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Over the years, only about 35 doubleneck guitars were built. “We never did do Telecasters,” says Rico, “but we should. We only made about fifteen or twenty of those.” Jazz Boxes Finally, there were the RTJG and RTSG jazz guitars. In 1975 Di Marzio agreed to build wax-potted, 4-conductor pickups for B. The Seagull shape was uncomfortable for some to play due to the sharp upper point and the sharp lower point that dug into the leg sitting down.It was redesigned several times including a smoother lower point, a Junior version with simpler electronics and a pointless version which is quite rare.“The Wave was the finest bass I’ve ever designed,” says Rico, “in terms of thickness and width and how it was laid out. Even though neck-through production never surpassed about 2200 guitars a year, as the ’80s progressed the serial numbers continued to get ahead of the actual year. The one-pickup Eagle shown here is 85366 from between late 1980 to sometime in 1981.The mass was spread out over a wider area and it had great harmonic overtones.” Very few of these guitars were ever made. By 1981 the numbers were about four years ahead, and this gap remained fairly constant until Rico stopped making B. The white Mockingbird shown here is 87688 from 1983.Soon thereafter the American Folk Music Boom began, and Rico recalls that his father’s shop made banjos and retrofitted a lot of banjo necks on other brands. Probably only about 300 of these acoustics were built. Di Marzios and Self-Distribution Rico next turned to using Guild humbuckers, but these again required disassembly. I drew a weird curve and said ‘I like that.’ The result was the Mockingbird. This is inaccurate; it’s not a “copy,” however, the idea for the Bich actually began with a Dave Bunker design idea. Rich’s most popular designs, the most commonly seen being versions of the Bich. The largest hole started at around 2″ in diameter and progressively got smaller until the smallest hole on the horn was ? Also in the NJ Series were the ST, Mockingbird, Bich, Ironbird and Warlock which were built in Japan and assembled in California. From 1990 to 1993, Bernie Rico had no control over B. Rich guitars, although he continued to own the name.“Prior to 1964, we also converted a lot of Martin guitars to 12-strings because Martin didn’t make 12s before ’64.” Rico also remembers building some steel guitars during those early days, as well. Rich name came from Bernie’s friend Bobby, although all the parts were actually just Anglo adaptations of his own family’s names. Electrics In 1968 Rico built his first custom electric solidbody. Rich was able to obtain Gibson pickups, and the earliest Riches used Gibson humbuckers. Finally, in around 1974, Rico called Larry Di Marzio and asked him if he could make four-lead, dual sound humbuckers. The first Mockingbird was a short-scale bass.” Bichin’ Guitars “We were on a roll,” continues Rico. The resulting guitar was a sort of squared off Bunker guitar combined with elements taken from the Eagle. One of the first Biches went to Joe Perry of Aerosmith in October of ’76. Rich guitars were neck-throughs, however, some of the main models were also built with bolt-on necks. Rich Bich was the last new design until the introduction of the Warlock in 1981. In 1988 Rico licensed the Rave and Platinum names to Class Act, and they essentially took over importing, marketing and distributing the foreign-made lines. After almost three decades of continuous guitar-making, the idea of a well-paid vacation without worrying about the rent sounded good, and Rico licensed the B. Rich name to the new outfit for a three year period, during which time American-made B. Mason Bernard However, as with most people devoted to their craft, Bernie Rico’s vacation was short-lived.
Rico’s custom guitars basically versions of popular Gibson and Fender models continued until the early ’70s, when the trademark weird shapes began to appear, and the B. Both models were carved out of one single block of mahogany. The Seagull was a single cutaway guitar with two humbucking pickups and the characteristic B. The Seagull design also coincided with Rico’s first use of neck-through construction, a method which would soon become strongly identified with B. Heelless Neck Joint An essential feature of Rico’s neck-through design was the heelless neck joint, which was entirely his idea. Rich guitars was Dominic Troiano, who had replaced Randy Bachman as lead guitarist in the group The Guess Who at the time. It was also through Troiano that Rico hooked up with guitar designer Neal Moser, who worked with Rico through the ’70s. Some differences exist in reported accounts about who was actually responsible for the origins of the Bich design. We’d cut out a guitar, hold it up and say, ‘What do you think? The Charvel necks would be carved on his machine and sent over the the B. Economy Nighthawks In around 1978 or 1979, Rico also put out the Nighthawk series, an econo bolt-neck version of the Eagle, and the Phoenix series, an econo bolt-neck Mockingbird. This also coincided with a major economic recession in the United States and a downturn in all guitar sales. Rich catalog dated 6/84 included the Rich Bich 10-string, Bich Six and Bich Bass 8-string; the Eagle Bass; the Mockingbird Tremelo [sic], Mockingbird Supreme and Mockingbird Bass; the Warlock Tremelo and Warlock Bass; the X-shaped Stealth Tremelo and Stealth Bass; the Wave Bass; and the Ironbird Tremelo and Ironbird Bass Tremelo. These had a single humbucking pickup and, except for the Ironbird, reverse six-in-line headstocks. Rico was in Tokyo with Dennis Berardi, of Kramer guitars, and Jack Westheimer, then of Cort (and one of the principal men responsible for importing Japanese guitars into the United States beginning in the late ’50s). These have mahogany necks and bodies with a carved quilted maple top, ebony fingerboard, mother-of-pearl or abalone cloud inlays, twin humbuckers and either a fixed bridge or a Wilkinson vibrato system. The non-vibrato guitar and bass had the old three-and-three headstock, while the Tremolo had the six-in-line layout. This system was used for the guitars distributed by L. In the late ’70s as production grew, and the serial numbers begin to get ahead of themselves, since only 1000 numbers were available in a series.
