The town of Schönbach Germany was a hotbed for violin and other string instrument builders for generations. This is where Fred Wilfer, the founder of Framus, was born in 1917.
After WWII that part of Germany was to be controlled by Russia so Wilfer concocted a plan with Bavarian officials to relocate the craftsmen from Schönbach and start a manufacturing facility in Erlangen, Bavaria.
Originally the bread and butter of the company was violins. However, as western instruments were growing in popularity in the late 1940s and rock n’ roll was taking off, Wilfer steered his company to the production of acoustic and electric guitars.
The production history before the early 1950s is a little mysterious. Framus went on to become one of the largest guitar manufacturers in Europe by the mid 1960s and the list of famous Framus players is long.
There is one in particular, however, that could be considered under the radar depending on the diameter of your guitar nerd circle.
Born in 1931 as Willi Lorenz Stich
aka Billy Lorento
aka Bill Lawrence
Yes, that Bill Lawrence. The one who helped design the super humbucker while at Gibson and also helped design the L6-S, S-1 and Marauder guitars (the latter two were not great sellers).
In the mid 1970s, through his own company in Nashville, he continued to design pickups including the L-90 twin blade humbucker.
Bill’s hometown is just south of Cologne, Germany and he was already a successful pickup manufacturer before moving to the U.S.
But before all of that, Bill was an accomplished Jazz guitarist in Europe and gained significant notoriety playing American military bases. He was known as “Hot Bill” or formally by his stage name, Billy Lorento.
Bill’s fame and the German ties to Framus led him to being the first signature artist of the company with the result being a number of namesake models. The very first was the 5/120 in 1953. Billy was just 22 at the time.
Framus 5/120 specs: Spruce top, Maple back and sides, Rosewood fretboard, Block cream inlays, Pickguard mounted Framus single coils, Two volume, two tone controls, Billy Lorento signature tailpiece