NGD: VERY Old Black

Duane_the_tub

V.I.P. Member
Joined
May 30, 2015
Messages
3,842
Reaction score
7,982
Warning: Verbosity ahead. Feel free to just skip to the photos. If you've got time for a cool story, read on.

It started with a concert: Dweezil Zappa at a small outdoor amphitheater just below the Canadian border in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was up against the rail at center stage with Dweezil standing about 15 feet in front of me, so I could easily geek out over his equipment. Partway into the show he picked up a very distinctive guitar, with a Strat-ish body shape and these two big, weird-looking pickups. In true Dweezil fashion he proceeded to just rip on that thing, and played much of the show's very best guitar work on it (a big deal if you've ever seen him live). I took a bunch of photos with my phone.

Screenshot_20210418-063813_Facebook.jpg


Later, I zoomed in on the headstock and was intrigued at the name: Ronin. I have a son named Ronin - same spelling too, the Japanese versus the more traditional Irish, Ronan. I started doing Internet research and some pretty heavyweight names popped up. Dweezil owns several and they are some of his main touring workhorses. Walter Becker from Steely Dan had one that was his everyday player late in his life. John Shanks takes several on the road with him, including one that he keeps in his hotel room as his all hours go-to. David Torn not only plays one as his signature guitar, but worked with the company extensively on their development.

Though sadly they no longer make guitars, Ronin was a very small, boutique company with a cool story. Izzy Lugo was among the most sought-after vintage guitar techs/luthiers in New York City in the early 2000s; he was the tech at One East studios and ran a repair shop out of his apartment with a client list of a lot of the top performers and session guys who lived in or traveled through the city. Izzy met Dan Phelps, a bassist whose father built acoustic guitars out of reclaimed old growth redwood back in his home state of California. Izzy and Dan became friends, sharing a typically tiny NYC apartment that doubled as a repair shop and de facto showroom for a few guitars they built together.

What set these guitars apart was the wood. The redwood from the Phelps property in Burbank, CA was ancient, reclaimed from massive fallen trees that are among the oldest on the planet. Phelps has said the wood was at least 1,000 years old, probably older and possibly much older. The wood for many Ronin builds came from a single, behemoth tree that had been struck by lightning, and Phelps theorizes that the outer char from the strike helped preserve the wood within as it lay on the forest floor for century after century. Talk about mojo...

To best capture the tonal qualities of this wood, Phelps and Lugo wanted to design a proprietary pickup with strength and clarity. They drew inspiration from the DeArmond/Teisco foil pickups of the 50s that were so revered among studio guitarists. The resulting Ronin "foilbucker" was big - not just in size, but in sound: bold and powerful but clear, with tremendous focus.

Ronin produced around 450 guitars before pulling the plug a few years ago due to family health issues. They used a handful of designs, some of which were based on the classic body shapes from the big companies. Their take on the LP was called the Palus Mourn, and from research I'm guessing they produced around 10 or 12 of those in total.

This guitar I just bought was a custom order for a West Coast guy in exchange for him investing in a shop expansion project for Ronin. It's a true 1/1, with aesthetics inspired by Neil Young's Old Black. I'm a huge Neil fan, so as soon as this popped up I pounced on it.

Screenshot_20210331-185800_Facebook.jpg


The craftsmanship is off the charts. The shapes/contours and resulting overall feel - coupled with the light weight - make this the most comfortable LP style guitar I've ever played. Yes, the purist in me cringed a bit at the departures from traditional LP design - the pickups, the back contours, etc. - but once I got used to them the character of the instrument really endeared itself to me. This is a guitarist's guitar, which isn't all that surprising given that the pro players I mentioned above are guitarist's guitarists.

The pickups are indeed hot, with a very commanding tone - it's loud, with an incredibly clear and strong sound. I swapped the stock Pigtail ABR for a Faber to give it a little more warmth (I think it helped bring it closer to the sound of Neil's OB), and I am probably going to swap out the knobs (does anyone else use knobs without numbers? It drives me nuts). Other than those minor tweaks, it's fantastic as is. Truly a work of art. It was completed in August 2015, two months before my son Ronin was born, and will become his guitar as soon as he's big enough to wield it. The headstock logo is a take on the symbol for Gemini (a nod to the connection between Lugo and Phelps), and my son Ronin happens to be an identical twin. It's all pretty cool and feels like it was meant to be.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. Now finally, the pics!

20210418_080912_20210418081620899.jpg

20210418_081111_20210418081642767.jpg

20210418_081007_20210418081724446.jpg

20210418_081059_20210418081702154.jpg

20210418_080929_20210418081744708.jpg
 
Last edited:

zombywoof

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2018
Messages
308
Reaction score
642
Very cool.
I have seen ZPZ several times.
People just don't know what a great show it is!
Latina Chick Rules
 

spartacus slim

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2008
Messages
387
Reaction score
409
Very cool guitar, and I enjoyed reading about the history of Ronin. Definitely impractical having no numbers on the knobs, but they do compliment the overall look of this one-off beauty!
 

Duane_the_tub

V.I.P. Member
Joined
May 30, 2015
Messages
3,842
Reaction score
7,982
Very cool guitar, and I enjoyed reading about the history of Ronin. Definitely impractical having no numbers on the knobs, but they do compliment the overall look of this one-off beauty!
Thanks. I don't understand how anyone can play without numbered knobs. I can't stand not being able to glance down and see where I'm at, and where I can go from there. I guess you could get used to it in time, but I am not a fan.
 

moreles

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 16, 2011
Messages
4,687
Reaction score
3,443
I saw Dweezil open for Jeff Beck. Your guitar is beautiful. I'm very familiar with Ronin, as they are quite well-known, really, and those pickups have been described as excellent but I have not heard them (Dweezil was playing his SG). Honestly, I prefer your guitar and its look and approach way more than Old Black, which to me is too associated with out-of-tune shouting. I've heard it live maybe 3 times and as much as I love Neil Young and the songs, I can't say that I thought it contributed in a positive way to hear him wring the neck of that thing while it screamed "Stop!" Yours is stunning. Ooops -- I mean, your kid's guitar is stunning. I'm sure you'll let him love whatever mnusic he comes to love.
 

Duane_the_tub

V.I.P. Member
Joined
May 30, 2015
Messages
3,842
Reaction score
7,982
I saw Dweezil open for Jeff Beck. Your guitar is beautiful. I'm very familiar with Ronin, as they are quite well-known, really, and those pickups have been described as excellent but I have not heard them (Dweezil was playing his SG). Honestly, I prefer your guitar and its look and approach way more than Old Black, which to me is too associated with out-of-tune shouting. I've heard it live maybe 3 times and as much as I love Neil Young and the songs, I can't say that I thought it contributed in a positive way to hear him wring the neck of that thing while it screamed "Stop!" Yours is stunning. Ooops -- I mean, your kid's guitar is stunning. I'm sure you'll let him love whatever mnusic he comes to love.
Thank you. It's interesting, but I've never really thought Neil Young had good tone when I've seen him playing that guitar live. It's super dark and just drowning in heavy distortion and feedback. I plugged this one into my Deluxe Reverb with a Tone Bender in front of it and played Like a Hurricane and Country Home and this guitar has a much clearer and more defined sound, even with the attack on the fuzz dimed. Granted, I'm not playing on stage through his setup but I really like the sound of this one.

As for my son, he's five - so this is my guitar for the next decade-plus. He will get it when the time is right. In the meantime he can bang away on his Squier Mini while singing Yellow Submarine.
 


Latest Threads



Top