Robert Randolph, Justice Steel Guitars, Interchangeable Parts

Hello fellow players,

I might as well touch on the subject of Robert Randolph playing the Jay Leno Show with Los Lobos a couple nights ago. As most of you know, Robert is an old friend of mine from several years ago which makes me tend to be favorable and unbiased in my comments. I like Robert very much and have known him since he was a little kid playing steel in the House of God Church at the age of twelve years old.

Robert is truly capable of playing so much more than he does in public. Looking at him as a country player, Robert can play very good things extremely fast and very clean. He never does this on the shows he plays on TV.

As far as being an excellent showman and selling what he does to the public, I truly feel that he is way ahead in that department. If you ever get a chance to see Robert Randolph play in a jam session or play blues in his old church environment, I think you’ll be a lot more impressed with what you see him do live as opposed to what he does on television which is mostly just funny noises, screaming bar slides and sound effects more fitting for an animated cartoon show.

Now Robert, I know you’re reading this, so please don’t take what I’m saying wrong. What I am saying is you’re a wonderful player, but it seems like you’re afraid somebody’s going to find out. You are undoubtedly very smart to be approaching steel guitar and playing it the way you do from a fame and fortune standpoint. Most steel players play for each other which is one thing I’m very guilty of, but when it comes to entertaining the masses with your steel guitar, you are the king Robert.

I had the honor of playing in Branson a few years ago and Fred Justice was there introducing his new Justice steel guitar. At first I thought, ‘Well here it is, just another steel guitar.” But after seeing his demo on the guitar, his tone was many times better than I had ever heard him get before on any of his former commercially built guitars.

I checked his new guitars out and listened while other people played his Justice guitar. Not only was I impressed with the tone, but also with the personality of Mr. Fred Justice. This leads me to my next subject which is the fact that I think it is wonderful for steel guitar builders to keep a certain amount of uniformity in their guitars.

I am all for all builders using the same legs and thread size, a main brand of tuning key that will be easily obtained in later years. This means Grover, Schaller, Sperzel, Goto or any good popular key. String length is something that I like to see uniformity in and that means 24 inch scale or 24 and a quarter.

The guitars that are almost alike in all respects are the Sho-Bud Super Pro, Derby, Justice, Zum, Franklin, LeGrande, JCH, Fessenden and probably two or three others. Other similar guitars that might use different size leg threads are GMI, CMI, MCI, EMCI and MSA. It’s pretty wonderful when I get a phone call for parts for some stranded player and I can inform him that several other brand parts will work on their guitar so they don’t really have an orphan and the problems that an orphan guitar can give you.

If a steel guitar manufacturer has gone out of business due to the death of their founder and builder, like Derby or JCH, I can do major repairs with quality parts because they were built originally with pretty standard dimensions in the parts they had built for their own guitars.

If you show me a guitar that is built totally different in every way, I personally would not be very interested in it under any circumstances. Ever notice how Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick parts interchange the way they do? I think that’s wonderful. General Motors puts similar transmissions in many different brand cars that they sell. Rolls Royce even buys the GM Turbo 400 transmission for the Rolls Royce automobile. General Motors can hardly get a finer complement.

As long as you buy a steel guitar that is built to standard specifications using standard parts, it will be worth more when you sell it and you’ll love it more whenever you need a major part for it.

Now you may ask what makes the difference in tone if they’re all made so similar? The answer is quality of wood, age of wood, how these things are bolted together and so on. Pickups have a little bit to do with the tone, but nowhere near as much as most people think. I just wish there was a standard bolt pattern for pickups on all these steel guitars.

Sho-Bud and Emmons brand guitars seem to be the grand-daddys of standardization. Most builders have used these guitars specifications as a template for their own designs.

To close this newsletter with something important, my great advise to all of you is when you buy a new steel guitar as a workhorse in your herd, make sure it has some of these specifications we have just talked about and it will be worth much more when you sell it.

I want to remind everybody that free shipping within the 48 states on any steel guitar purchase will end at the end of this month.

See our monthly specials at …

The friend to all bar holders,
Bobbe Seymour

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