Doublenecks With a Purpose

A replica of Grady Martin’s doubleneck Bigsby made in the ‘80s by R.C. Allen for Gary Lambert, the rockabilly picker who played with Glen Glenn and Eddie Cochran. It diverges from Paul Bigsby’s original in a number of details, most noteably the lower bout ornament, vibrato assembly, pickup and control configuration and (rather obviously) the pickguard. Photo courtesy of Rick Gould.
One of the earliest examples of a doubleneck electric guitar made for onstage use was a doubleneck electric guitar and mandolin made in 1952 by Paul Bigsby for country singer Grady Martin. The guitar was a solid maple instrument featuring a standard six-string guitar neck paired with a mandolin neck. The six-string neck used a Bigsby vibrato and three P-90-style pickups. The mando neck had a single pickup. Martin used this guitar throughout the ‘50s. The Grady Martin model wasn’t the first, or last, doubleneck that Bigsby would make. All totaled, it’s believed Bigsby made about a half-dozen doublenecks.

Doubleneck guitars were still an extreme rarity when Jimmy Bryant stepped in. Bryant, the six-string virtuoso whose many recordings from the late 1940s and early 1950s brought a Django Reinhardt-fluency to country swing soloing, was an early adopter of the solidbody guitar. Possibly the first Fender endorsee, Bryant used an early Broadcaster to great effect. In 1954 Bryant was looking for new levels of showmanship in his playing, and new ways to get the sounds in his head out to the world. In a nutshell, Bryant was looking for an instrument that would allow him to play melodic harmonies without having to team up with another guitarist. He paired with Stratosphere Guitar Manufacturing Co. of Springfield, MO. Whether it was Bryant who approached Stratosphere or the other way around, Stratosphere owner Russ Deaver had just the thing to solve Bryant’s dilemma: a doubleneck electric guitar that was different from any before or since. The Stratosphere had both a six- and twelve-string neck, maple fretboards and P-90-style pickups. The body on the Stratosphere was a bit of a blob. The Stratosphere Twin is acknowledged as the first doubleneck electric—as well as the first 12-string electric—offered to the public for sale (unlike the Bigsby, which was custom order-only). The tuning of the Stratosphere was a big departure: on the twelve-string neck the courses were tuned in either major or minor thirds. The complex tuning of the Stratosphere required the player to almost completely relearn the fretboard. Bryant used a prototype Stratosphere Twin at a session in September of 1954. Chet Atkins himself also used a Stratosphere on the tune “Somebody Stole My Gal.” Not much was seen of the guitar after.

Custom versions (in various stages of completion) of Terry McArthur’s Moseley-inspired recreation, “The Maphis” by TNM Guitars. Photo courtesy of Rick Gould.

Semie Mosely may have done more for establishing doubleneck electric guitars than any other individual. As an apprentice with Paul Bigsby when he was barely out of his teens, Moseley got the opportunity to work on the guitars of many famous players. Picking up the luthier’s trade rapidly, Moseley learned how to craft every single part of the guitar himself, including pickups, vibrato tailpieces, knobs and other plastic parts. They were also durable, with many examples still in existence. He also learned to be unafraid of invention, innovation and making guitars way, way out of the norm. Going into business for himself in about 1954, he began building solidbody guitars for players in and around Southern California. In 1954, Moseley made doublenecks for Joe Maphis and Larry Collins of the Collins Kids. He became known as the go-to guy for multi-necked instruments and eventually made more pieces for Maphis and Collins, as well as for stringburner Phil Baugh and others.

Sherwin Linton in 1967 with the doubleneck he built in 1965 using a Fender Jazzmaster neck and vibrato tailpiece. Four of the strings on the 12-string neck use banjo tuners through the back of the headstock, so they’re not seen in the photo. Sherwin says he “finished it in blue with the woodgrain showing through and it was and still is very pretty.” Photo courtesy of Sherwin Linton.
Throughout the ’50s, one-off and homemade doublenecks made appearances across the scene. Herbie Treece and Sherwin Linton are two that come readily to mind. Both pickers in the country circles, each played homemade doublenecks. Treece’s guitar was a stylish axe with dual six-string necks of differing scale, and Linton’s homemade doubleneck had a revolving cast of six-, eight-, and twelve-string necks with features such as B-benders and headstock-mounted vibratos. Linton used his doubleneck on the aptly named album, “Hello, I’m Not Johnny Cash.”

The Big Boys Step In
In 1958, Gibson introduced two doubleneck electric instruments, the EDS-1275 Double 12 and the EMS-1235 Double Mandolin. The first Gibson electric doubleneck, however, was built a year or two earlier as a custom order. Seeing the possibilities in the model, Gibson built a number of samples, some of which they exhibited at the 1957 NAMM show. Enough positive reaction was garnered that the company put the models in the next catalog, but very few of the instruments were actually produced. Initially, both of these instruments were thinline hollowbodies, 1-7/8" deep. The EDS (Electric Double Spanish) had two 24.75" scale necks, the upper a twelve-string, the lower six-string. The EMS (Electric Mandolin Spanish) had a 13-7/8" scale six-string neck in the upper position and a 24.75" scale six-string neck in the lower position. Both models had a two-piece solid spruce top with maple sides and a one-piece maple back. Colors available were white, black and sunburst. The dual-cutaway shape of the thin-lines was a precursor to the SG-style solidbody which both instruments transitioned to in 1962.