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“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.
But once again, due to Fender’s modular production methods and often non-sequential serial numbering (usually overlapping two to four years from the early days of Fender to the mid-1980s), dating by serial number is not always precisely definitive.
The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964.
Therefore, while helpful in determining a of PRODUCTION DATES, a neck date is obviously not a precisely definitive reference.
Most specifications for a given Fender instrument model change little (if at all) throughout the lifetime of the model.
“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.
I got to meet all the players coming through, including young Paco de Lucia and Montoya. The first few were called the Bodine Bass and were promoted in ads as late as December of ’76, but the name quickly changed to the Seagull II or the Seagull Jr. Through a friend living in Tokyo, Rico arranged to have some copies of the Eagle made and imported carrying the B. Rico doesn’t recall exactly who made these guitars, but thinks it may have been the Kasuga factory, one of the primary Japanese suppliers of quality guitars at the time. However, in the interim the decision was made to simply use the B. Rich name, which would henceforth be applied to all B. Rich guitars, regardless of where they were manufactured. Rich began making its own pickups, which it did until the hiatus in 1989. Rich “changed over” to the pointy reverse headstock, Rico laughs.
Bernardo Chavez Rico was born in Los Angeles in 1941, actually in East Los Angeles, home to the city’s largely Hispanic population. Eventually, as Bernie joined his dad, it became known as Bernardo’s Guitar Shop. Rico began playing guitar at an early age, as primarily a flamenco and classical guitarist. A., which he did a lot because he liked to go to down to Mexico to see the bullfights. One of these was bassist Bill Bodine, who was playing with Olivia Newton John’s band at the time. Rico set about redesigning the Seagull, giving it two cutaways and no point on the upper horn. Bernie Rico chose this name so as to distinguish these imports from the guitars being made in the U. These were excellent copies with neck-through construction. Ricos ran into legal problems right out of the gate. Since Rico was Bernie’s last name, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that B. Rich would have the right to use the name, which it did.
Reversing the process, Bernie Rico changed his guitar name to B. Since he was riding a lot of motorcycles with fancy paint jobs at the time, this made sense. Rico had gotten on the electric freeway and there was no looking back! Gibson “copies” and the Seagull In 1969 Rico began his first attempts at guitar production with ten Gibson EB-3 bass copies, with arched tops and fancy inlays and ten matching Les Paul guitars. Rich guitars designed by Rico was the Seagull guitar and bass, which debuted in 1972. The rounded upper bout featured a little point about mid-way on the bass side (reminiscent of the early Carvin designs from the late ’50s and early ’60s), while the cutaway horn had a typically dramatic downward turn to it. Neck-through construction was used on most Seagulls and other models throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, although not exclusively: some bolt-necks were also built, but these were in the minority. In some ways, this is an extension of the idea of a lute, which typically had paired courses except for the first string or “chantarelle,” which was used to carry single-string melodies. As Rico puts it, “All the guys working for me had ideas; we just kind of laid them out and made them. At least some of these had necks and bodies which were made by Wayne Charvel, who was in the parts business at the time. The necks would then undergo a final shaping to Rico’s design, and then be fitted to the bodies. Soon other models began to appear with the new design, including the late 1982 Eagle shown here. Rather than replace him, the decision was made to cease acoustic production. Production Series announced in the 1984 catalog included the Mockingbird Tremelo, Stealth Tremelo, Warlock Tremelo and Ironbird Tremelo. “These were the first guitars I had ever made where I sat down and calculated everything to the max,” says Rico, “these guitars were designed as if price was no object. Di Marzio came up with a proprietary pickup design for me, including a very neat vintage single coil.” About 225 of these Mason Bernard guitars were made between 1990 and the middle of 1991. The Eagle line was represented by the Eagle Arch Top, Arch Top Tremolo and Eagle bass. Rich neck-through guitars is relatively easy, although slightly imprecise by the ’80s. These consecutive numbers probably ran up to around 340 or 360, as Rico recalls. Throughout the ’70s, production numbers were low enough that the serial numbers pretty much reflect the year of manufacture.
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.