Vintage Guitar - March 2017 - Open - 101
(LEFT) The neck plate on Sellers' bass, stamped with the logo and serial number
1298. (RIGHT) Micro-Frets basses were given their own version of the Micro Nut.
pearl fretboard inlays. For its
finish, they chose a wine-red
color befitting the age of the
instrument and highlighting the
grain on the body. The neck
was given a slightly dark tint.
Jones' work, Sellers said,
expertly masked the effects
of his own misguided effort.
The components made by
Meadors - hand-wound pickups,
the nut, bridge, and neck plate
all machined from aluminum
and stainless steel - pushed
the instrument close to original
with the only conciliations
being the black-plastic (instead
of white plexi) pickup surrounds and the pots and wiring,
which were modernized.
"The result was essentially
a new instrument," said Sellers. "It played solidly, sounded
good, and its action was light."
Thus could have concluded
the story of a glorious restoration 35 years in the making...
But in late 2013, Sellers
got a pleasant surprise.
"It was one of those serendipitous moments," he recalled.
"The original components turned
up in a box of family artifacts.
Someone was cleaning out
their basement, and there they
were in a bag with my name
on it. I was very fortunate
they weren't thrown out as
junk after three decades."
Dream reignited, Sellers
called Jones. And though
there were challenges
brought about by the parts
having aged and wires being
broken or brittle, the effort
and cost - "several times
more than it would have been
in 1980" - was worth it.
"I came away with two lessons," Sellers said. "The first is
don't let kids buy classic guitars until they appreciate what
they are, and the other is to let
a professional work on them."
And while he's fully aware
that the money he spent could
have acquired any number of
basses including one of his alltime favorites, a Rickenbacker
4001, "...this is a fragment
of my past. And in a market
where guitars and components are as replaceable as
the latest cell phone, it's good
to keep something that was
built by hand, in limited numbers, purposely different from
the rest. It's a piece of history
- a realization of the dream.
"Besides, how many times
do you get to go back and fix
a mistake?" - Ward Meeker
one -Tone s e t up,
may have helped the
company hit stride,
as from '69 through
'71 it of fered its
most expansive line
- nine models including the top-end
retailed at the time
With the Style 3
in '71, Jones and
the metal clips and
began gluing the
halves, giving the
guitars a more-conventional feel and
became a clear upp e r /w h it e lowe r
they'd been white
But then, fate lent
a cruel twist. Just as
things were starting
to roll for MicroFrets, Ralph Jones
su f fered a hea r t
attack and died on
April 18, 1972. Feeling an obligation to
the workers, Hazel
Jone s c ont i nue d
op e r at ion s w it h
Free in charge of Pages from an early-'70s Micro-Frets catalog
construction and include Ralph Jones' Flat-Top Guitar Pickup,
design. For nearly which boasted modification-free sound hole
four years, he de- mounting and had its own Volume control.
sig ned a nd bui lt
the solidbody Swinger guitar and Husky bass using remaining
inventory of bodies, necks, and hardware. Rumors surfaced of
a resonator, a 12-string, and banjos having been built, but their
veracity ranges from unsubstantiated to (in the case of banjos)
Rather than see the guitars drift further from the vision
conceived by Ralph, Hazel opted to cease production after Free
exhausted the supply of parts.
Will Meadors, who in 2004 bought the Micro-Frets name
and built a run of guitars based on Jones' designs (see sidebar),
believes it was also a matter of dollars and cents.
"When you consider the price of each guitar and how many
were made - the earliest serial numbers I've found were in the
1100 range, so probably 2,600 instruments - at $227 per guitar,
wholesale, that's about $590,000. The company ran for about 10
years, which means they brought in an average of $59,000 annually... theoretically. From that you have to extract real-estate
taxes, electricity, water, heat, wages, payroll taxes, worker's comp,
insurance... I can't see how it ever earned a penny."
Though Meadors says it's generally believed money man Huggins would have been willing to keep the company going if Hazel