Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Campbell Handmade Guitars: America's Grand Tradition Continues

The Campbell Nelsonic Transitone
In the best news I've received all week, it appears that Campbell American Guitars will not become a memory, but rather will become even more special, even more precious. Dean Campbell has backed away from the frustrations of a Guitar Center nation, and has decided to continue as one of the world's best luthiers of electric guitars - on a handmade, one at a time basis. He builds dreams, and this development should mean the continuance of some beautiful musings.

Hand painted for Bill Nelson by Nicholas DelDrago
It makes sense that I came to know Dean Campbell's guitars through the music of Bill Nelson. Nelson, a long revered British musician, first came to the consciousness of America via his visionary post-Hendrixian glam rock band, Be Bop Deluxe. After being chewed up and spit out by the industry we lovingly call rock and roll, Nelson retreated to his English attic and set to creating a massive discography of handmade music - he may have began at the industrial revolution of rock, but he literally and single handedly invented DIY indie rock. A few years ago I discovered the Cambell Nelsonic Transitone, a collaboration between builder and player that was both a retro beauty and an innovative axe. Campbell may now be at the creation of the DIY guitar era.

Over the last several years I have seen Campbell grow his New England based company to the point of make or break, in terms of output. He could have continued in the direction of more being less - but instead, he has chosen to downsize production and increase quality. In an era in which multi thousand dollar instruments are looking more and more like their Asiatic brethren, this is a breath of fresh air. Beginning in 2013, Campbell and his cohort Bill Colwell will be building their creations one at a time to the order of their customer's imaginations. Colwell was formerly a chief engineer at Guild Guitars in Westerly, RI, and worked with Bob Benedetto on the redesign of the prestigious Artist Award Archtop Guitar.

Campbell American Guitars has consistently been championed by the best of the best. I called the Nelsonic Transitone (Campbell's Bill Nelson signature model, designed by Dean and the aforementioned Bill Nelson) the most original electric guitar design in 30 years back in 2007. Gruhn Guitars in Nashville has long been Campbell's most prestigious dealer, given to the efforts of forward thinking Gruhn employee Billy Jackson. Premier Guitar Magazine has repeatedly given his offerings top marks, and just this month has seen befitting to display the innovative Space Biscuit model on their cover this month. Berklee College of Music professor and tone sculptor/musical innovator David "The Fuze" Fiuczynski has called his double necked Campbell, "The best guitar I've ever owned."

Only a few months ago, it seemed that Campbell American Guitars were at death's door step - Campbell had become fatigued by the notion of building more guitars at the price of their quality, and was considering shuttering his company. However, when Campbell bandied that possibility, his dealers and fans responded loudly enough to get the builder to re-think the future of his exquisite instruments. His decision will make the world of the guitar a better place.

Dean Campbell made me very happy when he revealed to me this morning that there will still be a number of Nelsonic Transitone's coming up for grabs. It's a personal favorite of mine, given to my long standing respect for Bill Nelson, and the fact that when I first played a Transitone at Swamp Dog's Music in Columbus, Ohio, I was sure I was playing the coolest American electric guitar to come out in a quarter of a century.

I'm guessing that this re-birth is a microcosmic version of what the world is about to do on a grander scale. 2012 will most likely not be an ending, but rather a beginning of a more sensible, sober, and responsible time. I'm guessing that 2013 is going to be a wonderful year for us all. Congratulations and thanks to Dean Campbell for continuing and carrying on with his grand American tradition of handbuilt brilliance.

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