It’s 2020 and that means it’s our 10th Anniversary. I don’t know, it’s hard to believe that I’ve operated Red Star Guitars as a business for 10 years. I mean, 2010 feels like it was just a couple of years ago and yet in that span of time I’ve lived in 4 different states, owned 5 different cars, repaired hundreds of guitars, and gained thousands of gray hairs. I’ve never really documented the beginnings of Red Star Guitars, so let’s trip down memory lane…
I started playing guitar around 1989, having really gotten into music a few years earlier. My earliest influences were Rush, Pink Floyd, Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen… pretty typical for a dude in the ’80s who was into rock music. The problem was I couldn’t play the guitar to save my life. I was pretty awesome at power chords but I just couldn’t wrap my head around chords, scales, modes, and all those notes scattered between 6 strings and 20-something frets. However, I was a tinkerer and I spent more time making the guitar play better than I did making me play better.
Had I gone to a good music teacher and forced myself to be disciplined, I probably would have stuck it out and tried to make a career out of music on some level. But I went the easy route – I got a degree in Computer Science (?) Even though I considered myself a hack, I still had guitars and amps through college and beyond and I did get better at playing. I got into jamming with others for fun, but I quickly learned something about musicians. Many of them are flakes. That sounds harsh but it’s not untrue. I understand much better now how the “creative” mind works and that “artistic” people have a different understanding of things like structure, commitment, punctuality, hygiene, etc. But for someone like me, living in this very structured “if-then-else” algorithm of life, it was very frustrating and I lost sight of the idea of playing bands. However, I made some lemonade (that sounds kind of inappropriate…) I found that many of these musicians were really good at playing their guitars, but they were helpless when it came to fixing and maintaining their guitar. Lemonade stand, open for business!
That’s really how I got started. It was Southern California, the never ending hotbed of music, and I was making connections with musicians and doing side work for them while working full time in my normal job. I got to know and intern with the techs at Mesa/Boogie Hollywood, Guitar Center and Mars Music in L.A., McCabe’s in Santa Monica, Buffalo Brothers in San Diego, and Wild West Guitars in Riverside. I made friends with guys working for G&L and Fender Custom Shop and learned everything they were willing to teach me. I took on overflow tech work wherever I could and was having a blast, but the late 1990s/early 2000s was a hot market for IT pros and the guitar tech work just couldn’t compete. So I decided to start repairing and refurbishing guitars on my own terms using this vast knowledge I’d gained. I called it “guitar rehab”.
Money and stress can do strange things to humans. They certainly did to me, and after a few health scares, I dialed back my IT work in the late 2000s and picked back up doing small guitar tech work. Since I was now dealing directly with the public rather than as an extension of some other shop, I made it official and started Red Star Guitars. I’ve never fully given up my IT career, I’m too far into it (or too far gone, depending on the kind of day I’m having), but I can now do RSG at my own pace with no pressure. Quality over quantity.
What’s the deal with the Red Star? It goes back to my favorite band…. I remember when I bought 2112 on vinyl back in the mid-80s, I would just sit and listen to that album day after day. It’s still my favorite Rush album today. I’ve always had either a 2112 poster or album cover hanging on the wall, and the image of that red star on the cover is engrained in my brain. So when it came time to come up with a name for the business, it was an easy choice for me.
There’s not much else to say. The past 10 years have been awesome. I enjoy helping people be better players – either with the work that I do or from the parts that I sell – and even during those times where I question whether I should keep going with RSG or hang it up for good and do something else, the feedback that I get from customers really makes my day. So, thank you to everyone who has hired me, or bought from me, or in some other way contributed to Red Star Guitars over the past 10 years!