What was your first guitar like?
Wilczynski installing pickups in a newly refinished double-bound 360/12.
I built my first guitar and my
first acoustic—a Rickenbacker
wood, and copying their acoustic
guitars. I brought all my
different skills to bear on it
to make sure that it was built
heavy enough and was geometrically
correct—it took a while
to get right. That guitar is still
in use, and it’s still performing
How did you originally get
into building guitars and end
up meeting John Hall?
I was a car collector for years,
but in 2004 I decided that I
was tired of working on cars.
After moving to the Bay Area,
I no longer had space for all
nine of my cars and ended up
selling them. I always loved
guitars and music, so instead of
cars I decided to get into guitars
as a hobby. I sold a Porsche
and decided to buy something
I had always wanted—a
I was so unfamiliar with the
guitar scene at that point that
I thought Rickenbacker was
out of business until I went on
eBay and discovered that new
ones were still being made. I
called up Wildwood Guitars in
Colorado and ordered a brand-new
12-string. I was so impressed
that the next week I bought a
new 381V69. I looked at them
and thought, “What would I
do to change these?” I started
making small changes on them
in my shop and posted the
changes on the Rickenbacker
forums. Within a couple of
months, John Hall read the
posts and asked me to come
visit the shop for a tour.
I took the tour, and then
John said he was closing his
acoustic shop, at least temporarily.
He asked me if I would like
the license to build acoustic
Rickenbackers for the time
being. We made an arrangement.
As part of the deal, I picked up
all the wood he had left in his
acoustic shop and moved it up
to the Bay Area. I have been
storing it since, and have been
using it to build acoustic guitars
in my shop under license
with the Rickenbacker name
and to their specifications.
Three ultra-rare, late-’60s Fireglo Rickenbacker 4005 hollowbody basses restored by Wilczynski.
How much work have you
done for them since that time?
A Rickenbacker 4003S bass with
a unique transparent blue finish.
Since then, I’ve done several
hundred Rickenbacker restorations
and refinishes and have
built a few dozen acoustic
models. One of them was that
first acoustic that I built for
Paul Kantner. He decided not
to purchase it and gave it back
to John Hall. It’s now being
used in Hall’s band. That was a
jumbo acoustic 12-string. I did
a special laser-engraved pickguard
that said “Rickenbacker
Did you reverse-engineer
their acoustics—actually pull
one apart—to learn how to
Yep. I got a few that were factory
seconds and literally cut them in
half so I could do the layout for
the bracing on the front, figure
out how the necks were attached
. . . that sort of thing.
What is your attachment to
Rickenbackers? Why them
as opposed to Fenders or
I don’t know. It’s a real funny
thing. When I was playing guitar
in high school and college,
my dream guitar was a Fender
]. I just loved
the look of them. I have also
loved Rickenbackers since I first
played a friend’s McGuinn-style
360/12 in 1965. I was blown
away by how easily it played
compared to the Fenders and
Gibsons I had been playing.
The action on it was unbelievable—
it was a 12-string! To me, a
12-guitar had always meant lots
of string tension that hurt your
fingers. It seemed to me to be
the ultimate 12-string guitar,
so it was still in the back of my
mind when 2004 rolled around
and I got back into guitars.
When I finally got one, I was
impressed by the mystique it
had about it and how it felt old
and new at the same time. It has
a feel that no other guitar has.
Since then, I have owned lots
of Fenders, lots of Gretsches,
and a few Gibsons, and nothing
has quite the spirit of a
Rickenbacker guitar. It has that
historical connection for me.