1990 – Rockinger Break, göldo parts, Duesenberg, Kluson
1990 – Break
In 1990 Rockinger broke up. Too many problems with Züli and his wife, who had taken over the bookkeeping for us and after a short time felt called upon as a "boss's wife" to send our esteemed Ines Knauer running errands: "Go to the bank and pick up the bank statements ...". This kind of "abuse of power" is impossible and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. At a certain point, I just couldn't take it anymore. "We have to split up!" was the only logical consequence for me. Unfortunately, patience strings are not available in every desired strength and - like guitar strings - they break sooner or later depending on the load. My predetermined breaking point was reached.
But that was not so easy. A year of legal disputes followed. As a result (acute shortage of money, bills and reminders from the health insurance companies that we were absolutely unable to pay) I finally filed for bankruptcy. After that I was unbelievably fired as managing director with the locks changed and no more access to my company, my lifeblood.
Seen in the rear view mirror, I may have overreacted here and there, showing no (or too little) insight into certain things. I took too much perhaps too personally and was sometimes also quickly irritated by customer calls. So I founded göldo guitar parts, a wholesale outlet for music shops and importers of guitar parts.
Due to a changed majority in Rockinger GmbH, I was able to kick Züli and his wife out of this business. Andreas Mertens (an old customer) then took over Rockinger. An excellent Hanover guitarist with business acumen and the necessary, far-sighted commitment to the guitar, with whom all customers are certainly in good hands. But he didn't want to continue our wonderful and once so promising custom concept for kits or other custom-made products or even repairs. Shortly before the break, we had already realized that this was not really worthwhile any longer. We probably should have charged double for our custom-made products, so that they would have been profitable. But could we still have sold them in that case? Nobody knows.
In short, both I as "göldo" as well as Andreas with the new Rockinger company had come to the same conclusion: just concentrate on selling parts! No more custom work and no more repairs.
Together we sold part of our machinery and a large part of the showroom instruments etc., keeping what might have been needed for new guitar production: a bench router for fretboard, a stationary router, the fret saw, fret press and lots of cutters, as well as several smaller tools. From these sales all kinds of money came into the cash box again. In addition, I was able to sell the back building to the dry cleaner, who was located on the ground floor of the front building for a good price. A new beginning ...At that time I wrote all kinds of columns about guitars and technique in the professional journal "Fachblatt":
translated by DEEPL:
1991 – Move
My göldo company moved. However, it was just only about 300 meters further into another back building, a tasteful 50s style unit with lots of space.
Of course, the transition was a hard time full of hardship and I had to start over relatively small again. But once you have gained a foothold in a business, you can get back on your feet.
1992 – Chandler, San Francisco
I met Adrian and Paul Chandler at the trade fair in Frankfurt, a somewhat crazy duo with exceptionally good taste. They offered a huge assortment of custom pickguards in crazy celluloid colors, as well as various guitar parts. They also produced some well-designed guitars and basses and were into lipstick pickups. We had an instant bond, and göldo took over the distribution of their products.
1993 – San Francisco
In May I visited them in San Francisco. Quite a respectable firm. Paul was a little depressed because a Vietnamese employee had just terminated his employment without notice after weeks of painstakingly training him for pickguard production - "Today, last day!" With Paul's vintage Sunbeam we took a wonderful trip through the canyons and also visited an antique store. There I discovered this beautiful, 50s dinette table group and had to have it.
It was quite easy to take it apart, so Paul offered to send it to Germany by sea in one of his big fair crates. Yes, bought, dismantled and shipped. Everything arrived safely, and this beautiful furniture has survived until now - 2020 - and is in my Madrid apartment.
And what a coincidence: Shortly before the table group arrived, Paul called me and asked me to order 30 hollow bodies and various spruce and maple tops from the Erlangen tonewood company. They made it all to measure and sent it to us. We filled Chandler's trade fair case with them in Hanover and then put them on the ship. Everyone was satisfied.
1993 – Frankfurt trade fairoforte
We shared our stand with the Clovers and the Chandlers. It was a good mix and a success for everybody. (At the bottom right you can see some empty champagne bottles)
1994 – Connie
Unfortunately, Ines Knauer, our colleague who I hold in such high esteem, didn't want to work in the guitar business anymore. (The quarrels with my partner Zülsdorf and his wife the financial guru probably did her in ...). As a result, Connie Bruns began working for us as a new employee in 1994. A very capable woman, who had everything under control in no time.
And a fresh wind in the knob business!
