One day in about 1985 I got a call from my old friend, Guitar Player Magazine editor-in-chief, Tom Wheeler. He started right off by saying, “Don’t take me wrong when I say this, Rick, I hope you’re not currently in the guitar business.” I wasn’t…I was running a small cabinet shop for a high end contractor in San Francisco, and my main involvement with guitars was playing at the weekly Bluegrass jams at Paul’s Saloon in the Marina District of SF and going to Lark in the Morning music camp. But still it was a funny thing to hear from one of the most respected and well known men in the guitar world. But Tom had a way with words and putting folks at ease, and he jumped right in and said, “I’d like you to write a guitar review column for the magazine, and I can’t have anyone currently in the business because of potential conflicts of interest, and out of respect to fairness with our advertisers.” I totally understood his position, and that he was inviting me to tell it as I saw it, but from an unassailable position. And so, for the second time, I became a columnist for the leading guitar magazine under a brilliant editor and with the great Jon Sievert taking photos of the guitars I reviewed.
Tom wanted a guitar maker/designer’s perspective on the guitars. I’d be getting inside the heads of other luthiers, designers, and manufacturers and bringing not only a player’s opinion of which the magazine had plenty, but something a bit “else”. It was a really great challenge, and I was lucky to have Tom’s great editing skills to weed out the redundant or unneeded verbiage. He made me look really good, and in so doing, he helped me to become a better writer.
I don’t remember exactly how many columns I wrote in that run, but I do remember that my two favorites were one on an early PRS guitar. Paul still thanks me for that when I see him at NAMM or other guitar shows; he says it really helped legitimize his guitars in the eyes of the guitar public. The other was my review of the Martin J-40 M jumbo, a fabulous big bottomed guitar. Of it I said, “For anyone who thinks they don’t build ’em like they used to, go play one of these guitars.” And I meant every word; it was a magnificent addition to the Martin line. The real thrill was being quoted in the next edition of the Martin catalog, and Chris Martin really appreciated the review.
I also really appreciated when Tom called me to ask for a quote for his definitive book on the Fender Stratocaster. He published my comment, “Leo Fender did not have Jimi Hendrix in mind when he designed the Strat!” By way of saying that the musicians are at least as likely to define an instrument as the designer/builder.
So it was really bad news that I got this week of February 12th, 2018. Tom Wheeler, my old friend, mentor, and editor passed away. Hope to see you on the other side, Tom.