Monday, October 6, 2008

Burns Sonic guitar, 1960 ("The Aristone")

One of my modest insights into the world of Ebay is that it's only good at finding things that are correctly identified. It's like cataloguing; one the places where parts of my job extend into my real life. If someone is selling an original Fuzz Face and they call it that in the main description, lots of people will find it/see it/bid on it. But if it's described as a 'round grey guitar peddle', a lot less people will see it. This was how I got the Silvertone/Valco - interest in Supro-type guitars was at a generally lower level than now, and someone checking a Silvertone listing would probably be looking for a Danelectro, and pass on it - I recognised it as a Valco and got it cheap. Look for the vague descriptions, and there are bargains if you don't mind wading through the crap. I got the Burns the same way.
Sonic the headstock - Aristone logo, 1960
People with an interest in guitars of the early '60s would recognise it as a Burns, but the name on the headstock is "The Aristone", so that was the main Ebay description term. Deal! Aristone were a London company who had been making banjos and ukeleles and archtop acoustic guitars since the 1930s. I've seen one other electric guitar with the same headstock logo, a late 50s semi-acoustic, on sale for a huge sum at Andy's Guitar Workshop in the year they went into liquidation. How Aristone were related to Jim Burns is a mystery, but there's no sign of any other markings, and in every other respect it's a straight-up 1960 Burns Sonic - complete with maple fretboard, white plastic knobs, army surplus 3-way switch and first-stab trem system. My only guess is that if you're starting out trying to sell guitars and nobody knows your name, you might strike a deal to use a bigger name, even if they are best known for banjos. A lot of companies were testing the water of the future beat tidal wave, and Aristone must have been one of them. Whatever the arrangement was, it didn't last. The only other clue is that the word 'foreign' appears at the bottom of the logo - maybe it was an export model.
Burns Sonic, 1960
Burns Sonic, back, 1960
The tuner covers reveal another unusual detail. Guitar nerds will recognise these as Van Gent tuners from the Netherlands, but they are also stamped with the logo of their British distributors, Boosey & Hawkes. I've seen these on some 1950s Grimshaw guitars online, but mostly they are plain.
Burns Sonic - tuners, 1960
It's a funny looking thing, badly designed in some ways and brilliant in others. The major problem is the weight of the neck/body joint versus the tiny, admittedly kind of silly-looking body. I had a friend in a band in the grungeful early 90s. He was a very small person and my first thought seeing him playing it was that he must have chosen it to match his stature. I was plain wrong (and probably size-ist), but with this design, how could it be anything other than neck-heavy? This photo also shows up the brittle hollow scratchplate and military grade switch.
Burns Sonic neck joint, 1960
You see some examples with the strap button moved to the lower bout, to move the centre of gravity, but this one has stayed as Mr Burns (tee hee) intended. Balance problems come into perspective when you plug it in - theses are really great pickups, maybe even better than the Valco single coils I love, so why not just sit down if its a problem? They really bite - a very punky spiky beat sound, but with a smoother mid-range and a good growl in the bass. Yay! This the best guitar for fuzz ever.
Burns Sonic body, 1960
I mentioned the trem system above and you might be thinking 'what trem system?' I took the 'pat. pending' arm off and disabled it to get the action a bit lower, but the pieces are all safe. It didn't work too well in the first place. I also reversed the polarity of the bridge pickup, for more usable sounds. Originally the pickups were out of phase, which made for a strange hollow sound in the middle position that I didn't like. I changed it, but to me it's an improvement. It's been through the wars a bit, so I don't mind making a few positive alterations. To me it's still a working instrument.
Selmer strap, '60s
One last thing I should mention is the Selmer strap. This was another ebay find - it didn't come with the guitar, but it's a good match. American collectors call this kind of thing 'case candy'. I could never use that expression, but I don't have the case either.


Charlotte Cooper said...

You know too much but I'm thrilled by your geekery.

Simon Murphy said...

geekery? this is only the start of it, babe!

Psike said...

Ola all friend my name is Jefferson well is of Brazil and is trying to restore a pedal Jen Jumbo Fuzz. You could help me? Necessary of photos of the electronic diagram and photos of the pedal. been thankful

Matey Lot said...

I also have a Tri-sonic sitting besides me as I type.
Not too sure of the year but 1960/61/62 at latest. My second one . First lasted me 15 years of hard playing. All original but have lost the headstock badge.

RnFR said...

ooh that's nice! love the fade on the neck. any chsnce of hearing any clips of this sucker? maybe paired up with that pep rush?

Simon Murphy said...

Whoops - away for a couple of weeks and 3 comments! I'll have to reply to all three at once -

psike - I don't have any direct knowledge of the Jen Jumbo Fuzz, but it's suppposed to be pretty close the early version(s) of the Bug Muff Pi.

matey lot - yay! It's a great guitar

RnFR - I'm behind with my clips pf the Pep Fuzz, but the Sonic is the gtr I use for all my clips as it's got the best pickups! check out the Supa Fuzz clips, or go to my my profile page and listen to the sound file on there. Can't remember which fuzz it is, but it's definitely the Burns.

