RON KIRN GUITARS
How did you get into guitar building?
It really began back in the mid-sixties. I
started as a teenager, and like everybody, fell
in love with the guitar. This was back in the
days of Elvis and the Ventures and the early
Beatles, etc. Of course I wanted a guitar, so
my father bought me an early Silvertone,
which was a horrible guitar. And I’ve always
had a mechanical aptitude, so I immediately
attacked that thing, trying to rectify it. And I
learned quite a bit about guitars from that.
Tell us a little bit about your philosophy.
I just build them the way I think they should
be built. They’re either playable or not playable, to me. I just take it all the way through
to the final end, and I play it—in fact, I’ve
got two of them sitting here behind my desk
right now that I finished a couple of days
ago. What I’ll do is I’ll finish them, string
them up and intonate them, and then I’ll let
them sit there and just get used to being
under tension, because the wood will shift.
Then I’ll fine-tune them from there. For some
reason, people seem to appreciate that type
of thing—go figure.
What do you love about the Telecaster?
It’s really hard to say. To me, it’s kind of like
you find a mutt and everybody puts it down
because it’s not an American Kennel Club
registered dog—but it turns out to be your
best friend. And that’s kind of the way I felt
about the Telecaster. The simplicity, the concept of less-is-more kind of slaps you in the
face. You don’t need 14 pickups and a monster whammy bar and all of these controls.
Do you offer customers a set model or
No, I build custom guitars, and I tend not
to dissuade potential clients from what they
want. I understand the psychology behind a
choice of a guitar.
Most people are led to a specific guitar by
someone within their circle of influence who
will persuade them of what they need to
have. So if your best buddy walks up to you
and says that you’ve got to have a Telecaster
that’s Shell Pink with an alder body and a
rosewood neck, and it’s gotta have Fralin
pickups and a Callaham bridge and a four-way switch in it, that settles in your mind
because it’s been reinforced by your association and the dependability of the source that
suggested it to you.
If you walk up to a luthier and he says,
“No, man, you don’t want Shell Pink or
an alder body. What you need is swamp
ash, oh, and Fralins suck—you need to use
Owen Duff’s pickups. And that rosewood
fingerboard looks like crap on there.” And
you also appreciate this guy, because, one,
you’ve chosen him, and two, he does this
for a living, so you immediately assign
value to his input and you allow him to persuade you from what you originally wanted
from your guitar.
And you go out, and you now have a guitar,
and you show it to your friend, and he says,
“Well, that’s cool, but it would have sounded
better with an alder body.” And you’re out
gigging and playing your favorite song,
and in the back of your mind, you always
have that thought, “Did I make the wrong
choice?” Any kind of little thing like that will
gnaw away at you until eventually it erodes
your confidence in the instrument, and you
make it your number two, you sell it, whatever. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, if
you walk up to me and you tell me what you
want to do, and I say, “No problem; let’s do
it,” and you say, “What do you think about
that sort of thing,” I’ll say, “It’s great.”
I understand you build guitars with
I try, people tend to like it. Let me tell you
about this lumber—the buildings were built
in 1600, but they used the lumber from
previous buildings that were built roughly
100 years earlier, the historians say. Which
means that they were built by the first French
settlers to hit that area in 1500. So I’ve still
got enough for about four or five of those
guitars. It’s fascinating to work with that stuff;
when you cut a piece off, you pick it up and
ask yourself, “Is there anything else I can
make with this?” It makes for an incredible
sounding guitar. For somebody who’s not
really into the tone psyche and that sort of
thing… I don’t know if it’s my subconscious
telling me that I need to hear a great sound
out of this guitar, but the few guys that have
bought these things tell me that they’re
blown away by the sound. But it might just
be working on their heads, too.
Why should someone buy a Ron
Well, for the cost, you can’t touch it. That’s
it in a nutshell. It’s literally like being able to
buy a Ferrari for what a Crown Vic costs.