Few guitar designs are as arresting and aggressive as those of B.C. Rich. These jagged, angular, and in your face designs are built from the ground up with one genre in mind: metal. Yet well before this association, B.C. Rich’s roots were much more humble, grassroots, even acoustic. So what is the wooden heritage of metal’s most infamous brand?
Like many good guitar stories beginning in the 1950s, ours starts on the West Coast.
Bernardo Chavez Rico grew up kicking around the guitar store that his father, Barnardo Mason Rico, purchased in the 1950s. Bernardo’s Guitar Shop in Los Angeles. The shop was a great place for a tune-up, set-up, and gear chat, as Bernardo Sr. employed exceptional luthiers from Paracho, Mexico. In due course, Bernardo Jr. took up the craft of luthiery and learned from the best of the best in the family shop.
As folk music took off in the 1960s, the shop was well-positioned to serve a community of players in need of traditional yet innovative designs. Both the shop and the young Bernardo Jr. became known for their ability to create expressive guitars as well as repair any variety of folksy stringed instruments, from banjos to steel-string acoustics. Yet it was the accomplished flamenco playing of Bernardo Jr. that arguably set an unexpected direction of building guitars designed for speed.
In 1968, Bernardo Jr. broke from the traditional acoustic builds of the shop and blue-printed a solid body electric design. This first fabled guitar included a custom design body and Fender neck. The prototype would eventually become known as the B.C. Rich Seagull that was released in 1974.
But how do we get from prototype days in dad’s shop to a guitar with your name on the headstock?
In 1972, Bernardo Jr. and Bob Hall, another employee at the shop, developed plans to expand the acoustic offerings of the shop with some truly signature, custom solid body designs. Their goal was to create one-of-a-kind guitars that were handmade from the ground up. And they meant it: even using tools that were hand-hewn whenever possible. This meant an incredible degree of customization, for example, the profile and contour of the neck could be player specific on early models. This also meant limited runs and hefty price tags. For example, the initial release of the Seagull included but ten instruments that came with a $999 price tag. Keep in mind, that’s 1970s money!
By the late 1970s, B.C. Rich Guitars had grown into its own. The custom shop philosophy evolved slightly to allow for greater production and impact. Yet the signature designs of body and headstock shapes, electronics configurations, and even string combinations persisted. When hair metal ascended in the 1980s, it meant B.C. Rich was the natural choice for epic sounds and eye-catching designs.
But just how successful was B.C. Rich in this rise? As Premier Guitar reported, the company was clocking $10,000,000 is sales under the presidency of Mal Stich who was at the helm in the 1980s. Not bad for a company that started off with ten guitars retailing for just south of $1000!
While B.C. Rich became synonymous with metal, it’s arguably their founding luthier’s acoustic-flamenco origins that prepared the brand for its destiny of shredding.