Souvenir from a Dream: Tom Verlaine’s 1958 Fender Jazzmaster

September 28th, 2012

By Richard Bienstock

By the late Fifties, Fender had found much success in the solidbody electric guitar market with its Telecaster and Stratocaster lines. In 1958, the company attempted to further penetrate the field with the Jazzmaster, intended, as its name implied, for jazz players.

The guitar, more upscale than the Strat or Tele, was Fender’s first offering to feature a rosewood fingerboard. It also sported distinct Lead and Rhythm circuits and a specially designed floating tremolo and bridge. But its most striking feature was a radical offset-waist body shape, a design element that let guitarists rest the instrument comfortably on a leg, making it ideal for jazz musicians of the era, who generally performed while seated.

Despite Fender’s efforts, the Jazzmaster was never embraced by its intended musical community and instead wound up being adopted by surf-rock acts like the Ventures, who put the guitar’s unique tremolo system to good use. The original Jazzmaster was officially discontinued in 1980, but not before it experienced one last resurgence at the hands of a pair of erudite punk rockers: Elvis Costello (who is seen wielding a Jazzmaster on the cover of his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True) and Television mainman Tom Verlaine.

The guitar shown here was previously owned by Verlaine and is a first-year production model. It features an alder body with a sunburst finish, anodized aluminum pickguard, rosewood slab fingerboard, and two single-coil soapbar pickups. It is also significant for being Verlaine’s main instrument on Television’s groundbreaking 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, and their 1978 follow-up, Adventure, albums on which he and co-guitarist Richard Lloyd employed punk’s minimalist approach as a launch pad for all manner of coiled and angular six-string improvisations.

Their aesthetic proved influential on the then-burgeoning post-punk and new-wave scenes, and elements of Verlaine’s guitar sound—crisp, chiming, and heavy on the attack—can be heard in the playing of scores of subsequent left-of-center players like U2’s The Edge, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, and the Strokes’ Albert Hammond, Jr.

But guitarists were not the only ones profoundly affected by Verlaine and his Jazzmaster. Karen Glauber, a 30-year music-industry veteran, says that the first time she heard Marquee Moon, “it blew my mind.” In 2000, a friend tipped her off that this guitar was up for auction on eBay, and she put in an offer—mostly, she says, “to try to drive up the price and make some extra money for Tom.” But when the winning bid fell through, Glauber took it as an opportunity to procure the guitar for herself.

Though she is not much of a player—she says her skills extend to “the intro to ‘Smoke on the Water’ and a little bit of [Television’s] ‘Little Johnny Jewel’,” Glauber has traveled in similar circles as the members of Television, working directly with Lloyd and even hosting a record release party at her L.A. home for the band’s 1992 self-titled reunion effort, with Verlaine in attendance. Since acquiring the Jazzmaster more than a decade ago, she has had several more run-ins with Verlaine. “He’s looked at the guitar and even signed it on the back for me,” Glauber says. “I actually think he’s kind of stunned I haven’t sold it yet. But I will be buried with that guitar.”

Photos: Angela Boatwright

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