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Here are links to several articles about and by Gene Fields:
1. The Mr. Pathfinder article reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine about Gene.
2. An article reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine about Gene's history with Fender and the development of the PS 210.
3. An article reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine about Gene's steel playing history.
4. An article written by Gene about strings.
Reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine Volume # 6, Issue # 36, December/January 1998. Used with permission.
*Please note that some of the steel guitar model and price information mentioned later in the article is outdated.
I was anticipating to have this done a few months back, about the same time the Pathfinder had landed on Mars. At that time, it seemed to be a fitting tie-
Russ Rask (Editor)
"My first pedal guitar was an 8 string Multi-
"The first pedal guitar that would raise and lower accurately was the Fender 1000. As there were no tuners available at the time, this guitar seemed reasonably accurate. I saw the Fender 1000 at the KXLA studio where I was on a recording session. This instrument belonged to Speedy West. My first experience with the Fender 1000 was one that Al Petty brought to me for help with a double row of pedals, (heel & toe). After satisfying his need on the pedals, he expressed a desire for two position raise and lower. Together, we designed and made a second set of levers that attached to the bottom of the original set. The first stop had to be on the added lever, allowing the original lever to move under it to a second stop. It was not pretty but it worked. To the best of my knowledge this was the first two position raise and lower changer of its kind. The Multi-
"Al also complained about string breakage on the Fender 1000. This changer had two moving parts. It also required a bridge. The movement across the bridge was breaking the strings. I designed a changer system with no shaft, instead it used a knife edge plate in place of a shaft. The changer pawl had a "V" groove on the front side that rested on the knife edge plate. The top radius become the bridge. This provided a 7/8" diameter bridge which almost eliminated string breakage. A single string model was all I ever made. The knife edge plate and pawl became the heart of the Fender 2000 changer. All of these things were shown to Leo Fender by Al Petty, resulting in a position in Fender R&D in May 1961. I have been involved with pedal guitars and design ever since."
During Gene's 23 years at Fender, he was involved with the design of many instruments including the Mustang bass, the Music Master bass, the Marauder, the first solid state three speaker bass amp cabinet. He had control of the P.S. 210 keyless pedal guitar, the Starcaster guitar, a keyless bass and other prototypes that were never produced. Gene left Fender and joined Sierra in 1984 to build custom electric guitars and basses, only to find out he did not have enough money to promote the product in that field. Gene joined M.C.I Intertek as head of R&D on pedal guitars in July 1985, with complete freedom to redesign. Gene added the welded frame and butcher block body plus a new pedal board and pedal design. The changers and linkage were designed by Bud Carter and as Gene said, "I saw no need to change it."
After the Fred Gretch Co. bought EMCI, Gene started a guitar and steel guitar repair shop. In 1989 he started building an economy model pedal steel guitar. Gene says, "What made this model different from the student pedal guitar in the past was a maple body supported by an aluminum frame, a pro guitar pickup and the ability to have 3 pedals and 4 knee levers. The strength of this cabinet will match that of any pro guitar on the market. The leg sockets are a part of the end plate extrusion for greater stability. The changer is limited as any lowering must be done on knee levers moving to the right only. This is not a problem with a standard Nashville E9th tuning."
"The pickup on this "Econo" model is the same pickup we use in our "Pro Model". This was a Barcus Berry until two years ago when George "L" agreed to make a pickup to our specifications. We offer two versions, GFI 1 is standard while GFI 2 is heavier wound. Any George "L" pickup can be ordered at no extra cost. This applies to both our Econo and our Pro Models. A friend of mine (Coy Howard) owns a steel rule die company. He asked me several times to try die board in the pedal guitars. As it was a form of plywood I refused because my past experience with plywood had been negative. I finally built two pedal guitars, identical except one was solid maple and the other was 5/8" "all maple die board." DeWitt Scott "Scotty" was here when we tested them. We were both pleasantly surprised to find the die board superior to the solid maple. The tones were similar except with the die board, the strings seemed to come alive. We have been using all maple die board ever since, both in our Econo and Pro Models."
"With the stability, the pro tone and minimum retuning, we have quite a few Pros playing our Econo pedal guitar simply because of the weight factor. "Scotty", Jeff Newman and Winnie Winston have all written articles stating that the tone of this guitar is comparable to the pro guitars."
"Die Board seems to be a dirty word to those that have no experience with it. There are different kinds of die board. The most economical is birch, similar to birch plywood but much higher quality. To me birch die board is a dirty word for our purpose. "All maple" die board is another story. Every ply is maple with absolutely no voids or patches. It is tough enough to drill and tap, and hard enough to have a resonance. When strumming the strings, more vibration is felt through out the instrument than with solid maple. The last sheet of all maple die board I bought cost $106, wholesale. The sheet size was only 4 ft. by 6 ft. If I did not think it was superior, I would not have paid this price for it".
