Deniz Tek with The Crestwood in Radio Birdman

Deniz Tek tells the history of his Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe that was once owned by Fred Smith during the MC5 days.

Deniz Tek: I was in Ann Arbor in 1973, home to visit family and friends on my first visit back after moving to Australia in '71. By then I was in a band called TV Jones, and I was always on the lookout for cool guitars. Anyway, I was at the Campus Corners store on South University, looking at the notice board. There was a handwritten ad that read something like "MC5 Epiphone Crestwood guitar" and a phone number. I knew the band had split up and was selling stuff.
Fred "Sonic" Smith

Being a huge fan of the MC5, and a lover of great guitars, I called the number. It was a middle man, selling the stuff. I think his name was Fred Stoll. I knew his sister in school. So I went down and bought the guitar, I wont say for how much but it was a good deal even for those days. The guitar came with a case with the MC5 stencil painted on it. I took the guitar back to Australia, and it being the finest guitar I had ever owned, I began playing it as my main axe. I've played it ever since.

The Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe was the top of the line solid body Epiphone back in the days when Epiphone was owned and built by Gibson. It was the Cadillac. It featured 3 mini-humbucking pickups, and a 3 position selector switch where you could get the neck pickup alone, the bridge pickup alone, or the bridge and middle pickup together. The way it was wired you couldn't get all three at once.

  photo by Kevin O'Rafferty

It had an oversized batwing headstock, bindings, Grover machine heads. The particular model that Fred had was a very rare version that had a factory-installed Bigsby tailpiece instead of the standard Epi tailpiece. This conversion left a couple of extra screwholes in front of the bridge. To cover those up, a little black plate was put on that said "Custom Made". Apparently they only made 200 of that model. Mine was made in 1966.

photo by Kevin O'Rafferty

I am pretty hard on guitars onstage. The Epiphone had the neck break off 3 times. It was never deliberate, but just from the way I play, plus the fact that the neck-body joint on those guitars is a bit flimsy ... it was that model's only design flaw. The last time it happened, in the early 90's, I left it with Dan Erlewine. He was the guitarist in the Prime Movers when Iggy was the drummer, and he was also at the same time my first guitar teacher at Herb David Guitar Studio in Ann Arbor in 1964. Dan later became a world renowned guitar luthier and repairman. He used to write the guitar repair section of Guitar Player magazine. Dan did an amazing repair job on that guitar and fixed it up so the neck joint was bulletproof. I never had a problem with it from then on.
Photo: Tim Bugbee

I became friends with Fred Smith a couple of years after I bought his guitar, and he would occasionally ask me to bring it along and play as a guest with Sonics Rendezvous on the song City Slang, which features a lot of guitar. Fred was always happy to see his old Crestwood.

In 1978 I was in London with Radio Birdman, and we ran into Iggy and his touring band which at that time included Fred Smith, Scott Asheton, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Thurston. Fred had some extra cash on hand, and asked me if I would consider selling the guitar back to him. By then I had played that guitar on several hundred shows and some recordings ... it felt like part of me. I wouldn't sell. He was understanding and good humored about it. We went out to dinner that night. Much later, after Fred passed away, my pal Scott Asheton told me that Patti wanted to get the guitar back as part of Fred's estate. Again, I had to respectfully decline.

I went to photograph the legendary Radio Birdman at Manning Bar last night. The band had fun on stage and the crowd loved it. The show was awesome.
Here is a photo of half of Deniz Tek and his beloved Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe as they get ready to launch.
Photo Emmy Etié Photography

When I was touring with DKT-MC5 in 2004, I played that guitar. It was a great, great honor to fill in with them. Of course, no one can ever fill Fred Smith's shoes, or play like him. I asked Wayne what he wanted me to do, exactly. He said "I'm hiring you to play your ass off". I said: "I can do that"! Wayne remembered Fred's guitar well. He said that around the time I bought it, they also tried to sell his world famous American flag Stratocaster. And he told me that no one bought it! Unsold, it went into storage. He went on to say that he never found out what happened to it after that.

The guitar has become iconic over the years. People associate it with me, with Radio Birdman, and with the MC5. In Australia, Epiphone guitars became sought after. Players wanted that sound, and that look! By 2006, the last time I toured with it, it was so beat-up and had lost so much paint that it began to have some tone problems when the bare wood would get soaked. I had it dried out and clear coated, and decided to allow it to retire gracefully. Deniz Tek

★Deniz Tek, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a guitarist, singer and songwriter currently based in Sydney, Australia. His career in music, grounded in late-60's Detroit, extends through several decades and across continents. He is best known as a founding member of the influential Australian independent rock band Radio Birdman.

In 2007, Deniz was inducted into the Australian Music Hall of Fame, and in 2012 was voted number 7 in the top 100 Australian guitarists of all time.★


Unknown said...

great story. I knew the gist of this but it is great to get the real dope. Two great players, one iconic instrument!!

Anonymous said...

nice. thanks for the history, Deniz. as we know, "SONIC LIVES"!!!

Tim Bugbee said...

pretty awesome writeup... I had no idea that guitar had such history.

can you please credit me (Tim Bugbee) for the photo of mine you used? it's the one between Deniz in the red shirt, and Deniz shirtless.


Retro Kimmer said...

Happy to add your credit Tim...that is one of my favorite photos of Deniz....xK


I like this story & The Detroit Rock'N'Roll Magazine !!!
Thanks Kim !

Anonymous said...

So, I've been buying a bunch of gear the past six months, some of it I don't REALLY need. (I'm looking at you, you pair of Pawn Shop Excelsior amps that are NOT cutting it for me!)

Recently got a CV BSB Tele, which got me on this forum, then followed it up with a 1999 Danelectro 12 String (hey, I need a 12 string in my arsenal!) and a circa 1940 Regal lap steel (ditto).

My GAS has been somewhat satiated, though I did have a line on a sweet CL deal: a $350 as-new Vox AC15C1 and I was first in line to look at it. Long story, but the seller let someone else cut in front of me. Oh, well.

So, with that loss in mind, I happened to read this article, about Deniz Tek and his Epi Crestwood. I'd barely heard of this model, but seeing pics of it and reading the story, GAS set in quickly. Off to google it, and it turns out the nearest equivalent still made and cheap is the Wilshire. A little more research and I'm sold on this model. Look around and don't find too much info to differentiate the Pro and Worn models, but eventually decide that what I want is the Worn, since it has mini-humbuckers and I need that flavor since they are more traditional to that model. Then it transpires that they are not being sold any longer, even though they are listed as backordered on a number of sites--wrong, they are gone. (Pro models in a color or two are still around, though.)

That sent me on a frenzy to find a Worn one. Lots of eBay searching and I finally found this baby on Reverb. The guy took $300 plus $19 shipping for it. (Only slightly cheaper than the street price of $349, but no tax.) It goes out Tuesday!

Jenna Talia said...

Great article. well written! Enjoyed every second of it! - Jenna/Glitter Trash

Anonymous said...

Village Corner is on South U, Campus Corners is at the intrrsection of Packard and State.X VC employee and Fred Smith freak.
Great article. CG

Troy Tempest said...

Deniz Tek and his famous Epiphone were a big part of my youth from the late 70's through to today

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