The story of the Fret King Black Label Country Squire Semitone Special FKV21AGB
Dennis Drumm, MD of Fret-King explains: “When Scottish blues/rock/reggae legend Ash Gupta, lifelong card-carrying wearer of the 'Rhinestone F', scion of seminal '60s bands like The Images and The Motion, and guitar collector extraordinaire, challenged Fret-King to make a latter day version of the cherished '62 Blonde (which he acquired in an 'axetraordinary' deal involving cash and a Vespa scooter, then later wrecked in a fit of power-chording in Perth, back in '66) we couldn’t resist...”
In these heartbreakingly cool images from 1964, The Images, then Edinburgh’s answer to 'what a girl wants', featured guitarist Ash, and the first love of his life, a beautiful blonde.
The '62 Blonde, which was rare at the time, had to be rebuilt by an ancient Edinburgh cabinet maker after Ash’s Townshend-esque excesses, at which point 'The Blonde' was stained bottle green – creating Ash’s first 'Greeny'.
The sound of that instrument became so much a part of Ash’s life, and so famous, that when Ash had to choose between finishing university and taking up his recording contract, you can guess which path won. The '62 bottle green blonde was snapped up by another leading Edinburgh R&B band and has long since vanished into the echoes of the past.
No known photos exist of Greeny MkI, and Ash achingly regretted losing 'The Blonde' every waking moment of his life. So, in the '90s, he commissioned legendary Glasgow luthier Jimmy Moon to recreate 'Greeny', but this time based on a '74 semi-acoustic body, at which point the single coil configuration was supplemented by a pair of PAF-type pickups with a coil tap. Greeny MkII was born!
Ash’s original vision was of a guitar which had an all-enveloping tonal voice, like the Sirens of Greek mythology. Now we arrive at the birth of Greeny MkIII in the exact configuration that Ash really sought – as the Fret-King Black Label Country Squire Semitone Special.
He describes the Country Squire Semitone Special as the most expressive, versatile guitar he has ever played, saying: “She has a wonderful spectrum of voices. She shimmers, she just melts your heart. She can speak like a '62 335™ with PAFs, clang, squeak and squawk like an early '60s Tele® and sing and shimmer like a '57 thru '62 Strat®. This instrument really is what I have been looking for since 1966, and better than I ever dared to hope for. I love her to bits. The construction, fit and finish are the equal of any custom shop...”
Designer Trev Wilkinson says: “This was a fun project, to take a player’s dream and turn it into a fantastic guitar. Ash loves the sound of the Fret-King custom-designed PAF, that’s for sure, and there’s a great story behind that pickup for sure, ‘cos I didn’t 'design' it!”
“When I used to have my manufacturing facility in Fullerton, CA, back in the '80s, we were close to the aviation company Rockwell, who used to clear out stuff they didn’t need every Saturday morning in a yard sale.”
“One of these Saturdays, I picked up a surplus – but still fully functional – armature winding machine, great for winding the Wilkinson USA pickups we wanted to start doing back then... Lo and behold, in one of the many books about Gibson in the '50s, there was a picture of the very same machine, being used to wind coils at Gibson.”
Trev continues: “Now, it gets spookier... A few weeks later, one of my guys was at a swap meet at Santa Ana, and happened across an elderly gentlemen selling old tubes, old radios bits and such like, who turned out to be no less than Seth Lover! They get chatting, and the conversation, now my buddy knows who he’s talking to, gets around to the armature winding machine, and Seth remembers that very same machine from the 'old days', and asks if he could go see it for old times’ sake!”
“To cut a long story short, Seth finished up at my place in Fullerton, chewing the fat about 'stuff', telling a bunch of stories about the politics of the old days, and how the bean counters and management eventually got in the way of making great pickups and guitars, and exploding a few myths on the way! He was also generous enough to go through the fine detail with me of how to make the definitive humbucker, which I have to say was pretty cool!”
“So, we make our humbuckers – like the one in the AGB – which we use in quite a few Fret-King and Vintage® guitars, exactly the way Seth described to me. Not ‘our version’, or a ‘bean counter’s version’, just the original recipe, including Alnico V bar magnets, solid nickel silver cover and base plate, and plain enamel wire, the specified number of turns, etc. That means that when you plug the guitar in, you’ll hear what the designer intended, and just what you’d expect to hear...”
Trev sums up the Country Squire Special thus: “As with all Fret-King guitars, I’m expecting players to love the feel, versatility and tone of this guitar. I believe there’s gotta be a reason for design, and there’s lots of reasons to love this one!”
While not strictly speaking a 'signature guitar', the Country Squire Special is inspired by the passion of a terrific individual whose breadth of experience with guitars over his lifetime is second to none.
Ash’s tenure as the Chair of the Scottish 'F-Word' Fellowship uniquely qualifies him to appreciate the subtle nuances of guitar tone.
Dennis Drumm says: “Guitars should inspire, and both Trev Wilkinson, the designer of Fret-King, and me are glad we happened across this powerhouse of passion, and are delighted to bring the Fret-King Country Squire Special 'AGB' to the world.”
“AGB, by the way, simply means Ash Green Burst – but I guess that could also be 'Ash Gupta’s Baby'!”
“Enjoy the guitar Ash. I’m sure a lot of other players will too.”