HISTORY OF THE EVANS PULL STRING
May 4, 2008
In 1969 I was working as a recording engineer at Continental Sound in Hollywood. Another engineer, Howard Steel, and I were trying to cover the non-stop, 24 hour, 7 days a week hectic schedule. About this time Joe Wilson came upon the scene. He need a job, we need another engineer. Joe was hired. As well as being an engineer, Joe was a great guitarist and had worked with the Classics IV. One day he told me of a guitar that stretched the B string by means of a mechanism that attached to the shoulder strap. Now this is where my memory fails me. I think he built something on the back of his Telecaster or it may be that I helped him build something. I do know that whatever the case it was on the outside of the guitar and I did build him a very crude cover to enclose it. He then asked me to build one for his Les Paul. I made an improved version of the mechanism on his Tele and also recessed it completely into the body of the guitar. This, to my knowledge, was the first Les Paul Pull String and the first recessed mechanism (see photos). This lever style mechanism was a very simple (and a bit crude) but in a fashion it worked.
Guitarists coming to the studio to do sessions would see Joe's guitar. This was inevitable since Joe never took his guitar off….except sometimes to go to the bathroom! One thing led to another and I was asked to build one. Then another. And another.
One of these guitarists was Ron Getman. Ron was working with a group called Carp, produced by Dan Moore. Carp also included Gary Busey, who was the drummer. I installed a lever type Pull String into a Tele body he had. He never liked the sound of that Tele but did like the Pull String. So he decided to remove the mechanism and put it into another Tele. The Tele he chose was just another Tele, just another old guitar you could pick up for a few hundred dollars. That was Tele #7632! Well there went Ron's retirement package! As Ron said, "Ah yes the stupidity and short-sightedness of youth!" He still has that guitar with a very early version of a Pull String.
I think about this time I met Bob Warford and he showed me the guitar that he and his Dad had built. I liked some of the ideas that they had come up with, so I decided to redesign my lever style and utilize a belcrank mechanism, which made for a much smoother action. Someone suggested that I should set up shop and build them. Good idea I thought! I then found out that Clarence White and Gene Parsons had a patent on it. A very secure patent. So I shelved that idea.
Shortly after that I met Clarence. I showed him my prototype belcrank. He played it and really liked it. He said that Leo Fender had been trying to develop a "bender" for about a year and a half, with Clarence and Gene's permission under their patient. But that Clarence had not been happy with it. Clarence and Gene said that if I wanted to make them they would grant me permission. I said I would, I was granted permission, and Leo was told that he no longer had the rights to build a "bender". Thus began the Pull String guitar adventure.
I left Continental Sound which had become Producers Work Shop, and moved to Torrance, CA and began working at Quantum Audio Labs and Quantum Recording. I continued building Pull Strings out of my garage in my spare time. Billy Ray Lathum comes into the story about here. Billy Ray was playing with the Dillards at the time. He got the 3rd guitar with the new mechanism. Sadly it got stolen. Billy Ray was one of my best salesmen! He hooked me up with Albert Lee (at the time with Heads, Hands, and Feet), and later, Davey Johnstone (with Elton John).
I placed an ad in Guitar Player magazine. I got quite a few responses to the ad and made up some brochures and mailed them out. It was during this time that I built the Pull String for Bernie Leadon (see photos). I remember I had worked through the night. Bernie arrived that morning, took the guitar and went off to make a significant part of Pull String history with the Eagles using it on "Peaceful Easy Feeling", "Take It Easy", "Tequila Sunrise", to mention a few. At this time I was approached by two acquaintances who talked me into letting them become my business partners. They suggested I move to Canoga Park, CA to be closer to them. So I did. We decided to that I should put up a display at the upcoming NAMM show in San Francisco. So I filled out the paper work for the show. I then started construction of a display booth (funny, my two new partners were too busy with their business to help!). So I continued on building by myself when it suddenly dawned on me….I'm going to display this contraption and I can't play it! What to do?! So I called Bob Warford who very graciously agreed to help me out by going with me to demonstrate it. I'm sure this was one of the more memorable road trips Bob has ever been on, but that's another story. So Bob and I go to San Francisco and set up the display. We get done then Bob points out the obvious fact that this is an "electric" guitar and there fore requires an amplifier! Oh, I hadn't thought of that! Fortunately, a man came by and was intrigued by the guitar and also noted the obvious lack of an amplifier. He said he could help. It was Hartley Peavey! He loaned us an amp. After the show, Hartley said that if I wanted to come to the next NAMM show in Chicago that he would let me have space in his booth. This would also help him since he didn't any guitars to demo his amps (he hadn't started to build guitars at that time). I was happy to agree. Oh, I forgot to mention that my two elusive partners showed up and booked a suite using my credit card!
