Tom Ribbecke has been building world class guitars and basses for a long time, but by no means has he ceased to innovate, reinvent the wheel where he thinks necessary, or rested on his laurels in any way. Case in point – his incredible concept for greater soundboard projection by emulating the suspension surround of a speaker cone for more flexibility and greater board amplitude!
1. How did you come to be associated with Peter or Bud, and the Henriksen brand?
I knew Bud initially. The reality of it is that, back in the day of archtop mayhem, Peter’s father was bringing this incredible solid state product to market – and he was the only guy doing that, besides Polytone. I liked them and thought what he did was fabulous, so I got on board with them and we kind of became very friendly. Then when Peter brought this to the luthier community, it was really great to see!
2. We hear that you’ve got something very noteworthy coming down the pipeline in acoustic bass guitar design. What can you tell us?
This is what I call “compliant perimeter design.” The story behind what caused this to happen is that I was coming back from a festival when I was inspired to create this thing; I just had a vision for it. It took about a year and a half to get it up and running. The result of this was a sense that all acoustic instruments, and all soundboards, are designed around the fact that they’re stiffer in one direction than in the other. All of us luthiers, when we build guitars, we try to bend the perimeter of the instrument to make the soundboard more compliant to create a thinner board that will act in essence like the perimeter of a speaker cone; a soft compliant edge.
So I had the idea that if you orient the grain around the edge of the guitar so that it was most flexible, laterally, you could create a perimeter on an instrument’s board that would be much like a speaker cone and would allow a big “mono pole” in essence. So I built Jack Cassidy the third in the series of his “Diana” basses in this modality, and when you look at that bass what you see around the lower perimeter of the bass is segments of the grain oriented not long-grain but cross-grain, so that entire perimeter of the bass behaves like a speaker cone. It’s very loud, and very powerful! We actually had to make some modifications to it. I’ve just finished the first guitar in this series, which is up on Facebook now if you’d like to take a look at it!
3. Tell us about your Masterpiece Series.
The Masterpiece series has been created by a devoted patron and collector who has commissioned these over a few years to create this collection. These are one of a kind concept guitars as well as instruments that are hybridized between the private shop and the Ribbecke Guitar Co, now out of business – this was a production company put together to make the Halfling instruments. The owner has a vision for using the proceeds to benefit veterans causes.
4. What features are most important to you in an amplifier?
An amplifier is the other half of the musical instrument that is called electric anything… this is an area that has been dominated by assumptions and iconoclastic designs for many years, i.e. tube vs solid state, heavy vs light, etc. I think that the new generation of makers are extraordinary; Henriksen is now the leader of the Jazz amp revolution to me! The pursuit of tone in the jazz world has been traditionally less about tone than about note value. With an aging population of very versatile players now on the scene, portability and weight are serious issues as well. The thing that I have to remind myself of everyday when trying to reinvent various aspects of the wheel is that this is number one: remain musical! Peter has always been able to keep this musicality about his amps!
5. Are you an active player yourself?
I am and always have been an active player an vocalist, myself. I have several bands and am just about to go to the midwest in May with The Manglers, a roots and blues band with a following we have been building for years. I also play with the Bench Doggs, in my area, and have been working on my own album for some time as well. Lots of steel string acoustic finger style stuff as well… When I was recruited to the local baseball “legends” league, I tried out and there were two teams looking for folks. They said, “Hey, you can really play!” The two teams were the “Blues” and the “Jazz,” so I said I play a lot of blues but I make Jazz guitars – and wound up on the Blues (the B on my hat is for Blues, not Boston)!
6. What should our readers be watching for from Ribbecke Guitars in 2019?
I am working to bring this new technology compliant perimeter concept to higher function, I believe it has application for almost any sound board as it fundamentally (not a pun) gives us the opportunity to create a speaker cone-like mono pole behavior (like a woofer) to any soundboard by taking the over-thinning of the perimeter to create compliance into a more controllable model… I am also working on a new bass design, a multi-necked concept. And new, smaller Time matching 15″ and 14″ archtops in the Halfling style of archtop!
7. If you could step into the shoes of any musician, currently living or not, who would you choose?
Not sure whose shoes would be the funkiest, but I think you have to step into your own shoes first. But I think Wes Montgomery, Duane Allman, Derek trucks certainly come to mind quickly… an endless list!