The Collection: Eddie Tatton’s road-worn vintage guitars
From international festivals to orchestra pits and sharing stages with blues legends, English guitarist Eddie Tatton’s career in guitar has been more varied than most.
All images: Eleanor Jane
Replete with macro details of the decades of wear, tear and grime that proves his instruments have been anything but museum pieces, Lincoln guitarist Eddie Tatton has one of those Instagram accounts that’s a must-follow for fans of vintage guitars. During his decades-long career as a working musician, Tatton has played practically every gig you can imagine, from blues clubs and festival stages, to orchestra pits in theatres, amassing along the way a guitar, amp and pedal collection every bit as enviable as his stellar playing abilities. Back in October 2020 we made the trip to the historic cathedral quarter that he calls home to meet the man behind the macro shots, and take a few pictures of our own.
“I started playing when I was 12,” Eddie recalls when we ask him the inevitable question about his gateway drug into guitar addiction. “I think it was about 1977 or ’78 when everything on Top Of The Tops was incredible – or so it seemed at the time – and everything had a guitar in it. The disco thing was happening but it was all guitar-centric as well. Nile Rodgers, Chic… incredible. I just thought, I’ve got to do this, and I just copied records. I was mad into Queen, Rainbow and all that, and after that Steely Dan and the jazz kind of thing. So it just went from there, really.”
After cutting his teeth on a Hondo II, Eddie moved on to far superior instrument. “My parents were really supportive, my dad especially,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money in the household or anything but they bought me a Yamaha SG-1500 which, at the time, was just an amazing instrument. They’re still great. Lovely guitars, well built. So I got stuck into that and just went mad, learning as much as I could. And there was no internet, you couldn’t Google stuff or look it up on YouTube. I sat there with records, just putting records on and learning by ear. It took me ages to learn Message In A Bottle. Probably two weeks to learn it properly and play it. Then for the next two weeks that was all I played!”
Soon he was confident enough to play in bands. “I was about 14 years old when I started in my first band,” Eddie remembers. “I was playing in school bands and stuff like that – everybody did – but back in the day I used to go into music shops and you’d play and people would hear you and say, ‘Do you want to join this band?’ So you’d join a little covers band or something like that. Then someone else hears you play and they say, ‘We’ve got a club band, doing working men’s clubs and stuff.’ Just all around Lincolnshire, really. Often you were learning stuff that you didn’t really like, but you were learning stuff that you needed to learn, so that was cool.”
The vibrant live music scene of the era meant that there were no shortage of gigs for the teenage guitarist. “I had to lie about my age all the time! But it was great, really good times. You get the bug for it and join as many bands as you can, so I was in blues bands, a rock band, doing jazz stuff… I think I was in 14 bands at one point! My sister is older than me, she’s a singer, and I used to go and watch her band doing the same sort of thing. She was out maybe four or five nights a week. In those days you could be a semi-professional musician and do okay, before the days of karaoke and sport in pubs.”
Fast-forward to the 1990s and Tatton supported the likes of Robben Ford, Junior Wells and Phillip Walker as part of melodic British blues group Out Of The Blue, and even backing Stax legends The Memphis Horns on UK and European tour dates. Major career highlights have also included collaborating live and in the studio with Mozez from acclaimed acid-jazz collective Zero 7, and a heady stint with Nightmares On Wax.
“Some time just after 2002, I think, we did some tours – Australia, around Europe and stuff,” he remembers. “Nightmares On Wax is weird because it’s well-known here, but we weren’t number one or anything like that. But you go to somewhere like Australia and everyone’s really into it, and the same in Europe and Japan and stuff like that. So we’d do a festival in Australia and Oasis would be on the main stage and we’d be headlining the dance stage, that kind of thing. So that was kind of cool. Big, big stages. We did one mad gig in Portugal where we were on at two in the morning or something like that. It was Björk, then Moby, then us. And it’s weird because you do these things and then it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m back in Lincoln now!’ and I’ve got a gig in a pub or something! [laughs]”
In recent years, in what he jokingly refers to as a “bizarre life choice”, Eddie has spent much of his time travelling around the UK playing as part of the pit orchestra in musical theatre shows such as High School Musical, Hairspray, The Bodyguard, Sister Act, Grease and most recently Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, though the pandemic has put those gigs on hold.
