Cole Clark Mistress

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A forgotten and under appreciated Australian classic.

While the focus of my guitarnerdom in the last few years has been heavily focused on Maton guitars, lately that focus has started to shift. I’ve pretty much ticked all the boxes of my wish list which while great is also a little anticlimactic. So recently I’ve sold off a few of my Maton’s which I know I’ll never actually play and started looking at other Australian treasures, which I’ll be posting in the upcoming weeks.

First is a guitar made by that “other” Australian guitar company, Cole Clark. Adam Cole and Bradley Clark were both employees at Maton guitars and had set up the electric guitar department from scratch. After years of clashing with management, they decided to start their own guitar company… Cole Clark.

While heavily based on acoustics, they also introduced an electric guitar range. Initially this was the typical Stratocaster and Telecaster based guitars (which are what the dealers requested) but in the background they were also developing something completely unique. The Mistress.

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This wasn’t another Strat clone or Super Strat. This was a totally new design. The shape is vaguely like a symmetrical Stratocaster or Paul Reed Smith, but with very thick body sporting a deep contour carve.

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I’m friends with Adam Cole, which started over our shared loved of vintage Ibanez’s and I asked him what was the thinking about it’s unique design. He said that while they HAD to pump out Strat’s and Tele’s to get money through the door they also wanted something unique. The design process began with them starting to make shapes in the CAD program. Adam said he and Brad would have goes adjusting bits and pieces of the shape… it was an open notebook with different people adding their ideas. When they got the first half done, Adam was going to make the treble side horn longer so that it was kind of Mosrite-ish. But when he duplicated and flipped the side, he liked the look of the symmetrical shape and thought “you know, I think that’s it”.

Adam also mentioned that the neck attachment was not the typical Gibson style set neck, but a jigsaw type system similar to that used by Japanese woodworkers with the neck and body slotted together and body cap then fitted on top. It really reinforces the rigid feel of this guitar.

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Other unique features of this guitar are the pickup installation / adjustment along with the truss rod adjustment. The pickups were slotted in and pickup heights are adjusted through the allen key bolt on the back. This gives a very clean look on the front, as Adam said he was going for a Travis Bean / early Kramer vibe. The truss rod is adjusted underneath the black plastic slot.

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A month or so ago, Adam’s personal Cole Clark Mistress became available for sale. I kept my eye on it for a few days before deciding the pull the trigger. I quickly sold some guitar pedals, records and a guitar amp and sent the money over as quick as I could!

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This guitar was the prototype of the Mistress Stealth, which was Adam’s stripped down vision. Adam built this to his own specs, so the body is made of Bunya Pine which means it’s very light. The neck is a big profile, kind of like a ’59 Les Paul. The pickup is a single Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck, but production Stealth’s had a Cole Clark made humbucker.

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Speaking of Cole Clark pickups, I asked Adam about the cool little ‘Empisal’ badge on his Stealth and his said it’s actually off the vintage sewing machine that Adam modded to wind pickups for Cole Clark. So a little extra bit of Cole Clark history on this guitar.

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The back of the guitar sports the same features of the regular Mistress, though obviously the neck pickup adjustments don’t have any screws inside.

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The headstock has another rare feature on Mistress’s and that is the raised CNC cut Cole Clark logo. Adam said there was probably only 4 guitars made with that feature. Very cool.

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The back of the headstock has Adam’s trademark volute / slot which also featured on the original Maton MS500 reissues.

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I fitted some 12′s on the Stealth, tuned it to C# and was surprised how stiff it felt compared to my ’70 Gibson SG C# riff machine. Then I remembered the Mistress is a longer Fender scale, so I’ll have to go to 11′s maybe. It sounds like a REALLY good Les Paul.

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Soon after creating the Stealth, Adam made some two pickup versions for local band Blood Duster. These guitars certainly stand out due to the NSFW word emblazoned on them. One of these guitars is now owned by Nicholas who was nice enough to send me a photo.

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After playing the Stealth for a few weeks I was bitten by the Mistress bug so I had a look around for what else was out there. I then found this silver beauty for a great price, which ended up being custom made by Adam for a nice guy named Dave. It’s rare in that it’s the only solid all over (neck and body) silver Mistress made (which Adam said was a pain in the ass to paint) and also rare in that it only has two knobs instead of the usual 4. The controls are volumes for each pickup with splits.

It’s a different feel to the Stealth. The Stealth is a lot more raw… with a satin finish, big neck and no fuss electronics. The silver custom has a beautiful slick feeling neck with slightly rounded fretboard edges. The splittable pickups also make it really versatile to play. You can get Telecaster and Gibson tones out of it. I’m REALLY happy with it… it’s a fantastic guitar.

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Because I’m such a nerd, as the guitar was in Melbourne I got it sent to Adam at Found Sound so he could set it up before I got it. I also got him to sign it (well, he did build it!)

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He looked through it and sent me these specs:

Silver Silkwood body back 

Qld maple body cap

US maple or QLD maple neck

Pickups are ones I made! Vol for each pup and push pull coil tap

While chatting about the guitars, Adam gave me a list of the other’s involved with the development of the Mistress who he feels have been overlooked and deserve some much needed credit.

