Electric guitar lore from the 1980s almost invariably includes (sometimes snide) references to hair bands, pointy headstocks, black hardware, and so on. But many of the asymmetrical/angular instruments from that decade were unique and well-made, and this prototype B.C. Rich Stealth is a definitive example.
Like many other rock bands of the era, Sorcery (which formed in 1975) relied heavily on visuals in its live shows, including pyrotechnics and illusionists. In its time, the band played with Van Halen and others in the Los Angeles area, gigging at the Whiskey a Go-Go, the Starwood, the Smoke Stack, and the Golden West Ballroom.
“The music was a blend of power rock and metal,” recalled bassist Richie King, for whom this instrument was made. “Each song was written to go with what was happening onstage. Getting past the unions and the stage stewards was always a problem, with all the propane, black powder, and detonations we used.”
Until he took delivery of this bass, King relied primarily on more traditional instruments. “My weapon of choice back then was my early-’60s Fender Precision,” he recounted. “And I still have quite a few ’60s P-Basses, including a 1960 in Fiesta Red with a ’63 neck, a ’62 slab-body in sunburst, a ’63 natural-finish, an early-’64 in Black, a ’65 in Candy Apple Red with ’62 slab neck, a ’66 in Olympic White, and an early-’66 in Lake Placid Blue. “
Input for the design for B.C. Rich’s Stealth guitar has been attributed to Rick Derringer. King’s connection to the bass version began with Mal Stich, who worked for B.C. Rich and saw Sorcery perform. He invited King to the company facility in El Monte, California. There, King collaborated with Stich on a design utilizing the Stealth silhouette but with numerous unique attributes detailed on a build sheet dated September 26, 1983.
The aesthetics of the bass even differ from other (usually-radical-looking) B.C. Rich models of that time. The reverse headstock, which has Schaller tuners, also has a standard B.C. Rich “R” inlay, but at King’s request, it was rotated 90 degrees so it could be viewed horizontally.
The bass is made of koa, and has neck-through construction with a 34″ scale on an ebony fretboard with 24 frets. King brought his favorite ’62 P-Bass to the factory so the radius could be measured to match. The lightning-bolt fretboard inlay was King’s idea, and is made from mother-of-pearl.
The instrument’s finish is a custom color Stich dubbed Glitter Rock White. “It’s metalflake, and it picked up the different colors of stage lights used in our show, giving the appearance of the bass itself changing colors,” King detailed.
The body has custom contouring, and the pickups are a DiMarzio P-Bass-type in the neck position and a Bill Lawrence EB50 in the bridge position. The two halves of the DiMarzio are reversed compared to most pickups of that style.
“I was told that the Lawrence was a powerful, full-range pickup,” said King. “Therefore, the DiMarzio would perform better with this layout, and (would) not get too muddy, and would be less likely to compete with the other. I wanted it to sound like a B.C. Rich, not a Fender – I already had the Fender sound I wanted with my P-Bass; the Stealth was to be something different.”
Controls include a three-way pickup selector and the knobs are two Volume and one master Tone. Mini-toggle switches control pickup phasing and bass and treble boost. The instrument has active circuitry, powered by a 9-volt battery that installs from the back of the body. The bridge is made of polished brass. King planned on using the bass in a movie that was ultimately released in Europe as Stunt Rock. The Stealth wasn’t ready, so the company sent him an Eagle to use in the film.
He picked up the bass at B.C. Rich on December 2, 1983. “They had it in Bernie Rico’s office, and it was like an unveiling – everyone who worked on it was present. Five or six craftsmen came to say hello to me and goodbye to the bass.”
The erstwhile Sorcery bassist says the Stealth Bass “…is actually quite well-balanced for an instrument that is so large in every direction. But it never replaced my Fenders as a main instrument. It was fun to play, but since it was so large, you had to handle it with care.”
Stich talked of making a minimum of 100 basses using this instrument as the prototype, but interestingly, the case for this instrument figured into how many were actually made.
“Once the bass was built they realized they had to have a custom case,” King detailed. “The one they built measures 58″ long by 18″ wide – quite large, considering my Fender cases measure 47″ long and 16″ wide. I think about 10 basses of this quality were built, because I remember Stich saying they had to special-order a minimum of 10 cases.”
In addition to their appearance in the motion picture, Sorcery recorded three albums – a self-titled debut (which was released outside the U.S. as Stunt Rock, to coordinate with the movie), a second album connected to a second movie, Rocktober Blood, and Sorcery Live, which includes extra tracks from Dick Clark Halloween television specials on which the band appeared.
King still owns the Stealth, and summarized his experiences by noting, “My time came and went, and I have no regrets. Lots of memories, and I now have a wonderful family and my health.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s November 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.