By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"My biggest fear is when I die my wife will sell my entire guitar collection for what I told her I paid for them!"
H. B. Marvin - Guitar Story BBC2
Merry Christmas and happy New Year to readers one & all! 🔔 🍃
What better way to begin 2022 than with a standout guitar hero that single-handedly revolutionised electric guitar. A player that has become so iconic he is generally cited as an influence by most guitar players within the industry.
In modern day society to be an influencer online is an achievement grasped by many, to be an influencer back in 1959-60 meant legendary lifelong recognition.
This perfectly describes the player we look to focus on in this weeks Spotlight; the inventor of a trademark guitar style, sound and look, an iconic image of a man that will never stand in the shadows.
The Maestro Mr Hank B. Marvin 🎸
The Beginnings Of A Legend 🎶
Let’s take a nostalgic trip back in time. Great Britain during the war, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to be more precise on the 28th of October 1941. The birthdate of Brian Robson Rankin... Brian?! You might ask 🤔
“Hank Marvin” is a stage name put together when launching his career is an amalgamation of firstly his childhood nickname he used to differentiate from other friends also called Brian, the second part of the name is graceful homage to Marvin Rainwater, the country & rockabilly singer. The stage name “Hank B. Marvin” was also used to create a more American appeal across the pond.
Born into a very working-class family and background, his family lived upstairs to his auntie in a two story maisonette with an outside toilet and no running water - this was mid-war reality in Great Britain at the time.
His father worked for London North Eastern Railways which would become British Rail. Hank recalls his father to be a good, hard-working, honest man but also a strict & stern father and any emotional upbringing was through his mother like many back then.
Interest in music and playing an instrument came at the age of 15 when he purchased a banjo from a schoolmaster, Hank was looking at this instrument as a gateway to play New Orleans jazz & folk blues style music.
As music was a strong form of escapism and joy during the war times, not to mention a communal based past time, it was not uncommon for both adults and children to be somewhat multi-instrumentalists, Hank also had good knowledge and ability to play the Piano 🎹.
The 1950’s and particularly the late 1950’s was a great time of revolutionary iconic invention. The electric guitar was coming to the forefront and finding its identity within contemporary music.
The interest in this fascinating instrument & invention was simmering for a generation about to change the face of musical history.
“My dad bought me my first guitar for my 16th birthday. I got so into music that I pushed any academic work to one side. My parents weren't really aware of that at the time, and I sort of conned them into letting me go down to London in April 1958 to break into the music business. I wrote to them telling them everything was fine in those first six months, even though we sometimes wouldn't eat for two days. When I next saw them, in October 1958, we were doing the first tour with Cliff Richard and earning money.”
(Hank Marvin - theguardian.com 2014)
Hank recalls the first guitar he had was a Hofner Congress which was a great entry-level guitar. His fascination with electric guitar continued and he tried to fit a pickup on it guitar and managed to get his hands on a small amplifier the size of a cereal box in an attempt to get that electric guitar sound & feel.
The Strat-O-Master 🎸 & The Shads
Throughout British music history there have been many significant moments where it feels like certain things happened at a certain time that were meant to happen and change the course of music and popular culture.
1957 saw Marvin join the skiffle group known as The Railroaders. The band featured a young rhythm guitarist by the name of Bruce Welch... 😉
In an attempt to get closer to the sound he was after Hank managed to get hold of an American-made guitar, a Vega electric guitar.
Pushing as hard as he could as a young musician he was playing out as much as possible and one night in particular well-known club in the Soho area history was written.
Hank Marvin was approached and offered the opportunity to join the band of a then undiscovered pop singer named Cliff Richard, who'd been dubbed as the “British Elvis”.
Eventually after some discussion Hank agreed to be part of the backing band along with Bruce Welch which would be known as The Drifters initially. The band would develop into pop culture fully fledged along with stage names to match!
“During the late 1950s in the UK, it was a common practice for pop stars to adopt a stage name, and several members of the original Cliff Richard and the Shadows did so: Harry Webb became "Cliff Richard", Brian Rankin became "Hank B. Marvin", Terence Harris became "Jet Harris" and Bruce Cripps became "Bruce Welch". Subsequently, the names Cliff Richard and Hank Brian Marvin were confirmed by deed poll.”
The Shadows as they became known (renamed to avoid a conflict with an American vocal group of the same name) soon progressed into pop culture with great success due to their innovative style and sharp look.
