The “Roy Orbison” Eagle custom guitar By Jaydee

In 1975 I was still working with John Birch and very much involved with the one off designs of the “Glam Rock” era.

Early that year Roy Orbison was appearing at the Odeon New Street, Birmingham. His guitarist at the time, Allen Panter, was experiencing problems with his own instrument, a gold top Les Paul.

John Birch Guitars was well known at that time for repairs and customizing. One afternoon Allen was standing on the doorstep requiring our help. He wanted us to try and sort out his frets, they were a bit uneven causing the usual choking of the strings.

We successfully completed this, and thought “Another satisfied customer”! The word soon spread, and before we knew it, both Roy and Allen returned with Roy’s Ovation, requiring some care and attention. Roy was a really great guy and it was a big thrill for me to actually meet him. After all, I did grow up listening to his kind of music.

An even greater thrill was to sit round a boardroom table to listen to his ideas on how he would like a guitar made. He invited John Birch and myself to his suite that evening at the Albany hotel on Smallbrook, Queensway. I had armed myself with a sketchpad and pencil ready to give it my best shot. Roy was very much into black and silver colour combinations, for obvious reasons, and silver eagle inlays.
He requested his name to be inlaid at the 12th fret, and a large eagle on the body. He gave me complete freedom on the design front.

I left the meeting feeling really important! Apart from the guitar he wanted custom made for him. He also wanted smaller guitars, custom made for his two young sons, Roy Kelton and Westley Alexander.

The guitars came together quite quickly as I was able to work on them non-stop. Roy’s was a double cutaway carved top with a difference. The cutaways resembled scrolls similar to those on a violin peg head. But, instead of being carved in relief, I inlayed silver strips to give the effect of curling inwards.

The two small guitars were a half size Tele. And a 3/4-size Strat, I was very proud of the final results, which were at that time, the highlight of my career.

It doesn’t end there! Roy wanted me to present his guitar to him on stage at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, in Essex, in front of all his fans. It was also Roy Kelton’s birthday, Roy’s youngest son, so he was presented with the little Tele.

When I handed the guitar to Roy, he immediately plugged it in and played it in front of the fans, just a twelve bar to get use to it then straight into “Pretty Woman”. Wow! You just can’t imagine how I felt at that precise moment. It was unbelievable!

  • John Diggins