"Blackie Taylor tried several times to get me to build a pro model. I told him I would as soon as the Econo model paid the way. I refused his loan offer as I did not want to gamble with his money. In 1992 he wrote me a letter stating that if I waited for the Econo model to support a Pro model, I would be too old to build it and he would be too old to play it. He offered to contribute to the project with no cash payback. Instead of money, I was to pay him back with pedal guitars, as he owns Blackie Taylor Music in Riverside California. He contributed at least $22,000 over the years, maybe more, with no contract signed and no interest demanded. I am thankful to have been able to pay this all back. I gave him three extra pedal guitars, all twelve strings, one with a 8 string fretted neck and a 12 string steel guitar neck. I also wish to thank him as the Pro Model probably would not have happened without him".
"The Pro Model is constructed with all maple die board bodies, supported by a welded 6061-
"All frames are sanded to a brush finish and coated with a gloss epoxy, baked on at 400 degrees, providing a lifetime finish with reasonable care, no more aluminum to polish. A wide variety of Mica type inlays are available. We do not offer lacquer finishes, but we have some wood grains, including figured maple, plain maple, rosewood, cherry wood and others. These Mica type inlays are much more durable than lacquer finishes and look like the real thing."
"The pedal board is extruded 6061-
"The changer has 3 raise and 2 lower positions. The strings are suspended 1" above the body instead of the normal 1.5". This provides even greater resistance to body bending. The playing clearance is normal, compared to other pedal guitars, while the aluminum neck is thinner. In order to lower the string profile, I had two choices, build the body thicker and give up leg room or drop the third raise position. I chose the later and have never yet failed to meet a pedal setup demand".
While at M.C.I. Intertek Gene built a double neck for A-
"The changer and nut housings are extruded aluminum. After machining, black epoxy coating is applied and baked at 400 degrees. This provides an excellent bearing surface on the side walls of the housing. The return to pitch after raising and lowering is excellent, and no strings rattle has ever been detected at the nut."
"We make our own legs to standard height. Special height is available at no extra cost if specified with the original order. The legs are also extruded aluminum with a 3/16" wall thickness. 5/8" threaded studs are provided. The front leg is fixed length while the rear legs are adjustable to plus or minus _". This leg assembly provides greater stability at about 2/3 the weight of commercially available legs."
"We also make a keyless guitar. I find the keyless to be superior when referring to string breakage, pedal action, tuning accuracy, and many other points. However, this has been discussed extensively throughout the industry as well as on the internet. I will not argue those points except to say don't knock it until you try it. I will respond to the claim that keyless tuning destroys enhancing harmonics. There are 10 out of tune harmonics generated on any instrument with a conventional key head. These harmonics vary with different string gauges, different key head lengths, and different tunings. They also vary every time a pedal is pushed. There is no way for all of these varying out of tune harmonics to enhance, especially when relativity changes with every movement of the bar."
"The feature that sets our keyless tuning apart is two rows of 5/8" diameter turning knobs (no tools required for tuning), two different lever lengths mounted on separate shafts for matching leverage ratios, all nickel plated for greater durability and appearance. The bell crank is combined with a brass ferrule to provide a lock for the pull rod as well as excellent bearing surface. This bell crank also allows much more freedom when locating knee levers in tight places. All knee levers on the GFI are mounted on their own brackets with stop screws for both directions, built into the bracket. This new bell crank will also become a connector for pedal to cross rod, adding six leverage ratio choices to the knee levers. Don't be surprised to find this linkage system on the Pedalmaster pedal guitar as Roy Thomas and I worked together to develop it and will share it in the future."
"Only top quality materials are used. 19 different extrusions are used, 24 on the keyless. Our prices range from $775.00 for the Econo model with 2 pedals and 2 knee levers (or 3 and 1) to $3195.00 for a D-
"We are adding an economy pro model to our line. This will be an S-
"Seven of my Fender years were with the string division, designing tooling, fixtures and machinery, as well as string design. I built my own machines and tooling for the guitar venture at Sierra. I have also designed and built several machines for Robin Guitars in Houston. This experience allows me to build instruments with quality second to none, in less man hours than most."
"I searched for and wide for a computer program that would design pedal guitars and I failed to find it. I had to design this one the hard way, with trial and error. This is no (Blah)!!!"
Gene Fields / Mr. Pathfinder Light Years Ahead Of His Time
Reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine, Issue #27, #28, June, August 1996. Used with permission.
Gene Fields designed his first pedal guitar in 1955. He joined Fender Musical Instruments' Research & Development in 1961 and remained there for 23 years. His designs included the P.S. 210 Keyless Pedal Guitar, the Starcaster thinline hollow body guitar, the 2nd generation Marauder solid body electric and was the first with a keyless bass which was never marketed. He also worked with Leo Fender on the Mustang bass, the Musicmaster bass, and the Bronco economy guitar and others. His last 6 years were in the string division. There, he was responsible for the introduction of automatic string winding machinery, the development of several sets of strings for bass and guitar while heading up the R&D and quality control department.
