In 1974, he partnered with Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer to start Travis Bean Guitars, which made high-end electric guitars and basses featuring machined aluminum necks. This was an unusual design, departing from more traditional wood necked instruments. The aluminum center section ran through the instrument body, with the pickups directly mounted to the aluminum. The majority of these instruments featured solid koa wood bodies and humbucker pickups. Though praised for their sound, the use of aluminum necks also made Travis Bean guitars heavier than other electric guitars. Models included the Artist, Standard, Wedge (rare), and TB500 (rare) with single coil pickups.
Kramer and Bean parted ways in 1975, with the former starting Kramer Guitars. The first series of Kramer guitars were redesigned aluminum-necked instruments but utilizing wooden inserts along the back of the neck to cut down on weight and provide a more traditional feel; these modifications also avoided patent infringement of Travis Bean's original neck design.
Around 3,600 guitars and basses were produced between 1974 and 1979.
In the late 1990s, Bean teamed with master machinist/designer B. Kelly Condon and produced a run of 24 high end, custom instruments. These guitars and basses were aluminum-neck instruments, each machined from a 125-pound billet of 7075 aluminum. The pans weighed just over 4 pounds when finished and all were serial numbered and identified inside the pan.
A documentary called "Sustain" about Travis Bean guitars and the individuals that built these historic instruments and the players that play them (past and present) was reportedly in development in 2009.
- TB500 (Budget Model) - 351 produced
- TB1000S (Standard) - 1422 produced
- TB1000A (Artist) - 755 produced
- TB2000 (Standard Bass) - 1020 produced
- TB3000 (Wedge) - 45 produced
- TB4000 (Wedge Bass) - 36 produced
Musicians who play or have played the Original Travis Bean guitars and basses
- Steve Albini of Shellac - plays TB500 and Wedge
- Matthew Bolger of The Redneck Manifesto - plays TB1000S & TB1000A
- Duane Denison of The Jesus Lizard - played TB1000S (Sea Foam Green)
- Jerry Garcia - played TB1000A and TB500
- John Haughm of Agalloch - plays TB1000S (natural koa) and TB1000A (black)
- Roger Fisher of Heart - played TB1000A
- Stanley Jordan - plays TB1000S
- Greg Lake
- Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd - played Wedge and TB1000S
- John MacLean of Six Finger Satellite
- Stephen Malkmus of Pavement owns a TB1000A
- Efrim Menuck
- Kim Mitchell
- Ceylon Mooney of Pezz
- Joe Perry - played Wedge and TB1000S (black and silver)
- Rubberduck Jones, a Finnish punk rock guitarist, who is most well known as the guitarist of several Pelle Miljoona related bands, like Pelle Miljoona & 1980 and the Suspenders.
- Yannis Philippakis of Foals uses a TB1000S (natural and black) and black TB500
- Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) plays TB1000S
- Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth - played TB1000A (several were stolen in July 1999) Also played TB1000S "bullseye" (which was destroyed) and TB1000S
- Keith Richards - played a TB1000 on the Rolling Stones 1975 tour and a custom made 5-string TB1000A during the 1979 New Barbarians tour. Used a black TB500 during the Rolling Stones 1978 Saturday Night Live performance.
- Brian Robertson played a TB1000A during his time with Thin Lizzy
- Kelly Ryall played a TB1000 during early High Pass Filter shows.
- Vincent Gallo plays a TB1000A and TB3000 Wedge
- Slash played a TB1000S live when he was still with Guns N' Roses. Only known use was on the song "Bad Obsession"
- Rick Nielsen - Played a red and black TB1000S. Both pictured in his book Guitars of The Stars.
- Billy Rowe Jetboy (band)
- Ace Frehley - Played a black TB1000S in the '75 KISS ALIVE era.
- Ron Wood - played a TB2000 on the Rolling Stones 1975 tour, a TB1000A and a white TB500 during the 1979 New Barbarians tour.
- Colin Newman of Wire played a TB1000 during the mid-1980s.
- Garry Shider of Parliament Funkadelic
- Alex Kane of AntiProduct, on the recommendation of bandmate Nino Del Pesco, was asked by Travis to test an early guitar prototype during a gig at the Garage (now the Virgil). It was the first, and possibly only, time a guitar from the new run was played during a live performance.
- Rich Zoran of Bacchus Lotus played TB1000A in the early 1980s.
- Chosei Funahara of Plasmatics - played two of black TB4000 Wedges
- Mick Karn of Japan
- Vincent Gallo plays a TB2000 and a TB4000 Wedge bass.
- Tim Midgett of Bottomless Pit and Silkworm - plays TB4000 Wedge. During Silkworm, Tim played a TB1000S modified to baritone and TB2000.
- Bob Weston of Shellac and the Volcano Suns
- Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones -Wyman used a custom made short-scale TB2000 from 1977 until 1986. A total of 4 short-scale TB2000 bases were made for Wyman.
- Peggy Foster, The Runaways, Steve Vai, TB4000 Wedge Bass #25, TB2000 Fretless #248
- Matt Gentling of Archers of Loaf plays a TB2000.
- Liam Andrews of My Disco plays a TB2000.
- Bruce Hauser of Touch, Stepson & Honeymoon played a Flamed Koa TB2000 1977 - 1978. It was a gift from Marc McElwee and later stolen when Bruce's home was burglarized.
- Emidio Clementi of Massimo Volume
- Nino Del Pesco of AntiProduct worked with Travis Bean and B. Kelly Condon in the 1990s, testing the bass prototypes during the new run. Nino also played the first bass prototype on one song during an AntiProduct gig at the Garage (now the Virgil). It was the first, and possibly only, time a bass from the new run was played during a live performance.
- Burke Shelley of Budgie plays a TB2000 occasionally.
- Frying pan (guitar) - The first aluminum neck guitar, 1930s
- Veleno (guitar) - another maker of aluminum neck guitars
- Douglas Martin, Travis Bean Aluminum Guitar Maker Dies at 63, New York Times. Retrieved on 2011-9-26.
- Moseley, Willie (January 1999), "Travis Bean Interview-Metal Machine Music - The Next Phase", Vintage Guitar Magazine
- Wheeler, Tom. American Guitars: An Illustrated History. New York: Harper & Row, 1982, pp. 351-352
- Travis Bean Patent. Pat.No. 3,915,049 Issued: 10/28/75.
- Travis Bean Documentary - Sustain. Retrieved on 2009-12-24.
- Electrical Audio Steve Albini's Studio showing two TB3000 Wedges and one of his TB500 guitars
- on YouTube music video showing the guitar
- The Jesus Lizard Photo from 7/19/98.
- Modern Guitars TB1000A reaches $312,000.
- Guitar Site Jerry Garcia TB1000A mention.
- Maverick Music Jerry Garcia TB500 mention.
- Stanley Jordan's Magic Touch Album Cover with his TB1000S.
- SPIN magazine At home with Stephen Malkmus.
- Woody Tone Photo of Joe Perry with Black TB1000S
- Foals Yannis playing Black TB500.
- The Sonic Youth Gear Guide. Retrieved on 2008-09-25.
- Sonic Youth Lee Ranaldo's Red Bullseye TB1000S.
- Tim Midgett with TB4000 Wedge
- Tim Midgett with TB1000S modified to Baritone
- Tim Midgett with TB2000 Bass
- Smoke Stack Lightnin Bill Wyman bio mentioning Travis Bean bass
- Hard Rock Memorabilia Photo of Bill Wyman TB2000
- Travis Bean Guitars - an unofficial site for enthusiasts of the 1970s guitars.