Now, back home after the show, I confronted my partners in regards the expenses incurred on the trip. They suddenly lost interest in our partnership and left me stranded.
Meanwhile I was getting an occasional order or two but having a very hard time making ends meet. A record producer friend of mine said he was tired of the record business and would like to help me. He couldn't contribute any money but may be able to help in the management end of things. Now it's time to go to the Chicago NAMM show and the last gasp for the ol' credit card. We set up in Peavey's booth. This time, unfortunately, without Bob's talents. Not much interest in the Pull String, but Hartley's amps were really taking off! One night after the show my producer friend said, "Let's go to this lounge I heard about and check out a group that is playing there". We went, we saw, we heard, he signed them to a contract on the spot and that is how Rufus was discovered! Now my producer friend was back in the record business! I was left on my own again.
I think about here I met Fred Walecki of Westwood Music. He took an interest in the guitar bodies and put them on display in the store. He also took pity on my plight and gave me a job in his repair shop. This is when I met one of the most gifted individuals to ever come in into my life, John Carruthers. John was working for Fred doing repairs. He took me under his wing and taught me about how much I didn't know about building guitars! The man was and still is amazing. Up until this time I had just been building bodies with Pull Strings already installed, and putting in the customers necks (from their guitars, that is) and bits from Tele's and Strat's into the bodies. I also installed the Pull String mechanism in customers' guitars. But at John's suggestion, and with his help, I was able to build about 3 or 4 complete guitars. John had a little shop in Santa Monica where he would go after working at Westwood and do his own thing. It was there that we did a lot of the work on these "complete" guitars. They also included pickups that John wound himself on a machine of his own making. During that time John and I collaborated on the building of a 5 string electric bass for Emory Gordy (see photos). To my knowledge, this may have been the first 5-string electric bass. Unfortunately, it bass was stolen while Emory was on tour with Emmylou.
Another help to me was Chuck Erikson who was building banjos and selling inlay material at the time. Chuck had a machine that would saw the slots the finger board for the frets. He also almost caused me to have to change my underwear one day! He had a Sidewinder Rattler (I'm talking a real snake here, not a guitar accessory) in a glass aquarium. It was on a shelf about eyelevel. The little guy would strike at anything that passed by! Man that thing was fast! This was a great source of amusement for Chuck!
About this time Clarence came over to my house for a visit. He wanted to see the progress on a special guitar body I was building for him (see pictures). Being a recording engineer, I had tape machines. I suggested to Clarence that maybe he could put down a couple of licks on tape that I could use for promotion purposes. He pondered it for a moment, plugged in my prototype Pull String and did a couple of licks. Then a wry smile appeared on his face and he proceeded to put down one of the most amazing licks I had ever heard. He turned to me, now with a full grin on his face and said, "Let 'em figure that one out"! Wish I had that tape today! Sadly, shortly after that, Clarence was killed. This had a big impact on me emotionally as to whether or not I wanted to continue with the building of more guitars. Added to the fact that I was financially the poorest thing on the planet (second only to my cat!). I was looking to take up engineering again. Then Gene Parsons came to me and said that he was going to start building his benders, and asked me not to build anymore Pull Strings and I happily complied……with one exception. I had one last "complete" guitar that was 90% finished. I held on to it for a couple of years, then finally finished it and sold it to Tom Curtis (see pictures). And that was the last of the "original" Evans Pull Strings.