— by Seonhwa Pak
You may ask, who is Dave Bunker, and what is his connection with Tacoma? Bunker has been a resident of the Tacoma area for over 35 years. He is known as an “extremist in guitar invention.” Bunker has been in the music industry for more than four decades and has built instruments, performed, and is now the president of Bunker Guitar Technology. Bunker has built many instruments for top musicians and his builds are also sought out by collectors.
Dave Bunker came from a long line of instrument builders, which most likely influenced and sparked his interest in building instruments himself. His grandfather, Elijah Bunker was an accomplished violin maker who taught his son Joseph Bunker (Dave’s father) how to build violins as well.
Dave was the middle child out of five children; when he was 14 years old, he was gifted an Epiphone guitar by his parents, and this was when his love for music grew more and more. After graduating from Puyallup High School, Dave taught guitar lessons at a music store located in Olympia.
Dave was then even more inspired in 1955 when he went to University of Washington to see an English guitarist named Jimmy Webster perform. Webster played by tapping fingers from both hands on a guitar neck. Bunker was mesmerized by Webster, and having been raised by instrument builders, he wondered what it would be like to play that way on two necks at once. Bunker surmised that two necks would offer freer movement and more versatile sound.
He then – with the help of his dad – built his first Touch Duo-Lectar Guitar, which you will read more about below.
Bunker Galaxy Guitar
One of the instruments Bunker built specifically in Tacoma was called the “Bunker Galaxy Bass”, which was built in 1973. The guitar was the “first wedge type, reverse tuning bass built” . The Bunker Galaxy Bass also included wings that could be removed or changed and included the original Bunker patented, “Tension Free Neck.”
The pricing of the Bunker Galaxy Bass can range from five thousand dollars up to almost eight thousand dollars. This was one of the only guitars I could find that explicitly said that it was built and made in Tacoma.
Although Bunker designed many more guitars throughout his career, the instrument that gained the most attention was the guitar known as the “Touch Guitar”. And even though the Touch Guitar was not built in Tacoma, 21-year-old Dave Bunker invented the first Duo-Lectar in 1955 in his garage with his father where he resided in Puyallup. Due to the lack of finances his father and Dave settled to make the frets out of an old chain saw blade.
Dave Bunker was able to get his Touch Duo-Lectar Guitar patent on Tuesday, June 27th, 1961, making it just the second string instrument to be patented in the United States. The patent was meant for the design of the Touch Guitar and its manual muting device.
As Dave Bunker’s guitar designs became more and more popular among musicians, he would also cross paths with many big-name Northwest country music stars, including Buck Owens (1929-2006), Don Rich (1941-1974), and Bonnie Guitar (1923-2019); prominent bandleader and host of KOMO-TV’s Evergreen Jubilee Jack Roberts; early Tacoma rockers the Ventures; and even the region’s best-known maker of weird guitars, Harvey Thomas (1920-1987). At one point a businessman named Irby Mandrell (1924-2009), owner of California’s Oceanside Music Supply shop, passed through the Northwest and stopped by to see the Duo-Lectar.
The Dave Bunker Show
Bunker created The Dave Bunker Show in 1964; the traveling show consisted of him and the Wilkinson family – a mother named Jody and her three daughters Vicki, Pattie and Dixie. The Wilkinsons, from Sumner, were Dave’s students. Not only had he taught them how to play, but he also built their instruments as well. Although they mainly performed in Las Vegas, they also toured around the West Coast and Bunker would pick up local gigs around Puyallup, Auburn, Bellevue, and Seattle.
Bunker is still very much active in the world of guitar design. Check out his YouTube Channel for many examples of his instruments – including musical demonstrations by Bunker himself!
Peter Blecha articles at HistoryLink.org:
- Bunker, Dave (b. 1935) and his Electric “Touch” Guitars
- Dave Bunker submits patent application for his dual-necked Duo-Lectar electric “Touch Guitar” to U.S. Patent Office on September 16, 1957
Seattle Times: Why Dave Bunker is Not Singing the Blues
About the Author
Seonhwa Pak prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Spring Quarter 2019, she was a sophomore still considering which major to pursue.