This is the first part of a two part interview with Yasuhiko (Yas) Iwanade that took place in Tokyo last March. The man that is considered one of the leaders in Vintage instruments and luckily for us he specializes in Bursts from 58-60. As the author of the most Respected reference book on Vintage Bursts "Bearuty of the Burst" we hope you enjoy This personal time with the author. It is packed with wonderful insights to the Man and his passion. We want to thank Yas for being so gracious and Generous with your time. What was planned to be a 15-30 minute interview turned into three hours! He never complained once and made it a point to make me feel confortable that I was not wasting his time. We met in the lobby of my hotel on a overcast Saturday afternoon. I have Never met the man but from his picture in the Beauty of the Burst book I knew who To look for. I was running about 15 minutes late because I was still coming up with great questions to ask him. As soon as I got down approached him and shook his hands his warm smilea and greeting told me that this would definately be an easy interview. We went to the restaurant and ordered some salmon and cheese appetizers and of course...some Japanese beer.
KK: Yas we are really excited that you want to spend time talking to our readers about this passions we share called the Burst. Let's start of by finding out what made you become so fascinated with the Les Paul that would lead you to research and write such a comprehensive book?
Yas: You know I use to be a musician, and one day I heard Mike Bloomfield and I got really curious with his sound. It sounded SO good and I really wanted to find out what he was playing. It took me some time because I was 1000s of miles away in Japan. In the Far East you know, there was not much information back then. Finally I found the Super session Album and on the cover you see Michael Bloomfield and half of the Les Paul showing which actually had a black Switch knob showing (he must have changed that knob) From that day on I knew I needed to find this guitar somewhere. But I did not have so much knowledge then and there were not many Les Pauls in Japan back then, it was very scarce. I mean, any Les Paul. In fact once I got one (A early 70s Gold Les Paul Deluxe), I was the only one in my entire school that had one. After Michael Bloomfield I started listening to Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Clapton, Duane Allman and I absorbed "the tone" in my body. So that was my start.
KK: Very cool, many of our forum members share those same idols and influences. You know our very own Dan Erlewine sold Mike Bloomfield his Burst?
Yas: Yeah I wish I'd known Dan when he had it. (laughs)
KK: Yeah and I am sure he wishes he hadn't sold it too. By the way he Told me to keep an eye for a vintage 50s Les Paul Gold Top for sale for around $1,800 (that is his budget).
Yas: (laughs) Well tell him that I know of one in that range. It is completely original except it does not have the original strings, and oh yea, it was in a fire and all that's left is a black stump, other than that it's completely original and very well priced.
KK: (laugh) Well if I know Master Dan he will put it back together and it will look good as new. So Yas will you be at the Dallas Guitar show next week?
Yas: I am going to the Dallas guitar show leaving on the 20th. I'll Actully have a booth but will probably be walking around a lot.
KK: Many of us from the forum will be there to. Tell us more about how You started.
Yas: Well early on I was dealing vintage guitars so during that time many guitars went through my hands. And all through the years I was more facinated with American Guitars. The Les Paul was top on the list, then came Strats then Teles. However, my music influences led me mostly to the Les Paul. Especially in the beginning. Later on it sort of branched in two directions. Les Pauls and Strats. Especially as soon as I started going to the Texas guitar shows. That was around '79 when I started going to Dallas Guitar show. Up until then I was ONLY on Les Pauls. It was the only thing in my blood. I just loved the tone.
KK: There was a rumor at one time that the LP on the cover of the Beauty Of the Burst book was yours but I think that it was Paul Stanley's correct?
Yas: Yes I think Paul Stanley use to own that and yes that is my favorite too. That is why it's on the cover.
KK: Do you own a Burst yourself now?
Yas: No, when I started my own guitar manufacturing factory back in the 80's I sold everything including all my vintage gear.
KK: Think one day you might have another again?
KK: What are you doing these days to occupy your time?
Yas: I wear many hats. Other than writing, one of the thing I do is consultanting work. In my heart I am still a guitar player and a builder. And part of me a guitar collector. but like I said I don't own many now.I may go back again, but not now. I use to build guitars from scratch. I mean from lumber. No kits. That taught me a lot of things and that started from the repair and restoration business. So that is still in my heart too. Taking guitars apart (not butchering) and adjust it to make it play perfect was the deal. I learned a lot by doing it. That's when I learned the guitars inside and out, because to make it work, I had to know what made it tick. Many times I was amazed by a wisdom of the designer who created those guitars. But going back to what I do now, right now I work as a consultant, as a sort of bridge between American and Japanese Musical Instruments Industry.
