When I was 14 I fell entirely in love with R.E.M. Not the big hits (“Man on the Moon“, “Everybody Hurts“, or “Losing My Religion“) although those would come later, but the southern gothic of their earlier work on the I.R.S label. I still count “Reckoning” as one of my all time favourite albums. Peter Buck is one of the main reasons I first picked up a guitar, which means that R.E.M are one of the reasons I build guitars and furniture today. It is, I think, no coincidence that the first guitar I ever built was a 12 string. I never realised at the time that this would be the destination the path lead to. I’m not sure that 14 year old me had ever considered any form of woodwork, let alone building guitars. And listening to “Murmur” on loop is probably not the obvious starting point to building staked furniture or hanging out in Karl Holtey’s workshop. But this is where it all began.
Because ever since I first heard the opening chords to “Carnival of Sorts” my dream guitar has always been a Rickenbacker 360, just like Peter Buck plays. Then I saw footage of Jeff Buckley playing “Vancouver” on a Ricky during the Mystery White Boy tour, and and James Iha playing Ricky for “1979“, and of course Lydia Loveless toting a blue Ricky for that incendiary live performance of “Really Wanna See You“. And the deal was well and truly sealed. Sometimes you just have to listen to the universe when it speaks to you.
Last week, 20 years after I first fell in love with R.E.M, this Rickenbacker 360 arrived. In the 2007 “colour of the year” limited edition blue burst – my favourite Rickenbacker finish, and also one of the rarest. I spent the weekend jamming through R.E.M song after R.E.M song, breaking off only to play my way through my favourite tracks of “Grace” by Jeff Buckley. Simply put, this is one of the finest guitars I’ve ever played. The level of perfection achieved by the luthiers at Rickenbacker (and unlike many production manufacturers, Rickenbacker still make their guitars largely by hand) is staggering. Yet the guitar retains a lot of soul – this doesn’t feel sterile like some high end instruments can. I now know what I’m chasing with each of my guitar builds.
But more importantly, this guitar represents an important link. It connects the 14 year old who spent countless hours trying to decipher those early R.E.M records with only the cover art and liner notes to help (this was pre-internet, after all) with the craft I pursue today. The instrument currently before me represents everything that made me take the first step onto the path of building things with my own hands, and also the future. What can I create with the Ricky, and how can it inspire me when I’m at my workbench? These are questions that I can’t wait to answer.