Till Guitars started in March of '96.
There I was, walking the aisles of my local swapmeet when I came upon a badly mangled Flying V import. The neck looked like it had been driven over by a truck, but the body was alright and it was loaded with pretty good aftermarket hardware: Seymour Duncan Custom-Custom humbuckers, Gotoh bridge and tailpiece, and Grover Rotomatic tuners.
The man wanted $25 including a hardshell Gibson Flying V case.
"I'll take it," I said.
My first thought was to strip the parts and put them in my trusty old Gibson Melody Maker. But, then I thought I'd take a shot at making a new neck for the V.
So, I took a piece of scrap Alder with knots all over and got to whittlin'. Less than 5 minutes later, I had a nicely rounded piece of knotty alder and saw no reason not to move forward building the real neck.
But then I thought, why build a neck for a cheap imported body when I could make a whole new guitar?
Three days later I was playing Till Guitars no. 1.
Having been born in 1959, I was too young to fully experience the sixties, but having 4 older brothers and sisters, I had a good ringside seat. I grew up in Malibu Canyon back when hippies, surfers, coyotes and cows roamed the land. And the Guitar was King!
You couldn't escape them. Even the walls of the Thrifymart at Topanga and Ventura were lined with shiny new Teisco del Reys and Vox Teardrops. What a time to be a kid!
All was calm until the day my brother showed me how to play the intro to Day Tripper. Then it was Goodbye Doctor Till, hello Top Ramen!
North Las Virgenes Canyon
I formed my first band in 1975. Bass, drums, sax and guitar. We played a couple of school dances and parties before paring down to a bass/drums/guitar "power trio". I played my MelodyMaker through an Ampeg Gemini 22 with an Electro-Harmonics LPB-1 power booster plugged right into the guitar. We mostly played Rolling Stones and Derek and the Dominoes tunes. I don't know how good we were, but we sure were loud!
One night in '85, I was auditioning bass players. This guy comes in and sleighs it. We tell him he's got the job, but he says he still has two more auditions to go to that night, and that the next one needs a guitarist, too. So, I went along.
It was for a Shirelles (Soldier Boy, Will you still love me tomorrow, etc,) tour leaving the next night! We both got the gig, but the bass player still had to go to the last audition, and they also needed a guitarist. But, in my infinite wisdom, I took the Shirelles gig. Besides, who was this Dwight Yoakum guy, anyway?
So, off I went the next night for a week long California tour with the girls. Only, on the last night of shows, the Shirelles didn't show up. But the Drifters (Under the Boardwalk, Up on the Roof...) did, wearing their matching tuxedos, along with sax maniac Joe Houston, we had some Big Fun! I wound up staying out with them for the next 3 months, with several tours to follow.
I wound up being sort of a utility player for the booking agency that put those fifties acts out on the road. They would send me out with all kinds of bands like the Boxtops, Peaches and Herb, the Chantels, the Hollywood Argyles... fun stuff and great times, but it didn't really get me anywhere. After a few years I was back auditioning bass players for 9 to 1:30 bar gigs.
I remember one night when I was 28, sitting in my drummer Al's van, drinking beers and chain smoking Benson and Hedges 100s at 3am after some shitty little gig. We agreed that if we hadn't hit the big time by the time we turned 30, we'd have to "come up with a backup plan".
He became a teacher, but I just put on the nail bag that I was born with. I started by borrowing an electric drill and knocking on doors that didn't have that little fish-eyed door viewer. I'd offer to install the little one for $10, or the big one for $12. The first day I made enough to buy my own drill. The second day, I made enough to buy a Skilsaw. Then, I promised myself that I'd buy a tool with every paycheck, big ones with big checks, little ones with small checks. I did that until I could form any shape I could imagine out of wood. At first, I worked out of my mom's garage. But, when she moved, I rented the back 15 feet of a friend's sign shop - provided that I moved all my tools out of the way so he could park his truck there every night.
I eventually took over his whole shop, then moved to where I've been for 30 years
The few other shops on my street only made straight runs of kitchen cabinets. There was so much work around here back then, that they didn't bother with the wierd, curved or angular jobs that came in, instead, they referred them to me - the new kid down at the curve in the road. I made saucer shaped reception desks, Tiki bars, architect desks... pretty neat stuff.
But, all of a sudden it was March of 1996, and here I am.
Photo by Steve Ridnor