builder profile

Chad Henrichsen (in photo) and Gonzalo Madrigal are the two master builders in charge at the Gretsch Custom Shop in Corona, California. Henrichsen arrived at the shop in 2008.

Master builder Chad Henrichsen pours his creativity into Falcons, Jets, Penguins, and other axes that soar, including the Tom Petersson 12-string signature bass. His secret: experience and micro-attention to detail.

The art of guitar building lies somewhere between Zen and a lightning strike. The watercourse way of experience dictates some processes, their workflow eased by years or decades of practice. Other turns come in a flash of inspiration and leave an instrument that will give off a distinctive creative charge for decades.

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Gamechanger Audio founders (left to right) Didzis Dubovskis, Kristaps Kalva, Mārtiņš Meļķis, and Ilja Krumins in the company’s office jam space in Riga, Latvia.
Photo by Dmitrijs Sulžics/F64

Ilja Krumins’ metamorphosis from psychobilly raver to being one of the gear industry’s most ambitious visionaries.

It’s Summer NAMM 2017, and Gamechanger Audio’s booth—hardly more than a card table—is shoved against the back wall amongst the sorts of wares that make you quicken your pace and avoid eye contact. You hazard a glance at the lone product on display, a skinny black box with a brass piano-style sustain pedal, and can’t help thinking it seems as much a solution in search of a problem as the head-scratchers at adjacent booths.

And yet the earnestness/nervousness of the twentysomethings behind the table makes you wonder. Do they know how brash their company name strikes everyone? Do they realize how many people passing by are smirking inwardly and writing them off, stomp unheard, for their sheer audacity?

“So we’re sitting there, cooking ribs and drinking beer, and we were really fascinated by this thing called the Bug Zapper on the front porch. It was going nuts … Later on, we realized, Hey, let’s do something with that Bug Zapper-type technology!”

Intrigued, you stop and strike up a conversation. The Slavic accent is immediately apparent. The leader introduces himself as Ilja, plugs in a guitar, and begins explaining the strange-looking device. Your eyes wander back to the piano-style activator, and you feel a surge of the previous pessimism mingled with budding pity and horror: Did these guys blow a wad of cash on a transatlantic trip just to exhibit a quirky-looking sample-and-hold stompbox?

But the more you listen—both to the words coming out of Ilja’s mouth, and to the haunting layers of textured sounds coming from the Plus—the more you realize perhaps you are the fool.

* * *

Six months later, the Latvian crew is once again at NAMM, only this time it’s the huge Winter show in Anaheim. What’s more, they’re on the main show floor—up where the big cats play. Their booth is four times its previous size and crawling with guitarists itching for a go at Gamechanger’s latest: a deliciously violent-sounding fuzz box called the Plasma Pedal that appears to be more conventional than the Plus … that is until you see that the input signal is passing through a xenon-gas-filled tube as literal lightning.

* * *

Fast forward another year. Gamechanger ( is back on the main floor at Winter NAMM, and the crew, dapper in skinny ties, white shirts, and black slacks, is even bigger. The company’s newest devices—Motor Pedal and Motor Piano prototypes that pair musical-note information with mechanical sounds emanating from a series of miniature spinning motors—don’t just prove Gamechanger Audio is aptly named. They make it clear it’s high time PG take a closer look at this cadre of truly different-thinking designers.

* * *

“I fucking hate pedals … I think the whole boutique pedal world is a little bit boring … a little bit silly.”

It’s not quite the sentiment we’re expecting from the head of an outfit whose sole products at the moment are pedals. It’s more like what we’d expect from, say, a hardcore rockabilly player. Interestingly, Ilja Krumins is both.

“We don’t see this as a pedal company, and we don’t see ourselves as pedal nerds,” he says matter-of-factly via video-call from the company’s sparkling-clean two-level loft office in Riga, Latvia. “We are trying to find interesting ways to mangle sound … to extract sound out of interesting items.”

The more we talk—about Krumins’ background, about the contextual genesis of Gamechanger’s fascinating designs—the more the genius of this up-and-coming outfit comes into focus.

* * *

Let’s start off talking about your journey as a musician. Who were your favorite guitarists and bands?
At first, Jimi Hendrix. Deep Purple, the obvious bands that you gravitate towards when you’re starting. The stuff that made guitar cool. Pretty soon it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, then Brian Setzer. Then probably John Scofield. These days my favorite guitarist is J.J. Cale.

