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more... Builder ProfileApril 2011RickenbackerStudio California

Builder Profile: Studio California

Builder Profile: Studio California

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 12-string—using Rickenbacker’s 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 very well.

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 Rickenbacker 12-string.

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 Rickenbacker 660/12 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 75th Anniversary.”

Did you reverse-engineer their acoustics—actually pull one apart—to learn how to make them?

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 Gibsons?

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 Jaguar [laughs]. 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— especially considering 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.
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