Guitar mystery of the night: Here’s Johnny Fields, left, with Johnny Western’s first band in Minnesota, early 1950s. Johnny’s Fender Esquire (Telecaster? No Caster? Broadcaster?) has been customized with what looks to be an extra bridge pickup section from another Fender guitar. Seems like a simple bit of hillbilly customization, yes? But here’s where the mystery comes in:
This photo is circa 1952. These Fender solidbodies had only been introduced two years earlier. These were brand new guitars. They were expensive, especially for a country picker. So—robbing another Fender Telecaster for another pickup? Who could afford to do THAT? And this was before—way before—the era where Fender would sell you a pickup to do your own customization. This would be like buying two brand-new expensive laptop computers so you could hack off one of the headphone jacks. Viewed through the perspective of the time frame when this photo was taken, there is no logical explanation why Johnny would have cut up another guitar to make a two-pickup guitar.
Also, look closely at the close-up photo. It’s sort of elegantly done, with another pickup switch embedded in the pickguard.
And what is that bridge cover thing? It’s vaguely like the one they made on the first Precision Basses, or the ones the put on the Stratocaster that nobody used. Except this photo was taken a couple years before the Stratocaster came out. Everything about this instrument is curious.
There’s a little bit of information about Johnny Fields online. Seems he was mostly known as a Minnesota steel guitarist who did a lot of tinkering on his steel guitars. So maybe he started “tinkering” early on? But still, this one makes me scratch my head.
Johnny Western (famous for performing the theme song to the television show “Have Gun, Will Travel” aka “Paladin”) is still alive, eighty-eight years old. I interviewed him for the Merle Travis book and he was sharp as a tack. I might have to call him again to ask him if he remembers anything about his old guitar player Johnny Fields’s strange and unique two-pickup Fender solidbody guitar.
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