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more... Builder ProfileApril 2011RickenbackerStudio California

Builder Profile: Studio California

Builder Profile: Studio California

Do you build Rickenbacker electric guitars?

Nope. I do not have a license to build them, but I do quite a bit of rebuilding and restoration of Rickenbacker electrics. The oldest one I worked on was from 1956. I restore all the models, right up to refinishing new ones in colors that are not available from the factory.

Does Rickenbacker supply you with the hardware and parts for the acoustics?

I purchase them all at dealer prices from Rickenbacker.

So you build the acoustics and sell them?

That is correct—except that I don’t build them first and then sell them. People order them from me. Right now, I am back-ordered about two years. I build each one custom for the individual to his or her style or size. I’ve done a few narrow necks. I did one short-scale. I’ve done some with slanted frets. Just about every one is a special color, as well. Each one is unique, except they all carry the Rickenbacker truss-rod cover and the Rickenbacker body design.

A Honeyglo Rickenbacker 350C63 restored by Wilczynski. Note the added F-hole.

Do you source the wood or get it from Rickenbacker?

Most of the wood came from Rickenbacker’s shop. When I acquired the license, I also acquired a half-container of wood. It was being stored at their shop in Southern California, where it is warm and the humidity is low. I store the container at a vineyard in Sonoma County, where conditions are ideal for storing wood. It is between 55 and 70 degrees year-round and the humidity is about 50 percent. That wood has been acclimated to an ideal situation. I have acoustics that I built three and four years ago that are holding up wonderfully because there is no issue with the wood splitting or shrinking.

Even if someone from, say, New York buys it and puts it through the extremes of that climate?

Yes. Most of my sales are to other areas of the country. I’ve only sold one or two here [in California]. Most of them are going to the East, the South, or to places like Australia, Europe, and Japan.

Are there guidelines from Rickenbacker in terms of building and restoration?

I once had a fellow ask me to restore a Rickenbacker Lightshow [which have flashing lights built-in under a Plexiglas top]—one of the rarest of their guitars. They only built them for a couple of years. If I had to guess, I would say less than a couple of hundred were produced. They are pretty pricey. This guy wanted me to restore his Lightshow, painting it a dark red metalflake with a graphic of a marijuana leaf handpainted on the back [laughs]. I refused to do it. I said it wasn’t a dignified way to treat such a nice old guitar. He got pretty ticked off at me, but in the end I wouldn’t do it.

A replica of Paul Weller’s famous “WHAAM!”-graphic Rickenbacker 330 built by Wilczynski.

So, you won’t do major modifications?

People will change the color. I have also converted a couple of 6-strings to 12-strings, and I am busy doing an 8-string bass conversion right now. I don’t mess with their basic formula— it is a Rickenbacker and that is it.

Where is your shop?

I have a shop in Sausalito, where I do my finishing and rough work, like sanding. I also have a shop in my home in Marin County, where I do assembly and setups. I have a third shop up in Sonoma County, near where I store the wood. That’s where I build the acoustic bodies.

Do you still do industrial design for manufacturers?

No. I’m a full-time faculty member and shop manager in the industrial design department at the Academy of Art University. I manage all of their workshops, which means I run the wood, metal, and computer shops. I wrote all the model-making classes for the university— both online and on site. In the evenings and on weekends, I go to my shops and try to catch up on my backlog of restorations and acoustic builds.

Have you thought about starting your own brand?

I’ve done one archtop. John Hall gave me some parts and the permission to build one 760J Jazz-bo, which is Rickenbacker’s carved archtop. They built two or three of them at the factory. It’s a direct copy of one of the designs from the mid-’50s by Roger Rossmeisl. At one time, they were planning on introducing it as part of the acoustic line, and as far as I know they still are. I do not have the license to build Jazzbos, but John gave me one set of Jazz-bo sides and said, “See what you can do with this.” So I built one with a handcarved spruce top, a handcarved maple back, the German carve, and checkerboard binding. I stuck to the original design. I would love to build archtops under my own brand, but I’m a realist and I don’t really think this is something I want to do full-time and struggle to make a living. This part-time thing is working out reasonably well.

LEFT: A Rickenbacker 730 Shiloh dreadnought with unique Acanthus leaves stenciling by Wilczynski.
RIGHT: A Rickenbacker 700 Shasta about to receive its initial varnish coats.
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