R.C. Allen: What are His Guitars Worth?
By Rebecca Apodaca
Luthier R.C. Allen and Leo Fender’s partner, George Fullerton, were having a casual conversation a few years ago when Fullerton commented that, “We are the only ones left,”(1) meaning the last of their generation of guitar builders from the Los Angeles/Orange County area. In just a short time, the industry lost George Fullerton at
86 on July 8, 2009,(2) and Carvin’s Lowell Kiesel at 94 on December 28, 2009.(3) When 76-year-old Allen approached me about appraising the second built Bigsby guitar c.1948,(4) I knew it would be a large challenge, entailing many hours of research.
‘Southern California was the beginning of the modern guitar.’
There’s a comparison that guitar builders are to Southern California as violin makers were to Cremona, Italy, or band instruments are to Elkhart, Ind. They are each a center of instrument makers. Allen states he is the end of the generation that created the modern electric guitar. My own family has lived in Southern California for nearly 100 years and experienced much of this firsthand. I believe he is right. Several builders during the years between 1930 to 1951, based in Southern California, show designing, redesigning and attempts at guitar amplification.
Allen’s Southern California chronology begins with Christopher J. Knutsen, Harp Guitars (1862-1930)(5), to Hermann Weissenborn, Hawaiian Lap Slide Guitars (late 1800s-1936), to John/Rudy Dopyera, Resonator Guitars(6) (1893-1988/-1978), to Adolph Rickenbacker amplified Hawaiian lap guitars (1886-1976), to Doc Kaufman guitars and tremolos( -1990), to Leo Fender/George Fullerton electric guitars (1909- R.C. Allen: What are His Guitars Worth? 1991/1923-2009), to Paul Bigsby tremolos and guitars (1899-1968), to Lowell Kiesel’s guitars (1915-2009), to R.C. Allen electric guitars and banjos (1934- ); not to discredit Les Paul/Gibson “the Log.” The next generation of Southern California guitar builders followed their path, such as B.C. Rich, Charvel, Seymour Duncan, Bob Taylor and others.
Allen credits Rickenbacker for the first electric guitar that was made of Bakelite material that attached to a stand. A Certified Appraisal for Fair Market Value has to be based on comparable sales.(7) To appraise an early model of any of these important guitar makers takes more extensive research. Allen assured me he knew where others were sold. What was Bigsby’s contribution to all of this?
motorcycles and Western music brought him into contact with Merle Travis. During this same time, Travis brought his Gibson L-10 guitar to P.A. with a wornout Kaufman vibrato. “Can you fix this for me?” asked Travis. “I can fix anything,” said Bigsby. He ended up designing a new vibrato mechanism(9). This device set the standard and became the vibrato of choice for many guitar manufacturers in the world, and remains so today.
In late 1946, Travis, an accomplished cartoonist, had sketched an idea for a new guitar on a Pasadena radio station’s program sheet and passed the drawing to Bigsby. “Can you make this, P.A.?” asked Travis. P.A. answered, “I can make anything.”
That drawing of the solid body electric guitar with all six tuning pegs on one side of the headstock was built the following year and played by Travis. The second guitar was built and purchased by George Grohs. Grohs purchased others by building Bigsby a shop in Downey, Calif. Allen’s divorced father lived near Bigsby’s shop. Allen’s mother lived15 miles away in El Monte near John Dopyera’s shop. This is how Allen first came in contact with Bigsby. As a teen, Allen hung out with both guitar builders.
No wonder the teenage Allen decided to build a guitar in 1951 in his high school shop class, and what beautiful guitars he has built since then. Allen still uses clamps and some tooling he got from Dopyera. This guitar was on loan to the NAMM Museum of Making Music, which insured it for $900,000.
That would be Replacement Value Comparable. Allen would like me to set the Fair Market Value, which is the value for which it could be sold. I need to consider the provenance (history of ownership). This Bigsby guitar, being the second one made, has a “wow” factor. Allen says he has already had offers for purchase. Due to his craftsmanship and Bigsby/Dopyera’s influence, Allen’s own guitars are being purchased and sold by collectors and even the famed auction house that sold Clapton’s guitar collection, Christie’s of New York. Allen made guitars for Travis, for Zeke Clemmons, who was the voice of Bashful from the Seven Dwarfs, and for Elvis’ guitar player, Del Casher, to name a few.
This guitar, as well as Allen’s guitars, will be on display at his booth at the Vintage Guitar Show(10) in Costa Mesa, Calif., the weekend of the NAMM show.
His guitars will be for sale. His handmade guitars start at $2,000.
Guitarist Deke Dickerson, in an R.C. Allen tribute, will also display them on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011, at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel(11). Anyone owning an R.C.
Allen guitar is welcome to join in the jam.
Please see next month’s issue
for the comparable sales, a review of the R.C. Allen Tribute and the final conclusion of Fair Market Value.
1 R.C. Allen, Luthier
2 Los Angeles Times
4 The Ultimate Guitar Book, Bacon
6 The History of National Resonator instruments
7 Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices 2010
8 The Story of Paul Bigsby