Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Innovative Luthier Travis Bean Dies at 63

Bean''s aluminum-necked guitars and basses became favorites of platinum-selling 1970s superstars and underground sonic iconoclasts alike


Travis Bean holds one of his signature aluminum necks in 1974 at his Sun Valley, California shop.
Burbank, CA (July 11, 2011) -- Travis Bean, the innovative California luthier whose aluminum-necked guitars and basses became favorites of platinum-selling 1970s superstars and underground sonic iconoclasts alike, passed away at his home in Burbank on July 10 from complications related to cancer. He was 63.

Bean started Travis Bean Guitars in 1974 with the help of partners Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer (who later founded Kramer Guitars). Bean’s guitars were all built around aluminum necks and a neck-through-body design intended to eliminate neck warping, minimize tuning and intonation issues, and enhance sustain and note definition. Bean’s guitars weren’t the first to feature aluminum necks—Wandre and Veleno both used aluminum extensively for necks and bodies—but Bean’s instruments were superb all-around guitars and attracted the attention of the many of the era’s most prominent players.

Jerry Garcia was using a humbucker-equipped TB-1000A by 1975 and a single-coil-equipped TB500 by 1976 to achieve his crystalline signature tone. Keith Richards and Ron Wood both used Travis Beans on the Rolling Stones 1975 tour. Heart’s Roger Fisher, Greg Lake of ELP, and jazz giant Stanley Jordan also helped elevate Travis Bean’s status in the ’70s.

Bean’s guitar’s might have remained curiosities to all but Grateful Dead fanatics and ’70s revivalists were it not for a rediscovery in the late ’80s and ’90s by hard-hitting sonic experimentalists, including Steve Albini of Big Black and Duane Dennison of Jesus Lizard—who prized the high-end sting and sturdiness of Travis Beans for their aggressive post punk styles—and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who used the rich, ringing, and sustaining qualities of his TB1000 for the band’s colossally droning orchestral textures.

Though Bean stopped building Travis Bean-branded guitars in 1979 after just five years of production, he built slightly more than 3,500 instruments. Eventually, the renewed interest in the exceptionally rare guitars prompted Bean to begin building a very limited number of specimens again in the late ’90s.
The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview
The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview on Johnny’s New Songwriter Album

The Man in Black returns with the unreleased Songwriter album. John Carter Cash tells us the story.

Read MoreShow less

This 1968 Epiphone Al Caiola Standard came stocked with P-90s and a 5-switch Tone Expressor system.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (guitarpoint.de)

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (guitarpoint.de)

The session ace’s signature model offers a wide range of tones at the flip of a switch … or five.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Not long ago, I came home late from a band rehearsal, still overly excited about the new songs we played. I got myself a coffee (I know, it's a crazy procedure to calm down) and turned on the TV. I ended up with an old Bonanza episode from the ’60s, the mother of all Western TV series. Hearing the theme after a long time instantly reminded me of the great Al Caiola, who is the prolific session guitarist who plays on the song. With him in mind, I looked up the ’60s Epiphone “Al Caiola” model and decided I want to talk about the Epiphone/Gibson Tone Expressor system that was used in this guitar.

Read MoreShow less

Slinky playability, snappy sounds, and elegant, comfortable proportions distinguish an affordable 0-bodied flattop.

Satisfying, slinky playability. Nice string-to-string balance. Beautiful, comfortable proportions.

Cocobolo-patterned HPL back looks plasticky.

$699

Martin 0-X2E
martinguitar.com

4
4
4.5
4

Embracing the idea of an acoustic flattop made with anything other than wood can, understandably, be tricky stuff. There’s a lot of precedent for excellent-sounding acoustics built with alternative materials, though. Carbon-fiber flattops can sound amazing and I’ve been hooked by the sound and playability of Ovation and Adamas instruments many times.

Read MoreShow less

The GibsonES Supreme Collection (L-R) in Seafoam Green, Bourbon Burst, and Blueberry Burst.

The new Gibson ES Supreme offers AAA-grade figured maple tops, Super Split Block inlays, push/pull volume controls, and Burstbucker pickups.

Read MoreShow less