top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohn Barton


James Ormston Burns was born in 1925 in Durham, England. He played Hawaiian guitar in a number of bands and build his first electric Hawaiian steel guitar in 1944. In 1952 he built his first six string solid body which he promptly sold to a local music shop. In 1959 he began producing guitars and amplifiers in earnest. Soon he began exporting guitars to America under both the Burns and Ampeg trademarks.  

Ampeg renamed some of the guitars in their catalogs, but other than the pick guards there was no difference between the Burns and Ampeg models.  

After a failed bid to purchase the Fender  in 1965, the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company purchased Burns later that year. James remained with that company for another year.

Burns guitars have been used by such diverse artists as Hank Marvin, The Shadows, The Hollies, The Searchers, and The Troggs to name a few. Elvis’ Burns “Double 6” 12-string was residing in Graceland the last time I checked.

In England this guitar was marketed as the “Jazz/Split Sound” but in American catalogs it was the “Wild Dog” so named because in addition to the sensible “Split Sound”, “Jazz”, and “Treble” settings on the pick up selector dial, the fourth position reads, “Wild Dog”.

When I first heard about this Wild Dog guitar I was spending a lot of time trying to copy Brian Jones slide sound on “Little Red Rooster”. I really liked that unobtainable raunchy sound obtained as Mick sang, “The dogs begin to bark, and the hounds begin to howl.” Clearly, I reasoned with the kind of logic often found in Junior High School, he must have a “Wild Dog” guitar! I could also relate to the “Wild Dog” image. “That’s me”, I fantasized!

I never got to actually play a Wild Dog until I became a bit older, but the instrument was certainly not a disappointment. Wild Dogs play and sound great. Unfortunatley, I find the “Wild Dog” setting the least useful. They are very well constructed and have some unique switching features that may have influenced Fender’s “Electric XII”. The vibrato system is also unique and quite functional.

From this player’s point of view, the “Wild Dog” is the most usable of the many guitars Burns built which ranged from the bland to the bizarre and hit just about every point in between. I am somewhat confident that James was the first person to equip his flat top acoustics with whammy bars. Can’t you just see those guys at Gibson and Martin shaking their heads in wonder asking, “Why didn’t we think of that!” Neither can I actually, but it might have happened.

After leaving the Baldwin Company in 1966 James went on to design automobiles, try his hand in the fashion industry and even designed a toothbrush. Good for those canines! If the clothing in this photo is any indication of his foray into fashion, it may not be such a loss to the world that he moved on to dental hygiene. In any event, I do wish to make it abundantly clear that any rumor that this is a photograph of my wife Charlene and me is entirely without merit.

198 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page