At the start of 2012, Texas Twang Master Guitars rebranded as Textone Guitars. In the build up to the rebrand co-founder Rick Rutherford kindly took time out from his busy schedule to talk to me about the origins of the company, his love of guitars and the reason for the rebrand.
Started by Rick Rutherford, Ken Johnson and Jeff Neville, Textone Guitars is based in Austin, Texas. The company makes hand-crafted guitars from the finest materials.
What inspired you to start playing guitar?
That’s an easy question to answer. February 9th, 1964 – the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. From that moment on I have always seen myself as a guitar player….not as good as I would like to be, but still a player.
What are the origins of Textone Guitars?
It all started over a fret job no one would do on my Thinline Telecaster reissue. It had a maple neck with thin frets. I wanted medium jumbos but no one in Austin was willing to do the work, because of the difficulty of replacing frets on a maple fingerboard. I tried to buy a replacement neck from Fender but they refused to sell me one citing a concern over piracy. They suggested I buy a replacement neck from a parts dealer. This frustrated me no end and set me out on a journey which ultimately lead to the first guitar I built in 2009.
While trying to get a part for that guitar at a local Guitar Center, a large group of people in the store asked about where they could purchase a guitar like the one I had built or even buy that one. While I had no interest in selling that guitar it did put the thought in my head about making more and selling them. Eight were made and we took them to the 2010 Dallas International Guitar Show. The response we received was amazing and really set us on our way. That guitar show also caused a fundamental change in our business. We originally started building T-style guitars. The shape is extremely popular in Texas and easy to build. However, after walking the show floor and counting at least 10 other companies building T-style models I knew there was no long term viability in being that type of builder. We were going to have to take a risk and come up with our own unique designs that we would live or die with. So I spent the next six months working on a design that eventually became the guitar we are building today.
How did your association with Ken Johnson and Jeff Neville begin?
I met Jeff online during my original quest to find that elusive neck for my Thinline. By the time we crossed paths I had moved on from neck hunting to building a guitar exactly like I wanted. Jeff and I had a long conversation one hot summer day while I was driving back to Austin from Houston, Texas. There was a synergy there that lead to Jeff and I collaborating on the original guitar.
He is more than a builder – he is a true artist. His work reminds me of the woodwork my grandfather did building furniture before Parkinson’s disease robbed him of his abilities. Since those days as a child, admiring the type of woods he would use in his work, I have been fascinated with beautifully finished wood with highly ornate grain – especially curly maple. Jeff’s selection of woods and the way he puts them together takes me back to my childhood love for wood. Every time I look at a new body he has completed I am taken back to that time. The excitement never wears off for me.
Ken Johnson was the factor that turned this into a business. We played together for years in our band Slash Cowboy, out of Austin. He’s an exceptional drummer by trade, and was able to play with many of the top guitarists coming out of Austin in the 80s and 90s. Ken was looking for an opportunity to get into the musical instrument business. He started selling custom leather acoustic guitar cases and stick bags for drummers. He talked to me often about joining him in that venture. When he saw the first guitar I built he was knocked out and the discussion changed to making more of these guitars and selling them. We combined resources, built eight more and exhibited at the 2010 Dallas International Guitar Show. That’s how this all started.
It’s funny, he ended up with the original guitar and I still don’t officially have one that I call “mine”. But I do get the chance to play each one when they are finished, and learn about the special characteristics of each guitar we build – no two are alike.
The majority of your guitar range is based around a specific shape, incorporating TV Jones pickups. Why that combination?
Back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was touring I had two guitars: a parts Telecaster and a Gretsch Duo Jet. I love the Tele form factor. It just feels right for me. I loved the sound of my Gretsch but the darn thing would never stay in tune. So in building the first guitar I wanted to combine the best aspects of both styles of guitar, staying with the basic form factor of a T-style guitar (with our design) and chambering the body like a Gretsch to reduce the weight and bring out the unique characteristics of the Filtertron pickup. My fondness for those two guitars ultimately influenced the design I came up with for our models. I am really happy with how they turned out.
While working on the original T-style guitar I had the opportunity to have several inspirational conversations with Tom Jones. He shared a lot of valuable information with me that shaped the decisions I made about how our guitars would sound. When I decided to build a second model, TV Jones was just releasing this T-90 pickups. After talking to Tom I decided to give them a try and they knocked me out. I use his pickups in our 12-string electric and the new basses we just released, and as expected they sound amazing.
Tom is also helping me on another pickup configuration for a model we released the first of 2012. I like working exclusively with TV Jones on all of our guitars. It gives us the opportunity to do something different from the pack that gives us unbeatable tone.
Why the rebrand from Texas Twang Master Guitars to Textone Guitars?
We feel the name more accurately speaks to what we are doing. In the end, with each guitar, it comes down to the tone. The fact that we are in Texas where some of the greatest guitarists ever are from is a bonus. We wanted a name that sounds less gimmicky yet speaks to our Texas heritage. We have guitars with plenty of twang, but there is much more to them than that. We are really happy with the diversity of sound our different models produce. They are really something.
If your house was burning down, what one guitar would you save?
Hard to say. Right now it would probably be the original Blues King Deluxe. It has been my favourite the past few months. It really speaks to me.
In part 2, Rick talks about the development of the company’s latest guitar, the GCR60®, which was inspired by the memory of his late brother, Gary Cox Rutherford.