“The discipline side is the hardest thing,” he reveals when asked about the challenges of playing guitar in that environment. “You’ve got to get it right every night, you can’t really improvise, and you can’t do all those things you used to do when you were playing in blues bands and other things. But even playing the same stuff every night, it’s got to sound exciting!
“It’s quite exhausting. You come out, your hearing’s a bit shot because of having to crank up the headphones, you’ve been looking at sheets for like two hours so your eyes can’t see very well, and sometimes you’ve got a two-hour drive home! It’s not ideal but I can’t complain, really! One of the good things about playing in a pit is that nobody can really see you, so you don’t have to perform. So I can turn up for work and sit there and look grumpy!”
Eddie’s collection ranges from tried and tested favourites to more recent bucket-list acquisitions but the first guitar he pulls out for our perusal is his number one – a much-loved sunburst 1964 ES-335 that he’s owned since 1988. “A guy in the next village had it up for sale,” he says. “Originally it was £250 but my mate told him it was worth more so he added another £200 on top! But it’s cool. Because I was a mad fan of Steely Dan I just wanted a 335 and I thought to get an old one would be the best. I knew Larry Carlton had an old one as I’d seen it on his album cover. As this was pre-internet, I didn’t know what year his was.”
Much later, Eddie almost heard Carlton’s fabled 1968 ES-335 in the flesh, but it was not to be. “A few years ago Larry Carlton actually gigged in Hull,” he says. “He walked onstage and he had this cherry thing with a Bigsby and I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ At the time his guitar had gone missing. He has it back now but he’d lost it on a plane or something. I was a bit gutted not to see him with that guitar, it just sounds like nothing on Earth.”
Despite playing his ES-335 for several decades including stints on the road in his 20s and 30s, much of the wear and tear on Eddie’s guitar was present when he bought it, including the Bigsby ‘snakebite’ screw holes. Though he got into vintage guitars quite early on, the vintage amplifiers came later, and for a long time he used a red-knob Fender Twin, which “just gets louder, and louder, and louder, and shatters your teeth”.
These days, Eddie’s amplifier collection could be the subject of a standalone article in itself and includes a formidable pile of old Marshalls, an array of tweed Fenders and a pair of Voxes that includes a fawn AC30 formerly owned by Toe Rag Studios and which Jack White used on The White Stripes’ smash-hit album Elephant. The Marshalls that make such an excellent backdrop for our guitar photography today include a 1968 Marshall 4×12 formerly owned by Jack Bruce, along with vintage JTM45 and JMP100 heads and a tremolo-equipped 50-watt combo. The 4×12 cabinet was part of Bruce’s rig at Cream’s legendary farewell shows at The Royal Albert Hall and was later gifted to lyricist Pete Brown, who went on to sell it some years later.
Much like when he’s buying guitars, Eddie’s rationale for buying amplifiers is all about ticking the classic boxes. “I think you have this checklist in your head. For example, I wanted an old ES-335 because of Larry Carlton, I wanted a beat-up Strat because of Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray Vaughan. And I wanted a JTM45, that came up and it’s really, really nice. I thought it was a ’66 to start with but I think it might be ’65. I bought the combo about five years ago. I think it’s a late ’69. I was up in Edinburgh with Hairspray and I’d looked on eBay and in the classifieds and saw a guy selling that. I was able to get a taxi to pick it up, take it back to the venue, put it on the truck to the next venue and take it home from there.”
Not to be confused with his stoptail-equipped 1968 model, Eddie’s 1953 Les Paul Goldtop was purchased from ATB Guitars in Cheltenham, where he compared it to several other Goldtops in the store that day and walked away with this one. “It’s ridiculous,” he enthuses. “It’s just really, really resonant. One of the things I love about it is the pickups have a really scrunchy, almost Telecaster-like sound to them.
“They’re not thick like some P-90s are, they are thinner sounding than the pickups in the ’68, which sound more like humbuckers. I love playing it, it’s great. I tend to use it on about five, to get that kind of Tele sound, and just sort of boost it on about eight for solos. It’s just incredible. You were saying earlier how if you’ve got a Telecaster and a Goldtop you are pretty much covered, well I’m almost covered just with that Goldtop.”