After leaving Fender, he joined Sierra in Portland, Oregon designing and building solid body electric guitars and basses. Next was a move to M.C.I. Intertek R&D and later as general manager of the pedal guitar division. When M.C.I. was sold to the Fred Gretch Co., he formed the Gene Fields custom shop, later ot become GFI Musical Products designing and building GFI pedal guitars.
I used to sit and marvel at the P.S. 210 in the Fender catalog years ago. That was a haggard wish book by the time I was done with it! I never dreamed I would someday meet the man responsible for that guitar. Gene is a very good person and a great friend. If you ever get the chance to hear him pick, it'll knock your socks off! When you hear what he can do on that guitar you'll say "How did he do that"! Ah ha, one neck is with the bar and the other is fretted.
Russ Rask (Editor)
My first pedal guitar was a Multi-
I learned to live with this system by using the pedals to retune the strings that were not supposed to move. This was not a problem as all of the strings could be moved with each pedal. This system still was not satisfactory, however, as you could still hear the string de-
Dissatisfied with this guitar, I started building my own.The first model was built on the kitchen table of an upstairs apartment, while the downstairs neighbors complained every time I used a hammer. My tools consisted of a 2" clamp on vise, a 1/4" Black & Decker drill with a small drill press stand, and a hacksaw miter box. The pedals were the strap section of a bar door hinge.
My brother, who was working as a machinist at North American Aviation research at the time, made my pick-
My second guitar was a 12-
About this time, Al Petty came to me with a set of heel and toe pedals he had made out of wood with small hinges on the front. At the rear of the heel pedals was a slotted board, the purpose of the slots being to hold the pedals in line. We developed a new set out of steel. These pedals were band sawed out of 1/4" steel, the front bearing block being heavy wall tubing, with a pad welded on the back. These pedals were rigid enough to stay in place.
Except for the Multi-
All of this led to me being called in by Leo for an interview. After about a year of negotiating salary, I was hired to work at Fender R & D.The first three months were to be spent in the plant learning production methods. This training period turned out to be more than 3 years of moving from job to job. This included several positions on the guitar line, from beginning assembly to final set-
After moving into R & D, I worked on a system to make the pedal guitar cable system pull in a straight line, also eliminating the small pulleys. This would allow the excess play to be adjusted out. This system was never used. The steel guitar project was dropped as I was requested to work with prototype speaker enclosures.Another project on the list was the second generation Marauder. When this design was completed we constructed eight prototypes.
I worked with Leo on several projects, including the Mustang bass, Musicmaster bass and Bronco guitar. I was also involved in checking mechanical drawings. This included checking drawings to make sure the dimensions added up. It also meant checking drawings against mating part drawings to make sure they fit together.In 1968, I was assigned the pedal guitar project, the only guidelines being better and lighter. The result was the P.S. 210 Keyless pedal guitar. As this instrument is radically different from any other instrument, I have been requested to describe its development and the reasons why it was developed. That will follow in another section.
The next project was a new thin-
In 1975, I was asked to solve the problem of the so called dead spot that appears on all bass guitars, usually on the "G" string around the 5th and 6th fret. Without going into detail, this was found to be a resonant frequency of the neck, resulting in a keyless bass design which was completed in 1976, but never released.
In 1977, I was transferred to the Squire string division in Battle Creek, Michigan, to update string design, as well as machinery. Bass strings at that time were deliberately deadened to sound more like an upright bass. As the market changed, we developed strings with more sustain. We also changed to automatic machines for better quality control and much greater safety to the operator. I had the opportunity to develop the first roller wind system to operate on automachinery, as well as a dual re-
During my time at both Fender R & D and the Squire string division, I was highly involved in solving production problems. We also set the standards for quality control. The greatest asset out of all of this was the chance to design not only instruments, but also jigs and fixtures, and create production methods.
In 1984, after 23 years at Fender, I resigned to join up with Don Christensen at Sierra to build electric guitars and basses. I set up shop in the back of his building. This required special machines not available on the market. I had to design and build poor-
1. Fret saws for guitars and basses
2. Fret board radiusing sanders.
3. Sanders for final carving on the back of the neck.
4. Special pin routers.
5. Club press.
6. Jigs and fixtures for all of the above.
These guitars were aimed at the top of the line, as I knew I could not compete with high production machinery at the low end. We introduced 12 guitars and basses at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, in January 1985. We had great comments on the performance and workmanship, but nobody even asked the price. The hard lesson learned here was, if you had not advertised in Guitar Player Magazine for at least 5 years at $3,000.00 per month, dealers won't trust you to be around long enough to establish a demand for your product.
