John Brinkmann, Pioneer in Vintage-Guitar Industry, Passes

John Brinkmann passes

Ruth and John Brinkmann (middle) in 2003 with their family, (from left) Kenneth Mezzles, Jenine Brinkmann Mezzles, Janalle Brinkmann Koenigs, John Brinkmann, Jr., Jacque Brinkmann Atkins, and Robert Atkins.

John Brinkmann, an innovator of the guitar show concept and a pioneer in helping create the vintage-guitar market, passed away October 8. He had been battling diabetes and a heart condition.

Brinkmann was one of the first people to advance vintage-guitar sales from early “car trunking” at flea markets to organized, promoted events where instruments were displayed on tables and the public was invited to shop.

Born in 1937, as a child growing up in Estherville, Iowa, he learned to play Hawaiian guitar and developed a passion for music. In 1956, he married fellow Iowan Ruth Barry and they moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where John attended St. John’s University. After graduation, he went to work for the 3M Company at its headquarters in St. Paul. In 1969, the family moved to Waco, Texas, where John spent 22 years working for the Success Motivation Institute and helped develop what would become the “books on tape” concept. They also raised four children – Jacque, Jenine, John, Jr., and Janalle.

Brinkmann’s passion for music being as strong as ever, he continued to play guitar and became a proficient fingerpicker who favored archtops. He began collecting Gretsch guitars, and those pursuits involved attending flea markets and similar events; along the way, he envisioned an event where participants could focus on buying and selling guitars and other stringed instruments. In July of 1978, he teamed with Charley Wirz (proprietor of Charlie’s Guitars) and Danny Thorpe to organize the Greater Southwest Guitar Show, at the Sheraton Inn, in Dallas. It was widely recognized as the first such event and in the following years saw an increasing audience. The three produced two more shows before they split over differing personal goals and managerial philosophies. In ’84, Brinkmann partnered with veteran guitar dealers Larry Briggs and Dave Crocker. In ’88, they added Eugene Robertson and became known as 4 Amigos Productions; to date, the group has produced more than 180 shows. In 1992, Vintage Guitar became a co-sponsor of the 4 Amigos shows.

In 1987, Brinkmann opened a retail shop, Waco Vintage Guitars, and in ’93 moved it to from College Station to Mansfield, Texas, where it remains today with an inventory that includes a noted collection of mandolins.

In a 2003 interview with VG to mark the Amigos’ 100th event and the 25th anniversary of John and Ruth working together as show promoters, Brinkmann recalled how early guitar shows were primarily get-togethers for dealers, with relatively few walk-in customers. By the mid ’80s, however, that had changed, and when the Amigos staged their first show at Arlington in ’86, there were some 70 booths. “We filled half of the hall,” he chuckled. Today, the show fills that 48,000-square-foot hall plus an adjoining 40,000-square-foot hall.

“I met John first in 1980, and, on the advice of Tom Wittrock, followed him to Dallas to experience my first guitar show,” said Dave Crocker. “It changed my life forever. I considered John one of my best friends and I tried to follow his path in raising my family. They have always come first.

“I told John, in his last days, that we never had a fight – not because he was always right, but because I respected him too much to dishonor him by raising my voice! His contributions to the vintage-guitar industry cannot be overstated. His vision and love for the instruments – and those of a like mind – helped nurture and sustain this industry over the last 35 years. I will miss him immensely and am forever thankful that I was blessed to be his amigo since our first meeting.”

“I have always been impressed with John’s organizational skills and his business-like approach to life in general,” said Larry Briggs. “However, his interaction with family was special to watch; there was a special bond with them. John also had a love for music from a bygone era, so we had a lot in common. We were both fans of the great fingerpickers, including Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Hank Thompson.”

A viewing will be held Sunday at the Blessing Funeral Home in Mansfield beginning at 5 p.m. with rosary following at 7 p.m. The funeral is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 a.m. at

St. Jude Catholic Church in Mansfield. The Brinkmann family has established the John G. Brinkmann Memorial Music Scholarship, and in lieu of flowers asks that donations be made in John’s honor to Blessing Funeral Home, 401 Elm Street, Mansfield, TX 76063. They will be also accepted at a booth in John’s honor at the Guitarlington show, in Arlington, October 19-20.

This entry was posted in Newswire. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Alan Greenwood
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I can still recall John and Larry Briggs coming up to talk to me at the Chicago Guitar Show in ’92 to discuss Vintage Guitar becoming the main sponsor of all their guitar shows. I think it was at the end of the day on Sunday, as I was starting to tear down our booth. We had attended the October Arlington shows for about four years at that time, but this was our first Chicago Show. It was only the sixth year of the magazine’s existence and we were just starting to make it work, so it was wonderful to be approached by the promoters of the huge Arlington show. We struck a deal that year that is still in place over 21 years later. You don’t see that much in today’s business world. That’s roughly 130 shows around the country. I always enjoyed talking with John at the shows and he, along with his wife Ruth, is a big reason the shows were so successful. – Alan Greenwood, Publisher, VG mag

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.