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The Man: Bill Lawrence
"Over Half A Century of Guitar Innovations and Still Going Strong"
The Bill Lawrence story began literally in the rubble of World War II. A tall, skinny teenager from the outskirts of Cologne, Germany had injured himself experimenting with a home-made rocket-propelled bicycle and could no longer play his violin, so he took up a new instrument: the electric guitar. Inspired by the records of pioneer electric guitarists like Oscar Moore, Barney Kessel, and recording innovator Les Paul, young Willi soon became known as "Hot Bill" for his uncanny ability to play guitar solos with the high-speed drive of celebrated jazz players like Charlie Parker and, in 1948, he already made his first pickup to amplify his already-impressive sound so he could be heard over the powerful horns and drums of post-war jazz bands!
Within a couple of years, Bill was enjoying a thriving career headlining shows on American military bases mostly in Europe, on the same stages as American stars ranging from Roy Acuff and Hank Williams to Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke. Bill's performing life continued to flourish through the '50s, initially going by the stage name "Billy Lorento" and becoming the first major endorser of German-made Framus guitars and strings with his own signature model. By the early '60s, his professional name had permanently become "Bill Lawrence," and he formalized his commitment to the great American guitars he'd always loved by signing on as a Fender endorser.
In the mid-'60s, Bill, with two partners, started a company in Germany, Lawrence Electro Sounds, offering his designs "Lawrence True-Sound Pickups" to the German guitar manufacturers. Bill came to America in the late '60s, quickly becoming established in the thriving music scene of New York's Greenwich Village. His innovative Lawrence Audio electric piano became a favorite of artists ranging from Stevie Wonder to Miles Davis. He designed pickups for MicroFrets, and he teamed up with fellow electric guitar wizard Dan Armstrong on several projects, eventually taking over Dan's custom shop when Dan moved to England -- a true mecca for New York's most demanding players. It was there that Bill continued his work of rebuilding pickups to eliminate their internal flaws, flaws he'd discovered over many years as a player striving to improve his own guitars. He also developed new pickups for retrofitting into existing guitars, thus essentially inventing the aftermarket replacement guitar pickup. Among Bill's apprentices in those days were Dan Armstrong's teenaged son, Kent, and a local kid named Larry DiMarzio.
Bill's exceptional reputation in New York soon caught the attention of Gibson, who lured him away with a contract as a guitar and pickup designer, eventually putting him in full charge of design at their famed Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. There, Bill immediately applied what he had learned over the years, revolutionizing both the efficiency and consistency of Gibson's pickup department as well as designing instruments that are among the best (and best-kept secrets) in Gibson's storied history, including the remarkably versatile L6-S solid-body guitar and the unique lightweight Ripper bass.
While maintaining his consulting relationship with Gibson, by the mid-'70s Bill had moved to the Nashville area at the suggestion of his friend Chet Atkins. There, he introduced the very successful FT-145 soundhole pickup for acoustic guitars, the first noisefree pickup in Fender single-coil size -- the single-blade L-220, his legendary L-90 twin-blade humbucker, and later the L-500 series. The L-500 recently became the very first aftermarket pickup design to be reverse-engineered by a major aftermarket maker. Bill's Nashville designs also included his famous solderless high-performance guitar plugs and cable (also reverse-engineered by others in recent years), and Long-Life strings made with a process that remains unsurpassed in the industry today.
The '90s found Bill, now teamed with wife (and skilled pickup maker) Becky, still innovating -- his L-280 noisefree" series for Strats and Teles helped bring these American classics into the twenty-first century, and Fender had engaged him as a consultant. This long-running relationship, which included designing the pickups for Fender's highly successful Roscoe Beck signature basses, has most recently resulted in the SCN (samarium cobalt noiseless) pickup family found in the prestigious and popular American Deluxe series of Fender guitars and basses.
Today, Bill and Becky continue to offer players consistent quality and innovation under Bill Lawrence Pickups, including WildeUSA� and Keystone� . One of Bill's guiding principles is to constantly improve the performance and value of the products he designs and endorses -- that means that Bill's WildeUSA and Keystone pickups available today represent the very best work of one of the industry's legendary pioneers.
Bruce Morgen is a veteran technical writer and musician who's known Bill Lawrence since the early '70s, when both men worked with singer-guitarist Bobby Hebb in New York -- Bruce as a sideman with Bobby, and Bill making sure Bobby's guitars played and sounded perfect.