by BBG & Klaus Kinski

Stephen O'Malley playing his Travis Bean (more by Greg Cristman)
Travis Bean

Ask your average Jane or Joe on the street to name an American guitar manufacturer and you'd probably have a solid 99% 'good answer' success rate. Ask your average Jane or Joe on the street to name an American luthier (besides Les Paul) and you probably wouldn't get any answer besides "What's a luthier?" And there's no shame in that, people. I know that's the answer I would have given prior to writing this article. Regardless, without talented luthiers you wouldn't have your Fenders or your Gibsons and whatnot. On July 10, 2011 we lost Travis Bean, one of America's most innovative luthiers of all time.

In 1974, he partnered with Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer to start Travis Bean Guitars, which made high-end electric guitars and basses featuring machined aluminum necks. This was an unusual design, departing from more traditional wood necked instruments. The aluminum center section ran through the instrument body, with the pickups directly mounted to the aluminum. The majority of these instruments featured solid koa wood bodies and humbucker pickups. Though praised for their sound, the use of aluminum necks also made Travis Bean guitars heavier than other electric guitars. Models included the Artist, Standard, Wedge (rare), and TB500 (rare) with single coil pickups. - [Wikipedia]

Kramer and Bean ceased collaboration in 1975 when Kramer went on to establish the mighty metal guitar empire Kramer Guitars.

Travis Bean Guitars have a somewhat cult following, mostly due to the fact that aluminum lends to longer sustain. These vintage guitars are used by the likes of Stephen O'Malley (sunn O)))), Albini, Public Image Limited, Sonic Youth, Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard), The Arcade Fire, Justin Foley (The Austerity Program), and even bands like The Rolling Stones, Kiss, The Grateful Dead and others. A documentary detailing the cult of Travis Bean guitars, entitled Sustain, is currently in production and a trailer can be viewed below.

Travis Bean passed away at his home in Burbank, California after fighting a long battle with cancer. RIP Travis Bean, though lord knows you made enough noise in your time.

Travis Bean Documentary - Sustain

takes a beating; Sustain teaser

Travis Bean Documentary - Sustain

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