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Reader Guitar of the Month: The Wizard

Reader Guitar of the Month: The Wizard

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!