heel.
The model’s £157 price tag singled it out as the most expensive British-built solid body guitar of its era. In practice, the Black Bison proved completely uneconomical to manufacture and as a result, just 50 examples of the original 4-pickup version were made before the model was redesigned with 3-pickups, a bolt-on neck and a simplified vibrato unit.