Something truly iconic happened when the band looked to push forward with their image and Marvin’s long for the Fender Stratocaster soon became a reality. Cliff Richard offered to buy one which at the time cost equivalent of five weeks of a guitarist’s salary!
Tuning into all the activity going on across the water in America it was the predominant imagery of Buddy Holly, the look and the persona he had was something that Hank really wanted to capture and make his own. 🎸
Throughout the years this has been debated but it is believed that Hank Marvin’s iconic custom-ordered Fiesta Red custom colour Stratocaster with maple neck and gold hardware was the first Fender Strat to arrive on UK soil.
The Fender Stratocaster had been available since 1954 but there were restrictions in place by the UK government regarding goods imported and this was the reason American made guitars had not been easily accessible from the US until the 1960s.
“That first Strat made an appearance in 1959,” Marvin told Guitarist magazine back in 2014. “My Antoria had a horribly bent neck, so Cliff wanted to buy me a good guitar, and we decided that the Fender was the way to go, because we’d seen Buddy Holly with one on the Crickets album cover, and it was pretty cool. It was great looking, and we liked the sound of it, and we’d heard that James Burton used a Fender, so we got a catalogue from the States.
It came in a tweed Fender case with the red plush lining and this magnificent-looking thing was just lying inside. It was like something from space, really, it was so futuristic in its design. The three pickups, the white scratchplate, the red guitar, the beautiful birdseye maple neck and all the gold plating, it just looked sensational.”
In this incredible clip from the last year’s 'The Shadows at Sixty' documentary Marvin tells the story of “Apache” while demonstrating his quintessential Stratocaster tone and technique – the timeless sound that made him a star and inspired countless others to pick up a Strat.
Hank Marvin for guitaristmagazine.com
Hank Marvin and the fiesta red Stratocaster have become such an iconic image, the sound he got along with the technique he was using with the vibrato bar has been revered ever since.
There are many fans and followers that look to replicate every piece of equipment used within that era to achieve the iconic sound and look of Hank Marvin. But as we all know every player is unique and each guitarist somehow manages to convey their own personality and emotion through the six string 🎸
His influence stretches far and wide and here is a list of just some of the players that have clearly noted him as a significant influence and guitar hero:
David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), George Harrison (Beatles), Brian May (Queen), Mark Knopfler ( Dire Straits), Steve Howe (Yes), Peter Frampton, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Jeff Beck, Jimmy Paige (Led Zeppelin), Pete Townsend (The Who), Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac).
Strato-Strings & The Wound G 🎸
Hank Marvin really developed his own style and identity on the guitar due to a number of factors which he continually mentions in interviews and discussions:
First and foremost he always used heavy gauge strings along with a wound G string. Not entirely sure if this was by choice but more down to availability limitations.
"On stage I use three of the Custom Shop Strats. the signature models - simply because they’re all strung with different gauge strings. I use heavy strings for the old Shads stuff, and I use 11 to 50’s for most of the stuff, that’s my kind of compromise string gauge. Then we do a rock medley where I attempt a little bit of country style playing on one number, where I use 10 to 46’s. I sort of prefer the sound of the heavier strings really."
Hank Marvin Interview by Paul Guy 2002 -( In the beginning there was Hank)
“It’s wound 3rd (strings), yes. My early strings were 0.013s. Now I’m using 0.011s. A wound 3rd will certainly have that bigger sound of the early Shadows records. Not as easy to play but it’s important.
The Easy-Mute trem arm also helps, and I’ve found that when I went to the traditional bridge, it seems to stay in tune – and it looks great. Also a Teflon nut helps stop the strings sticking, I used to be always putting graphite in bone ones. I also like the Sperzel locking machine heads – and they make for very quick restringing. I like the action not high but not too low. You get a good quality of tone when not too high but not low enough to buzz.”
With more than half a century in music behind him, Hank has a few choice words for those just starting out:
“First of all, really enjoy yourself and what you’re doing – the fact you can make music,” He enthuses. “Secondly if you want to get more enjoyment out of it, really learn to play the instrument as best you can. Don’t expect things to happen overnight, it takes time.”
Quote Via Guitar.com
Here at Strings Direct we have had a selection of Hank Marvin-inspired custom sets available for quite some time. In fact of all the custom sets we offer this set is the most popular by quite a way and we receive a high level of interest in these sets on a weekly basis!
This further reinstates the iconic inspiration and influence of the great Hank Marvin and his red Stratocaster 🎸🎸🎸
The original great British 🇬🇧 guitar hero. 🤟
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