Ron Kirn
Ron Kirn Signature Guitars

Ron Kirn Signature Guitars
Jacksonville, Florida
Years Building: 40+
Starting At: $1650
Average Wait Time: 6 Weeks
Photo by Ron Kirn. Photographed at Ron Kirn's Jacksonville shop, November 14, 2008.
How did you get into guitar building?
It really began back in the mid-sixties. I started as a teenager, and like everybody, fell in love with the guitar. This was back in the days of Elvis and the Ventures and the early Beatles, etc. Of course I wanted a guitar, so my father bought me an early Silvertone, which was a horrible guitar. And I’ve always had a mechanical aptitude, so I immediately attacked that thing, trying to rectify it. And I learned quite a bit about guitars from that.

Tell us a little bit about your philosophy.
I just build them the way I think they should be built. They’re either playable or not playable, to me. I just take it all the way through to the final end, and I play it—in fact, I’ve got two of them sitting here behind my desk right now that I finished a couple of days ago. What I’ll do is I’ll finish them, string them up and intonate them, and then I’ll let them sit there and just get used to being under tension, because the wood will shift. Then I’ll fine-tune them from there. For some reason, people seem to appreciate that type of thing—go figure.

What do you love about the Telecaster?
It’s really hard to say. To me, it’s kind of like you find a mutt and everybody puts it down because it’s not an American Kennel Club registered dog—but it turns out to be your best friend. And that’s kind of the way I felt about the Telecaster. The simplicity, the concept of less-is-more kind of slaps you in the face. You don’t need 14 pickups and a monster whammy bar and all of these controls.

Do you offer customers a set model or configuration?
No, I build custom guitars, and I tend not to dissuade potential clients from what they want. I understand the psychology behind a choice of a guitar.

Most people are led to a specific guitar by someone within their circle of influence who will persuade them of what they need to have. So if your best buddy walks up to you and says that you’ve got to have a Telecaster that’s Shell Pink with an alder body and a rosewood neck, and it’s gotta have Fralin pickups and a Callaham bridge and a fourway switch in it, that settles in your mind because it’s been reinforced by your association and the dependability of the source that suggested it to you.

If you walk up to a luthier and he says, “No, man, you don’t want Shell Pink or an alder body. What you need is swamp ash, oh, and Fralins suck—you need to use Owen Duff’s pickups. And that rosewood fingerboard looks like crap on there.” And you also appreciate this guy, because, one, you’ve chosen him, and two, he does this for a living, so you immediately assign value to his input and you allow him to persuade you from what you originally wanted from your guitar.

And you go out, and you now have a guitar, and you show it to your friend, and he says, “Well, that’s cool, but it would have sounded better with an alder body.” And you’re out gigging and playing your favorite song, and in the back of your mind, you always have that thought, “Did I make the wrong choice?” Any kind of little thing like that will gnaw away at you until eventually it erodes your confidence in the instrument, and you make it your number two, you sell it, whatever. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, if you walk up to me and you tell me what you want to do, and I say, “No problem; let’s do it,” and you say, “What do you think about that sort of thing,” I’ll say, “It’s great.”

I understand you build guitars with reclaimed lumber?
I try, people tend to like it. Let me tell you about this lumber—the buildings were built in 1600, but they used the lumber from previous buildings that were built roughly 100 years earlier, the historians say. Which means that they were built by the first French settlers to hit that area in 1500. So I’ve still got enough for about four or five of those guitars. It’s fascinating to work with that stuff; when you cut a piece off, you pick it up and ask yourself, “Is there anything else I can make with this?” It makes for an incredible sounding guitar. For somebody who’s not really into the tone psyche and that sort of thing… I don’t know if it’s my subconscious telling me that I need to hear a great sound out of this guitar, but the few guys that have bought these things tell me that they’re blown away by the sound. But it might just be working on their heads, too.

Why should someone buy a Ron Kirn guitar?
Well, for the cost, you can’t touch it. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s literally like being able to buy a Ferrari for what a Crown Vic costs.

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