His father, Bernardo Mason Rico, was a guitar-maker, with a shop where he built guitars, vihuelos, requintos, bajo sextos and other instruments for the Mexican-oriented musicians in L. playing in local Latin conjuntos and mariachi orchestras. The Rico shop was originally known as the Valencian Guitar Shop in around 1947, and later as Casa Rico. Fly Like An Eagle The Seagull did well, however, players began complaining about the upper point jabbing them in the chest. Rich over the use of the Rico brand name, and the first shipment of B. Rico guitars was impounded by customs awaiting a decision.
Rico with a smile, “when Sabicas said to me, ‘I’m tired of playing, you play! I was very nervous but it is a great memory.” Acoustic apprenticeship Bernie Rico had begun working in his father’s shop as early as 1953 or ’54, building ukuleles out of koa. ” If you’ve ever played uke, you’ll know that phrase. Heater connection, Gibson found out and was not happy. “We were sitting in Denny’s restaurant at 11 PM drinking coffee and designing guitars on napkins. The Bich has been acused of being a copy of a design of guitarmaker Dave Bunker. These guitars eventually became the basis for Rico’s Mason Bernards, and have been resuscitated for the new B. Rico likes to point out, though, that “The Gunslinger was the best guitar I could put out for 9. Another interesting Strat-style guitar from this period was the Outlaw, basically an ST-III with a series of holes drilled through the upper horn, like handles. Innovation In 1987, the Innovator bass also appeared, another guitar which is in the newly revived B. The NJ Series in that catalog included the Warlock, the ST superstrat and the Outlaw, which has become basically a Gunslinger with a reverse headstock.
“It was working with the banjos,” says Rico, “that taught me what I know about tone and timbre, all tension, with tension hoops in place of struts.” In a way, you can say that Sabicas not only was the main influence on Rico’s guitar playing, but was also the main influence on his guitar making. However, by the mid-’60s many of the customers for guitars were country musicians, and, well, the name “Bernie Rico” just didn’t make it with country players. At the time he was doing a lot of refinishing and repair work. That year a customer came in with a Fender guitar neck and asked Rico to make a body for the neck. Heater, a subsidiary of Norlin (which owned Gibson guitars) in Salem, Oregon. However, since Rich guitars featured such things as coil taps and phase reversal, each Gibson pickup had to be disassembled in order to install four lead wires, a lot of work, needless to say! “No problem,” was Di Marzios response, and from 1974 until 1986 (when B. The first Biches were 10-strings, based on a concept of Neal Moser, who, according to Rico, had been thinking about building a 10-string. There’s a simple if confusing answer: it’s essentially the same as a 12-string but without as many strings…! As early as 1976 or ’77, Rico also began to assemble some American-made economy versions of his guitars. The fingerboard is nicely wide, like you might expect from someone who, well, played flamenco! “This was the only guitar I ever designed at a drafting table, using straight-edges and French curves,” remembers Rico. At first I thought it was the ugliest guitar I’d ever designed,” continues Rico, “but Spenser Sercomb, who was playing in a group called Shark Island, came to my office and saw the design hanging on my wall. Rich six-in-line headstock appeared, debuting on the Warlock bass. Vacation The following year, in 1989, one of the Partners in Class Axe, Randy Waltuch, made Bernie Rico a very generous offer to license the name B. In 1990 Rico began another guitar company called Mason Bernard; Mason was his father’s middle name, and Bernard, of course, was a common name in the Rico family. Rich line included both neck-through and bolt-on guitars in many of the more popular shapes of the past. Rich in 1974, the system was changed to begin with the year of manufacture and three consecutively numbered digits, or XXYYY, with XX being the year (e.g., 78) and YYY the number of guitar.
One day Sabicas took Rico aside and told him, “My son, I want to play a guitar you made for me.” Bernie Rico made his first guitar for Sabicas. As it happened, ironically enough, Rico had a friend named Bobby Rich who had adopted an Hispanic stage name, Roberto Rico. He had an assistant working for him who suggested that he start getting more avant guarde in his finishes. “I remember I had to go over to Hollywood to get advice about how to wire the guitar once it was built,” recalls Rico. Rico recalls sitting around with other guitar makers, including Rick Turner of Alembic fame, discussing the potential merits of neck-through construction. Basically you get the octave differentials and tonal contrast of the bass wound/plain pairs combined with two single strings (versus unison pairs on a 12-string) for treble lead work. Rich designs, including the Bich, were pretty much collaborative efforts. One of these was the Son of a Rich, which was basically a bolt-neck Bich. ‘When are you going to make that guitar,’ he asked? Soon Lita Ford got one, and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue got a Warlock bass, and the model took off. Prior to 1981, all headstocks were the assymetrical three-and-three design. Rich continued to make acoustic guitars using highly skilled Mexican craftsmen until 1982, when Rico’s head craftsman died. Raves and Platinums Soon thereafter Rico engaged a different Korean factory to begin producing the down-market Rave and Platinum Series guitars, this time, unlike the U. Mason Bernard guitars were basically conventional Strat-type guitars, based on the previous B. Rich Assassin model, with the standard Superstrat humbucker/single/single pickup arrangement. Rich name reverted back to Bernie Rico, and he was happily again at work at his drill press making B. Rich guitars, which began to be offered in the Fall of 1994. Back were the Eagle, Mockingbird, Bich, Warlock, Assassin, Ironbird, Gunslinger and ST guitars, plus the Eagle, Mockingbird, Bich and Innovator basses. Rich guitar was stamped “Proto,” beginning in 1972, and subsequent guitars were consecutively numbered beginning 001, 002, etc. Thus, the first guitar of 1974 would have been numbered 74000, followed by 74001, etc.