Acoustic guitar

What’s so great about a Rickenbacker guitar? | Waverly Logs

April is National Guitar Month, but that means little to Jerry McCumber of Jerry’s Music Studio in Shell Rock.

For Jerry, every month is guitar month. Readers familiar with Jerry will have no trouble imagining that cherubic face playing accordion polkas when he was young in the 1950s.

But that all changed in 1964 with the British invasion of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan TV show. That night, Jerry decided he would give up the accordion to become a guitarist in what amounted to a religious conversion.

“The Beatles changed everything for me,” says Jerry, a high school freshman at the time. “I forgot the polkas and even the studies.”

Jerry first rented a guitar from Iverson in Waverly for six weeks and took lessons there. Then he bought a Gibson Melody Maker guitar, which was a common guitar at the time.

“But I knew I would end up having a Rickenbacker,” he says with sparkling eyes.

After all, a Rickenbacker was what John Lennon played on the Ed Sullivan show. For Jerry McCumber, rock and roll was here to stay, and the Beatles did it for him. His face lights up when he remembers: “It was the hair, the clothes, everything about the Beatles that inspired me, and a whole generation.”

In 1966, Jerry McCumber’s all-night guitar practice sessions paid off. Jerry got a call from Roger Schellhorn asking him to play in a band with Woody Negan, Dave Lewiston and Ted Moore.

Jerry brought in his younger brother, Dan, to play the organ, and the band called themselves “You, Me, and the Rest of Us”.

It didn’t take them long to become a local sensation.

They practiced in the front room of Roger’s house when they weren’t playing somewhere, usually three times a week.

Their first gig was the Waverly 4H building. Then they played the VFW at Waverly with amplifiers borrowed from music stores.

At this time, Jerry was a sophomore in high school and he notes that he had quit studying. But he didn’t stop learning – he just refocused on learning the guitar. Jerry also had an entrepreneurial spirit, even back then. Jerry and his brother Dan decided to form their own band called the Blue Sapphires.

They invited a student from Wartburg College to play drums and Bob Hinders to sing. Jerry played lead guitar and Dan played bass on organ. They played at VFW and Rendezvous. “The Rendezvous was our place,” laughed Jerry, “we filled the house there.” We played Wednesday night, Friday night and Saturday night.

In 1968, the group changed its name again to Mystic Blues and Jerry got a Rickenbacker.

The band had matured and were now into better instruments, amplifiers and speakers. In those days, musical talent got you into a band, as did musical equipment.

Additionally, band members would often change bands to be where the action was at that time. Roger joined them with a Detroit-made Gibson Kalamazoo, and Dan bought Leslie speakers for his organ.

Jerry then bought his Gibson Firebird to vary his sound effects. The band members came and went. Jerry’s younger brother Joe joined on drums. The Mystic Blues had a fan base. The band was making money, at least enough to pay for their gas and gas for the fanbase to follow them to gigs. They even went to Illinois for a concert on a Volkswagen bus.

They were living the dream, playing locally, Oelwein, Sumner and as far away as Humboldt and Grundy Center to crowds as large as five hundred and even 1,000 screaming teenagers. They performed for street dances and even at the Sir Lounge.

Jerry has amusing memories of playing for all sorts of crowds, including a tough biker gang who expressed a dislike for their music, “until they got shot,” Jerry laughed, “ and then they loved us!”

They earned enough money to cover the cost of instruments and equipment. “Things were cheap then compared to now,” Jerry says. Their older brother Steve joined the band to keep the hype going, not as a musician, but to promote the image. He would lead the band members past the equipment with his 68 GTX. “He was the best looking,” says Jerry, “he attracted girls.”

Cars were a big part of the image of the 1960s rock and roll era. Jerry’s band was inspired by local band Waverly IBTC. They were older and very cool. They also drove convertibles. Hot cars were all part of what was so alluring in the 1960s.

But nothing this cool lasts forever. The Mystic Blues worked their way through high school and even a full year before getting day jobs. But one by one, the band members dropped out to join other bands or get married. Still, the group remained together for nearly a decade before breaking up completely in 1976.