  • Phil Moyes – cad cam designer/machinist
  • Paul Dutton – cad cam guru
  • Kent Pumeroy – machinist & assembly
  • Jarrad Pajak – assembly
  • Colin Sutcliffe – Painter
  • J – setup

I was lucky enough to run into J (aka Knifey) on Instagram and we got chatting on the Mistress and his time at Cole Clark. I asked him if he could put his experience into words for this article which he kindly provided:

Originally there were 10 of us in the early days of Cole Clark. I was a touring tech, and was pulled off the road at the invitation of Adam Cole. It was a big decision because I’d worked internationally for a lot of great acts, but the prospect of working for Adam and seeing the birth of a guitar factory was something I wouldn’t get a second shot at. My role was at the end of the line- I did setups, wiring, assembled the instruments, hand made pickups, and packed the finished guitars up for delivery. After a time I also took on liasing with potential sponsored artists and putting custom built guitars in their hands.

The talent in the building was unbelievable, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to see it all and be a part of it. Adam and I shared the setup room, although obviously he had his hand in everything that happened at the factory. The first phase of production was to get the Defender and Offender guitars out to stores, raise money for the next phase. At the same time, Cole Clark was developing a stable of endorsers, so my work days usually included putting together instruments for Josh Homme, Ben Harper, Jesse Hooper from Killing Heidi, and anyone else who was on the radio back then.

And that’s where the Mistress came in. Col and Rusty who were the paint shop guys were putting out all of these wild finishes, they spent a lot of time experimenting and developing new looks. So the first Mistress that landed on my bench just looked insane. The company was clear about the fact they didn’t want to do Fender style guitars forever, there was a really strong mandate to innovate. You see it in the Violap, you see it in the architecture of the Fat Lady, and you definitely see it in the Mistress. It was unlike anything else being made in Australia at the time, and the technology behind it was staggering. When you pick one up, the first thing you notice is how solid it is. It’s not a small guitar, and it feels reassuringly substantial.

I hand wound and potted a lot of Mistress pickups back in the day, and I really don’t enjoy either of those jobs. But when I plugged it in and tested it out, I felt like it was all well worth it. The sustain was there, it had fantastic dynamic range and a good and useful tonal sweep, it felt great to play and being a lifelong Fender guy, the scale length really worked for me. It didn’t have a whammy. If you’ve ever seen Adam play live, how hard he hits it, and how no-nonsense his playing style is, you get why. The Mistress was the chopper of the guitar world, stripped down to its bare bones, but muscular as all get out. The other thing you notice is the quality. Anyone can bang out a Strat with a router, but the Mistress had an amazing build quality, and it showed as soon as you picked it up. The fact there are Mistresses out there 15 years later that look and play just like they did when I boxed them up really tells you all you need to know. The lines of the Mistress had a lot of heads talking when we first made one. It was ahead of its time, a lot of the guitars you see today have lines eerily similar.

I only wish we could have done an 8 string version before the party ended. For the record, I’m the only person from Cole Clark that would ever want that. :)

Ben Harper was one of the first guys to come on board with Cole Clark, and if you know Ben, you know he has an encyclopedic knowledge of guitars, and the secrets of luthiery. It makes you sweat a little when you’re working on an instrument for a guy like that, so the fact he owns one (maybe more?) really speaks to the quality of that guitar.

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You’ll have to get a list of Mistress artists from Adam, but I tagged you in a few pics of builds for Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, and Jesse Hooper. There were a lot of others.

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I see you own the Stealth now. The Stealth Mistress was Adam’s pet project. Adam did almost everything on it, and it showed, both in the quality of the instrument, and in the style of it. If a Cadillac hearse and a guitar had a baby, it would be that Stealth. About the only thing I did to it was take the custom Cole Clark logo on the headstock from the CNC, sand it nicely, and screw it in. But it was so cool after all this time to see it pop up on Instagram. I’m glad you like it.

I stopped working at Cole Clark in January of last year, so I could start my own guitar workshop. I hadn’t been there the whole time, but I was the last of the original guys to work there. It’s changed. They don’t make electric guitars any more, and the whole culture is different. There’s no trace of what it used to be, what we all hoped to establish. Sad end to what started out as an amazing idea, and a great crew of talented people (and me, haha). The fact that Cole Clark don’t make electric guitars any more locks the Mistress in time. It definitely has earned a place in Australian music history, and you can still see them onstage most weekends here, and overseas. Everyone knows Adam is a genius, and it makes me glad to see his name on those headstocks.

On a long enough timeline, a lot of things change, sometimes for the worse. But the ten of us will always have those Mistresses, and that’s something every one of us can be proud of.

Finally, I contacted Cole Clark to find out how many Mistresses were actually made. All up, only 174 were built from 2002 to 2007 which is not many at all.  They occasionally come up for sale and the prices are very reasonable for how rare and well made they are. I’m calling it that these will become a future Aussie classic. They’re a unique design, made with Australian materials and very rare. Plus they also play FANTASTIC.

Cole Clark don’t make electrics anymore so no more will ever be made. If you get the chance, grab one while you can.

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