Friday, October 17, 2014

Randy Rhoads and His Very Unique Guitars

Randy Rhoads is another on the list of the most influential rock guitars that ever lived. And yet he is another guitarist that, tragically, left us when he was way too young.

Randy and his Mom's school
Rhoads grew up in a family that was very musical. Both of his parents were music teachers and pianists. His parents divorced when he was quite young. His mother raised her kids on her own. She made her living teaching music at her own school.

Randy began taking classical guitar lessons there at age 7.

He soon became interested in the electric guitar and took lessons from his mother's friend, Scott Shelly, right up to the point where Scott told her that he could no longer teach Randy since Randy had become a much better player than he would ever hope to be.

Kelle & Kelly Garni & Rhoads
Randy met Kelly Garni in middle school. Both boys were considered outsiders since neither fit into any definable category of high school groups. Randy taught Kelly how to play guitar and the two formed a band.

They spent their summers playing at high school parties and local shows doing covers of songs by Mountain, Alice Cooper, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie songs.

Rhoads and Garni had an "ah-hah" moment at an Alice Cooper show when the realized what could be done with their talent.

Rhoads was a bright kid. He began teaching guitar at his mother's school and playing gigs at night. He was also able to continue school and was fast-tracked to graduate.

In 1972 Rhoads and his friend Kelly Garni recruited singer Kevin Dubrow and drummer Drew Forsyth and put together what would become one of the first neo-classical metal groups known as Quiet Riot.

At the time Rhoads was playing a cream coloured 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom that his band mates had purchased for his use. Rhoads was only 16 years old! This became the guitar that he used throughout his career.

This guitar was a unique instrument as the body was actually made of four pieces including two layers of mahogany with a thin layer of maple in the middle and a carved maple top.

When it was new it was white, but over time the paint oxidized and took on a cream patina. Rhoads made a few changes to the guitar by replacing the original brass switch-plate and adding Grover tuning machines.

The standard humbucking pickups on this guitar were known as T-buckers, named after the T-shaped tool that produced the forward bobbin.

During most of the ‘70’s Rhoads played guitar with Riot, but he also played in another band called Xciter which featured guitarist George Lynch. Both men were interested in guitar techniques and equipment.

George Lynch & Karl Sandoval
Lynch had acquired a handmade V shaped guitar with one pickup and a tremolo bar. The neck radius was flat. Rhoads decided he needed a guitar similar to the one Lynch was playing. This guitar was built by a California luthier named Karl Sandoval. At this time Karl Sandoval was also a guitarist playing music similar to what Rhoads and Lynch were playing.

Wayne Charvel
Sandoval had learned his craft by working with Wayne Charvel.  What was interesting about the guitars that Sandoval was making was that the necks were actually Danelectro necks that were bolted to the V shaped bodies that he had designed. By experiment, Sandoval determined a player could pull a high E string up with a tremolo on a Danelectro neck and it would not go out of tune.

This was due to the fact that Danelectro necks were almost flat. The fretboard radius of a Danelectro was 14". This was at a time, when most Gibsons had a 12" radius and some Fenders had a 7.25 - 9" radius.

Sandoval with unfinished V
Sometime in the summer of 1979, Rhoads visited Sandoval and shared ideas of his own guitar based on the one Lynch were playing. Rhoads did not want a bolt-on neck. He wanted the guitar to share characteristics of his Gibson. He also wanted a Stratocaster tremolo. He wanted HIS instrument to have a different headstock, a unique colour and above all; an identity. Oh yeah, he wanted polka dots.

So Sandoval set about locating a Danelectro neck. Danelectro guitars have stood the test of time and a lot of this has to do with the i-beam truss rod that is glued in the neck, just under the fret board. Not only does this give the neck strength, it gives it sustain as well. It also contributes to the weight of the guitar.

Since Rhoads wanted a Fender tremolo bridge with a sustain block, this guitar had to be thicker than most V shaped guitars.

To mount the Danelectro neck to the body, Sandoval came up with an extension of the neck that would be underneath the neck pocket to support the Dano neck. The extension and the neck were glued and clamped into place.

The next problem would be the Gibson pickups that Rhoads insisted should be on the guitar. Rhoads also wanted the Fender Strat-style tremolo. The problem was Fender’s string spacing was wider than Gibson pole pieces. The solution was to use a DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup in the bridge position and a PAF in the neck position. The wiring on these pickups was similar to Gibson and allowed for two volume and two tone controls.

Randy Rhoads other request for his guitar would be to have a harpoon-shaped headstock. Sandoval accomplished this by using the existing Danelectro headstock and using dowels on its sides to graft on pieces of wood then cutting them to produce the harpoon shape. The resulting V shaped guitar had a 25.5” scale and a neck radius of 17” and a very unique headstock.

Within three weeks of receiving the Sandoval V,  Rhoads had broken the guitar. During a show, the strap came loose, the guitar crashed to the floor and the neck broke. He felt bad, but took it back to Karl Sandoval who repaired it for $75. Randy Rhoads to the guitar to England and soon after left Quiet Riot to play in Ozzy Osborne’s new band.

By Christmas time of 1980 Randy Rhoads had come up with an idea for a new guitar. Wayne Charvel had just sold his business to Grover Jackson. Karl Sandoval was moving away from luthiery and developing his own business. And Randy Rhoads had an idea burning in his mind for a new guitar. He sought out Grover Jackson for guidance.

