Hang Ten

Bill Lewis Custom

24 fret guitar

1969-71 Vancouver

Bill Lewis Custom 1971

Some information about the Bill Lewis Custom guitar

Some guitars are special in some way – the Bill Lewis Custom 24 fret guitar, made in Vancouver, BC, between 1969 and 1971, is special in many ways.

With probably less than 30 handbuilt copies it’s rarer than most other professionally made guitars, and it has some quite unique features:

  • made of one piece of Mahogany or Limba (Korina) – except for the headstock’s scarf joint
  • 24 fret fretboard (Ebony or Brazilian rosewood) with a compound radius from 12″ to ∞ (flat) on a very thin and wide steel reinforced neck (when Mahogany)
  • large cavities (electrics, weight, sound) on body’s back with padded, snap buttoned cover
  • the later ones have custom made pickups, fully epoxied, and switchable between humbucker and single coil sound without any hum or microphony

Detailled view on the Bill Lewis Custom

All Bill Lewis Custom guitars seem to differ, in details or in more major features.

The regular BLC is made of light weight Swietenia Mahogany finished in translucent Amber or Ebony (“black”) nitrocellulose lacquer with an Ebony fretboard and wooden inlays on a Holly veneer on the headstock.

Very few are made from natural lacquered Limba and feature a Brazilian rosewood fretboard.

Body thickness, neck dimensions and scale are not consistent. Most of them have a three pot layout (1 volume, 2 tone potentiometers) and a toggle pickup selector switch, all placed on the lower bout’s treble side, and a side jack.

What all have in common are the German Schaller M6 tuners (the first 1967/68 edition). Regularly the Bill Lewis Custom did not have a vibrato – only very few have.

The earlier ones used German Schaller pickups (single coils despite the 12 polepieces per pickup) including a complete Schaller wiring harness with switch, pots, jack and knobs.

The pickups on the later ones were custom made by Bill Lewis’ brother Jack, and at least one version of these pickups is switchable between humbucker and single coil sound.

What all have in common is the body shape, that actually is that of a flamenco guitar with cutaways ;)

Bill Lewis Custom 1971 front back Korina Limba

1969 Bill Lewis Custom with Schaller pickups – very uncommon: natural Limba (Korina), Brazilian rosewood fretboard, neck without steel reinforcement, no back routings but frontal control plate, no back pad

Bill Lewis Custom 1971 front back and pad

1971 Bill Lewis Custom with Dual Range pickups – one step more custom: master volume and one volume and one tone per pickup (5 knobs instead of 3), pickup selector switch at the upper horn

The sound of the Bill Lewis Custom

Schaller single coils

The best example for the sound of a Schaller equipped Bill Lewis Custom is all the stuff the Cramps recorded between 1976 and 1984, as lead guitar player Poison Ivy Rorschach always played her Lewis until she switched to a Gretsch in 1985.

(In case you are interested in The Cramps, here’s a timeline of their entire career in video and audio.)

The Cramps - Tear It Up (Live - Urgh! A Music War)

Live August 15, 1980 Santa Monica Civic, California, USA

The Cramps - Peppermint Lounge

Live May 19, 1984 Peppermint Lounge, New York, NY, USA

Lewis Dual Range

As for the custom made Lewis pickups, there are only a few safely dokumented recordings I know: some tracks David Gilmour did for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon recordings and some live footage for French TV.

The Cramps’ Poison Ivy has used her second Bill Lewis for a very short time after her first got smashed in Paris in June 1984.

Pink Floyd - ORTF TV, Paris

December 1970 improvisation

The Cramps

The Cramps live June 22, 1984 at Perkins Palace, Pasadena, CA, USA

Pink Floyd - Brain Damage (studio footage)

Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii (The Director’s Cut), 1972

Bill Lewis Custom

1969-71 – Vancouver, BC, Canada

There are probably doublettes, as all information from the Guitars Canada forum is quite vague.

