R.C. Allen, a noted luthier who built archtops for local and regional players of note and was a fixture at vintage-guitar shows in Southern California, died March 2.
Allen was renowned for sharing his secrets of guitar building and was the last of the original electric-guitar builders in Southern California. Known for his archtops, he made guitars for Merle Travis, Del Casher, and many more.
As a teen, Allen developed his technique with guitars that had chambers, which he learned from John Dopyera (Dobro) and Paul Bigsby, whose solidbody electric guitar bearing serial number 2 became Allen’s; he displayed it at guitar-show booths that he often shared with Guy Devillez and his brother, John Anderson, often allowing passersby to play it while telling them about its historical significance. Displaying his much-appreciated sense of humor, he made a copy of the guitar for Four Amigos guitar-show producer Larry Briggs with a logo that read “Brigsby.” When show attendees would ask for a picture with him, he would slyly turn half around, reach in his pocket, `pull out a set of crooked/stained fake teeth, and turn around with a big smile on his face.
Another of his customers, Rebecca Apodaca, recalled how when he presented her with a guitar he’d built for her, he was beaming from ear to ear. “I was admiring the wood he chose for its top – burled maple, stained brown. It was the color of my skin tone,” she said. “As I admired the inlays, he flipped the guitar around, and on the back of the headstock was a sticker that said ‘Made in Japan.’ We laughed! Then he pointed to the center of the back, and along the seam, the wood was figured in the shape of a heart. He smiled and said, ‘Look, I’m giving you my heart.’ I am lucky to say I will always have the heart of R.C. Allen.”
Apodaca also recalls a story Allen enjoyed telling about delivering a guitar to Glen Campbell. Campbell was working a studio session with a sax player and Allen recalled how, “They were playing the stupidest song I’d ever heard. It only had one word. How can you think anyone would buy a song with one word? It had a nice beat to it, but then they would stop, and Glen would yell, ‘Tequila!’ I don’t think it sold too well,” he would laugh.
Friends and acquaintances had planned a party/jam to celebrate his 80th birthday, with several music-industry luminaries set to attend.
“I just sent him a card two days [before he passed] to tell him how much his friendship meant to me,” said pickup maker Seymour Duncan.
“R.C. was always kind to me, and I tried to return his kindness, but I’m certain that I fell far short of what he gave me,” added guitar “Buffalo Bob” Page, former owner of Buffalo Brothers Guitars.
This article originally appeared in VG June 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.