A Wisconsin guitarist hit the jackpot when he met a talented lute builder who hand-cut this stunning neck inlay.
Name: Tony Rizzo
Hometown: Minocqua, Wisconsin
Guitar: The Wizard
I call this guitar "The Wizard." The inlays on the neck explain everything. This is a Warmoth bird's-eye maple neck that started its life in 1990. It was part of a kit I was building with a Warmoth quilted-maple body. I had Dave's Guitar Shop in La Crosse, Wisconsin, paint it a purple sunburst with clear center. After assembling the guitar, it just didn't vibe with me. The guitar sat for a few years and was more art than guitar.
One day, an old friend told me about a guy named Chris who was building lutes and doing crazy-cool inlay work. My friend lined up a time for us to visit his workshop, which was full of wood and little pieces of mother-of-pearl and abalone. The lutes he built were out-of-this-world gorgeous, with the most beautiful inlays in the neck, and the backs were beautiful alternating woods.
Chris said, "You should let me inlay a neck for you." My mind went to the Warmoth parts guitar. The next day, I dropped the guitar neck off at his shop. Time went by and I didn't hear anything from Chris, but I just thought, "Oh well, it takes time to inlay a neck." After about a year, I heard he moved away, so I sold the body through Dave's Guitar Shop and cut my losses.
Another year passed, and then I got a phone call. It was Chris! He said he'd moved but he finished my guitar neck and wanted to bring it over. He arrived within the hour. I was totally blown away. The craftsmanship is outstanding: He hand-cut every piece of abalone and mother-of-pearl. If you look close there is no filler. How he did this is way beyond my scope of knowledge. He also refretted the neck so it was ready to go. Now I had one of the most beautiful necks I'd ever seen … but I had sold the body.
I asked Ed Roman in Connecticut to build this neck into a guitar for me. When he received the neck, he was excited. He said it was absolutely stunning—he did not expect this! Ed wanted to use a koa body. I said, "What's that?" Exotic woods were not as common then as they are today. He explained it was from Hawaii and he would send me a few body blanks and I could pick the one I like the best. I received them and picked the one you see here.
Ed asked if he could put the R&L Guitar Works name on it, and he had luthier Barry Lipman build it for me. Ed was big on gold hardware—everything is gold. The bridge and the electronics are all from Paul Reed Smith. They installed a piezo in the bridge, which I believe is from a Parker Fly guitar, and you can run a stereo plug from the guitar and split to two different amps to blend the acoustic with electric.
When I opened the case, I was blown away by the finished guitar. The Wizard traveled on the road with me playing gigs all over Wisconsin for more than a decade. Sidenote: Chris wanted to inlay a dragon in the headstock, made to look like the wizard was firing fireballs at it, but he ran out of time. I have no idea what ever happened to Chris, or if he's still building awesome lutes. My dear friend Ed Roman since passed away, but this beautiful guitar lives on!
Whether you're a music-maker or an instrument builder, we're all magicians in our own way.
Most of us don't believe in magic as a spiritual force that defines and controls our world. Although that was the dominant social paradigm centuries ago, science has pretty much relegated the idea of "true" magic to the realm of crackpot thinking. However, the idea of magic as trickery, slight-of-hand, and illusion is still alive and well, and some of the world's biggest acts are illusionists. Audiences watch masterful "magicians" with a sense of awe as they seemingly levitate, walk on water, or even make the Statue of Liberty disappear. Few of us believe that these amazing feats are wizardry from beyond our conscious world, yet we marvel at the ingenuity used to create these illusions.
In a way, music—and guitar building—is much the same. For those us who have a decent understanding of how sound and music is made, we might forget the sense of wonder that a musical performance can instill in the civilian audience. We can be so caught up in technical aspects of making individual sounds or composing a piece of music that it surprises us when even generous audiences fail to see the nuances that we want them to appreciate. For them it's magic, and I'm inclined to agree that it is.
When I host people in my workshop, I'm constantly reminded of this as well. I used to drone on and on about the way joints are machined, or how the angles of the headstock and bridge are calculated. This was a sure way to induce sleep in even the most intelligent and interested visitor. But when I start with a finished instrument then show them a huge raw board of wood, it's a whole different experience. At that point, people want to see how the magic trick is done. Once they are mesmerized by the transformation, I can go into some detail about what saw I use to do this, or what chisel I favor for that. One day it's a pile of wood and wire, and then suddenly it's making music. It's like a magic wand.
For those us who have a decent understanding of how sound and music is made, we might forget the sense of wonder that a musical performance can instill in the civilian audience.
I feel the same about music. People like to see behind the curtain—the rise of the Rig Rundown is a good example of this. I find that when I watch a random video of a guitarist I've never heard talking about his or her pedalboard, it puts me to sleep until something is played. I want to experience the trick before I see how it's done, because I want to enjoy the magic first. Sure, I want the technical talk, but it was the taste of the food, not the ingredient list, that brought me there in the first place.
Both music and guitars are creations of beauty—something that stimulates your imagination and takes you to another place. The ingredients that create both are best when they're not formulaic or rote. It's not a matter of putting a bunch of parts together in a totally predictable way, but to surprise the audience with a quick detour to a place that is a little familiar, yet also a little unexpected. To do that, you've got to believe in your own magic and embrace the winds that blow you down a path. If you don't take chances and follow your feelings, you can get stuck with very average results. Some of my best stuff started out as a lark, or even a mistake.
I think it's a good practice for both guitarists and builders to acknowledge that we're in the business of creating magic. I'm not suggesting that you invent some fantastical story about how you do what you do—there's already enough of that to go around. The trick is to create a feeling of surprise and awe with our work. Sometimes that takes a leap of faith to accomplish. And that's when it's magic.
Classic echoes, tails (or not), and both rate and depth knobs come standard in the new shrunken version of the legendary bucket-brigade delay.