17 September 2000 -- In early May 2000, the online auction website eBay.com listed a guitar for sale. No ordinary guitar, this was a blue handmade De Jonge brothers "Flying V" (pictured left, image by Mike Blanck), a strangely-shaped product that became popular in the late 60's/early 70's, an era when it made sense in more ways than one to call your guitar an "axe." Listed among the previous owners of the blue De Jonge Flying V was Bruce Cockburn. The Flying V design was created by Gibson's Ted McCarty in 1958.
eBay is a strange and occasionally contentious place at the best of times, but Cockburn Project editor Nigel Parry suspended his innate hostility and sent the link to the item out on the Project's news list. He figured that if indeed there was a place for music memorabilia in this world, the guitar should be with a fan who would get a buzz out of the history of it and maybe be inspired to improve their guitar playing, rather than locked in a glass-case in some loud restaurant that sells overpriced hamburgers.
Even though there were only a few hours left of the auction at the time, someone on the list -- John Raffaele -- took the plunge and bought it. Nigel interviewed him by phone about the purchase, then tracked down Imre de Jonge, the luthier who made the Flying V. This is the story of a guitar.
Mike Blanck sold it for a friend who owns a record store in Kingston, Ontario (Zap Records). The friend's brother bought it a number of years ago from a guitar shop in Toronto. This is the listing Mike posted on eBay:
You are viewing a CUSTOM MADE guitar, made for Bruce Cockburn in Toronto, Canada 1981 by the De Jonge (sometimes spelled De Jonje) Brothers, famous custom guitar builders. The guitar is signed and dated (Toronto '81) and numbered (V0240529) on the back of it. Bruce performed with this custom guitar in the early 1980's.
The guitar is a Gibson copy flying V style, with glued in neck construction, solid body. It has solid brass & gold hardware, 2 Canadian made Evans pick-ups. It has a high quality multi-layered lacquer finish, green metal flake with sunburst finish. With age the high quality lacquer finish tends to show the lacquer "checking" due to the wood expanding/contracting over the years. A plastic lacquer finish would not show this "checking", but a plastic finish is not as good as this old style multi-layered lacquer.
Most early "classic" guitars were finished in this way, thus giving this guitar a nice feel and very nice to play! The handmade wood guitar case is also included, there is some speculation that Bruce built this case himself, but this cannot be verified. There is a carved ship on the top of the case. The inside of the case is finished in velvet. The guitar was originally sold in the "12 Fret Store" in Toronto, still one of Canada's premier guitar stores.
The CockburnProject recently recieved an email from Imre de Jonge letting us know that he is back in the guitar building business. This is an update to the original interview. Below is his email.
I trust that John Rafaele still owns the guitar and is still happy with it... I hope so. Every year or 2 I get emails from far-flung people who own my guitars, telling me how much they love them, and how well they play and stand up to time... it's very gratifying. No bad news yet...
At the time I was interviewed about that guitar I had put luthiery on the back burner to join the Toronto film industry and work more on my music. http://users.vianet.ca/idejonge/music/index.htm.
But I never got rid of my collection of wood, including 5 guitars that I had already started. Now I'm at it again, and those guitars are getting finished, and that super well-aged wood will get used. I moved out of Toronto in '05 to a beautiful 20-acre property just outside of Huntsville, in north Muskoka. I have my own forest now, and have been cutting wood and stacking it away for future guitars, (some now ready) focussing on spalted, figured, and crotch woods, with a view to creating a truly home-grown guitar. I'm making many of my own parts now too, from wood, antler, and stone.
Anyway, the long-short of it is that I'm back to building, and I thought the Cockburn Project might be interested in that little update. I'm building better guitars with some cool innovations, and yup, I'm planning more V guitars, but this time they'll be carved one-piece full-length from a tree crotch. (I can afford a lot of scrap now, and I heat with wood) I've recently finished one of those that I started way back in '88; a very natural, organic guitar featuring electric, acoustic, and MIDI modes; the ultimate in versatility... Bruce would probably love this guitar. (and it stays on your lap when you sit down!) http://imredejonge.com/guitars/model-I.htm
I've erected a simple website to showcase what I'm doing now, as well as past guitars. (including the blue V, which I did manage to photograph before delivery) http://imredejonge.com/guitars.
My brother Sergei has split his guitar making school onto a seperate site, http://www.dejongelutherie.com and his luthier daughter Joshia now has her own site too. http://www.joshiadejonge.com/front.html.
As always, you're welcome to use anything on my site, if you wish.
Thanks very much... I love the Cockburn Project site; keep up the great work!
cheers, Imre de Jonge
40 Maple Hgts. Dr.
705-224-4452 / 705-380-3181(C)
Also on Facebook
Left: Imre de Jonge. Click image for Imre's homepage. (http://www3.sympatico.ca/idejonge)
Can you tell me who you made the guitar for?
