That One Guitar - Kenny Howes

Name: Kenny Howes 

Location (city): Atlanta, GA

Instrument: Rickenbacker 370/12 WAL

This guitar, made in 1981, was my 18th birthday present from my dad, in 1988. We bought it out of Bargain Trader, a Central Florida newsprint magazine that was mostly classified ads for cars and boats, from a guy in Seffner, FL, a short drive away from where I grew up. It’s a tobacco burst, which is often mistakenly called “AutumnGlo” but the actual nomenclature is “Walnut,” not to be confused with the current models the company makes out of actual walnut wood. (Mine was described by a friend once as “a FireGlo Rick with a suntan!”) 

It originally came with the very, very rare “Byrd” control panel, which was a custom order. It was a passive circuit that pre-dated the active one from the later Roger McGuinn Limited Edition, and resembled Gretsch wiring (master volume, individual volumes for each pickup, and two switches). I found it difficult to maneuver and had the wiring changed out to a standard Rick layout (which I later realized was done incorrectly). The original pickguard is long gone, unfortunately. 

I played this 12 string heavily the next ten or so years, using it on almost every recording I made (three or four CDs worth). I was pretty rough on it through my twenties, and then, thinking I had damaged the neck, I sold it on eBay in 2001. 

A year or so later, I realized I hadn’t actually damaged the guitar, but I was just adjusting something incorrectly - so I thought, hey, I should try to get that one back! So I contacted the fellow who bought it, but he had since flipped it on eBay, and had none of the new buyer’s information, except that he thought it went to Texas somewhere. 

Eight years later, in 2009, while scouring the web for Rickenbackers (as I am wont to do), I found it on Craigslist in Austin, TX, and I was able to identify it based off of the blurry photo on the ad. Others had begun to tip me off on it as well - the Rickenbacker collector community tends to look out for each other, and people knew I was after this one. I contacted the seller, recited the memorized serial number to him, and confirmed that is was my old one. 

He wasn’t comfortable shipping it, so luckily I was able to recruit a Rick guy in Austin (who I had never met) to act as middle man, collect the guitar, and ship it to me in California, where I lived at the time. 

So remember how I said I had been rough on it? Well, the latest owner hadn’t used it much, so condition-wise it was as if I had put it straight from a sweaty gig into its case, shipped it from a humid climate to a dry climate, and put in the closet for a couple of years. Opening the case when I got it back was equally joyful and bittersweet, like seeing an old friend who after many years had become homeless. It was pretty much unplayable. All told, I gave it a new nut, a new “R” tailpiece, yet another re-wire (using stock Rick parts), lots of elbow grease and work on un-bowing the neck, and a local repairman did some fret leveling. But man oh man oh man, it plays and sounds just GREAT now. The action is crazy low, with Thomastik-Infeld flatwound strings, and the intonation is right on, even with the original “split-D” bridge. 

Not only do I love this thing because of all the good times we’ve had, but also because it not plays and sounds so good. So, no, I’m not letting this one go again. 

Band: Kenny Howes and The Wow

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