Interview with Luke Withfield of RebelRelic Guitars
This interview has been published on Guitarism Section of Sound Magazine (December 2010 issue), TR. In the name of civilized world, please do not use without permission. All Rights reserved!
Hi Luke (Withfield). This is Baris from Sound Magazine. Welcome to my section “Guitarism”. Now lets begin with your very first beginings. Whats the story behind Rebel Relic?
Rebel Relic officially began back in November 2007. I had already been building these guitars for some years but I didn't have a brand name for them back then. At first I would build one at a time for myself and some I would sell on eBay when I saw that they would sell very quickly and some custom order requests would start to come in. I enjoyed building these guitars so much that I took a section of my workshop just for building guitars. (I was a furniture builder by trade.) The guitar section grew bigger and bigger until eventually I decided to dedicate my time to guitar making full time. The rest went very quickly. I was approached from a few guitar shops that wanted to become dealers and the rest is shall we say... history.
Felt curious when i first you were from Holland. An American vibe from Europe or European taste on relic guitars, hm? Does it confuse other people?
Not at all. I have lived in Holland for more than 20 years and have been well received in general. Nobody seems to mind my Americanism here in Europe. I never go around waving the flag anyway :) In fact I am sure that it does add to the authentic 50's and 60's vibe of my guitars because I was totally in love with those days. I grew up around hippies absorbed in Rock & Roll music, cool cars, psychedelic art and you name it. Those were in dead wonderful times. It seemed like everybody sang protest songs and played a guitar.
Can you please tell me about the raw materials for your guitars? What kind of woods you choose, what origins do they have etc?
For the vintage classic models I like to keep to the same woods that were used back in those days. So a 1952 / 1954 would be swamp ash and a 1962 would be American red alder. American rock maple for the necks. Brazilian rosewood is very very pricy and what you can get today is not the same as it was back in the 60's. I think certain selected Indian rosewood comes the closest to the dark tight grained rosewood of the past. I do like to use other woods for special models though. Like blond korina for my Holy Grail model and Oregon pine on the TG Specials. On the Thinline I also like mahogany with spruce, cedar or maple tops.
Nice classic choices, Luke. You have some products made from 200 years old pine. Two questions; how did you get those 200 years old blocks and how does it sound? What can you say if you compare it with regular dried pine and standart alder&ash?
Pinecasters are great! We like to call them Mojocasters. I found the 200 year old pine while searching for other guitar wood at a very old wood mill here in Holland. I was poking around and noticed a large pillar. I recognized it as old pine. The owner of the mill told me that it came out of an old church. It was removed due to wood rot at the base. I bought it and we roughly milled it on the spot. I got about 16 guitar bodies out of it. Now I am looking for some more.Tele fans are playing on them for several reasons. Most pine wood is very light weight, If it's old and dry then it will be very resonant and that's great for tone. Also it looks great :)
Sounds great, either. Can you please give some details about pickups of your guitars? Are they historically accurate pickup clones or modern ones for todays needs?
I use pickups by a couple of very skilled pickup makers, we have our own "Rebel Vintage" pickup that nail the late 50's/mid 60's sound. Then there's Klein pickups, Chris (Klein) hand makes, and hand winds all his pickups, and has an unparalleled range of exact copy's of originals, historically correct, and his own flavors too, all of them are vintage style. We also use Steffson pickups, very beautiful and incredible sounding, they are in most all of the "Holy Grail" models. I use all vintage style pickups, i'm not into the modern tones.
Your products have very elegant line of aging. They are so realistic and seem like they have their own stories. Whats your point, concept about “relic making” concept?
I have been restoring vintage fender guitars for some years and have had to repair so many minute details that it gets engrained in your brain. It's partly being a nerd but mostly you fall in love. I try to re create such historic beauty. I also feel that when things like guitars can grow old gracefully, so can people... scars and all.
There is undeniable increasing interest on relic guitars recent years. Thats why there are some other relic strat/tele builders, Fender Custom Shop releases too many relic guitars and Fender releases affordable “Road Worn” models. Whats your opinion about why? Why do people love those very dirty looking instruments?
I feel it has to do with the guitar heroes people listen to, all of those recording we love and are inspired by have the good old guitars with nitro finishes, hand wound pickups, and guitars that were made by people, not machines, there's soul in those instruments, maybe it's a bit of the builder that's rubbed of on it, but it's that vibe that you just don't find in modern instruments. As for the relics being popular, it's that worn in look and feel that you can't get with a polyurethane coated guitar, and let's face it, when these guitars were made way back when, they nailed it, and it took about 50 years for people to realize that, and then you get this resurgence.
I have never played any of your instruments. But they are looking as same as extremely expensive original Fenders. But how about the sound, the playing comfort? Whats the differece between the original ones and Rebel Relic goods?
I have spent a lot of time loving, playing and researching vintage instruments, and still do. Building guitars is an art, and it takes imagination, and a sense of time travel to get it right. The difference between originals and Rebelrelics is that we build them for our clients, the sound and playing comfort is all there and can be like an original, but it's the musician we build it for that adds his or her vibe and makes it come to life, you can't copy that.
How is your import/export situations? In how many countries can your guitars be bought?
I ship worldwide, and anywhere there's internet you can buy our guitars, I also have dealers in several countries, and am working on expanding the dealership network.
What is the limit of succes to you? Are you satisfied about where the Rebel Relic guitars are?
As an American I was brought up to think big but since I have been living in europe I have learned to think small. I don't want to grow too big. Let's sty cult!
Do you have endorsees? Can you tell me about your projects about endorsements?
No I don't do endorsements. They don't work unless your real real famous and if you are that famous then you can afford to pay cash.
What do you know about Turkiye and Turkish guitar scene? Have you ever been here before?
Never been. I have a lot of musician friends who say it's great for playing the music scene. Perhaps I will join them sometime. That would be fun.