In autumn we sent her to Formentera for a guitar building course to improve her skills and she came back proud and enthusiastic with the bass she had built. "Unfortunately", or rather to our disadvantage, she had fallen in love with Thomas Stratmann, which led to her pregnancy at the end of the year. She left in the middle of the next year, a real loss. But it was for Thomas so it was ok.
1994 – WD – Larry Davis, USA
There had been too many problems with Chandler despite all the good times. The typical "custom" problems, too many mistakes. To compensate for this, we took over the distribution for WD products ("W" stands for "Wendy", Larry Davis' wife). Like Chandler, they offered lots of pickguards, bodies and necks, and lots of other guitar parts. Good addition to the göldo selection. Unfortunately the pickguards, like Chandler's before, had almost as many mistakes in the details, which constantly caused complaints from customers. But you could live with it for a while. And they were businessmen - not hippies like the extremely likeable Chandlers. Here's a photo - Wendy with Glen Quan, the inventor of the badass bridge.
1995 – again with Ines
Connie left us but fortunately I was able to persuade Ines to join us again. We carried on as before.
Shortly before the fair Bruno Bianchi, the German representative for the French guitar company "Lag", asked me if I could take over the distribution instead of him. I thought I would have a look at it, although I (see my letter of invitation to my dealers) already had a certain aversion to this fair at that time.
Lag shared the booth with the "Metal Hammer" including a pirate ship-like bar. There was always a heavy metal aspect, which is not really my thing. They also had a pretty tasty, hollowed out semi-acoustic, but the Grós just didn't suit my taste. Besides, there was this garish guy named Manfred Eisenblättler doing a real song and dance all the time. In the end I did not take over the distribution.
But the good thing: Besides Bruno Bianchi (right), I met one of the Lag bosses, Fred Garcia. After an hour of conversation it was as if we had known each other for years. A great guy and still today one of my best friends. After leaving the Lag company he soon became the French göldo and Duesenberg distributor.
1995 – Duesenberg again
And then came Duesenberg - the name that already existed - but with a completely new concept: Retro. The best times of Heavy Metal were over and the guitarists were more into traditional values again. My concept: a new, extremely high quality guitar design in the style of the 40s or 50s. I was overcome by a feeling that I was going on a journey through time.
But here are some starting points:
If you take a closer look at all the guitars available on the market then and now, you can see that there are hardly any terribly bad guitars. You can find something nice about almost every one, but also all kinds of bad things about each one. Or at least details that are not optimal, but at least tolerable; details you can live with.
For example the neck on a lot of guitars, mostly above the 16th fret, prevents your hand from reaching the higher frets. Or single coil pickups that hum, but of course sound more open than humbuckers. There are also details that can be more important in their design than their function. For example, you can't round off binding on the upper edge of a body so that the forearm rests more comfortably.
First of all, here's what's really annoying:
Bolt on necks with badly milled neck pockets so loose that you can move the neck back and forth in them. (But nowadays this hardly ever happens anymore due to precise CNC technology!)
Bridge string spacing that is too narrow. (10,5mm should be minimum!).
Not enough break angle of the strings behind the bridge coming from the tailpiece or tremolo, so that the strings slip out of the saddle slots when the strings are struck forcefully orbent.
Bridges without correct intonation.
Bridges mounted on wooden bases that can slip, putting the intonation out.
Badly notched saddles that are too high, too low, too narrow or too wide.
Zero fret: Never works well because the string slides back and forth on it when you bend it. In addition, the zero fret would have to be lower on the low strings for optimal string action.
Wide headstocks, where the strings are spread out so much that friction occurs in the nut slots.
Headstocks so fragile as to be at risk of breaking.
Strap button mounted on the neck plate or neck heel, which leads to headstock heaviness.
Missing side dots on the edge of the fingerboard or generally poorly identifiable inlays.
Cable jacks that the plug slips out of because of weak contact and no positive feel when plugging in the cable.
Sluggish potentiometers, sloppy switches or simply too many controls.
Excessive total weight.
Arrangement and positioning of the controls, (especially on Gibson guitars).
In addition, the fact is most of the components used on our favorites are quite cheap: Jack plates, toggle switches and truss rod covers are all plastic. The only guitar brands that I halfway liked in this respect were Gretsch and Guild. But apart from special pickup covers and pretty acrylic pickguards, there were usually far too many controls. And I still don't like chrome or gold plated hardware. Nickel it must be!So let's concentrate on the essentials! What does the guitarist need in controls? Sure, controls for volume and tone and a pickup selector, bam! And Leo Fender had already specified this equipment with great success. And which pickup configuration, please? A kind of PAF on the bridge and, for commercial reasons, one on the neck. But because I didn't like the sound in the middle position of the switch on many guitars, I had the idea to split the humbucker via a capacitor in this position, which resulted in a somewhat hollow, rather Fender-like sound at the same volume. Simple and yet extremely versatile!
