By now, we’re all familiar with the obvious household names in the guitar design/manufacturing industry.
No doubt these companies offer quality products and have for many years, but what about those of us who want to own a guitar that is truly one-of-a-kind? A guitar that was built, by hand, just for us? This is where Billy Rowe of Rock N’ Roll Relics comes in strong!
Billy doesn’t only specialize in building guitars from the ground up using top-shelf parts, he has also mastered the art of a truly convincing relic. Relic guitars are gorgeous and chaotic beasts, and are found desirable by many players all across the world. Last week we sat down to learn a little about Billy Rowe and how he came to be the relic’d guitar sorcerer he is today…
…As always, we started by finding out how it all began for Billy…
“It all started when I was a kid, which was in the 70’s thru the early 80’s. I was introduced to pop music of it’s time like Elton John, Glen Campbell, John Denver, Bay City Rollers etc., but It wasn’t until I discovered KISS through a friend of mine that the level of interest changed. An early memory would be the very first time I heard KISS at my buddy’s house in late 1975. When the needle dropped to the spinning album and the first riff came out of the speakers, I was hooked. Then I started to look at the album art and insert booklet. I turned to the last page and just stared at Ace Frehley playing his low slung tobacco burst Les Paul and inside my head I just thought to myself, that’s what I wanna do! Haha!”
Without question, this is a story we can all relate to. Billy went on to name other bands that inspired him to pursue music as a career, and I eventually learned that he had been in a California-based rock band in the 80s called ‘Jetboy.’
I definitely needed to hear more…
“Jetboy formed in 1983 during my last year of high school. The other guitar player and I (Fernie Rod) met at a local San Francisco club and became fast friends. We both had the same vision for a band and we pursued it, which lead to the beginning of what became Jetboy and a journey that shaped my life to where I am today. Jetboy started performing in late 1984. By 1985 the band started playing Los Angeles and in late 1986 year the band signed a pretty big deal with Elektra Records. At this time, I was very into older guitars, especially hollow-bodied Gretsch’s. I can say that the years that Jetboy were playing the clubs, recording albums, and touring is where I really figured out tones and gear that I liked. And more importantly the style of playing I was best at which is just straight-forward rock n roll. I do feel this also helped shape things for what became Rock N Roll Relics and how I want a guitar to feel, sound, and look.”
Well Billy pretty much gave us a perfect segue there. It was time to dig a little deeper into his journey as a craftsman; how did he get started down the path of tech work and building?
“As a kid I was always into the more artistic side of things in school. I was into drawing and I loved my wood shop classes. In my first year of high school, in my wood shop class, we had a project we had to come up with/build something. I chose to build a guitar. So I bought two pieces of swamp ash, glued it up and did the whole nine yards. Eddie Van Halen was the up-and-coming guitar god at this time and I loved his Ibanez destroyer shark fin guitar. So I built a star guitar which, at the time, I believe Mighty Mite or Schecter were making? So I took an ad photo from Guitar Player Magazine and copied the shape on paper the best I could. I still have this guitar sitting in a case in my garage. From this point on, I was very into tinkering with my guitars. It was either changing pickups or bridges or full-on painting them a different color. So it started pretty early on for me. By the mid 80’s when Jetboy started playing clubs, I had an old Strat. I painted the body and headstock hot pink, put in a single Humbucker and mirror Pickguard, and made it my own thing. I wish I still had that one!”
Yep, gotta start ‘em early! Okay so now we know how Billy got started, but the one thing I really wanted to dig into was how Billy found his niche in the guitar realm. His guitars are extremely unique, and his relics are extremely convincing.
Certainly one doesn’t just wake up one day with this super power…
“I’ve always been into guitars that were not shiny and clean looking. I guess that comes from growing up in an era of used gear, which is now called “vintage.” Just like when I get a new pair of converse, I like them to look worn in and beat up, plus they’re more comfortable that way. Same goes for me with a guitar. When I got into building guitars in a serious manner is when this whole relic thing started back in the early 2000’s. I built a few parts telecasters for fun and one thing led to another. This is around the time the internet started to get popular (around 2000). I sold a few of these builds on this new auction website at the time, ebay. Soon after this, I built a website and Rock N Roll Relics was born. My whole relic style got to where it is today with a lot of trial and error steps. A lot of the time, you try something and then go…uh oh? But then you look at it and go, wow, that actually looks good. It’s pretty funny when that happens, and it still does. At this point, I see relic’ing as an art style and it’s endless with where it can go.”
Billy is, without a shadow of a doubt, a much braver man than I am. It takes some serious daring to dive into this type of work, and some serious tenacity to not get discouraged along the way, I’m certain.
We see a ton of social media posts of Billy’s guitars that house Mojotone Pickups, and we’re always extremely proud to be a part of his gorgeous builds. Aside from utilizing his incredible guitar-building skills, Billy recently scored a gig as the touring guitarist for Buckcherry, so he has actually been able to play some killer shows over the past year and a half. How rewarding it must be to build your own guitars and be able to take them on the road with you for some serious stage time!
We want to thank Billy for donating some of his time to us for this article. If you don’t already, you’ll want to follow him and his work on Instagram (@rnrrelics) and check out his full line of offerings at www.rocknrollrelics.net. You certainly won’t regret it.
Thanks again for tuning in folks, and we’ll catch you next time!