Playing in a band was exciting, but Jerry’s real passion is playing guitar. As a member of the band, Jerry developed his obsession with the different sounds produced by different guitars, playing all the guitars at the Iverson Music Store in Waverly and the Stuart Music Store in Waterloo to evaluate their sounds. Jerry mainly played electric, but he used different guitars for different songs. “Ticket to Ride”, by the Beatles, required a twelve string acoustic with an electric pickup. He also used it for “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

The Gibson guitar had heavy-gauge strings, which produced a great rhythm sound, but he used a guitar with lighter strings to play lead. If the band was playing in a big venue, they would bring bigger amps. Jerry left that part to the other band members.

He was always the guitarist. He wanted the most beautiful guitars with the most exotic sounds. Jerry even owned an expensive Mosrite. It had double necks, a six-string neck and a twelve-string neck. Jerry sighs with nostalgia as he thinks of when he traded it in for a Fender Stratocaster, one of the most famous guitars made in the United States. “I wish I still had that one,” he sighs.

Jerry notes that he would keep exotic guitars for about six months and trade them in for something else while the band experimented with the sound effects they could create with pickups and various amplifiers.

The guitars became Jerry’s guiding light and deep sense of purpose which to this day remains the center of his life. While studying photography at Hawkeye Tech and running a photography studio for many years to earn a living, Jerry continued to play and acquire guitars.

He would buy them at pawnshops and at Bob’s Guitars in Cedar Falls because he loves them so much. Along with his partner Pat Melver, Jerry runs a guitar lesson studio at 227 S. Cherry Street in downtown Shell Rock. Jerry bought the old barber shop in 1979 and has taught over two hundred students in that space since then.

Jerry teaches students of all ages, from elementary school to seniors. The youngest was a four-year-old girl who was really gifted, he recalls. His eldest is seventy-two and making great progress learning to play “Pipeline”. Jerry says it’s never too late to learn to play the guitar or to learn to play better. Jerry began giving lessons to children who could not afford them, charging only five dollars per lesson. He teaches them all the songs he played in the band, especially the Beatles. Jerry also advises them to be careful which bands they join as musicians.

Jerry lets the students play guitars he keeps in his studio. He gave guitars to children who could not afford them and sold them to other students.

Others are named to favorite students in his will. However, Jerry no longer sells his favorites, like his Les Paul Gibson. He even has a Les Paul guitar case with a pink liner from the late 50s or early 60s that is worth several thousand dollars.

Jerry loves the world of rock and roll surrounded by more than fifty guitars, twenty amplifiers and several specialized cases. His favorites include a basic Hofner violin guitar like the one played by Paul McCarney.

Only Paul’s was brown and left-handed, Jerry recalls. Jerry also has a Rickenbacker like the one played by Roger McGuinn of the Birds and another Rickenbacker like the one played by Tom Petty in the 80s. But Jerry mostly thinks of John Lennon when he thinks of the Rickenbackers.

Jerry remains captivated by the beauty of his Roland Fender Stratocaster. The Fender Strat was designed to reflect the rear fins and imaginative colors of Detroit automobiles.

With the touch of a dial, Jerry can switch from a D tuning to a G tuning or change the sound to a baritone or a twelve string. Jerry is happy to show the guitars to anyone and tell you about them, but you can quickly get lost in the language of guitar technology. Like one that has a built-in synthesizer that will give you the sound you want. Jerry even has an Eddie Van Halen Wolfgang special.

It has a knob you can turn to drop the E string to a D and all sorts of special tuning devices. Jerry makes it look easy, but it’s very sophisticated technology. What’s easy to understand is Jerry’s final statement to this interview: “When I walk into this room, these guitars are all screaming, play me, play me!”

It’s also easy to see why guitars hold such a special fascination for the human mind. Especially during times of personal and social stress, they bring comfort and amplification to the soul.

They unite us to each other. Approximately 2.3 million guitars are sold in the United States each year. It’s no surprise that guitar sales have increased during the pandemic.

Although there is currently a shortage of new guitars, there is still an abundance of used instruments on the market. April may have been National Guitar Month, but any month is a good month to buy a guitar.

And Jerry is always taking on new students, young and old.