Steve Rogers said...

I've owned a Burns Sonic Model since 1976, and from 1980 onwards (when I sold my 1963 Firebird III - gah!) it was my main axe. Mine's never had the trem, instead it had a wooden acoustic guitar bridge and a cheap pressed tailpiece. Paul Day says that's a good thing cos the Burns trems are no good :) I did try to fit one way back in 1988-9 but eventually gave up - not without buying a replica arm for £25(!) from a Glasgow bloke whose name i forget. Chris Eccleshall gave me the trem tailpiece he'd removed from Rory Gallagher's Gretsch Silver Jet, but the difficulty of getting the right springs and Day's warning conspired to discourage me, so Chris just fitted a Rickenbacker fixed-intonation bridge instead. And so it remains to this day - with an Eccleshall refret, and Kent Armstrong potted the bridge pickup for me - but my gosh it works! and has such a full rich sound. You can hear it at - free downloadable tracks.

Matey Lot said...

My Burns has recently got a problem. The Pickup nearest the bridge has suddenly lost a lot of its volume.
Any suggestions ?

Anonymous said...

Just found this guy on the net half an hour ago. I've just bought one of his pickups to try:

Simon Murphy said...

Matey Lot - I imagine it's a problem with the wiring rather than a failure of the pickup itself - check the wires going to the switch are secure - these are easy to check. Not so easy to check at the pup end as the connections are inside the casing, and would require specialist attention.

Adeson pickups - that Malcolm links to - would seem a good bet. I needed a flat-ish surface mount pickup recently for another gtr and ended up with a 60s Dearmond, but might get one of this guy's Burns or Fenton Weill pickups to compare.

Matey Lot said...

Cheers for the info. At the moment it is at the local Guitar/Music shop for them to have a look at. I am afraid I would do more harm than good if I dive into it.

Keith said...

Hi Simon. I'm about to return my sonic model bass to it's original glory. Not having seen the colours in real life I nee to know a couple of things. Is the cherry finish transparent? Is the black on the neck glossy or matt. Cheers

Steve Rogers said...

The finish is opaque and matt on my Sonic Model. Hope this helps.

Simon Murphy said...

Hi Keith - in contrast to Steve's one, mine has what you might call a semi-transparent cherry finish - you can see some grain, but it's not clear, and it's definitely gloss. Maybe Matey Lot will chip in too. I think the matt ones I have seen also have a two ply (black/white) scratchplate and metal rather than plastic knobs. The Sonic was produced for at least 10 years, so there were changes along the way.

Will said...

Sorry Simon- the Sonic was actually only produced for 4 years- 1960-1964, when it was replaced by the 'nu-sonic'

I'd say if the bass is matt and a solid finish, it's probably a respray. Have a feeling there were some solid red versions, but I've not seen one, and certainly not matt. ALL sonics would be flaking nitro!

Simon Murphy said...

oh - ok - don't know where my misinformation came from, thanks for quick correction. There's been a lot of interest in this post, a lot of people like the Sonic!

Keith said...

Thanks for all the replies. When I got my sonic in the late 70's it was all black. The body was matt and the neck was gloss. I stripped it down to the base (pun intended) mahogany and it has been clear varnished since then. I'm a guitarist not a bass player and the short scale of the sonic has been ideal for me. It's been well gigged since I got it and was only retired last year. From the comments and from photos I've seen I think I'll go for a not too glossy transparent cherry lacquer for the bodies and a gloss black for the neck. All I need to do now is find a supplier of cherry lacquer then practice the cherry to black blend on a spare piece of wood. Again thanks for your help.

Matey Lot said...

I cannot remember what mine looked like in the 80s. Mostly Red with some Black
Around 1995 it was professionally stripped and resprayed. All Red.
This year as the bridge pick up was weak I took it to my local Guitar shop for a fix.
He has done some rewiring as there were dodgy connections and dry solder joints.
BUT could not fix the pick up so it has gone to "Adeson" They have the original Burns Equipment and are rewinding the pick up.
New Profile picture is of me about a hundred years ago with my 1st Burns.

Steve Rogers said...

I could be wrong about the finish on mine... it dies look very old so it could well have been gloss :-)

dave c said...

I am looking for a wiring diagram for a 1961 burns sonic guitar It is almost identical to your (ARISTONE) on your musical den. would be very thankful if you could help. wrote to burns they could not help.

dave c

Simon Murphy said...

Hi Dave,
I can take some photos on sunday, but you should be aware that I changed the wiring on mine, as the pickups were out of phase.

dave c said...

would be grateful for photos thanks for your help

dave c

Simon Murphy said...

Hi Dave - I've added some pics of the wiring to my flickr account - see

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol said...

My dad bought this guitar second hand in the mid 60's in Glasgow. It is identical to this one except the Aristone badge. His tremelo arm also says Pat Pending. So an absolute joy to see this online. I took it off him a number of years ago to restore it, and stripped back the resprayed laquer(s) to mahogany. He's retired now and took it back because he wants to restore it to its original cherry red state. Thanks for the photo links and keep up the great work x

Simon Murphy said...