The blue Flying V was commissioned by Ring Music, at that time owned by Michael McLuhan (pictured right, click for homepage). I started building guitars in 1977 or so, and it was Michael that sold me my first set of parts. Tony (forgot his surname) owned the store then, but Michael managed to buy it, and some years later sold it to his employee John LaRoque, who I think still has it. Michael moved to Beaton, Ontario, and started a photography studio.
I actually worked in the Ring repair shop for John as guitar tech from time to time when it got really busy. I haven't been there for some time now, but it's a lovely store, strictly guitars, mandolins, amps, and access.
I've enjoyed a great and supportive relationship with everyone at Ring over the years, even buying big-ticket items such as Peavey amps at wholesale to fill orders at my store 'Mostly Music' in Bracebridge. The distributor wouldn't sell to me direct because of exclusivity agreements with my area competitors, and my lack of mega-bucks to sink into speculative floor stock- CAN$3,000 minimum. If it weren't for Ring, I would have lost substantial business.
What were the specifications you were given for the Flying V?
I was asked to build a V guitar with a metal flake finish. Both of these criteria were about as far removed from my idea of a good guitar as is possible. Firstly, the V design is idiotic and to my taste, which is admittedly traditional, ugly.
Secondly, I'd always been focussed on the natural beauty of wood; covering it with stains or colours seemed a waste to me. Especially when dealing with lovely figured woods like curly maple. I had collected almost exclusively figured wood for my necks, so I was loathe to kill that dancing light with stain. That's why I faded out the stain and sparkle going into the neck area, so some of the wood shows through.
What is 'figured' wood?
'Figured' wood means curly grain; same as flamed, tiger stripe, could mean birds-eye or burled too. I use 'figured' to mean any type of grain curling, which makes the wood variably reflective, changing (dancing) with different angles of light. As you probably already know, this is an anomoly in the wood, and is highly prized (and priced) for it's extra animated beauty.
When stain is allowed to penetrate curled grain however, the reflectivity and dancing effect are killed (as in violins, etc. - you see the curl accross the grain but it's static and pretty uninteresting.) Different grain densities absorb stain differently, so you get light/dark contrast, but the dancing irridescense will be mostly gone. And that stain will never come out, either. As I said before, this is why I never stain on bare wood. The kick for me in curled wood is not so much the pattern, but the play of light in the grain.
So what other steps did you take to make the most of the grain in the Flying V within the specifications?
I used some masking on the head to create 2 lightening bolts in natural wood. I already knew that staining directly onto the grain kills the depth and dancing effect of curled wood, but that floating the stain on top of a solid sealer coat will not, rather just acting as a gel over the wood.
My stains were transparent spirit applied by spray on top of clear lacquer sealer, mixed progressively more with metal flake and coloured lacquer, then covered with the usual course of 6 + 6 clear coats with a dry sanding in between. Another advantage of staining a finely sanded lacquer coat is your mistakes (should you make any) are easily erased.
The staining state is the point when I would sign, date, and number the guitars. The first 3 digits are the guitar number, the rest is the month/day of signing. In this case, guitar #24 signed on May 29. This trivial info conveniently yields a unique serial no.; the year wasn't usually included, but written with the signature, done in India ink with a dip pen.
Did you get any feedback about the guitar from Cockburn?
The blue guitar was started in Toronto and finished near Bracebridge (Bardsville) where I moved in late '80. It was well received and soon was bought by Bruce. Michael McLuhan then ordered a second V which was built entirely in Bardsville and became the orange guitar [click for photos on Marie Westhaver's website] which Bruce then also bought.
Left: Cockburn playing the guitar at Wolfgang's, San Francisco, CA, November 1984. Photos by Kim Kleeh. Click the image for more of Kim's photos from that concert.
The orange guitar, if I recall correctly, was made of plainer wood and/or didn't have fading stain, but was solid orange sparkle. I have not heard any whereabouts or history of that guitar, unlike I have with the blue one, like meeting a gentleman who owned it recently at my brother's workshop. While I've seen pictures or heard about the blue one from time to time, including the e-Bay listing, I would be curious to hear about the fate of the orange one.
Michael at Ring Music had a big haste on to get the orange guitar, barely giving me time to put the strings on! I always worried about that guitar, since it had a 'difficult' birth, with Murphy's Law overseeing the project. That coupled with Michael's delivery deadline/my urgent need for cash made for some nail-biting. So far no warranty claims though, so I guess it came out okay!
Bruce apparently liked it a lot. I give an unwritten lifetime defect warranty on all my guitars. Total death/destruction or wear of guitar is not covered. Whose lifetime? Whoever dies first, I guess, me or the guitar!
