Ivor Mairants and George Barnes
Ivor discussing Guild Archtop Single Venetian Cutaway Guitars with George Barnes. September of 1966 George did a Guild promotional concert in London accompanied by Ivor Mairants.
In the early 1960’s the Guild Guitar Company manufactured two models to George Barnes’ specifications. The model most associated with George is the Guild George Barnes Acousti-Lectric. This full-bodied 17″ wide and 3.125″ deep instruments’ most distinguishing feature was the lack of ‘F’ holes in it’s carved top of Norwegian Spruce. The back and sides were of highly figured curly maple. A Choice of natural and sunburst finishes were available. Twin humbucking pickups were fitted to an internal brace bar running inside the length of the body and protruded through to oblong holes cut into the top. The Acousti-Lectric had a great deal of power and penetration and the design allowed for the strings to vibrate with no vibration of the pickups. On conventional full bodied jazz guitars the strings and the pickups are vibrating simultaneously and possibly in different directions (one of Les Paul’s concerns while working on his guitars). Apart from the pickup selector switch near the cutaway, there was nothing to hinder the full resonant quality of the top. The tone and volume controls were mounted on the pick-guard which was cut in the then familiar Artist Award ‘stepped’ design (a much more pleasing design than todays Artist Award pick-guard!). The neck was of three piece maple fitted with an bound ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays. The high cost of producing the George Barnes Acousti-Lectric meant that relatively few were made but other users include Les Spann who is seen in a Guild advert sporting a sunburst model (the head of which looked more like the Artist Award model than Georges personal guitar).
George – I designed that guitar back in 1961. When I first saw it, it was a piece of wood from Norway. My guitar is made from the finest woods. The pickups are suspended and the sound comes out of the body from the cut-out area of the top around the pickups. The guitar’s sound works much the same way as a round-hole’s, except my sound comes out of two enlarged rectangular holes around the pickups. I knew that if I had a live top with suspended pickups, I’d get a better sound. I realized a long time ago that f-holes cause feedback. Both George Van Eps and I discovered that about the same time. We did a concert together in Aspen, Colorado and we both started laughing when we saw each other’s guitar. He had put foam rubber in his f-holes to cut out the feedback, and I had taped mine over.
“You get a better sound from the guitar by using only down strokes. Your leverage just isn’t as good when you up-pick. Therefore, I use as many down strokes as possible. I developed a technique of quick picking, using only down-strokes. But sometimes, for very rapid phrasing, I have to use alternating up and down strokes. I also hold the pick in an unusual manner-with my thumb, index, and middle finger. By picking this way, all I do to change the dynamics and volume is tighten or loosen my grip on the pick. I don’t have to pick harder and my wrist remains loose.” George Barnes
Perhaps it was Barnes’ unconventional “3 finger” pick grip that added that “special something” to his sound. Having one extra finger in contact with the pick does impart a very subtle tonal inflection. It also has a more dramatic physical effect when playing down stokes.