The Supersound Story
by Trevor Midgley and The Guitar Collection

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The Supersound - Jim Burns Story

In 1958 Britain, the market for solid-body electrics was still small and examples were accordingly in equally short supply. Back then, Jim Burns was the only British maker brave enough to explore this comparatively unpopular avenue, and one of his early efforts attracted the attention of Alan Wootton, head of the Supersound amplification company. The idea of partner solid electric guitars proved appealing and he decided to employ Jim Burns to help with their design and manufacture.

The association proved brief, as Supersound had dispensed with Burns' services before the year was out, but the liaison lasted long enough to produce the UK's first commercially built six-string and four-string solids, appreciably ahead of any home-grown competition.

For these pioneering creations, Supersound supplied Burns with the materials he required to construct the basic neck/body chassis. The company then completed each instrument, carrying out the necessary paint and finish work, plus the installation of pickups, circuitry and hardware.

Supersound's upmarket aims were indicated by the sizeable £66 price tag of the 'Ike Isaacs Short-Scale' model when it was introduced in December 1958. Closely copying a previous Jim Burns' custom original, this smart looking, single-cutaway six-string was preceded by a plainer and less-expensive equivalent that could best be described as the 'Short-Scale Standard'. The latter featured a pine body, which was the company's somewhat unusual timber of choice.

As the first British solid-body bass guitar, Supersound's four-string was equally innovative. It was actually derived directly from the Fender Precision, which was unavailable and almost unheard of in this country at the time. Although far removed from being any sort of copy, back then Supersound's interpretation was the only other bass in the world to share the same pickup position.

Following Jim Burns' enforced departure, Supersound moved premises from Sidcup to Hastings, subsequently resuming instrument manufacture with the assistance of a local woodworking company. However, the loss of Burns' specialised knowledge meant these later examples were less player-friendly and consequently they didn't fare well when faced with increasing competition that now offered greater, better and cheaper choice.

Production petered out as the company concentrated on more lucrative areas of operation, but this somewhat sad end doesn't detract from the fact that the earliest Supersound solids were undeniably the first in their field. The association with Jim Burns may have been shortlived and far from sweet, but the abilities and pioneering nature of all those involved did produce something special. Although the end results were certainly primitive compared to contemporary competition from across the Atlantic, in a country still recovering from the ravages of the war and accordingly low on resources, these achievements could deservedly be considered outstanding.

Paul Day (July 2012)