And the body shape? Not something like "The Schmitt" again! Let's do it the conventional way: simply a smaller jazz guitar, but bigger than e.g. a Paula. And not with such a pointed cutaway. Let's make it round! And chambered inside, i.e. large cut-outs inside the body for light weight and a lively sound. Meiomei, everything designed with a curve ruler - curve after curve.
Three Steps Ahead
And it had to be something that made "the new" guitars visually unique. "Three Steps Ahead"! Yes, the art deco three-step idea. This optic only had to be transported into the headstock and into the plexiglass pickguard. With the help of the industrial designer Robert Fuchs, we started working on the special metal parts: D-logo, trussrod cover, socket plate and the pickguard strip, which should look like a trim strip. Robert created exact drawings, which I took with me on my next trip to Formentera. Because there, of all places, there was a German silversmith who had once explained to me how to reproduce metal jewelry parts in large quantities using a casting technique.
This extremely finely-tuned artist named Reinhard Urbschatt took the drawings of the metal parts and sawed thin layers of silver sheet metal with a fretsaw to shape and then soldered them together exactly on top of each other. Even the filigree Duesenberg lettering on the Trussrod cover was sawed out at its finest - practically unimaginable for me. This is how the blanks were created, from which we then had the ornamental parts produced by a jewelry company. Of course, it was all expensive fun. Such a trussrod cover costs more than 50 times as much as a corresponding plastic part. But the his (designers) gives it in his sleep and it was worth it. I didn't want to throw cheap junk on the market, but really exclusive noble guitars.
In the matter of Chet Atkins (my musical beginnings in 1966) I also needed a nice tremolo. I chose the Bigsby B11 with its elegant oval cutout. Unfortunately, however, these Bigsbys all too often had certain tolerances. I.e. some worked quite well, others had a friction in the axis, because the cross hole was not aligned correctly. If you installed a different spring and maybe even distorted the legs of the vice, you at least got a useful result. (If a compromise, then at least the best possible one ...)
I had to sell the Rockinger rear building in Hanover's southern district for financial compensation in the matter of the divorce from my wife, and the company had to move. Fortunately the move was only a few hundred feet into another rear unit, a tasteful 50s style building with lots of space.
Together with Tom and Thomas Stratmann as a freelancer, we built the first prototypes and designed a matching 50s oriented color folder for advertising purposes.
1995 - The first color folder
The next model series were the Double Cats, solidbodies made of light mahogany with a double cutaway and a Domino P-90 in the neck position. Sure, it was inspired by my love of Les Paul Juniors, but nothing like a cheap Gibson model. It was much better appointed. I designed a trim piece that contained a mini switch and a potentiometer for pre selectable rhythm volume with the space between the bridge and end pin.
1996 – Fair
Shortly after, the fair was back in Frankfurt and the connoisseurs among the guitar dealers clearly signaled that we had made a good choice. Full acceptance of the designs and a few orders. We shared the stand with the Clover company, who now produce Delano pickups. It was nice to have a mint green Starplayer on the front page of Gitarre & Bass. That helped! We of course also had a showcase with all kinds of guitar parts. We had 50s-looking, fancy boxes for our pickups and the Les Trem, which I was tinkering with.
The first models were equipped with the (reworked) Bigsby B11, as well as with a pretty good wrap-around bridge (my never ending Les Paul Junior love ... I can't hide it ...). Other than that, technically everything was the same. This bridge was developed by Lothar Weimann in Frankfurt.
1996 – First users
The first guitarist to play a Duesenberg in public was once again Carl Carlton, who played in the Peter Maffay Band. That was something. Also Peter himself soon brought all kinds of international artists into the limelight during his "Encounters" tour. One of them was Keb Mo. He was immediately thrilled and bought a Starplayer. On it went and I felt that we were on the right track. Here you can see Eddie Seidler, Carl Carlton’s guitar roadie, tuning up Carl’s Duesenberg.
1996 – Production
Although we weren’t producing that many guitars at the time, we decided to have the rough milling of the bodies done out of town again due to space and dust reasons.
The stylish furniture factory of my ex-wife's parents had gone bankrupt in the meantime (and on closer inspection it wouldn't have been the right place for it anyway). We found another furniture factory that processed a lot of solid wood and pre-produced the bodies. This was relatively easy, as no shaping was necessary. They had a CNC machine for the chambering and overhead milling, which guaranteed perfect accuracy. They also did the primer painting for us. A real nice all-round package that saved us a lot of work.
