MY 1965 BURNS NU-SONIC
When I first picked up the guitar in 1963, I was learning guitar
instrumentals such as "Apache", "Walk, Don't Run",
"Pipeline", etc., on my cheap Kent electric, wearing the grooves
off of Ventures, Shadows and Duane Eddy records.
One fine day in spring of 1965, a couple of guys came knocking at my
door, saying they were looking for a lead guitarist for their band and
Tom Wright, owner of the Melody Shop in Welland, had given them my name
and address. After an audition with them, using a borrowed amplifier, I
got hired. That's when I decided I needed a better guitar. The
"British Invasion" was in full swing and anything British was de
rigueur. So off I went to the Melody Shop. Tom tried to sell me a
beautiful sunburst Gibson ES330 semi-acoustic which had just been traded
in. He was asking $250 for it. I thought that guitar was too fragile
and not a "rock guitar" (yeah, what did I know?). Tom dug out a
flashy brochure he'd just received advertising Burns guitars from
London, UK, the guitars that The Shadows played! He told me he could
get me the "Nu-Sonic" for $250 with case. Deal! I ordered the
one with the transparent cherry-red finish.
Back then, all the local rock&roll guitarists were playing Fender
Strats or Teles if they could afford them or cheap knockoffs such as
Kents or Silvertones. I was the first in town (maybe even in the whole
province of Ontario!) to own a Brit axe! I also bought a Harmony 15watt
amp. I soon traded it in on a a used Fender Bandmaster amp and a
Copycat echo unit to round out my sound. The Burns sounded great
through that rig! An added bonus was that the guitar was very playable
and had a great functional "whammy bar" (vibrato) system. Worked for
me! I used that guitar all the time I played with the Sinners (spring
1965 to late summer 1966). When I was displaced from that band,
disenchanted, I put my equipment up for sale. A guy named John Bell
took it off my hands for $600. John gave me three $100 bills as down
payment and signed an IOU that he would pay the rest before the end of the year.
John then disappeared. I thought I'd been ripped off but in late
December he called me from Montreal and told me he was selling the gear to a guy in Pelham and
I'd then get the $300 he owed me. He was as good as his word.
In the spring of 1967, again a knock at my door. Mr. Lane,
manager/agent of "The Capris", a local band, wanted to hire me as
lead guitarist to replace his son who wasn't cutting it. Mr. Lane told
me he had hired Evan Hunt, late of "The Liverpool Set", a
well-known band riding the wave of the British Invasion thing, as front
man and main vocalist. I went for an audition using a borrowed guitar.
I was hired as lead/rhythm guitarist so I knew I had to find myself a
guitar. As luck would have it, I received a phone call from the guy who
had bought my gear from John Bell. His band had broken up. He'd
already sold the amp and the tape unit but asked me if I wanted to buy
the guitar back. So, I got my Burns back for $75! It served me well
for the duration played through a rented Ampeg Jet.
When The Capris broke up, Evan, Ron Bovine (bass), Bob Lightheart
(keyboard) and I stayed together and hired a new drummer, Jeff Burgess.
We became "Penny Illusion". No longer having an amp at my
disposal, I bought an Elk Stage 50 Bandmaster clone amp from the Melody
At the end of summer 1968, Penny Illusion broke up and we all went our
separate ways. I sold the amp and also put the Burns up for sale.
Turns out Fraser Kauffman had put another group together and his lead
guitarist needed a guitar so I sold him the Burns for $150. Three
months later when they broke up, I again got the Burns back for $75!
Mike Carrigan, a friend of my brother's who was learning how to play
guitar bought my Burns for $85 around that time. A few years later, he
traded it back to me for a pair of Marsland stereo speakers I had which
he wanted. I decided then to keep the Burns forever, no matter what.
It was the worse for wear and tear. The zero fret had gotten worn and
the tuners were sticky. I had my luthier friend (the late) Jack
Armbrust replace the zero fret with a bone nut and the tuners with
Schallers. I also changed out the bridge, chiseling into the body to
fit a Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge.
Throughout the 1970s the Burns sat on a guitar stand in my living room
unplayed (I was into acoustic folk music) and the top faded out
completely. In 1981 I got back into playing professionally in
country/country rock/classic rock bands. I used the Burns for a year
and then got into other guitars (Strats, ES-335 copies, etc.) At the
same time, I'd taught myself basic electronics and used the Burns as an
experimental tool, changing out pickups, adding coil-tap and phase
switches etc. I butchered the pickguard in the process, not to mention
routing out the body cavity to accept double-coil pickups. Other than
that, the Burns sat gathering dust.
Then in the early 2000s, after seeing a couple of vintage Burns
Nu-Sonics for sale on e-bay, I felt really bad about the condition mine
was in. It deserved better. So, in the spring of 2004, I did a
complete restoration on it. I filled in some of the missing wood in the
body cavity, installed a P90 to replace the bridge pickup which had
given up the ghost, sanded out rough spots and then made a new
pickguard. The "Burns London" etching was done to my specs by an
outfit in London Ontario, using scripts which I'd found on the internet
which closely matched the original scripts I then finished the top with
a few coats of gold lacquer (because really, this guitar is like gold to me) and many coats of clear lacquer over that.
"For auld lang syne" and sentimental reasons, I left the back in its original cherry-red semi-transparent finish
covered with a few coats of clear lacquer for protection.
2015: This guitar, 50 years old this year (!!!), still sounds great and is
still the easiest-playing guitar I've ever owned!
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