Almost, but not quite. Eddie picked up his fantastically battle-scarred 1963 Strat from Mike Long at ATB Guitars around a decade ago via eBay. “It was before he had the shop,” he explains. “Although the Strat’s from 1963, it came with a 1959 neck, and a previous owner had literally worn the neck out playing in clubs in LA for years, so they’d just found another old neck and stuck that on. But I thought, if it looks that good it’s going to sound amazing. It’s got to! You look at it and go, that’s a guitar that’s been performed with, someone has jumped around onstage with that, their jewellery has marked it and all of that stuff.
“The neck that’s on it now is from a 1961 Strat that I had years ago. It’s a Lake Placid Blue, refinished thing. But I’d got used to the shape of the neck. The Lake Placid Blue one now has the ’59 neck on it that came with this. It’s still a great guitar, I just never use it. Now I’ve got this, if I play a Strat at all, I play this one.”
The 1963 Stratocaster may be his go-to, but when it comes to Strats, Eddie has plenty of choice – there’s also the small matter of a refinished 1957 model. “I bought the ’57 from a guy in Newcastle via a classified advert,” he says. “I remember buying it thinking it needed a refret, so I planned to put it away until I got it refretted. I didn’t really touch it and I was gigging the ’63 because I really liked it. But I got the ’57 out only last week and it’s just ridiculous! It’s just such a nice guitar, with the big chunky V neck on it. I’m a big fan of big necks now. It always used to be skinny necks, back in the eighties or whatever when everyone was playing all that shred stuff. But I never got any good at that, to be honest!”
Of all the guitars that Eddie posts on Instagram, it’s probably his 1952 Blackguard that gets the most love. Though it has an Esquire decal, its neck pickup was fitted at the factory and the body and neck date are just four days apart. “GE Smith has exactly the same thing,” Eddie reveals. “What would happen is that for $15 you could send your Esquire back to Fender and they’d put a neck pickup and a new ’guard on it for you. But it surprised me when I tried it. It sounds like a Tele but it doesn’t. It’s fatter somehow on the bottom end. It’s vastly different to the 1960 model I’ve got – that’s the classic Telecaster sound, but this is something else, y’know. It just sounds huge.
“It was played for 40-odd years, three nights a week in country and western bars in South Carolina. When I opened the case, all I could smell was cigarette smoke! I’ve lightly polished it and it’s a bit cleaner now so it’s not as bad, but all the sweat and gunk and stuff has gone into the lacquer and it’s taken on a life of its own now.”
The Blackguard isn’t the only treasure Eddie owns from Fender’s early years, and his love affair with tweed amps began with a 1960 Bassman that took him to Hull and back. “There was a guy from Hull selling it in the classified ads. Hull’s just an hour away, so I thought I’d go and get it. I’d always fancied one – it’s the classic amp, isn’t it? It just sounds three-dimensional. After that I’m not sure which came next. The Tremolux was a private sale. It was the first Tremolux I saw up for sale and I thought, ‘I’ll buy that, because you just don’t see them’, you know? And it’s got that tremolo, which just sounds incredible.”
Both his Deluxe and Super have celebrity connections. “The Deluxe I got from a guy called Jim Cregan, who used to play for Rod Stewart,” says Eddie. “He said he just used to have that, on full, underneath the stage, and that was all he had when he was gigging with Rod. But he didn’t really use it any more so he sold it off. He had a Celestion in it – I think he probably blew up the Jensen – but I got a late 50s Jensen from the states and stuck that in there. I think it’s an organ speaker, but it’s still a 12-inch Jensen. You turn everything on full, and off you go – it’s just a really spitty, vibey kind of thing.
“I got the Super from a studio clearance – I think the guys were getting rid of a lot of old analogue stuff; I don’t know if they were going digital or what. Apparently, the Super used to belong to Gerry Rafferty, who swapped it in for some studio time years ago. There’s no hard proof or anything like that but I just fancied it and it sounds great.”
With musical theatre productions and gigs still yet to return, Eddie has been putting all this wonderful gear to good use on a lockdown album project, but is there anything else he’s looking to add? “I’m kind of done with buying stuff now… ish,” he grins, as we prepare to leave. “I need to get rid of stuff if I want to buy something else. I can’t keep going and going and going. But what I would really like is a 1950s ash-bodied sunburst Strat…” Can anybody help him out?
Follow Eddie Tatton on Instagram @eddietattonguitarstuff.
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