“He loved music and was quite the aficionado,” his widow, Rita Bean, said. “He was one of those people who could listen to a song, and he could tell you what year it was, what band it was, what all the people’s names were.”
In 1974, Travis Bean and McElwee began manufacturing electric guitars and basses with solid aluminum necks and headstocks and ornate hardwood bodies. Most guitars are built with wooden necks – often maple or mahogany.
Bean and McElwee used exacting methods, McElwee said, at one point employing 25 people. The instruments’ unique sound was a hit with musicians, and Travis Bean instruments soon landed in the hands of Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Bill Wyman, all of the Rolling Stones.
“Travis Bean was the most inventive person I have ever met in my life,” McElwee said. “He could come up with an idea instantly. That was one of the things he did right up until the last minute.”
In the 1970s, the guitars retailed for about $1,000. They since have soared in value, with many selling for three to four times that amount. And in 2007 a white Travis Bean guitar once owned by the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia sold at auction for $312,000.
A documentary about the company, titled “Sustain,” currently is in production.
Travis Bean’s love of music wasn’t limited to the guitar, family and friends said.
“Everyone thinks of Travis in connection to his guitars,” Rita Bean said. “But he had actually become a drummer. He told me…that when they were making the guitars they always had a plethora of guitar players around, but nobody to play the drums. So he was sort of self-taught.”