Luckily our old painter (the man who actually wanted to be an kosmonaut) had opened his own paint shop for cars etc. after the Rockinger debacle. Back then we had given him our buffing blocks for free and he was happy to be able to paint guitars again, with the pickup and delivery service included. That went so well that he hired three assistants. His shop was buzzing (which made me very happy). Despite considerable losses and start-up difficulties we had at least kept some of the old staff on the payroll. Arndt Schulz, one of the best guitarists in Hannover, was soon working with us again. We carried on - and every now and then I bought a pheasant at the market...
Das „Rüttel“ (The shaker)
It was during this time that I invented the "Rüttel", a crazy machine in which you could clamp a guitar and shake it to improve its vibration. It contained a belt that was attached to the eccentrically mounted driveshaft of an electric motor and moved up and down with each revolution. A boom with a steel weight kept the guitar under tension. It was difficult to verify whether the respective instrument showed any change in sound after this shock treatment lasting for hours. But I thought so! Anyway, we only used it for a short time - mostly because of the noise.
The guitars were then assembled, perfectly tuned and readied for shipment by Tom and Thomas Stratmann, who in the meantime had opened his own workshop in Hannover.
The dealers were happy with all our deliveries. Especially with American brands, they always had to spend several hours to get instruments ready for sale. The "big" American companies obviously did not take quality control too seriously. Ours were perfect out of the box.
A Japanese girl named Sheena Ringo, who was unknown to us, had bought a mint green Duesenberg in Karlsruhe's Rock Shop on her European tour, booked as a support band. Back in Japan, a photographer was supposed to design the cover of her debut album and suggested she should use "the green guitar there" for the photo shoot. The fact that she experienced a comet-like rise in Japan shortly afterwards and was idolized and celebrated like Madonna was probably not due to the Duesenberg on her record cover. Nevertheless, we suddenly received an order from a Japanese importer for 200 Starplayers. And all of them in? Surprise! Mint green. We had to work hard to cope with all this.
And we had a nice test report in the "Rock News":
While inline skating around Hannover's Maschsee lake I went into a speed frenzy and unfortunately suddenly lost control of my leg and foot muscles. Bad luck with a broken leg and weeks on crutches. But in the hospital I was well taken care of by my loved ones. This photo has the title "Illness today".
a typical "stupid" press release ...
1998 Messe Frankfurt – two „bergs“
So we shared the stand with Sandberg, who had started to make a lot of necks for us back then, because we couldn't keep up with the production. So things went on well for both of us. I had created the Sparkle Heads. I also always liked those slotted shafts on the Fender tuners. You cut the string to the right length, put the end in the hole between the slits and you're done. No wobbling string ends and no bleeding fingertips! We simply ordered sealed machine heads with these slotted shafts and equipped our tuners with them. In addition - annoyed by the Bigsby tolerances - I had developed a new tremolo, in which the compression spring was hidden under a large, decorative metal cover. It worked perfectly. And here is the Domino P-90 on the neck as standard.
The Sparkle material was real celluloid, which we could buy from the Hohner company with lots of other decorations. They had used it for accordions and drum barrels and were making it available. Hohner had also been the distributor for Wilkinson hardware and they wanted to part with that too and we took two pallets of Wilkinson guitar parts off their hands.
Note that this new tremolo allowed you to position the lever on both the right and left. And finally we had these open top nickel silver pickup covers.
Dixie Kidd & Fred Garcia
This Englishman Dixie (David John) Kidd (left in the picture) has been buying various guitar parts from us for a long time. I got to know him at a small, really wonderful guitar show in Soave (Northern Italy).
He was immediately enthusiastic about our mint green pickguards. Dixie, a colorful guy with an enormous hard drive in his brain. He could remember, for example, that in 1967 at a gig of whatever band the bassist wore a blue shirt and the guitarist played a Telecaster. Mr. Kidd had once been the English distributor for Guild guitars and now he started importing Duesenbergs into the UK.
Fred Garcia (on the right, with his spectacular dachshund "Tití") was still co-owner of the French guitar company LAG and wanted to leave the LAG company to return to his original profession of English teacher. I told him: " Are you insane? Teacher? You know the whole industry, all the subtleties, suppliers and customers. You have to go on with guitar parts and selling our guitars in France!" Fred agreed, and suddenly we had not one, but two European distributors, France & Great Britain, yeah!
