The Westone Dana Years
Due to the exposure of several Dana Westone custom guitars on Ebay, I think it is time to tell the story of how my relationship with Westone and St. Louis Music (SLM) came to be.
The beginning of the SLM/Dana relationship
In 1986, a sales representative of SLM began bringing his string instrument samples into my guitar shop for basic set-ups prior to showing them to his customers. He also would bring in the latest and greatest of his Crate amplifier samples. My staff and I would demo the products and show the rep. some sample settings that he could use when presenting the product to his customers. He would often comment on how the tone of the Crate amplifiers had “sparkle” when they were demoed in my shop. That sparkle was not audible from those amplifiers when demoed with the same model instruments in other stores. I explained that the instruments in my shop had Detonator pickups and an active mid range control installed in them for sales demonstration purposes. All designed by myself and sold exclusively at my shop. Expressing curious interest in the product he asked if I ever thought of producing the product nationally. Now I was curious….(let’s see… hmmm… thousand’s instead of tens… my name perhaps in a nationally distributed catalog….) OK! Eventually, I was put in contact with the Westone product manager at SLM. The rest is history.
Now, before I go any further I want to back up a bit.
Detonator pick ups and the active mid range control
In the early 80’s, I had a customer that owned a mid 60’s Gibson SG. The bridge humbucking pick-up was very unique in tone compared to similar models from that era. It had bass punch, a unique mid range dip at 1K and a Tele style bridge pick-up crispness in the top end. The voltage output was also weak for that style of humbucking pick-up. The customer loved the sound of this pick-up and knew it was a one of a kind piece. But he wanted that tone with more out-put. At the time he was playing in a popular band in the local area and wanted all his “humbucking” style guitars outfitted with the same unique pick-up but, again, with more out-put. Great, but where was he going to purchase THAT pick-up? There was nothing like it on the market.
I had been making pick-ups for my personal instruments for years. I actually made my first one in the late 60’s, when I was a young teenager. My customer finally persuaded me to try and duplicate a series of pick-ups for him based on the sound of the aforementioned humbucker. I nailed the first one down in about a week using a mix of modified bobbins and magnets from other pick-ups. I knew I had to make at least 12 units and that amount of construction time was not practical.
I had a wonderful relationship with the DiMarzio Company at that time. I sent up a sample to the incredible pick-up inventor Steve Blucher and with in about two weeks I had some working proto-types. After a few weeks of testing, I had a bridge and a neck pick up for my customer. Mission accomplished and a very happy customer. Eventually, I installed a set into one of my Dana guitars. By adjusting the middle three bands of a Roland 6 band EQ, I found it very easy to get a wide variety of top 40 tones. But, that was not an efficient way to quickly adjust the mid range. It needed to be done from the instrument. With the help of an engineer friend of mine we developed a variable mid EQ sweep to naturally fill in the mid range gap of the pick-up. The Detonator pick-ups and mid range control were born.
From 1984 until 1989 Dimarzio manufactured the pick ups as a proprietary pick-up for me and I manufactured and installed the circuits in house. Now, back to the continuation of the Westone Dana years.
My introduction to the Westone guitar Company
In the spring of 1987, I was introduced to the Westone product manager. I was already familiar with the Westone line. I respected their quality and understood that they were manufactured in Japan. We agreed that he would send me an instrument of his choice and I would install the Detonator pickup system for him to review. He sent me an embarrassment of a guitar from the SLM accessory department. The man wasn’t going to risk a good instrument on a guitar builder he had never heard of, despite my growing list of celebrity clients. I believe the guitar was a Series 10 Charvel copy with two humbucking pickups with a pitiful tremolo. In the shop it went and a day later after a new set of frets, the complete Detonator system and countless other modifications, the instrument played and sounded like any other $1000.00 instrument of its time. Except that it was made out of plywood, not solid wood. Ah, the beauty of that system. I brought that instrument to the 1987 summer NAMM show in Chicago. By January of 1988, the Westone Guitar Line was showing a series of Dana guitars at winter NAMM.
The 1988 models consisted of two Japanese made instruments and one Korean instrument with a Floyd rose licensed tremolo. The colors were limited to white, black and red. The tremolo models sported a humbucking and two single coil pick-ups. The non tremolo version had two humbucking pick-ups. All the instruments especially the Japanese models, were extremely well made. Also, at this time the Detonator pick-ups and mid range control system were renamed. The pick-ups became signature ‘Dana’ pickups and the mid range control system was renamed DSR-5. I can’t remember why the five was used in the name.
The Westone Hand Made guitars
In the fall of 1988, the Artist Relations director at SLM asked me to hand make a series of custom guitars. These instruments were to be designed to attract the established “Guitar God’s” of the 80’s away from their existing supporters and into the Westone family. By the time the 1989 winter NAMM show rolled around, I had made at least 10 guitars and 3 basses. Many of these instruments sported paint techniques never sprayed on wooden instruments prior to their showing. They all had traditional pick up configurations, some outfitted with Dana pickups and DSR-5 electronics. In others, I installed popular pickups of the era.
Also in the line up were two hand carved alder body instruments. The “Snake Guitars”, aptly named because the carvings on their bodies were exact duplicates of about 6 different species of snakes entwined around one another. The center snake, which is a rattle snake sported Diamond eyes. These instruments had some of the first self contained piezo, in the bridge saddle pick-ups. One made by the Schaller Company, for the bass, and the other made by Kahlor Tremolos. Each individual saddle on the bridge contained an embedded piezo pick-up with its own out-put wire attached.
I didn’t want to sacrifice the carvings, so I wanted to go with this new bridge technology. To tame the inherent brittle tone of the piezo pick-ups, I had to design some tricky electronics. For the bass bridge, I first designed a miniature 4 way adjustable EQ system. This was to be used as an over all master EQ, hidden in the control cavity. Then I incorporated a 2 way (bass and treble) EQ to be installed outside the instrument. This design of electronics was used again in 2 additional custom basses. All used the Schaller piezo bass bridges. The 4 way adjustable EQ was so successful for the bass that I decided to use it for the guitar as well. I simply changed the frequency points to make the piezo’s sound more like a humbucking pickup. I then added a DSR-5, along with a traditional passive tone control on the outside of the guitar. I found the guitar to sound best as a clean instrument back in the day. But, with today’s processing it could be used in any sound format. The tremolo function was rendered useless. The piezo saddles picked up to much mechanical noise. So I just locked it down.
In the summer of 1990, I brought the first proto-type of the yet to be named Alvarez Dana Scoop to the summer NAMM show. Pictures of this guitar can be seen in the instrument gallery. If you look closely you will see that the name on the head stock has a small Westone logo along with my name. That was my custom Dana Westone guitar for that show. I just wanted to wow the rock stars with the wild cutaway when they came by the booth. The president of SLM asked me not to show that wild cutaway to the public that summer. He thought it might be a patentable design… He was right. Please see the Alvarez Dana Scoop article on this site. After the Scoop was developed into a production guitar, the Alvarez electric guitar line was born and the Westone name was sold.