A few weeks ago, while road-tripping across the Southwest, I had the good fortune of getting a chance to stop by the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, NM. Now, being the young whipper snapper that I am, I was quite unfamiliar with Mr. Petty, but I was keen on some of the artists who recorded at his studio, the most prominent of which being Buddy Holly. Since Norman passed on a few decades ago, the studio no longer is active in the traditional sense, but it is curated as a sort of museum and virtually the only tourist attraction of Clovis, NM. Seeing that the studio was virtually on the way from Houston, TX to Seattle, it didn’t take much convincing for my lady to concede to drop by this fabled land of early rock music legend.
Before I go any further, I have to say that if you’re a stickler for originality, vintage vibeyness and Fender tweed amp perfection like I am, you are indebted to Kenneth and Shirley Broad who have been curating the Petty studio/museum for decades. If you’re unsure, let’s take a test: How does the Fender CyberTwin make you feel? A) Warm and fuzzy B) Confused, but drawn to it’s warm glow C) Human centipede. If you answered “C”, you do indeed love vintage goodness and might find the next paragraphs moderately interesting. If you answered A or B, well, you’ve gotten this far and your mother told you to finish what you started, right?
Getting back on track, the Petty museum is a time warp like I’ve never experienced. We’re talking NOS recording consoles and unreleased Buddy Holly recordings still hanging out on their original acetate tapes. The museum is also completely hands on, which leads us to the focus of this blog, Buddy Holly’s Fender TV front Pro. This was the amp that was used on virtually every hit the guy made in his short recording career, and also toured with the band in the days before the 1×15 speaker became too quiet for bigger venues. Given the amp’s history, you can imagine that I was amazed to find it proudly displayed in the middle of the main studio room as if Buddy had gone out for a smoke break mid-session. Granted I was already dizzy with gear love, after getting cozy behind the recording console listening to an unreleased take of “Heartbeat”, playing a few notes on the Celeste used on “Everyday” and hearing the smooth tones from the Hammond Solovox keyboard used on the Fireball’s “Sugar Shack,” but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come next. After coyly asking Kenneth if Buddy’s amp still worked, he quickly offered me his Fender Strat and told me to plug in.
Now, I’ve always loved Buddy’s recordings and his use of the Fender Stratocaster, but I must admit I never had a deep appreciation for how unique his rhythm guitar tone was until I heard this amp. Buddy’s sound was immediate and no matter where I set the volume or tone knob (granted I didn’t crank the amp out of respect for the tour guide and the stock 15″ Jensen speaker cone) the amp sparkled and growled with Buddy’d unmistakeable sound. The light compression and sag of the rectifier and the worn in sound of USA made 6L6 power tubes combined with the aforementioned 15″ alnico Jensen made for a highly desirable Fender tone that is often overlooked in favor of smaller combos or more efficient later tweed or blackface models with more headroom. Now, I know we all can’t walk down to our neighborhood Guitar Center and plug into an old TV front Fender, but I would highly recommend one of these early Fender gems if you have the means to take one home!
All in all, Kenneth spent almost two hours touring our small group around the studio and adjoining apartment (also untouched and true to 1950s aesthetics) and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. I can’t imagine that another 1950s recording studio still exists with the same caliber of cool gear and history in such an accessible environment, so the next time you’re in Clovis, give the Chamber of Commerce a holler and set up a tour.
Well, that wraps up the first “Spotlight” installment, and I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve never done too much of this newfangled blog writing, so go easy on me!