At the NAMM Show in New Orleans, I met John Burkhead of MCI Intertek who offered me an R & D position with MCI's pedal guitar division. I was given the go-
As I had already used a welded frame on the Fender Keyless, I was sold on the system and proceeded to develop a welded frame for the MCI. This also required a cross rod that could be added or removed without taking the frame apart. With the adjustable cross rod, we had total control of the cross rod play. Butcher block maple bodies were also added. This did not change the tone a lot, but it did give greater consistency in tone from one instrument to the next. Extruded pedals were also added along with a new pedal board that required no pedal brackets. This model was called the Rangexpander up to the day MCI went out of business. From that point on, it was known as the EMCI.
After leaving MCI, I returned to Fender for two months as a consultant with the string division. I was also contacted by Fred Gretch Co., not for pedal guitars, but for the reissue of the Gretch thin-
I look back at my history and realize that just little job change could have led to a different path and never would have had the chance to do what I love most: to earn my keep, an opportunity that most people never have.
In 1968 I was asked to design a new pedal guitar from scratch. The only guidelines I had were to build it better and lighter, and to include knee levers. At that time, a major complaint on pedal guitars was the large 7/8" diameter of the changer fingers, causing a high frequency rattle or singing sound. This was caused by the string vibrating against the finger just in front of the intonation point. To eliminate this required a small radius which would increase string breakage. Most players today have either grown up with this problem or have gotten used to it. Some manufacturers, including G.F.I., have dropped the diameter to 3/4" without a big sacrifice in breakage. The reason I am elaborating this point is because it led to most of the other radical changes as follows.To eliminate this problem I moved the changer to the opposite end of the instrument. This allowed me to use a small diameter bridge, producing a much more solid sound, without the high frequency vibration.
This led to another problem, locating the keys on the right end (from the player) of the instrument would create a shallow angle at the bridge, and sacrifice of sustain and tone. To avoid this meant using something other than keys. This led to a Keyless tuning system used on the P.S. 210, it was not just to be different.After the experimenting with the Keyless system, we discovered more advantages due to the elimination of the excess string length.
a. No movement of string across the nut.
b. Shorter pedal action due to less string length to stretch.
c. More sustain-
In order to have a tuning knob large enough for good leverage, every other string was mounted in a different row. This allowed the knob to be almost two times the width of the string spacing.The next major obstacle was shaft deflection in the changer. To avoid this I used a flat knife edge plate, similar to my one contribution to the 800 and 2000 Fender pedal guitars. The lowering Lever had a "V" groove to mate with the knife edge plate. The raise lever mated with the lowering lever with the "V" groove system creating a changer with two moving parts per string. All the other linkage was designed to operate on this knife edge principal, with the exception of the bell crank and the pedal. By using the knife edge system, it was not too difficult to add a shift system that would transfer all pedals and knee levers from one neck to the other, offering 9 pedals per neck, up to 4 could be knee levers as long as the total was nine. This was accomplished with one moving part. It worked well as long as you did not shift while pressing a pedal. If this happened, it would not shift. However, if you released the pedal and started over, it worked fine. The neck switch was operated by the shift lever. The pickups were designed with 12 magnets for 10 strings. The two outer magnets were closer than the rest, this pushed the magnetic field a little higher plus, the coil was a little longer. It was my belief, that the Ist and last string of a pickup did not have the same environment as the strings in the middle. The end results proved this to be true, however, it was often mistaken for a 12 string pickup. These pickups were wound much heavier than the earlier Fender pedal guitar pickups, creating a fuller tone while retaining good high frequency response.
The first model of this instrument was Hydraulic. A 36" cylinder was used to drive a H" with a mechanical lever, to drive the larger cylinder, by using a large cylinder to drive a smaller one. The unused portion becomes a reservoir, this allows a closed system-
The hydraulic frame was all welded aluminum, with milled end plates welded to aluminum angle rails front and back, to support a maple neck. I was so impressed with the tone of this combination, I wanted to use it in the production model. I mounted the bridge directly to the frame, the maple neck was then mounted tight against the bridge. The nut was mounted on the maple neck. This allowed me to use the aluminum frame for tone coloring while the bridge to nut length was controlled by the maple neck.
The changer was operated by set screw bars similar to the multi-
Extrusions were used for both the frame and pedal board. "T" slots were extruded in both pedal board and frame to accept a 10-
Another advantage of this system was the fact that the pedal spots were built into the changer, eliminating the possibility of thermal expansion and contraction in the changer.
Like most prototypes, mistakes were made. If the tuning and linkage system was not adjusted properly, some parts could fall out of place. This was corrected with a simple bracket. Another mistake was in the adjustable lowering springs. These adjustments offered a small advantage to people with a little mechanical knowledge. Most problems were caused by adjusting first, then reading the manual.