KK: Yasuhiko-san, Prior to your Beauty of the Burst Book there was very little in terms of good documentation done on the 58-60 Les Paul Sunburst. There were a few books out there but they were either poorly written, black & white photography, or they had color photographs that were terribly washed out and not accurate to the true color of the Burst . Yours came along and instead of simply raising the bar, it knocked it the hell off the planet. It took Burst reference manuals to a new level. I can see you are a very humble guy but you must know that It is an immense constribution of knowledge to the Burst community. Many of the 1000s of Forum readers own this "Bible" of Bursts and read it daily every morning during their morning prayer devotions. ( I know a little over dramaticized but it's true our study and reverance for the Vintage Burst / tone is what we all share on the Unofficial Les Paul Forum). We as the audience appreciate what you have done and can see what effort it must have taken to compile that amount of knowledge and phtographs. Tell us about how that book came to be.
Yas: I don't want to take all the credit as there were many who helped me make that book. I am just happy being able to share the information. In writing a book you have a huge responsibility to the readers as an author for what you write. That means I take responsibility for what I say there and here with you. It is similar to what you do on the Les Paul Forum, the idea of a community sharing information. That is what the goal was for Beauty of the Burst...to share what I had learned over 30 years. It was a incredible amount of concentrated effort because that information was scattered all across the world and all across my world. I had a lot of it from being involved with vintage instruments for a long time but there was much that was in bits and pieces and it may not have made sense unles organized systematically. Some of the info I would search for and if it comes to me I would check and then cross check ,and tripple check. When it comes to the point where I am SURE it is correct THEN I put it in the book. There is a lot of other information that came and that is not so sure but maybe conclusions can be made, that info may not make it into the book.
KK: How long did it take to make the Beauty of the Burst book?
Yas: From the idea to the final product: in Japanese was two years from Japanese to English a year.
KK: That is relatively not too long.
Yas: When I thought about doing it I had most of the information. Then I went out to gather the pictures and the interviews to make the book happen.
KK: And the pictures I had heard you got a lot from having a booth at some of the guitar shows. Is that true?
Yas: That could have been one way, but that method came later with the Galaxy of Strats book. On the Les Paul book I got together with the publisher and we hired 6 or 7 photographers in different areas. Back then I didn't have my equipment and I was not really shooting guitars although now I do. So I hired the professionals. But having one professional on the road with me all the way was not possible.
KK: Would have been expensive, too, I imagine.
Yas: (laughs) Yes that is one of the difficulties. In each area of the country I had to break it up in different segments and I had to find the photographer, interview him, negotiate, do the scheduling, etc. etc. That was really tough.
KK: Yeah I can see how logistically it would be a nightmare, kind of like preparing a concert tour for a touring band ?
Yas:Yeah there was a lot that went into that book. But I never got tired of it.
KK: Now Yas, I don't know if our Unofficial Les Paul Forum does you any benefit but I have to tell you that we try to let as many people know that the "Beauty of the Burst" resource exists. If they are a BURST lovers we impress upon them that they should have your book.
Yas: Oh thank you so much.
KK: You're welcome, like I said before it is the best ever written about That era Les Pauls. Do you think there ever might be a Beauty of the Burst-2 ? There are certainly more Bursts out there to take pictures of and document right?
Yas: I know for a fact that there are Bursts out there that did not make the book. And there are more information to be shared. When I did that book I had more flexibility which I hope to have again in the future. Beauty of the 'burst 2 may not be a bad idea. I wish in my heart this to happen, but at this time there is no plan.
KK: How many years since the book available now has been completed?
Yas: Maybe 5 years. Then came the Strat(Galaxy) book in Japanese then the LP book in English. On this kind of project, you really need a chunk of time of your life to do it. It's almost like I thought at the time that it was once in a life time kind of thing. At that time I said to myself that if I don't do it now it will never happen in my lifetime.
KK: Tell us about your book The Galaxy of Strats It is a must have Fender benders but I think it was only in Japanese print . Do you think that book will ever come out in English like the Beauty of the Burst? There are many Yas and Fender fans that would love to get it.
Yas: I cannot say I would never do it, maybe I will do it. But not in the near future, you see in the things I need to do in my life in the next few years it is not on my road map . I think it needs to be done, though.
KK: Is it still avaliable and where can fans get it?