I started playing when I was 16. My first guitar was a ’78 American Strat, which was super rare in these parts. It was $500, so it was a no-brainer. That was a big motivation to play. In a year’s time, me and Matiss [Tazans, drummer and Gamechanger’s marketing and public relations manager] met and formed a standard, pentatonic-scale-based rock ’n’ roll band.

Gamechanger’s first product, the Plus Pedal, records all incoming audio and uses a pressure-sensitive, multi-function piano-style pedal to engage a “smart looper” at varying levels of attack and decay as the unit captures the last half of the latest note or chord and creates a seamless loop out of it.

How long ago was this?
Well, me and Matiss were 17 and 18. Now we’re 27 and 28—oh fuck, that’s 10 years ago. Shit! Okay, so yeah, then we started, like, ripping off all the classic rock stuff, writing our own songs. The band was called Acid Rain. We had the basic mix of dad rock, played with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.

What sorts of gear did you use early on?
I fucking hate pedals. I only had a Tube Screamer and a Danelectro Dan-Echo. I loved that echo, because it’s one of the few that does a good slapback—and it has a tone control. I don’t understand why delay pedals rarely offer a tone control. When I want a rockabilly slapback, I want it to be really crispy and trebly, because I want it to be tight. But if I’m doing a slower delay, I want to roll off the treble so it’s wishy-washy. I also had a Fulltone Supa-Trem. So yeah, Gretsch guitar, Tube Screamer, delay pedal, tremolo, and a Fender-style amp.

We spent about a year in rehearsals, and for two years we were actively playing clubs. We were really loud and just having fun, compensating for our lack of skill with energy. It was a very nice, innocent time. Then me and Matiss realized we wanted to play more and try to make it a job. At some point, we grew out of dad rock and became fascinated with Americana genres. We made a band called the Big Bluff, which was a rockabilly/country/rock ’n’ roll cover band. We spent a lot of years gigging, trying to learn all these songs properly, but playing them super loud and with a young, rock ’n’ roll attitude. We were super influenced by psychobilly.

Then what?
In 2012 or 2013, me and Matiss, and our bass player, a double-bass guy, moved to London and started writing our own songs. We thought, Okay, Stray Cats became really popular and got their break in London…. We were following that vibe, but mixing really heavy riffs with slap bass through Boss pedals. We all loved the Stray Cats drummer [Slim Jim Phantom], who plays a stand-up kit, so we rebuilt Matiss’s kit. He has this gigantic ’70s, Bonham-style Ludwig drum kit, and we made it so that it could be played standing up. This massive, freakazoid Ludwig kick drum was on a stand, facing upward. It was me on a Gretsch guitar, Matiss on this big Ludwig monstrosity, and this crazy dude on double bass playing through fuzz pedals. We thought we were going to take the world by storm with this strange mix.

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The improbable journey from passionate woodworker to jazz bassist, navy SEAL, touring road tech for metal giants, and, finally, to luthier of exquisite handmade instruments.

When you sit down to talk with many guitar luthiers, the story of how they got into building is often uncannily similar: They fell in love with the sounds of some famous guitar god during their teen years and started playing not too long after that. Eventually they took their first foray into DIY by modding their own instrument, followed by a stab at replicating, say, a Tele, a Les Paul, or maybe some sort of “super strat.” The more they played and tweaked, the more they loved it all, but at some point it hit them that they were better at (or more likely to make a living via) the wood-and-wires side of things than the playing side.

Of course, there’s nothing weird or wrong with any of that. How else would you expect someone to get into it? But when Premier Guitar met Adriano Sergio at the Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin last spring, we were immediately struck not just by the uniqueness of his guitars and his approach to lutherie, but also by the adventurous life he led prior to devoting himself to the craft full-time in 2016.

As anyone can readily see, Sergio’s instruments are notable strictly on their own merits: They look like magnificent specimens of living timber summoned from the forests of Tolkien’s Rivendell. That’s probably because he began carving up the family furniture when he was just 4 years old, the ever-curious son of a Portuguese immigrant couple struggling to make ends meet in Paris. Within two years, Sergio’s parents had detected enough passion in their young son to buy him his first real tool set—parts of which he still uses today.

What I learned as a navy SEAL is that there are no problems.
There are solutions.