This instrument was the first Fender pedal guitar with knee levers. When the orders came in with many different pedal set ups and pedal-
Text from the PS 210 Brochure:
Extensively researched and engineered with the musicians in mind, featuring 10 breakthroughs that you've all been waiting for:
(1) The new tuning mechanism pressure is always applied in one direction. A string can be lowered to pitch without adjusting out-
Instrument can be tuned with the right hand while holding a chord with the left.
Excess string length which vibrates and cancels from the fundamental is eliminated, allowing much great sustain.
The mechanism allows the instrument to be 9 inches shorter.
Strings can be changed faster and easier.
(2) The changer unit operates without the use or pins shafts. Friction and noise are virtually eliminated.
One to ten strings can be activated per pedal. To change or add to a tuning, simply move or adjust screws on the adjustment screw bar as required. Pedal tunings can be changed in less than one minute per string.
Each string can be raised or lowered to as many positions as there are pedals, depending on the elasticity of the string.
The changer unit is located on the left of the player, with a minimum angle and roller bridges, to instill perfect intonation and eliminate string breakage.
(3) Pedals, knee levers, and pickups are shifted from one neck to the other with a simple trouble free lever. In addition, a switch is provided to turn pickups on regardless of lever position.
(4) An all new linkage systems is used, eliminating cables, pins, shafts. and pulleys to minimize friction and noise.
(5) A new pickup is offered with wider frequency response and more power.
(6) Body is aluminum construction. Combined with the new pickup it produces a tone never achieved before.
(7) The neck, made of solid curly maple, also controls the distance from bridge to nut. This controls de-
(8) Both pedals and knee lever are mounted on a sliding track, easily adjusted from side to side to the spacing desired.
(9) Thumb screws mounted on pedals to adjust out all excess play in linkage.
(10) New quick clamp latches on pedal board for faster set up time.
23 1/2" scale. 12 3/8" wide. 271/2" long. And it weighs 65 pounds, including the case and legs. Volume pedal is optional.
Extra knee levers available. Walnut burl effect. Packed in a single, rugged carrying case, it can be unpacked, assembled and ready to play in a minimum amount of time.
The standard P.S. 210 is equipped with eight pedals and one knee lever. For optional pedal and knee lever combinations consult the Fender Price List.
Standard Accessories: Hard shell plush lined case, cord, polishing cloth, rubber-
Optional accessories Fender volume foot pedal, Fender tone and volume foot pedal. II Walnut burl finish only
For prices and ordering information consult the Fender Price List under Numbers 14-
Reprinted from Steel Guitar World Magazine. Volume #5, Issue #29, October 1996. Used with permission.
I started playing steel guitar in 1943. My brother, who was in the army at the time, wrote home and asked my dad to trade his accordion for a six string Rickenbacker and matching metal case amplifier. When my brother got out of the army, I could play his steel and he couldn't, so he gave it to me.
My first professional job was with a band called the Cripple Creek Boys run by "Uncle Billy Woods". This was at W.H.O.P. radio station in Hopkinsville, Ky. We had a big tent and a crew to move it to a new location every night within range of the radio station. We were also the front band for Nashville groups such as Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Paul Howard and others. One of the shows was at the ball park in Hopkinsville, KY with Eddy Arnold as the main attraction. My steel guitar was always plugged direct into the P. A. system with a screw on mike type jack. As I had no amplifier for the show Roy Wiggins over heard and offered to let me use his. As my whole history of playing at this time was based on trying to copy Roy Wiggins, I was very uncomfortable playing his style and knowing he would play the following show and do it right. It was also my first time to use a real amplifier.
In 1947 working the clubs in St. Louis. (with a fake birth certificate) Ferlin Husky, known as Tex Terry, gave me my first job, we worked at the Music Box Bar, Alto's Cafe, and others, We also had a radio show in Kirkwood, MO for a while. After that we both moved to Farmington, MO and joined Johnny Ryan on K.F.M.O. radio station.
While in Farmington, Ferlin decided to organize another group and go to the West Coast. As I had a wife and baby at the time I did not want to take the chance with my fake birth certificate. My replacement was another kid, taking his first job, also too young to be in the clubs. He was none other then Kenny Carlisle, later to be know as "Thumbs".
At one point I joined the Dick Slack show at K.M.O.X. St. Louis, working with Billy Starr, Kenny Roberts, Banjo Murphy, The Range Riders, Naomi Craw ford and others. I was now in "The Big Times" until I was asked to play a diminished cord in a certain spot. When I informed them that a diminished chord required three notes and could not be done with an E Major tuning, Banjo Murphy retuned my steel and handed it back saying now you can play a diminished chord. My reply was "that's great but what the hell else can I do with it"? One week later I was told that they changed their minds about having a steel guitar on the show. It wasn't said but I assumed they did not need an 18 year old "smart ass" on the show.
I also did shows with the Shady Valley group. The only names I can recall from this group in Dave Landers and Miron Floren who later joined Lawrence Welk.
