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“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.
This is characteristic of many of his guitars to this day. It was Troiano who first used the active electronics which became common on B. ’ Someone would say, ‘Well, take a little off there,’ and we would.” Since most B. Rich guitars were handmade, especially the neck-throughs, the production work involved a lot of handcarving, which was frequently done by skilled Mexican woodcarvers. Ironbird Following the Warlock was the radically angular Ironbird appeared in around 1983, a guitar favored by Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. Basic components of these bolt-neck guitars were made overseas and shipped to California where fretting, final assembly and finishing took place. All had diamond inlays except for the Biches and Mockingbird Supreme with clouds, and the Stealth which had no inlays. While they were in Tokyo, there was a tremendous shift upward in the value of the Yen, severely cutting into the profitability of manufacturing in Japan. Colors were transparent red, blue, tangerine, purple or emerald green, or goldtop. Acoustics Again As of early 1995, Bernie Rico had returned to his old affection for acoustics and added a new acoustic guitar to his line, the B-41C, a single cutaway guitar loaded with abalone trim, a project which has the luthier quite enthusiastic. By 1980 the serial numbers had gotten to about two to three years ahead.
It is also known as Metallic Red, and the abbreviation of “MR” along with LH for Left Handed can be seen in the top of the body.
This is a left handed Fender 1952 Blackguard reissue which was built by Fender’s Custom Shop in 1997, and originally featured a pair of ’52 Tele Custom Shop pickups.
Since then the guitar’s neck pickup cavity was cleanly routed for the larger Lollar-built Charlie Christian pickup...
From one perspective, flamenco and heavy metal might seem as far apart as the sun and the moon, but if you think about the hyperbolic emotion involved in both genres, there is a certain spritual connection. Montoya used to compare himself with Sabicas saying ‘I am the box office draw.’ I also studied with the great Mario Escudero for three years, and learned to play with very high action on the guitar, but Sabicas was the main influence. In very late 1976 or early ’77, those names disappeared as well in favor of the Eagle. Rico It was at about the time of the appearance of the Eagle in around ’76 that B. (All imports carry an additional modifier such as N. Series or Platinum which idicate they are made offshore.) As a result of the hassles over the name, these first B. Rico imports are quite rare; only about 150 or so were ever imported before the brand name was abandoned. Strats The following year, 1987, the far more conventional ST-III was unveiled, a Strat-style guitar that came in either humbucker/single/single or twin humbucker configurations and with either bolt-on or neck-through construction. “We never changed over, people just started requesting it, so we made it. Rich catalog produced by Class Axe included the Platinum Ironbird, Bich, Warlock and Virgin guitars and basses.
Abstractions aside, however, there’s a more concrete connection between the two forms in the person of Bernie Rico, the man behind some of guitardom’s most flamoyant instruments, B. He and I were like godfather to son.” “I’ll never forget the time,” recalls Mr. Thus, the Eagle was essentially a redesigned version of the original Seagull. Listen to the Mockingbird Things began to evolve quickly from that point on. “The Mockingbird was one of those ‘napkin’ designs,” explains Rico. This was a Strat-style guitar that was known as a professional instrument, with a humbucker and single coils, the angular reverse headstock, an ebony fingerboard with no inlays and 24-frets. Also introduced in 1987 was the Gunslinger, a Strat-style bolt-neck guitar geared toward the fast heavy metal players who only wanted one pickup with a volume control. Rich that cost 99 and a Gunslinger, you won’t find any difference in the neck.” Many of the B. Rich ST-IIIs are relatively ordinary, however, many are quite spectacular, like the quilted maple custom model shown here. No matter what the color of the guitar, the insides of the holes were always black. When we got into the more commercial Strat-shaped guitars, we put it on.” Class Axe In 1987 Rico entered into a marketing agreement with a company from New Jersey called Class Axe which allowed them to market and distribute the Rave, Platinum and NJ Series guitars. The Virgin was sort of a hybrid with a Warlock upper bout and a bell-shaped rounded lower bout designed by Class Axe in conjuction with Moser. 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.