If you have a Bill Lewis Custom and want to share some info or even pictures, please get in touch with me: max@hang10.de


Apr 14, 2023: Amber Dual Range at Flickr added
Apr 26, 2023: Natural Schaller from Bill Lewis Catalogue added
Jun 14, 2023: Amber Dual Range at Steveston Audio (Reverb) added
Aug 04, 2023: Amber Dual Range at Odyssey Guitars added

(Original) OwnerColorPickupsDateNoteSource
David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)EbonyLewis Dual RangeOctober 1970Story here: David Gilmour’s Bill Lewis guitar
Eric Clapton (Blind Faith)EbonySchallerAugust 1969Picture at facebook: Eric Clapton, Blind Faith, Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver August 9, 1969
George Harrison (The Beatles)EbonyLewisn.a.Picture at Getty Images: George’s Guitar
Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)n.a.n.a.n.a.Allegedly Jimmy Page owned two – I’ve never seen a picture or found any more info about those.
Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)n.a.n.a.n.a.
Poison Ivy Rorschach (The Cramps)Amber (refinished to Sparkle Gold in 1981)Schallern.a.recessed Matsumoku VibratoThe Cramps’ main lead guitar from 1976 to 1984, when it got smashed in Paris. All The Cramps recordings until 1984 have probably been recorded with this guitar.
Poison Ivy Rorschach (The Cramps)Ebony BurstLewis Dual Rangen.a.Bigsby VibratoPoison Ivy’s backup guitar 1983/84
“picky pete” (The Spectres)n.a.Schallerreceipt from April 24, 1969Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 20
“GuitKid” (The Dale Russell Music Ensemble, The Guess Who)n.a.n.a.n.a.Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 32
J.S.AmberLewisn.a.Pictures here: The Lewis Electric Guitar
O.G. (Pacific Salt)EbonyLewis Dual RangeDecember 1971Mastervolume + 2 Vol + 2 Tone, switch at the upper hornSee pictures on this website
J.S. (Pigs)AmberLewis Dual RangeSeptember 1969ex Lefty, ex (Bigsby?) Vibrato, wooden bridge base plate, strings through body, pickup rings – I’m quite sure that’s something like a test guitar that was originally equipped with Schaller pickupsPicture and story at an old Harmony Central thread: Turns out one of my guitars was owned by Poison Ivy from The Cramps… – btw, it’s not Poison Ivy’s ;)
Can be heard in this Instagram post: Sunday night thoughts.
B.S. (Applejack)EbonySchallern.a.Picture here: Smittys Scrapbook
P.D. (The Fox, The Shantelles, Loverboy)Ebonyn.a.n.a.Picture here: The Fox
Vancouver, British Columbia
1969 ~ 1970
N.C.AmberLewisn.a.Pictures at Pinterest: Bill Lewis custom guitar
Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 56
L.C.Mahogany with ebony V inlayLewis Dual Rangen.a.Bigsby vibrato, different knob positionsStory here: My Bill Lewis Story
L.W.n.a.n.a.n.a.Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 20
L.S.n.a.n.a.n.a.Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 41
D.O.n.a.n.a.n.a.Mentioned at Guitars Canada: post 49
V.S.AmberLewis Dual Rangen.a.Pictures at Flickr: Lewis 24-fret Solid-body Guitar
B.M.AmberLewis Dual Rangen.a.Abalone dot inlays, volume moved 3/4″ closerReverb June 2023: Rare late 1960s early 70s Bill Lewis Custom Electric guitar David Gilmour Pink Floyd
n.a.AmberSchallern.a.untypical back routing, no press buttons for back platePictures at Misha Udovenko Luthiery, Vancouver: Bill Lewis Guitar
n.a.AmberLewis Dual Rangen.a.Rufus Guitar Shop May 2022
n.a.AmberLewis Dual Range (replaced with P90s)n.a.headstock missing the typical open book carving (sawed off?), 4 pots layout with added scratchplatePictures at Odyssey Guitars facebook page, September 2020: Odyssey’s Cousin Lewis
n.a.natural Limba (Korina)Schallern.a.no back routings but frontal control plate; Brazilian rosewood fretboardSee pictures on this website
n.a.natural Limba (Korina)Schallern.a.Picture in Bill Lewis’ “Catalogue for Musical Instrument Builders”, July 1974
n.a.unfinished Limba (Korina)not routed#9body blank, outlines routed onlySold on eBay January 2014

last modification: August 04, 2023