HOT ROD TELE
Guitarist|December 2020
Editor Jamie Dickson embarks on converting his AVRI ’52 Tele reissue into a unique hot-rod Fender with artwork to match
Jamie Dickson

In the 1950s an American artist known as Von Dutch started a fashion for decorating hot-rod cars with flowing, decorative lines. Referred to as ‘pinstriping’, the technique lies somewhere between pure art, calligraphy and signwriting and has evolved steadily since its inception during the 1950s.

The full name of the originator of the style was Kenneth Robert Howard, a Californian artist who was nicknamed ‘Dutch’ by his family. He later adopted ‘Von Dutch’ as his trade name, developing his pinstriping technique while working in custom motorcycle shops and later applying it to cars and other machinery. If you read our recent feature on Billy Gibbons’ guitar collection (see issue 462), you’ll know that pinstriping has since found its way onto guitars – and looks seriously cool, as demonstrated by Billy’s Lil Red SG, which has a classic white Von Dutch pinstripe over its rich Cherry finish.

Since the seminal work of Von Dutch, pinstriping has evolved in various directions – some ornate and flowing, others stark and minimalist – but anyone with a passion for restoring American cars knows you need the services of a good ’striper if you want to complete an authentic hot-rod build properly. Somerset might seem an unlikely home for such an artist, but that’s exactly where you’ll find the workshop of Pace Frith, one of the best stripers in the country. The son of a hot-rod racer, customiser and restorer, Pace grew up with hot-rod culture in his veins, so when I kicked off a project to build my perfect hot-rod Tele, Guitarist contributor Rod Brakes suggested I should ask Pace if he would consider striping my American Vintage ’52 Telecaster.

“My dad’s always built hot-rod cars and so I was in the garage every day when I was a kid,” Pace explained, when I got in touch. “Neil Melliard is a big name on the custom car scene and he did a load of signwriting on a ’33 Ford of my dad’s and lettered it right up, made it really cool – and probably three years later I went to do some work experience with him. I just followed him about on all these different jobs. We went to places like McLaren doing high-end signwriting on all these cool cars and he became a mentor.”

Having been bitten by the bug, Pace kept up his interest in hot-rod lettering and pinstriping and, after graduating from art college, set up his own business, Pace’s Lettering Palace, which today turns out some of the coolest hot-rod artwork around. So it’s clear I’ve come to the right shop for the job in hand.

My particular guitar happens to be the perfect candidate for a hot-rod makeover as it’s had a bit of a rough life since it was built a few years ago. I acquired it cheaply with deep dings all over its Butterscotch nitro finish, knackered frets and without a case or any of its original documentation – so it was never going to be a collector’s piece – and thus can be modded with a clear conscience. I explained to Pace what I wanted to do and, happily, he was really intrigued by the idea of pinstriping a guitar. Though his bread and butter is customising Harley Davidson bikes and American muscle cars, he was curious about applying his talents to a six-stringed subject for the first time and was already aware of the close links between cars and guitars when it came to custom colours. When I tell him the guitar is a reissue of a 1952 model, he instantly gravitates towards designing a sparser, 1950s style of pinstriping that will match the character of the guitar.

“You could throw the kitchen sink in there and put 10 different colours on this one – but there’s such a thing as overdoing it, isn’t there?” Pace reflects.

Earlier, we’d cruised the internet and found some examples of pinstriped Telecasters that we both liked: “All the ones you like and all the ones I’ve liked have been the ones with hardly anything on them,” he adds, marking the first important decision of the build: we’re aiming for sparse lines and minimal colours to match the 50s aesthetic. This sense of the design being in keeping with the character of the guitar is important.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GUITARISTView All

Show Time

This month Adam Goldsmith’s nerves are put to the test with a live performance for Children In Need

3 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

NILE RODGERS

A Wes Montgomery die-hard in his formative years, Nile Rodgers reveals that being upstaged by a ‘kid’ was the reason he first picked up a Strat…

9 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

Inside The Fuzz Factory

Jamie Dickson talks to maverick pedal-maker Zachary Vex about his most famous creation, 25 years on

6 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

Tones Behind The Tracks

Barrie Cadogan talks us through how he captured the atmospheric sounds of his latest long-player, a vibey, Can-influenced collaboration

5 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

Once Upon A Guitar…

Why do some guitars sound special? Alex Bishop considers whether there may be more to it than meets the ears

3 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

JD SIMO

Vintage chic and a fondness for the Gibson ES-335 fuel JD’s unique brand of funky psycho blues…

6 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

FULLY LEDDED

Jimmy Page’s brand-new book, ‘Jimmy Page: The Anthology’, goes into exhaustive detail about the gear he used during his career. Here’s a brief glimpse between the pages of this massive tome, focusing on some of the instruments and amps that Jimmy used to forge Led Zep’s legendary sound with commentary from Jimmy himself

5 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

GEAR OF THE YEAR

Let’s be honest, 2020 hasn’t been anybody’s idea of a good year, though it has certainly been memorable.

10+ mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

Cheap Lunch

As one of a two-amp range from Harley Benton, this lunchbox-style amp offers boutique valve tone at a budget price. But can it really sound any good?

6 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021

Are You Britain's Best Amateur Guitar Builder?

Take a shot at winning our first national competition for home luthiers – as well as £370* of guitar-making supplies from StewMac!

4 mins read
Guitarist
January 2021