Steel Trappings

Fry Pan Feature

The Great Jerry Byrd Fry Pan Mystery

February 20, 2022 • Addison ChingInstruments and Luthiers

From time to time Steel Trappings receives comments and inquiries from its readership.

A reader writes, "I'm from Alberta Canada. My late stepdad, Don Thompson was a steel player since the age of 12 years old and one of his steels is a Jerry Byrd purchased from Scotty Dewitt."

Audrey further writes, "I have letters handwritten from Scotty to my Dad regarding the serial number. Scotty said since there's no serial number he would scratch in XL993 (see picture circled in blue) for the month and year it was bought."

Fry Pan Head
Fry Pan Headstock. PC-Audrey
Fry Pan Body
Fry Pan Body. PC-Audrey
Etching by Scotty
Identification Etching by Scotty. PC-Audrey

Audrey's pictures show that the steel was a Jerry Byrd Fry Pan design.

In her correspondence, she wondered why the steel guitar wouldn't have a serial number on it originally.

Donald J. Thompson

Donald James Thompson, her stepdad, was born in Saskatchewan, and moved to Fruitvale, British Columbia when he was seven years old.

Don Thompson
Don Thompson. PC-Audrey
Don Thompson
Don Thompson. PC-Audrey

At the early age of 12, he heard the beautiful sound of a Hawaiian steel guitar on the radio and he fell in love.

At the age of 16, he was asked to be the steel player for The Calgary Range Riders and toured for three years across Canada with the group.

Over the years, he developed his expertise on the steel guitar and became one of "the best steel guitar players in the world of music," according to his obituary. He played with many other musicians and singers.

The Calgary Range Riders
The Calgary Range Riders with Don Thompson, second from right. PC-Discogs

As with most steel guitar players, Don began collecting steel guitars, and had in his collection two Mullen pedal steels and two lap steels–a Rickenbacker Panda and a Jerry Byrd Fry Pan. It is that Jerry Byrd Fry Pan that is the subject of Audrey's inquiry.

The Rickenbacker Fry Pan

The first Fry Pan steel guitar was designed by Rickenbacker in the 1930s. They were given the name because of the characteristic design that makes the guitar look like a long-handled frying pan. Today when these become available on the market they usually sell for many thousands of dollars. They are desired because of the design of the horseshoe pickup that produces an unmistakable sound from that steel guitar.

Rickenbacker Fry Pan
Rickenbacker A-22 Fry Pan. PC-RetroFret Vintage Guitars

The Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pan

The Jerry Byrd Fry Pan steel guitars were similar in design to the original Rickenbacker Fry Pans. These were the first steel guitars sanctioned by Jerry Byrd and manufactured by the Sho-Bud Corporation. These steel guitars were all assigned serial numbers. Jerry Byrd received royalties for the use of his name on the steel guitar.

According to Jerry's brother Jack, the Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pans came in two models: a short scale and a long scale. In a Steel Guitar Forum discussion, Jack states that there were only 84 "Official" short scale models and 99 "Official" long scale models manufactured. These all had serial numbers, and Jerry received royalties from the sale of these guitars. These also had certificates of authenticity.

In another Steel Guitar Forum posting, it was reported that there were also "bootleg" frypans that were manufactured by Sho-Bud for which Jerry did not receive royalties.

Again, according to Jack Byrd, "If you will do a search on my name you will find the complete story on the Sho-Bud JB frypans as told to me by Jerry. There are unauthorized and un-certified JBFP made by Sho-Bud out there."

Jack continues, "They had forged certificates when sold and Jerry did not receive any reimbursement for them for the use of his name."

For those wanting more information, the discussion thread is in the Steel Guitar Forum. The "Shot" mentioned in the discussion was Shot Jackson, whose pickups were used in the official Sho-Bud fry pans.

Another discussion in the Steel Guitar Forum includes additional information posted by Jack Byrd about the Sho-Bud fry pans sold in the early 1990s which could possibly relate to the steel guitar that Audrey is asking about. This discussion is in this Steel Guitar Forum article.

The content of this discussion is too lengthy to include here, but it essentially addresses so-called "Bootleg" fry pans for which Jerry did not receive any royalties. It is important to review this discussion, as it provides an insight to the disposition of unassembled fry pan guitars which were turned over to Shot Jackson's family.

Sho-Bud went out of business in the mid-1980s.

Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pan
Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pan Long Scale
PC-reverb.com
Excel Jerry Byrd Fry Pan
Excel Jerry Byrd Fry Pan Short Scale
PC-reverb.com

The Excel Jerry Byrd Fry Pan

A subsequent Jerry Byrd Fry Pan model was also similar in design to the Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pan but manufactured by the Excel Steel Guitar Company in Japan under the name Excel. This model is the Excel Jerry Byrd Fry Pan, and all supposedly came with serial numbers. Excel started manufacturing these models in 1986. The history of the Excel model is at the Excel Steel Guitar website.

Jack Byrd states that for anyone "…considering buying a new one, the only frypan that Jerry has endorsed and the only new ones are those manufactured by Excel and are available only from Scotty's Music."

While there is a lot of information surrounding the Sho-Bud Jerry Byrd Fry Pans and even an interesting discussion about so-called "Bootleg" versions of this steel guitar, apparently it has nothing to do with this particular fry pan steel guitar Audrey is asking about.

This guitar was recently listed for purchase on reverb.com. The listing included a sales receipt which was not provided by Audrey with her initial inquiry to Steel Trappings, but was included in the reverb.com listing. The sales receipt clearly states that it is an Excel Jerry Byrd Fry Pan and purchased in 1993.

But these questions remain: Why was this guitar missing a serial number? And why did DeWitt Scott decide to etch his own serial identification on this guitar?

That last question will go unanswered. DeWitt "Scotty" Scott passed away in September, 2015.

Header photo credits: Jerry Byrd-PC Napster; Sho-Bud Fry Pan-PC reverb.com; XL993-PC Audrey; Excel Fry Pan PC-Addison Ching; Certificate of Authenticity-PC Steel Guitar Forum; Background image derived from Jerry Byrd's "Steel Guitar Hawaiian Style" (Lehua Records) album.

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