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more... GearRandy Rhoads

The Guitars of Randy Rhoads

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“The whole center block was solid maple,” he explains. “The wings were also maple. It was a big hunk of tree. This thing was going to weigh a ton.”

The end result was a very pronounced V-shaped guitar with a lot of surface area. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret, and it featured 22 frets on a compound radius ebony fretboard with pearl block inlay and binding. The frets were Dunlop 6230s, which is considered a small fretwire in comparison to Gibson frets. This was basically Dunlop’s version of Fender fretwire.

Wilson recalls how certain things were done by hand back then that would be considered obsolete by today’s standards: “Compound radius makes the surface of the fretboard flatter as you move up the neck, which goes from 12" to 16" in radius. We shaped that by hand. The neck shape was thick, somewhat like a fifties-era Gibson Les Paul, which is what Randy specified, and it was 25 1/2" in scale.”

And, like a Gibson, the nut width was 1 11/16". In contrast to the Sandoval V, this time Randy’s aim was to have a guitar that had a Gibson sound and Fender playability. Like the Sandoval V, it also had a tremolo bridge. Made by metalsmith Bill Gerein for Charvel, this bridge was a production standard on many Charvel guitars at the time. It was made of brass with a heavy brass sustain block.

Also like the Sandoval V, it had two volume and two tone controls. The pickups were a Seymour Duncan Distortion at the bridge, and a Jazz model in the neck positions, both mounted to the body with solid brass pickup bezels, also made by Gerein. The selector switch was located along the outer edge of the upper wing of the guitar. The output jack was placed on the outside edge of the lower wing, where the V shape converges. It was painted white with black pinstripes, undercoated with polyester and finished in polyurethane. And, as Tim Wilson had predicted, it was a very heavy guitar.

Redesign for the Concorde
The first version of the Rhoads Concorde guitar was completed in late February or early March of 1981, and it was shipped to Randy in Europe. Randy would report back to Jackson that he was having trouble reaching the upper register frets. He was also concerned with public perception of the guitar, since fans were asking him if he’d cut up a Gibson Flying V. Approaching Jackson for another guitar, Rhoads wanted to have a second one made that was more radical, with a narrower V shape so that it would be more original looking; so people wouldn’t think he’d butchered a Gibson.

“One of the things that wasn’t cool was the guitar was just too big,” Wilson is quick to point out. “The body shape was just too big and it was made out of maple, so it weighed a ton.”

In October of 1981, Randy and Grover Jackson got together once again to scribble, draw and debate the design of another guitar. Jackson had prepared three neck-thru-body guitar blanks with headstocks on them; the wings or sides of the body were just blank pieces of material. He placed one on a table while Randy looked on.


Rhoads playing the second Concorde shortly before his death
“We stood over a workbench and drew for several hours ... drew on the blanks, erased it, sanded it off and drew some more ... more here, less there, and finally Randy said, ‘That’s it’,” remembers Jackson. With the crude pencil drawing on this piece of wood, Jackson took it to the bandsaw and carved the body, a procedure that Randy could not stand to watch. Laughingly, Jackson admits, “Some guys want to know about the mechanics like car guys would be. And some guys want to know none of that, and Randy was one of those guys. He couldn’t watch me cut it on a bandsaw.”

By the end of the day, Jackson had shaped the wood according to the pencil drawings and handed it to Randy so he could hold it and see how it felt and what it would look like. Having done that, he began planning the building process while Randy went off to begin the first leg of the 1981 Diary Of A Madman tour with Ozzy overseas.

By the time the tour landed in the US a couple of months later, manager Sharon Arden had built the Ozzy Osbourne show up to major headline status by investing in full production staging, lighting and tour staff. Full stage rehearsals were conducted at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope studios in Hollywood before everyone headed to San Francisco to begin the tour. Meanwhile, in his San Dimas factory, Jackson had the second guitar built and completed. He delivered it to Randy on December 27 during the final rehearsals at Zoetrope. This version of the guitar had a much more distinctive shorter lower wing, making the upper wing much more pronounced.


Jackson with one of his latest projects.
“It had a simple elegance to it,” says Jackson. Clearly, this was not a hacked-up Gibson Flying V.

Despite the success of the guitar’s redesign, Randy seemed a little hesitant to dive into it. Jackson offers some insight, saying, “A strange little quirk about Randy in my memory—and other people might dispute this—Randy was superstitious about guitars. I made a guitar for Jeff Beck one time and he just took the guitar onstage and played it in front of thousands of people. Randy was the opposite of that. Boy, he wanted to look at the guitar and then put it away. The next day, he’d pick it up, hold it, put it down and he’d go away. And a few days later, he’d pick it up and he’d play it a little bit and then he’d put it away. He had to kind of get synced up to it. He was playing the guitar by the time he passed away. There are pictures of him playing it, but he didn’t play it the whole show. It wasn’t the only guitar he played, and he was warming up to it. I think he was happy with it.”

Two and a half months later, Randy Rhoads was killed in a plane crash. He was dead at the age of 25. His death still echoes within those who knew him. Fans around the world were just discovering his fantastic guitar style, and then suddenly he was gone. Grover Jackson, who had just stepped off a plane himself to visit a girlfriend in Reno, received the news while he was still at the gate. He is quick to admit he was, “Stunned ... and I’m still stunned.”

Jackson says he owes a large portion of the success of his company to Randy. In fact, “... a huge amount ... an unbelievable amount is owed to Randy.” Today, Jackson manufactures motorcycle, medical and musical instrument parts. Reminiscing about his days with the Jackson/Charvel Guitar Company, he says, “I saw the company as a toolmaker. There were these guys that had a job, which happened to be playing guitar. We were trying to be a toolmaker for guys doing work.”

As for Karl Sandoval, hearing of Randy’s death is still a fresh memory: “I remember I was in my shop and one of my friends called. He said Randy Rhoads had been killed. I turned the radio on and sure enough, they were talking about it. It was something like how a local rockstar was tragically killed in a plane crash. I was sad and felt bad because he was so young.”


Karl Sandoval in his southern California workshop
In the years since, Sandoval has expanded his guitar manufacturing business to include a guitar building school in southern California. For more information, visit his website at karlsandoval.com.

The man who did much of the woodwork on the white pinstriped V guitar made for Randy, Tim Wilson, holds the experience in very high regard. He would later become Jackson Guitars’ general manager, and he built the company into a major player in the guitar manufacturing game.

Retired and living in southern California, Wilson says in retrospect, “I thought it was just going to be a big hit. I really did, and I really thought we were onto something. If things went our way, we were going to be pretty big. So, I was pretty proud of it, and I’m still proud of it to this day. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life, having the honor of working on that guitar.”
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