Hi Carol - did you see the full size pics on my Flickr page?

I'm glad (but surprised) this post is still getting comments - glad you like it!

Carol said...

I did Simon, I am printing off the wiring pics as I type as I am visiting him later today. Thanks you so much for this and keep up the great work. I'll send you my email address and i'll send you progress pics



Carol said...

email me!!!

Slav said...

Hi folks

I've got an early maple board Burns Sonic, refinished at some point in its life in natural lacquer, with period replacement black bakelite knobs. Everything else is tidy, intact and clean. I replaced the minijack. Sounds amazing!

One thing I disagree on is the trem, mine is the first version and it works an absolute treat, as good as my Gretsch/Bigsby set up and you can give it quite a bit of welly without tuning problems. This suprised me cos I'd heard the trem was useless.

Still getting used to the balance though! ;)

I love the look of that Aristone, very cool.

Koddy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Arciero said...

Love my Burns Sonic but it reminds me of a german girl i once knew, looked great around my neck but really a bit useless!

Any tips bout getting this instrument to balance properly.

Also it has wooden bridge is this original? Can I get a metal tune o matic to replace it with, do you know where I can find replacements for the knobs which have long gone.

In spite of the balance probs can't wait to gig with it

Steve Rogers said...

I've played mine for many years without worrying about the balance problem. Just hold the neck up and push the body down with your right forearm as you play. It's not as bad as a Firebird - much lighter.

Frank Jones said...

Hi Simon, If a product was marked foreign it meant imported from a non commonwealth country, otherwise it was stamped empire made. So, that would indicate it was made or assembled outside of the UK and imported in to the UK.

Perhaps Burns supplied parts to either Aristone or A N Other and then it was imported back into the UK.

Hope this helps


Simon Murphy said...

I sort of knew this, but it doesn't really make sense because I'm pretty sure it's all 'British Made', which is moderately well documented.

Maybe it was some kind of tax dodge or something, or they just wanted people to think it was 'foreign'? Still a bit of a mystery to me

Frank Jones said...

Hi Simon,

Could this be the reason for foreign.

Aristone imported archtop guitars made by Framus, a German company.

So, maybe they used the same badge they used on these guitars saving the expense of making a new badge just for the the sonic guitar.


Simon Murphy said...

Thanks Frank - I think we now have an answer, the badge doesn't really fit very well on the Sonic headstock either. I do remember seeing a semi-acoustic with the same badge on a 3x3 headstock in the distant past, but I didn't recognise it as a Framus.

Frank Jones said...

Hi Simon, I've been looking at buying a sixties guitar and have been monitoring Ebay for two types.

A the Burns Sonic

B the Hofner verythin

The Sonic seems to be increasing in value with one with an asking price of almost a grand, but a Verithin going recently for about six hundred ( a fraction of the asking price of a few years ago.

Any ideas why?


Simon Murphy said...

I think the market for old guitars is pretty low right now, given the economic meltdown. You need to look at what things sell for rather than what people are asking, though. I don't think the Sonic with the case on ebay will sell for £995. A slightly less old one without a case, but in great condition went for £600 the other day, and a refinished Nu-Sonic went for only £270 - would have been tempted if I'd seen it. I haven't been looking at Verithins, but original Hofner Club prices are way down from what they were - I got a Club 60 last yr.

Tanya S said...

All very interesting as i have one of these aristone burns guitars but didnt know the model name. Sadly ive sold most of it in pieces but made a pretty penny. All thats left is the bare shell striped back to the wood as i bought it for £2 at a car boot sale and it had about 6 coats of hand painted paint on it. The rest of the guitar will be on ebay soon if anyone is interested. Or email

christopher-mark said...

I've got one of the Burns Sonic versions of this guitar ... It was thrown into the audience at a punk gig at the old Huddersfield Polytechnic great hall in 1977 and I caught it. It was missing the front pickup and the scratch plate was badly broken but I have 2 of the original pots and knobs. I stripped it back to the bare wood (I was only 17) Made a white scratch plate and wired the pickup in the bridge position. It acquired a very good Les Paul copy bridge and it still sounds great ... like really great. It never had the trem arm and there are no springs in the body. I suppose it's way past being original but after all these years I am planning to locate a Tri-sonic pickup for the front position and getting all the electrics back to original spec. When I played it through the late 70's and early 80's it had a banana shaped lead alloy weight fastened to the tail end screwed through the strap button to compensate for the massive disparity of the heavy neck/light body issue.
Out of the dozens of guitars that have come and gone over the years it's the one that's still there, and despite it having no adjustable truss rod the neck is still arrow straight.

OldGuitarMonkey said...

I still have a 1960 Burns Sonic guitar. I got it in about 1962. I was seventeen at the time.
It was in a bad state with a broken scratch plate and ruined paintwork. Being broke I made a scratch plate out of white plastic instead of white, and repainted it with a cellulose car paint.
Its a very difficult guitar to play because it is unbalanced.
But it sounds great.
You can hear it here.

Mel Davies said...

any body seen my burns sonic it had a damaged neck sold it to a swap shop about 1970 yorkshire