In 1949 I joined Ambrose Haley at K. H. M. O. Hannibal, MO. We had two radio shows daily and did shows at schools and auditoriums within the range of the station. We brought in recording stars about once a month to the auditorium in Hannibal, Lefty Frizzell, Cowboy Copas, George Morgan and many lesser names.
From Hannibal I moved to Chicago, working clubs and some recording , including Art Gibson and Ricky Riddle. At one time there was Tiny Murphy, Dan Johnson, also known as Jay or Buzz Summers, Save Beck, Chubby Howard, Steve Thompson, Basil Smith, Curt Delaney, (that's all the names I can think of) and myself all working within a couple of miles of each other. I left before Russ Hicks joined the scene. At the same time Ray Norm was working across town in Calumet City, IN.
In 1952 I moved to Lansing, Michigan and joined Chuck Woods. We played three nights a week at the Bill Woods Inn, a club that would seat over 400 people. This job paid $85.00 per week for the 3 nights. This was big money for that time. We also had a TV show on channel 6 for a while.
In early 1956 the Oldsmobile plant shut down for a while. When Olds shut down in Lansing, the town shut down, including the clubs where I worked.
I moved to Los Angeles only to find a one year waiting period required by Musician's Union Local #47. I found a day job to see me through, within a month after arriving there I was approached by Gene Davis to work a club job with a nightly radio show from the club. He got special permission from the union to use me. Shortly after joining them we started doing TV shows on Sunday afternoon. Within another month we had a Friday night TV show. For awhile I was working a day job five days, a club job five nights and two TV shows. Friday was a long day. I lived in Montebello, worked the day job in Los Angeles, played a 6:00 o'clock show in Hollywood and back to the club in Norwalk from 9:00 o'clock to 2:00 AM. The Sunday afternoon show at that time consisted of five bands. Two of the other groups were Wynn Stewart and Wade Ray.
I left Gene Davis to join Joe Maphis as he was only working two or three nights per week and my load was getting heavy. Joe also got me into recording but I would not give up my day job. After turning down a few sessions they quit calling me.
The main vocalist with Joe was Dale Warren of the Sons Of The Pioneers. They were not traveling much at the time and Joe would only book jobs when Dale was in town.
After Joe left town I took a weekend job in Lancaster, CA. The club where I worked brought in guest stars on a regular basis. Some of them were out of the past but I had grown up with their music and was happy to get to know them. None of them had a band any more so we were their band. Among the many guest stars was Floyd Tillman, Johnny Lou Carson, Johnny Bond, Eddie Dean, Rose Maddox, Fred Maddox, Tex Williams, Skeets McDonald, Lefty Frizzell, and some up and coming stars, Wynn Stewart, Freddie Hart, and Billy Mize later to become MC for Gene Autry's Melody Ranch Show.
After a year and a half of driving back and forth to Lancaster, 90 miles with no freeways, I left and started with a Saturday night show in Duarte, CA., with Wynn Stewart, Freddie Hart and Harlen and Jan Howard. This show was a test run in a new area and never did get off the ground. After this show folded I joined Gordon Terry at the Foothill Club in Long Beach , CA., followed by Johnny Western at the same club. Billy Mize eventually took over the band and I stayed on with him. This was one of the best bands I ever worked with, consisting of Billy Mize, (vocal, guitar, horn), Rod Gail (from Porter Wagoner band) on bass, Jim Pierce on piano, Roy Nichols on guitar, I don't know the drummers name and me.
We also had guest stars quite often. One Monday night we had Don Gibson as a scheduled guest star. Most of Nashville must have been on the West Coast that weekend. We counted 21 named guests, including: Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Leroy Van Dyke, Jan Howard, June Carter, The Jordoneers, Lonzo and Oscar with Don Helms. That's all the names I can remember.
While I was at the Foothill club I was called in for an interview with Leo Fender. After accepting a position at Fender Research & Development, (1961) I cut way back on the night work. In 1964 I organized my own group. We had a steady job every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:00 to 11:30 which fit good with a day job. We had an agent booking us on military bases throughout the area. We also worked a lot of special jobs as the back up band for Billy Mize. One of them was at Disneyland with guest stars, Biff Collie and Glen Campbell, another was at Camp Pendelton with guest stars being Tommy Collins and Freddy Hart.
Freddy asked me and my band to go on the road with him as his band had just left him to join Wynn Stewart. He was close to the top of the charts at the time with "Easy Lovin" and others. Each member of my band was making more on a day job than he offered. That was the second time I had turned down Nashville groups for the same reason.
In 1969 I was asked to develop a new pedal steel guitar, I dropped out of music as I was working up to 80 hours on this instrument. The end result was the PS 210 keyless pedal guitar. This was followed by the thin line hollow body electric which would later be named the Starcaster.