Yas: Amazon.com may not have it because it is in Japanese but J.K. Lutherie can order it. He has been very supportive and is a very kind person.
KK: So that is great news Yas, I am sure many on the forum will be excited to own it even if it is in Japanese. So Yas what do you feel is the secret to the Les Paul.
Yas: The Les Paul, one thing is that somebody actually designed it to work that way. But, at the same time, although I am not too much of a religious man per se, I would have to think that when so many variables come together and are done perfectly, that it must be a gift from God. Maybe that is one of the reason why in the early days I wanted to interview with Seth Lover (PAF inventor) and asked him all kinds of technical questions. I didn't want his great knowledge and contribution to be lost. You know what happened to the Stradavarius, nobody knows the secret of the finish. There were times when that secret could be figured out. I mean when the same materials to make the mixture were available. There were times when you could have got that information. But back then people didn't care as much and the secret died with the generations. It only takes one person to not want to let it get lost. So I thought that if nobody else is doing it, I would take on the job of finding the secret of the Burst. I have this handicap of being born in a country 1000s of miles away from the US and not even speaking the decent language at the time but I had this calling. If nobody is doing it , it would be me. The distance only made me feel it stronger.
KK: Yes, your book is so much farther ahead that what has been in the past. You can tell that there is a lot of research, information from your 30 years of being a Burst lover.
Yas: Yeah and the beauty is more than skin deep. There is tone, playability. I always think about Tone, Playability and Cosmetics. If all three come together then that's a beautiful instrument.
KK: Well of those three Yas which of those in your opinion is the most important.
Yas: It is difficult to say. I think they are equal. If the guitar is beautiful to look at but it doesn't play , hmmmmm. But if it sounds good,plays good and it's cosmetically beautiful then, well it's better (laughs). As a muscian at heart maybe it's this order: Tone-Playability-Cosmetics.
KK: And of course if a guitar rates high on all those three the monetary value of the guitar is going to be higher.
Yas: The payability is very subjective, if you have small hands, big hands, etc. So the values are subjective to every person and the priority order will change. At least that is the case for me. I take playability first because when the guitar plays good those licks just come out of you with almost no effort, they just come out of you naturally. It just becomes part of YOU, an extension of your mind, your emotion. That is a very important element in musical instrument. that is why I am happy to build guitars because I can control that. As I went through vintage guitars over the years, there were great guitars I liked, there were great guitars but didn't play for me. But I didn't really want to shave the neck. I like it but it's not perfect, so I leave it. It would be better if that same guitar finds another person who appreciates its full value as it is. So whoever is in search for the perfection you have to find one that for you looks good, sounds good, plays good. And it could be a looooooooooong search.
KK: I know what you mean, I am on that search myself right now. Prices can vary depending on cosmetics, sound and condition.
Yas: Yeah I think the way they look from the perspective of the visual, the flame seems to come first. There are guys that wouldn't care of the broken headstock as long as it has a nice big flame. That is all that matter to them because it's not replaceable. You can't change the wood.
KK: In regards to the collectability of the burst you have seen the prices go from in the low thousands to in the stratosphere.
Yas: Yes. I observed that over the years. The good ones always appreciates in value.
KK: You touched on you started off having the repair and restoration business and I wanted to touch on that a little. Well respected guitar luthier like Mike Stevens who worked at Fender with you has said that you built the most accurate vintage strats and teles of any of the guys there. Dan Erlewine also said that you are by far one of the best guitar builders around. You were even said to have wound your own pick ups. Is that true and how did you learn so much about building vintage re-issue guitars?
Yas: Coming from them, it means a lot to me because THEY are the experts. Well, if I know anything at all, like you said it came from experience in my repair and restoration business. Trying to follow the footsteps of the great designers and builders who had created those things. I would literally sometimes unwound by hand the pick ups one revolution at a time to see how it had been wound and how many turns.
KK: That would be 5000 turns eh? ouch!
Yas: On real PAFs, a little more. Anyways, yes It was tedious work but I loved it because I was like an archeologist finding the secrets of the past. I also felt like being a doctor trying to cure the heart of the tone. That was a great time of my life because I was accomplishing many things. 1) I was learning about the vintage insturment. 2) I was gaining experience that would take me to the next level in my career, and 3) I was earning a living. The best of all worlds if you can have a job like that.
PART TWO TO THE YASUHIKO IWANADE INTERVIEW TO COME......
Karaoke Karl /