Guitarist Rowe launched Rock N Roll Relics in 2005 to tap into a niche market of musicians, many of them his friends and bandmates looking for exceptional equipment with an edge. Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses) Sami Yaffa (New York Dolls), Rick Nielsen and Billie Joe Armstrong are a few of the pro’s who are customers.
As a guitarist on the ‘80s Hollywood rock scene, Billy Rowe played rhythm guitar in the influential glam-inspired band Jetboy, hanging around with the other scenemakers of that era including members of Guns N’ Roses and Faster Pussycat while honing his craft as both a musician and a skilled guitar restoration expert. When Jetboy didn’t achieve the level of fame of the bands they helped promote, Rowe channeled his experiences during those years into a successful, unique business crafting high-quality guitars with distinctive road-worthy looks.
He didn’t simply tap into his group of personal contacts. Rowe also networked through trade shows, like January’s NAMM event, and the specialty market of guitar and equipment shops that he knew from his own shopping experiences. “I started out on Ebay selling guitars I had restored,” he says. “And then I tapped into a network of people selling and buying guitars, parts and equipment. This was in the 1990s, when they were still considered ‘used guitars,’ not vintage guitars.”
Rowe quickly realized that this could be more that a hobby. “I have always been into the more aged look of guitars,” he admits. “Some of my favorite guitar players have played their one favorite guitar throughout their career. You can just see the love on that instrument. It tells a story.”
Based in San Francisco, Rock N Roll Relics guitars are hand-crafted by Rowe and are now available at boutique guitar shops and online. Hiring a sales representative to promote the business and to place the guitars and the orders throughout the U.S. and Europe was a crucial move in the company’s evolution, Rowe says.
While several Rock N Roll Relics guitars are based on classic guitar models, Rowe makes minor modifications to the body styles from the originals and also notes that the major guitar manufacturers did not patent their guitars body shapes, which gives them public domain status and thus allows Rowe’s company and others to replicate them.
“I do not have any business background,” Rowe says. “I built this business the way you do a band. Networking, online, in person. Hiring a sales rep allows me to focus on building the guitars.” Rowe says he has avoided doing business with large retailers. “There’s a curse to going to the big companies. There is a growth in mom and pop businesses that I embrace, and that is where most of my business is.”
The appeal of having a new guitar that looks like it’s old? Rowe explains: “Imagine if the Ramones wore new sneakers. It just wouldn’t be the same band without those club-stained Converse.”
For more informatino, visit rocknrollrelics.net.