After completing the PS 210 project, I started playing again. The prototype was made available to me to play. I had the pleasure of working with "Thumbs" Carlile again and was fascinated all over again by his style of playing as well as his ability. I got up one Saturday morning after working with "Thumbs" one Friday night, I cut me a board and installed frets in it and taped it down on the outside neck, as I only used one neck for steel work and this is more comfortable to me on the inside.
I knew at the time, that if I was going to learn this fretted neck, I would have to spend the first three months practicing nothing but scales before trying to play any tune. After about a year I started sitting in with bands free in order to get the practice on all the different songs. I still haven't mastered the fretted neck but I have a lot of fun with it.
Some of the highs of the West Coast days were working a few celebration type shows with Rex Allen Sr. in the late 1950's. He was second only to Red Foley and my favorite of all singers at that time, and having the pleasure of working for Jimmy Bryant in his group for a few months. A frequent guest star on Saturday nights after hours was Les Paul.
I don't have much time to play since starting GFI Musical Products. I have spent 40+ years designing and trouble shooting guitars and pedal guitars for other companies, now my goal is to have the best pedal steel guitar for the buck on the market. I think we're about there but we'll talk about that later.
Myths and Misconceptions About Strings by Gene Fields
Reprinted from Ozark Steel Guitar Association Newsletter #19, January 1998. Used with permission.
Gene Fields was with Fender Music research for 23 years. 16 years in instruments research and 7 years with the string division covering everything from R & D Quality Control, machine and tool design, and purchasing of machinery.
I have been asked to write an article about strings. There are many myths and misconceptions concerning this subject. I would like to answer as many claims and questions as I can.
One of the things I treasured during the Fender years was their willingness to let me research extensively before finalizing the product. This included sending me to the source for information. I have visited many foundries including 3 core wire foundries and several cover wire foundries. I have been to and worked with engineers from Now Departure, Fafnir, and Barden Bearing Manufacturer, to research spindle design. I have been through the manufacturing area of at least half of the string manufacturers. I also worked with SIT Strings with some of their machines and machine design. This may sound like I am blowing my own horn and I guess I am, but it also establishes a right to speak on the subject.
There are many kinds of material available for string construction. I will not try to cover them all, only the ones most widely used. Core wire is the dominant factor in all string making. Core wire in the industry is not only wire to wind on, but all plain strings as well. Almost all cover wire is made from Swedish Mandolin Wire. Most of the raw material actually comes from Sweden, however, there is an American copy.
The raw material is usually supplied in large rolls of approximately 7/32 rod and fed through many sets of rollers before reaching its final diameter. As the pressure of these rollers work to harden the metal, it must be annealed periodically to keep it from becoming too brittle to work with. Almost all core wire is tin coated. the annealing and heat treating is the most critical part of the manufacturing process. If the wire is too soft, the twist will not hold. If the wire is too hard, it becomes brittle and will fracture during the twisting operation. The margin for error in heat treatment is very narrow. It is not unusual for soft or hard wire to get past quality control at the foundry or even the string company.
Most string companies will perform a break test. SIT String Co. and some other string companies perform break tests on every coil. When core wire is too soft, it will slip in the twist. This will usually happen slowly. The only clue the customer will have is a constant detuning, always dropping. This is a major problem to pedal guitars as well as guitars with tremolos.
As the margin for error is so narrow it is impossible to ship 100% perfect strings. Different companies have different ways to build in a safe guard against this problem. To the best of my knowledge SIT was the first to develop a method of locking the twist. This was the basis for starting the company SIT (Stay in Tune). Ernie Ball, Fender and others have been soldering the twist for years. I am sure there are other methods used that I am not aware of.
When the core wire is too hard, it will become brittle and break easy. The break will usually happen at the twist or at the key, usually during installation. Hard wire would make a better string except for the breakage. Some of this wire will get through in spite of the best efforts to guard against it. This is a major problem on the strings tuned to F# or higher. Every string manufacturer will have this problem periodically. If a customer should receive a group of strings from a particular manufacturer, he should not avoid this company forever. Try strings from a different production run. Sometimes this means changing companies temporarily.
Another problem arises when a ball end machine is set too tight. This will cause the string to kink and fracture at the end of the last twist. This will cause excessive breakage at the twist only. This problem is usually visible and should not be confused with brittle wire. If this happens too often with the same company, it should be avoided in the future.
Core wire for wound strings is another story. This wire is usually the same composition as the plain strings. Many different methods are used to keep windings from slipping. The most widely used, and in my opinion, far superior to any other method, is hex shaped wire. This wire is excellent because the cover locks on to the core wire at every corner of the hex. This wire is also tin coated. As this wire is so widely used, it covers anything we are concerned with for pedal guitars.
