Flower Power: Guitar Aficionado Reviews the Summer of Love Series Bedell Guitars
By Richard Bienstock | Photograph by Massimo Gammacurta | Guitar Aficionado
Tom Bedell first entered the guitar retail business as a teenager in the early Sixties, importing Japanese-made instruments and selling them throughout his native Iowa. He then took a break from the music industry that lasted more than four decades, during which time he earned a degree in political science from Stanford University, went to law school, did a stretch in politics working with his father (U.S. representative Berkley Bedell), and, finally, took over the family fishing-equipment business. In 2007, he sold that enterprise, by then known as Pure Fishing, for several million dollars and began to plot his next move.
“I realized that the happiest time in my life was when I was working with guitars,” Bedell says. With that in mind, in 2009 Bedell began designing a line of Chinese-made acoustics that bore his surname. He also formed a guitar and retail company, Two Old Hippies, with his wife, Molly, and the following year they acquired the Bend, Oregon–based Breedlove Guitar Company. Today, he oversees operations for both brands, with the newly revamped boutique Bedell line now made entirely in the U.S.A. at the company’s new facility in Bend.
For Bedell, designing guitars is a labor of love. His namesake brand produces just over 150 instruments a year and hews closely to a particular Sixties aesthetic that is evidenced in everything from the Two Old Hippies name to that company’s slogan, “Peace, Love and Rock and Roll,” and the peace-sign logo that graces the headstock of many Bedell guitars.
This mindset is also apparent in Bedell’s newest offering, the Summer of Love acoustic guitar, a dreadnought-size instrument—limited to just 12 examples—that pays tribute to what Bedell views as a pivotal moment in American, as well as his own, history. “The Sixties was when I first fell in love with guitars, and it was also a magical time,” he says. “Nineteen-sixty-seven was the golden moment. I wanted to design an instrument that really spoke to that era and to that sound.”
For Bedell, nothing captures that sound better than an acoustic guitar built from Adirondack spruce and Brazilian rosewood. “If you want to recreate those rich, voluminous folk-rock tones of the era, that’s the way to do it,” he says. And indeed, the Summer of Love, which sports an Adirondack spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back and sides, is an exceptional-sounding instrument, with a crisp, full attack and powerful, clear projection across the tonal spectrum.
How did Bedell acquire so much highly coveted Brazilian rosewood, given its heavily regulated status? A few years back, he and his team came in contact with Madinter, a Spain-based supplier of musical instrument tonewoods. Madinter had kept a stash of Brazilian rosewood since the early Sixties, a time that pre-dates both the Brazilian government’s ban on exporting rosewood logs and the 1992 CITES convention, which declared Brazilian rosewood an endangered species and therefore illegal to harvest or trade. Bedell purchased Madinter’s entire reserve—3,000 sets in all. “We now have by far the largest supply of fully legal, pre-CITES Brazilian rosewood at our facility in Bend, Oregon,” he says. “When those 3,000 sets are gone, Brazilian rosewood in newly built guitars is basically gone.”
Bedell, for his part, is a staunch environmentalist. No clear-cut trees are used in his guitars, and tonewoods are sourced according to rigorous Bedell Tonewood Certification Project standards. He is very conscientious about putting the Brazilian rosewood to good use. The Summer of Love sports the exotic tonewood not only on its back and sides but also in its bridge, pickguard, and fingerboard, which is inlaid with a twisting mother-of-pearl vine design that climbs past the nut and onto the headstock.
The result is an instrument that is stunning in sound and appearance. And Bedell is only getting started. As he explains, the 12 Summer of Love guitars are part of a larger series the company is calling the Freedom Collection. “We’re going to do limited-edition runs of 12 instruments that pay tribute to different periods of the Sixties and early Seventies,” he says. “Once the Summer of Love guitars are gone, we’ll introduce a British Invasion design. After that is a guitar commemorating the first Earth Day.
“That’s the kind of fun we’re having here,” he continues. “We get to dream up a sound, a look, and a story, and then we go out and create an instrument to fit it.”