The John Cale project

John Cale Totem

This guitar was made for John Cale, as a tour replacement for his vintage Les Paul Special.  At first we installed a P-90, like the Special. After a while  John felt he needed another sound, so eventually the P-90 was replaced with a Seymour Duncan '59 humbucker with a split circuit.  Subsequently I made three more guitars for John. 

Cale 1

After using the original Totemguitar G 0404 'Puzzle' for some time, John Cale asked me to make something closer to the old Les Paul Special he loved so much.  This guitar has an all-Mahogany set-neck construction with two humbuckers and a Bigsby bridge. The humbuckers can be split individually via push-pull switches on the volume and tone knobs, giving a wide range of sounds.

Cale 2

John Cale had seen a Don Ramsay 'linear tremolo' at my shop and was intrigued by it.  He asked me to make a guitar for him along the lines of the last one, but with a linear tremolo instead of the Bigsby.  The linear tremolo combines smooth, adjustable action with extreme tuning stability.  I also moved the pickup switching to two switches on the top, foregoing the push-pull type, which had proven cumbersome on the road. 

Cale 3, 12-string prototype

Happy with his 'linear tremolo' guitar, John Cale expressed his desire for a 12-string with tremolo.  This created some technical issues (tuning stability, intonation).  Working with Don Ramsay we adapted his 'linear tremolo' design for 12-strings.  I extended the neck block all the way to the bridge, gluing it from the back into the flame Redwood body, to optimize coupling.  The guitar worked well, but proved too neck-heavy, due to the long neck, 12 tuners and very light body.  I installed a strap-button extension which helped.  We liked it well enough, but decided it needed some improvements, so I went back to the design table. 

The 'John Cale' 12-string

This is the final version of the "John Cale" 12-string.  The neck is set slightly deeper into the body, with the horn extending further for better balance.  The body is carved out with chambers and a trough for the neck block which extends all the way to the tremolo posts, anchoring the trem there.  The Top is flame Redwood, light and resonant.  Since the body is still relatively light, I used Sperzel Open Back tuners to help improve the balance.  The tuner knobs alternate (black pearl for low strings, white pearl for high strings), to help orientation when tuning.  The guitar has a rich chimey sound - a Lollar minihumbucker in the neck position and Imperial full-size humbucker in the bridge, along with bridge humbucker-split and phase switch allow for a lot of tonal variation.


For images of the construction process click here