Keith Richards’ Guitar Maker Ted Newman-Jones Dead at 67by Noe Gold
Guitar designer and builder Ted Newman-Jones, who made a number of custom electric guitars for Keith Richards and was the Rolling Stones axe-man’s tour guitar tech in the 1970s, died last Friday (7/1). Simply known as Newman to his friends, he also built custom guitars for Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Ronnie Wood, the late James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson and Joe Ely, among others. As well, he put together Eric Clapton‘s legendary Fender Stratocaster known as “Blackie” – which sold at auction in 2004 for nearly $1 million – from a number of Strats that Clapton had purchased in Nashville.
After doing so, Clapton referred Newman-Jones to Richards, then living in the South of France and recording Exile on Main Street. Newman became Richards’ right-hand guitar man for the 1972 Rolling Stones tour and subsequent Stones tours through 1979.
It was on that ’72 tour that Jones designed and built his first instrument for Richards. The Stones guitarist had been playing a five-string open-G tuning – which provided his distinctive rhythm guitar attack – on a Fender Telecaster. Newman made Richards a five-string electric customized for such use. He later built a number of other guitars for Richards to replace instruments he lost when his home in England, Redlands, was burglarized while he was living in tax exile in France.
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Following Newman’s last tour with the Stones, Richards gave him several thousand dollars to set up shop in Austin, TX. He catered to the special needs of the player and knew the importance of the musician being inspired by his instrument. Ted’s balanced body style and unique asymmetrical “V” neck carve made Newman Guitars legendary. His builds were also known for their rocking sound and elegant finishes. A true craftsman, he could be painstaking slow when building an instrument, making sure every last detail was not just correct but perfect. However, when his customers finally got their guitars, they immediately became prized possessions. For a while in the late 1990s the California-based Chandler Guitars was making a Newman-Jones designed “Austin Special” guitar until Newman has a falling out with the company.
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He also built truly custom instruments. One he made for Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood featured a Woody Woodpecker carved into the fretboard. A guitar he made for country-rocker Ely, who is something of a pool shark, had a green-pool-table-felt finish and pool ball inlays. It was stolen from Ely in San Francisco in 1986 and returned to him two years ago by a fan who bought it in a pawn shop (see story here).
“I first met Newman in March 1981 backstage at a Chuck Berry/Joe Ely show in Austin, TX,” recalls Best Classic Bands Editor Rob Patterson. “As he was explaining the design of his guitars, he got a Sharpie and drew it on the wall of the dressing room – a very Newman-type move. After I moved to Austin in ’89 I hung out with him at his funky old home and shop on the then low-rent and now quite trendy and pricey South First St. The guy was a warm, funny and unpretentious Ozarks hillbilly, albeit a worldly one from his travels with the Stones. And a true guitar genius with a natural sense of smartly stylish design. I’m heartbroken at the news of his passing.”
Newman later moved his shop to just outside of Nashville. At the time of his death he’d been living and working in Washington, IN. Newman-Jones had been ill for a while, but no cause of death was announced.
Since Newman-Jones only built a limited number of instruments, they were high-priced items whenever one came on the market, and his passing will only make them more valuable. His recent assistant, Jeff Smith, had actually sought out the guitar maker to work with him after reading this writer’s 1981 article on Newman in Guitar World. He hopes to continue making a Newman-Jones Keith Richards model guitar with the help of an instrument manufacturer.
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A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds to help pay for Newman-Jones’ funeral expenses. Contributions can be made here.
Best Classic Bands will update this story when/if more details become available.