Grover Jackson
Just before Christmas on 1980 he met with Jackson, who had just taken over the reigns of Charvel Manufacturing. The two men talked for hours. Rhoads had brought a sketch showing how he wanted his guitar designed. A few changes were made and then the meeting ended. What Randy Rhoads was looking for was a V shaped guitar with a neck-thru body design, however the bottom wing of the V should be shorter than the top wing.

The first Concorde
This guitar should be decked out with pin-stripes (instead of polka dots.) Rhoads said this guitar would be called The Concorde. The impetus of the name occurred following a trip home from the U.K. via that huge, fast jet airliner that was gracing the skies at the time. Ozzy Osbourne had paid for the flight ticket. Rhoads hated flying and this would be a quick way to get home.

There was no question in Grover Jackson’s mind that this request was do-able. But at the time, Jackson was concerned about the look of the guitar and how his new company would be represented.

1970's Charvel
Charvel was producing Fender style guitars with bolt-on necks. That was the image the company was presenting and sales were good.

Jackson just spent a lot of money to acquire Charvel and he was not going to do anything to hurt the business.

Grover Jackson

So Grover Jackson called Rhoads and asked if he would mind putting a different name on this guitar.

To his surprise Rhoads said that would be alright. Rhoads had always admired the Gibson Explorer and wondered if an Explorer head could be modernized and made to look more aggressive. Grover Jackson went to work on building the guitar shortly after the holidays. Randy Rhoads returned to England.

The body was cut using the technology of the day, which consisted mostly of pin routers. Charvel at the time was building B.C. Rich guitars and applied the beveled edges to the Rhoads instrument.

Once a prototype was built on a piece of Baltic birch, it was time for the real build. This was done with a maple center block that was glued to two maple wings. It was a heavy instrument. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret. There were 22 frets on a compound radius ebony fretboard. This fretboard was shaped by hand to achieve a 12” radius at the necks bottom, which tapered off to a 16” radius.

The fret wire was very narrow. The neck featured pearl block inlay and binding. The nut was 1 11/16th inches. This guitar had a tremolo, but it was not made by Fender, it was handcrafted by the company’s metal smith Bill Gerein.

The bridge was made of brass with a heavy brass sustain block. The pickups consisted of a Seymour Duncan Distortion model at the bridge and a Jazz model in the neck position. The output jack was placed on the outside edge of the lower wing.

The pickup selector switch was located on the upper wing along the outer edge. The guitar was painted white with black pinstripes and undercoated with polyester and finished in polyurethane.

Apparently once the guitar was shipped to Randy Rhoads in the U.K. there were some problems. For on thing, it was too heavy; it was too big. Due to the guitar joining the body at the 14th fret, Rhoads was having trouble accessing the upper register.

Believe it or not, Rhoads was also concerned that his guitar playing fans may think that he destroyed a Gibson Flying V to build this guitar.

Rhoads sent word to Grover Jackson that he would like to build a second guitar. His aim was for the new model to be narrower and slightly more radical. In the fall of 1981 Randy and Grover got together again. Grover was prepared with three neck-thru-body sections with headstock already cut. The wings were separate. As if they were working on a puzzle, the men moved the wings here and there; sanded off some wood, and drew on the wood until they got it right.

Jackson took a block of wood and cut it on a band saw and carved out the body. Then the building began. Randy Rhoads had to go back to begin the Diary of a Madman Tour with Ozzy Osbourne.

 By the time the tour had reached the United States, Ozzy’s tour manager Sharon Arden (now Sharon Osbourne) had upped the ante by investing in full stage production. The rehearsals were being held at studios in Hollywood before the opening night in San Francisco. Jackson had the second Concorde guitar completed. This time the shorter, lower wing made the upper wing more pronounced.

Look carefully at the guitars back side. Rhoads covered it with black electrical tape. This was during the Diary of a Madman tour so when he walked out on stage in the darkness he would have the back facing the audience. That way the white guitar did not spoil the big "lights on" moment.

It was odd that Randy was somewhat hesitant about fully embracing the new guitar. He would play it through portions of the show, then put it down and play a different guitar. He seemed to be warming up to it. We will never know if Randy Rhoads would have put away his other guitars and played this new model exclusively. For two months later he was killed in a plane crash.

Randy Rhoads was only 25 years old when the news broke that a rockstar had tragically died in an airplane accident. For it was on March 19, 1982 despite having a phobia about flying, Randy Rhoads perished in a fiery crash after taking a joy ride in a Beechcraft Bonanza. Ozzy Osbourne and his touring company had spent the night in the mansion of Country singer, Jerry Calhoun. Adjacent to the mansion was an airstrip. Tour bus driver Andrew Aycock held an expired pilots license and without permission apparently offered to fly Calhoun’s private plane.

During the flight made three passes over the home in an attempt to buzz the other band members. On the third pass, the plane clipped the bus and nose dived into the home. The plane burst into flames, killing Aycock, Randy Rhoads and 58 year old Rachel Youngblood, the tour’s seamstress and hairstylist.

Karl Sandoval maintained his business known as Sandoval Engineering. He is still building guitars and teaching luthiery. He currently offers the 30th Anniversary Sandoval V; the guitar based on the original design he built for Randy Rhoads.

Grover Jackson eventually sold the Charvel/Jackson brand name to Japanese music conglomerate IMC and left the company in 1990. In subsequent years he worked for Washburn Guitars.

In 1996 he joined RIC Rickenbacker Guitars  helping them to develop use of the CNC routers. About a year later he went on to work at some other firms including G&L, Tacoma and Sadowsky guitars. In 2010 he worked on that years models for B.C. Rich. The late Bernie Rico was one of his friends.

Since 2012 he is building and selling his own brand known as GJ² Guitars.

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