Fast-forward 46 years, and the proprietor of Ergon Guitars ( is back in his native Lisbon, still making his mark on the world with a knife as his main tool. Each of Sergio’s sumptuous instruments is carved by hand, the exact form coming to him spontaneously as he peels back ribbon after ribbon of mahogany, cedar, or swamp ash. As with the alluded-to magical Elven artifacts, there’s also a lot more to Sergio’s guitars than is immediately apparent. Nearly every Ergon model features an intricate hollow interior whose carefully tuned ports are so lovely as to seem merely cosmetic. But the flowing lines aren’t just an artful rendering of form and function with allusions to abstract nudes—though they are indeed that. Although Sergio takes inspiration from the visual arts, film, architecture, and even literature, his meticulous attention to detail serves both structural and tonal ends. Yes, the elegant joining of woods is so cohesive and expertly rendered that it’s difficult to determine where, for example, one dovetailed neck piece ends and the other begins. But Sergio’s neck joints are also so tight and stable that he can string each guitar to pitch—sans glue—in order to fine-tune the instrument’s resonance.

In our estimation, all this seemed like enough to warrant a lovely little film documentary, and yet there’s much more to Sergio’s captivating story. The more we spoke with Sergio, the more we were intrigued. In fact, it was his life that inspired PG to begin profiling builders again after scaling back for a few years. For starters, who would’ve pegged the builder of such head-turning instruments as a former guitar tech for heavy acts like Ozzy Osborne, Anthrax, and Napalm Death? Especially considering he’s actually a conservatory-trained jazz bassist who walked away from a prolific touring and studio career. Oh, and did we mention that he was also the Portuguese equivalent of a U.S. Navy SEAL?

“With every guitar I do,” says Ergon Guitars’ Adriano Sergio, “I get closer and closer to where I want to go. The last one”—the Porto MS shown here—“is really, really close. It has an almost piano-like sound.”

We recently had a lovely Skype video call with Sergio from his shop in Lisbon, where he happily showed off his nearly half-century-old mallet, his first-ever solidbody, and the philosophy driving a budding career in which the affable builder is taking part in projects with esteemed European luthiers such as Ulrich Teuffel, Claudio Pagelli, Michael Spalt, and Nik Huber, as well as displaying his instruments at prestigious gatherings such as Art Fair Tokyo 2019—the latter of which has reportedly never before included guitars.

What got you into building guitars?
Everything started because I wanted to play guitar when I was a kid. Actually, I wanted to play bass, because I have really fat fingers and everybody told me, “You cannot play guitar—you have fat fingers!” I was studying classical guitar, which was a problem having fat fingers [laughs]. When I was 17, somebody gave me a [Fender] Jazz bass neck from ’74. So I decided to make the body. I didn’t know anything about it, but I started to make the body with the help of an old man. I’d been playing with wood since I was a kid. When I say “a kid,” I’m talking about 6 years old. My parents gave me a toolbox with small but quite good tools. I’m actually still using this mallet. I stopped using one of the pliers, like, two years ago. I remember, before that, my parents left home one day, and I started to cut the edges of a table with a knife. I just found it fascinating, the curling wood when you cut it. So I did all around the kitchen table, and I wasn’t happy with that, so I did any corner of wood furniture in the house.

Watch our video interview and demo with Ergon's Adrian Sergio:

I bet they were happy!
They weren’t happy, and I wasn’t happy when they found out. When they came home I was in a panic, “They’re going to find out!” My father was like, “What the fuck is that?” It was a hard time. I come from a really working class family. My father was always doing everything at home—metalwork, woodwork, everything—and I was always watching him.

Let’s get back to that first bass. Did you try to make the body just like a Fender J?
Yes. It looked like Jaco Pastorius’ bass, actually—the same sunburst and everything.Later on, I turned it into a fretless—well, half the neck was fretless, and half had frets. I started to play in bands with that bass. Of course, to play the bass I needed an amplifier. But I had no money, so I made my first amp also. I didn’t know anything about electronics, so I bought a book and put everything together. The funny thing is, I paid somebody to build me the cabinet, because someone told me, “Oh, the cabinet is acoustic. Everything has to be …” whatever. It was a stereo amp. I remember I had problems with distortion a lot of times. I learned so much with that. After that my father bought me a bass, an Ibanez Blazer—which was worse than the bass I made!

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