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.
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