The guitar is not necessarily something that is easy to innovate. Even the best new design ideas pay homage in some way to the familiar, the classic, the tried-and-true. Yet twenty years ago, Reverend guitars found that critical balance in design philosophy and unexpected materials utilized. While it would be a tall order to tell the full story of Reverend, the chapter we can tell here pertains to how a young Joe Naylor ventured beyond the norm of all-wood designs to create a new type of American classic. Let’s wind the clock back to 1997.
While Reverend was born in East Detroit in that year, the inspiration for the designs goes back much earlier. For Naylor, part of that heritage is found in one of the earliest guitars he owned, a Silvertone amp-in-case model. For the record, that’s exactly what it sounds like: you take the guitar out of it’s sheath, only to plug it into the case for amplification. Good idea? Bad idea? Maybe both.
In an interview with Vintage Guitar Naylor recalls, “When I realized that such a great-sounding guitar was made with masonite, of all things, I started experimenting with alternative materials – acrylic, aluminum, foam, different types of laminates, phenolics, plastics. I’ve probably built a guitar out of every conceivable material.” The industrial design and experimentation resulted in several early proto-Reverend builds with Masonite and Phenolic tops and backs. A very few of these early guitars still exist with the name “J.F. Naylor” on the headstock.
In short order these Naylor designs birthed the Reverend company. The initial builds under that label again featured some unique material choices. Probably most synonymous with the inception of the brand was the regularly featured high-impact polymer injected outer rim of bodies and the same sort of Phenolic laminate Naylor had grown accustomed to previously. At the heart of this high-resonance body, however, was a six-inch Mahogany block. Classic heart, vintage vibe, yet forward-thinking.
Down through the extensive catalogue of Reverend designs—now up to sixty-two models released to date—you’ll note a recurring theme of the use of chambered space and integration of non-traditional materials. From early models with as great a variety of impressions of aluminum as most companies shop for flamed woods, to the more recent release of the Reverend Billy Corgan signature with segmented aluminum pickguards, Naylor’s early infatuation with non-traditional materials has become part of Reverend’s DNA.
Apparently, that early style of design not only captured the interests of consumers and NAMM-goers, it also attracted the eye of a player who would become a key part of the Reverend saga, Ken Haas. In The Reverend Story, Haas confesses to regularly finking off from his day job of selling paint and sandpaper to autobody shops to hang out at a guitar store. On one such side tour he recalls, “I saw this really cool plastic guitar one day that said East Point, Michigan on the headstock. I just loved the guitar and the fact that it was from Detroit just blew me away.” In the years that followed, Ken would become essential to the promotion, development, and business side of Reverend, eventually taking the helm of the company leaving Naylor to do what he did best: keep innovating an instrument that seems to have limitless potential if only the builder is willing to see it differently.As always, have a happy #RiffCitySunday. If you haven’t had enough Reverend, check out the backstage tour of their shop with Riff City’s own Joe Leach. See you next week.