There's nothing I can tell you about that lovely wooden case that the blue one was sold with on eBay; I had nothing to do with it, and have heard only rumour as to its origin.
Do you still make guitars?
I've been pretty much out of the guitar making game since moving back to Toronto in 1989. At that time I still had a substantial amount of wood and about 5 instruments under construction. I still have it all, and one of these winters (hopefully this one) after cleaning out the basement I'll get back into it and finish them. None are V's, of course, they're all my own designs.
Even though my brother Sergei de Jonge makes acoustic guitars, (something I've not done yet) he taught me everything I know starting way back in 1977 at his shop on Havelock St. We worked together for some years, electrics and acoustics side by side. He stuck with it and is now quite successful, while I never did develop the speed of work required to be really viable.
But it is very gratifying to see some of my work out there making music, being bought and sold, and hopefully holding up well and still playing like butter. That, right there, is the bottom line for me. If they still play and sound like butter, I've done my job and it makes me happy.
Left: John with the guitar in his living room, click for enlargement.
How did you come across Cockburn's music?
I've been a fan of Bruce since 1985. I won the World Of Wonders album from a college radio station. I didn't know anything about Cockburn. But then I got it. Within the next two years, I had his whole library in vinyl. Most of it I had to special order.
I first saw Cockburn live in 1988, at the Town Hall in New York City. It was amazing. Cockburn gigs are always amazing but that night he was really amazing. I met Bruce after a gig at The Egg, in Albany, NY. It was April 1987. Like everyone else, I tried to be cool when I met him but it was hard because I was shaking. He totally offset all that. He's a very gentle man, very sincere.
His music has meant a lot in my life. My father was a totally radical Christian. He walked the walk and was one of my heros, like Cockburn. When my father died, we played Tie Me At The Crossroads at his funeral.
What was the story behind the purchase? What do you do?
I can see Bruce going, "Who is this guy? He's a stalker!" [laughs]. The reality of it was that just happened to have a grand to spare and I had to do it. I'm a social worker and spend my life helping people with their problems.
I live in New Paltz, NY, 70 miles north of New York City. New Paltz has a population of 8000 people. It's rural and characterised by abject poverty. There are a lot of advocacy needs. Networking is a big problem. A lot of people have to travel miles to get services and food. I spend a lot of time counselling people who are ill. Music is my outlet, and buying the V was my guilty little pleasure!
So buying the guitar was something just for you?
Oh yeah, absolutely. The Flying V is truly my therapy. I come home and have fun with it. It's antiquated but beautiful. On the Rumours Of Glory video, you can see Bruce play it during one song, Radio Shoes.
I've never bought anything from eBay. What was the process of buying the guitar like?
Within 12 days of the auction closing, I had the guitar in hand. I teach at a local university here and was on my way to Denmark for a conference. I was totally freaking out that it wouldn't arrive before I left. I was tracking the package on UPS and it arrived the day before. It was totally true to the eBay description.
It's an amazing instrument. I think it originally had humbucking pickups. They are now Evans pickups on it. The case is my favourite (pictured left: photo by Mike Blanck). Rumour has it that Cockburn built the wooden case, and did the engraving on the front of it. It's unbelievably sturdy, and weighs about 30 pounds without the guitar! I did think about taking it to Denmark but the case is bigger than the plane's wings!
I'm a bass player not a guitar player. I purchased a small Crate practice amp to fire up the V.
How does it sound after all these years?
When I got it, I plugged it into my amp and put a BC album on. God knows why, as this is Cockburn music we're talking about, but I turned the overdrive on! Tokyo was the first tune I played with it. I love the way it sounds. It does need some work.
As a symbol, what's the power of it for you?
It's kind of weird to have a piece of Cockburn history, an instrument played by this wonderful individual. It was made by an excellent luthier. In terms of how I feel about it as a piece of memorabilia, I do know that it's a piece of wood that will burn up in fire. It's something temporary.
It's a private joke for me. Buying the V was not about status, or even about possession really. I guess it's a little treat, a little pleasure. I probably put more miles on my vehicles going to gigs and spent more money on Cockburn albums than my friends did on artists they like. It's one of those things you spend money on that it's hard to explain to others.
I'm going to enjoy the guitar. I give 50 hours a week to other people as it's what I feel my calling is. Because of this context, I'll probably appreciate it more than the average Cockburn fan.
Would you sell it? What will you do with it eventually?
I'm not going to sell it. Maybe ultimately, when I'm old and gray, I'll put it up in a charity auction and donate the proceeds to charities that Cockburn has stood for over the years. I just hope the next person that owns it doesn't put it in a cafe which sells twelve dollar hamburgers!