Making T-types with Reclaimed Wood: Ron Kirn
Ron Kirn built his first guitar when he was 16. “I was mesmerized by Fender, but I grew up in a family of fine artists, so I have the artistic curse, and I decided I wanted to redo the body and make it look a little more exotic looking.” There was only one problem: “I had absolutely no one to consult with on how to build a guitar,” Ron says. “The guitar I built was horrible.”
Over the next few decades, Ron continued making guitars, but not full time. He worked as a building contractor, in advertising and in photo journalism. But in the ‘90s, Ron “scratched out” a book about building guitars. He put it on eBay. Orders trickled in slowly at first, but day by day, more came in—a lot more. He ended up selling 10,000 copies. That’s when Ron decided to “retire” and set up a new venture—Ron Kirn Customs.
One of his best selling customs is the “Barnbuster,” made out of reclaimed pine. Ron built one of the first for TDPRI member Arlo West. Searching for more wood, Ron turned to one of Arlo’s friends who owned a business disassembling historic sites. In exchange for a guitar, Ron got a “truckload” of 130-year old pine. These days, half of his guitars are made from reclaimed wood, and there’s a reason: “It takes 50 years for the resin to start solidifying,” Ron says. “After that, the wood comes alive.”
Ron finishes his guitars with nitrocellulose lacquer, but argues that paint, among other things, doesn’t really affect a guitar’s tone. After watching the TV show Cosmos, he came up with an analogy:
“If you were to break down the sound of your guitar down to a calendar year—365 days—your talent, your skill, and your ability as a musician carries the tone well into Fall.”
“Then somewhere around September, the amplifier picks up. That pretty much carries you down to the last two weeks of the year. Well, on one of those two weeks nobody does anything, so you’ve got five days left. And in those five days, everything else anybody wants to argue about, be it pickups, paint, wood, cables, capacitors, anything—that all falls into those five days. It’s an insignificant part of the total experience.”
Ron says the perception of your instrument is more important than the instrument itself. If you think you have the guitar of your dreams, then everything will sound better. Many people have turned to Ron to build such a guitar—he’s sold “a couple of thousand” and makes around 130 a year. “That’s about maximum,” Ron says. “If I did any more than that, I’d go crazy.”
Although a frequent presence on TDPRI, Ron Kirn was originally a Strat guy. He and his friends were surfers, and Strats fit into their lifestyles. “We wouldn’t play Telecasters because that was a ‘hillbilly’ guitar,” Ron says. “You flip on The Porter Waggoner Show, or Hee Haw, and that’s all you saw—guys playing Telecasters, wearing rhinestone covered jackets.”
Fifty years after making that first guitar, Ron has changed his tune. “Now I play a good-old hillbilly guitar.”
Ron Kirn Barnbusters are $1650. Custom builds are more, based on options. Estimated delivery is six weeks. For more, go to Ron’s website.