1998 – Angst & Schrecken auf Formentera (Fear & Loathing on Formentera)
When I lived on Formentera I had an Atari computer, on which I recorded a lot of stories. Ten years later I thought about publishing it as a book. I went back to the island where Thomas Stratmann had rented a house, settled in and spent weeks typing and pasting everything into my first Macbook. That's how this book came into being, which tells a lot about our guitar building school and the island.
Those Bigsby tremolos had bugged me from the start: super expensive and function from mediocre to none. So I spent a lot of time making my own tremolo designs. Here is an example:
Soon we stayed closer to the "original" design, but improved the details a lot!
1999 – KLUSON
This brand name was not trademarked in Europe and the Kluson company, which produced these cheap tuners for Fender and Gibson, had already closed its doors in the mid 70s. Now this well known Japanese company was able to produce really excellent quality replicas of these old tuners. They did this for a while without the Kluson logo stamped on them. I asked them if they could produce those very machine heads with the logo "KLUSON DELUXE". At the same time I had the name trademarked for Europe.
The company said "yes - no problem", we had some fancy packaging made including a practical polishing cloth, and Kluson-Europe was ready.
Messe Frankfurt 2000 – Duesenberg DTV & Carl Carlton
DTV & DCC
The next step in the upswing were these two models with domed tops and sustain blocks inside the bodies. We finally had our own tremolo, which generally worked smoothly. We demonstrated all this at the show, where we again shared the booth with the "Clovers", who meanwhile had quit making basses and had moved purely to bass pickup production. A complete success for both companies with well filled order books.
Here our folder ...
2000 – Ingo Renner
The work grew to be too much and I felt my strength fading. But by a lucky coincidence I got to know Ingo Renner, who was working at the Pro Percussion Center (PPC) in Hannover at that time. I absolutely had to poach him.
For a first conversation we met in a somewhat offbeat Südstadt pub called "Bei Angelo". This much I have to say: said Angelo was Greek, a gifted cook and a friend of challenges. Delighted about the occasional visit of our former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (known for his love of curry sausage), he even got involved in conjuring up a two-meter long curry sausage, which also earned him a lot of recognition as an "Italian Greek.” But I digress ...
Well, over oysters and curry sausage Ingo and I got into a good conversation and I explained the potential of my company to him. There was Duesenberg, a lot of göldo proprietary products and the fact that I had registered the brand Kluson in Europe. All promising names, which needed better marketing than I was able to do. Ingo agreed, quit his job at PPC and started with me. A few days later I handed him the company keys with the words "you'll do fine!" and set off on a trip south.
I was exhausted and in desperate need of rest. It turned out to be a nice trip. First I drove to Italy and made a stop in Bergamo, where my favorite book author at that time, Eckhard Henscheid, had written his wonderful book "Dolce Madonna Bionda". Then I drove on to Pesaro, Rossini's birthplace, where a small Italian music fair was taking place. Damn, there you could eat really well and one of my lines was that the best pizza was not in Naples but here in this charming little town.
Then I drove further south, left my car in Milazzo and took a boat to the island Stromboli, an island with an active volcano. Very impressive and somehow magical. I can recommend it to everybody. Then back via Italy, Southern France to Spain.In Valencia I spent a lot of money on the fantastic seafood that was available there, and at a music fair I met a Spanish woman named Ana Secades and decided to open a göldo distribution in Mallorca with her. In the end, it didn't work out, but at least we still sold a lot of Duesenbergs and guitar parts to this Balearic island afterwards.
I went on to Seville, where I saw the first bullfight of my life. Anyway, in the end the bull is always dead, although the bullfighters really do put themselves in harm’s way. I saw one of the bull's horns fly through the air. But killing animals for public amusement should be prohibited. For the Spaniards, it is also the ambience of such an event: the Sevillans go there fully dressed up just like people who go to the opera. Very impressive! I on the other hand am totally into Spanish soccer, especially Atletico Madrid!
After almost four weeks back in Hannover I could see that Ingo had everything under control. A little hiccup: I had briefly hired a woman for Ingo's debut, who unfortunately turned out to be dyslexic. She had extreme difficulties with our article numbers and mixed everything up. The customers got the wrong parts and messed up our inventory program. But Ingo couldn't help it.
Mallorca with Peter Maffay
How nice, an autumn week on Mallorca, where Peter Maffay recorded an "Unplugged" CD with his band. I was a guest and lived in a nearby finca in a men's shared flat with Ken Taylor, Carl Carlton, Andreas Becker and Frank Dietz. Also present: Bertram Engel and Eddie Seiler. Good hang out, a little west of the village of Pollenca.