Bob Warford - The Second Bender Plans and Photos

April 17, 2020

Below is the unabridged Ask Zac column that ran in Vintage Guitar Magazine a few years ago, and below that are detailed shots of Warford's guitar, and the plans his father drew for his bender.

A recent shot of Bob with steel player Kelly Moore.  Photo by Stephanie Gwinn.

I am a B-Bender fanatic, with 9 bender-equipped Telecasters to prove it. In the past, VG has covered Clarence White and talked about his bender equipped Telecaster, but what about the second one? The one Bob Warford has and used with Linda Ronstadt and others. I also would like to know how he got that amazing tone on “Willin’.” Johnny Isaacs.

The guitarist that once worked with the Everly Brothers, and played the iconic solo on Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Willin’”, was kind enough to respond to our query for more info on his Telecaster and setup. First off, Warford was a banjo player with the Kentucky Colonials/White Brothers, and it was Clarence White himself that convinced him to take up the electric guitar. Warford explained that “Clarence encouraged me and let me borrow a Duo Sonic and a Jazzmaster from him, and then he ended up falling in love with my Roy Nobel acoustic, so he traded his white finished Telecaster with a 1954 body and a re-shaped early ‘60s Stratocaster neck for my acoustic.” Warford added a bit more info on the back history of the guitar saying that “Clarence got the guitar from Semie Moseley of Mosrite fame, and it already had the Stratocaster neck, and the unusual, black pearl looking pick guard.” The unusual guard was most likely added by whoever decided to use a Stratocaster neck, and did not like the open gaps around the Strat’s round neck heel sitting in the Telecaster’s square neck pocket. Another interesting rumor is that the guitar was formerly owned by Buck Owens, but that bit has never been substantiated. Bob was very keen to also have a bender installed on his guitar, so he was able to buy the Fender 400 Steel parts from the Fender factory, and then with access to White’s instrument, the input of Gene Parsons, and the help of his engineer father, he got to work. Bob and his engineer father quickly hit a snag, Warford explains: “First, there was a problem that came up with Clarence's bender guitar - Gene had originally attached the actuating lever to the body of the guitar with a screw, directly into the wood. Unfortunately, the asymmetric forces from actuating the lever at the strap connection gradually caused the screw to loosen in the guitar body. Gene ultimately enlarged the hole and put a bushing into the wood (on a front view of Clarence's guitar, near the upper strap button you can see the head of a bolt where the bushing is).To avoid that problem in my guitar, dad created a Teflon-lined aluminum guide for the actuating lever to move in. You'll see that in the back view of my guitar. Just like on Clarence's, most of the actual mechanism is on the back of the guitar, and uses the same basic Fender Steel Guitar parts as Gene used on his. To allow the body to be thinner, (than on Clarence’s) however, the sharping and flatting extensions which mount below each finger; were shortened about a half-inch, and a new hole drilled to allow attachment of the mechanism.  Everything else, was kept thin enough to allow overall thickness of the guitar to still fit into a standard Fender guitar case. Clarence’s Telecaster body was too thick, and had to have a custom case made. There are springs that were (and are) used to balance the guitar.  My dad found those particular springs, and they work great in the guitar, even after all these years. Neither Clarence nor I used the steel guitar finger the way a standard "finger"; functions in a steel guitar. Instead, we both did it "backwards" simply putting the b string through the "finger" from back to front.  That creates a pretty reasonable angle (rough estimate about 10-15 degrees) for the string intersecting the saddle. Incidentally, in both Clarence's and my guitar, we had to file a small groove in the back of the bridge to allow the b string to run directly to the saddle. In my guitar, the saddles are the steel threaded form, and I have always used lubrication at that point.  I found that GunSlick, a graphite-based lubricant for firearms, works wonderfully, and the small tube of GunSlick I use has got to be several decades old.”

As far as Warford’s signature tone on “Willin’,” it was the white Tele, with its stock flat pole bridge pickup plugged into an EHX LPB-1, into a mid 1960’s Vibrolux Reverb. The Vibrolux was one he traded a Super Reverb for from Phil Everly, and Warford had Red Rhodes modify it with hot-rodded circuitry, a master volume, and JBL speakers. His strings were Ernie Ball 9,11,12,24,32,42, and he used a medium gauge Gibson jazz pick. Bob added; “I ran the LPB-1 at full boost, into the Vibrolux on “7,” and then would run the Rhodes added master volume wherever I needed it for the overall level I wanted.” Besides “Willin’” that is the same rig used on Ronstadt’s “Dark End of the Street” and all of his later work including albums with Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman. Interestingly enough, Warford still uses this rig, and has not changed his setup since the mid 1970’s. Bob shared that he did a summer tour in 1975 with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band, filling in for James Burton in shows where Burton had conflicting dates with Elvis Presley, and playing co-lead guitar with him on shows where Burton was available. "It was so much fun getting to play co-lead with James.  The first time I had ever played with him was a Rick Nelson show in 1967.”

Front of guitar, custom guard, and Fender 400 Steel parts mounted through body.

The uncovered back of Bob Warford’s 1954 Telecaster body showing the bender mechanism. Note