The reason for wound strings is simple, the larger the wire, the lower the frequency produced in a given diameter and scale length. To produce the lower notes, especially in the short scale of the pedal guitar, the wire would be so large and stiff it would not vibrate, to overcome this problem, a smaller core is used while the winding adds weight to make it respond to the lower frequencies while retaining its flexibility. The smaller the core wire for a given diameter, the greater the flexibility, however a careful balance must be reached. Core wire will usually vary from 1/3 to 1/2 of the total diameter of the string. This will vary with different gauges. This can also vary from one company to another. This is why it is sometimes necessary to retune the pedals when changing from one company to another on any given gauge
Cover wire comes in many different materials. bronze, phosphor bronze, silver plated copper, pure nickel, nickel plated steel, and stainless steel to name a few. For the most part, only three of these will enter the picture for use in pedal guitar strings. Pure nickel is the softest and easiest to wind. It is also the heaviest, making it respond better to low frequency. Nickel plated steel is more magnetic creating more out put per given diameter, a good choice if you prefer heavier bass response. Nickel plated steel is plated to 8% of total weight while still in the rod form, then rolled down to its diameter. Stainless steel is the hardest with more resistance to bending. It also does less detuning in the winding process. Creating a tighter winding and a brighter sound. Contrary to popular belief, some of the 40 series stainless steel have magnetic properties. This is the case with 430 stainless, normally used in strings. Stainless steel strings are very tough and are abrasive to stainless steel bars. If stainless strings are used, the bar should be hard chrome.
Cover wire is often deformed deliberately in the winding process to eliminate finger and bar noise. Flat wound strings were very popular in the past and are still used to a much lesser degree. This process made the smoothest string available but lost a lot of brightness. 430 stainless winding was used to regain some of the brightness. Another method is used by Fender and G.H.S. to achieve less finger and bar noise with much less loss of high frequency response. This method is called roller winding. The wire is fed between rollers and flattened to a much lesser degree in the winding process. This method produced less finger noise than round wound, but were much brighter than flat wound.S.I.T. string company has a new string called Silencers, that is flattened for less bar noise, but doesn't seem to have any loss of brightness.
Another factor in the brightness is the feed angle during the winding process. If the angle is too great the windings will spread and have gaps between the windings. This would be good if it could be controlled perfectly. If the spreads vary in width the string will note out by varying degrees directly related to the spreads. A perfect spread is almost impossible to control. The next best thing is to set the winding angle so the wire rubs lightly on itself while winding. If the angle is too shallow, the winding will try to climb on the previous winding causing roughness to the string. This will also affect the brightness as windings that are too tight decrease the flexibility which is a must for high frequency response.
The major factor in the life of a string is how fast the debris and corrosion builds up between the windings. When the openings fill up the string will go dead regardless of what winding material was used. Even though your hands feel clean and dry after playing even short while, the strings should be wiped with a fast drying solvent. Alcohol will do fine a long as it does not come off from behind the bar.
Even with the best of materials, plus locking the twist, there will still be stretching periods with any new strings. New strings will not form to the bridge and nut immediately. Before stretching in the strings, press all strings firmly on the playing side of the bridge and nut. This will help form the bend. Tune all the strings to pitch then pull up on each string 3 or 4 times, being careful not to break the high strings. Retune to pitch and repeat these steps until the strings stabilize.
During most of my years in the string division, I was responsible for only research and development of strings and machinery plus quality control. I had an excellent quality control supervisor working for me. This left me a lot of time to experiment and evaluate products. With all the time I have spent evaluating strings, from every company in the business at the time, I have come to the conclusion that there is no magic or perfect pedal guitar strings. There is no string that will stay in perfect tune all the time, there is no unbreakable strings, there is no pedal guitar that will not break strings. I am very proud of the GFI keyless pedal guitar. It has a lot of advantages, but it or any other keyless pedal guitar will not eliminate string breakage. It will decrease the breakage. As the overall strings are shorter, less bending is required at the changer.
To understand this one must understand the nature of the material. We all know that when a piece of metal is bent enough times it will break. This is commonly known as metal fatigue. for the answer to the pedal guitar problem we must understand metal fatigue. Bending a piece of metal one time will make it harder. This is hardly measurable. Bend it enough times and it will get so hard it will become brittle and break. This is what happens at the changer every time the pedal is pushed. When the string is bent enough times it will become brittle and break, in spite of the fact that there is a keyless tuner on one end or a solder or locked twist on the other. A short or long twist makes no difference as long as it does not reach the bending point.
Most reputable string companies make good products. This article is not intended to endorse or criticize any particular string company.
There is a new string on the market with a colbalt winding. I would guess it is 8% cobalt is this is a common material in the cutting tool industry I will be testing them in the very near future. At this point I do not know enough about them to comment.
I realize this article got rather lengthy but I felt it necessary to understand the material in order to cope with the problems.
Gene Fields / The Man, Designer, Builder & Player
Steel Guitar Profile / Mr. Gene Fields