Allen began making guitars out of necessity, as he wanted to play guitar, but couldn’t afford one. His first “R.C. Allen” guitar was made in his Southern California high school shop class, where he learned the rudiments of woodworking. His early instruments are influenced by Bigsby, Mosrite, Rickenbacker, and Fender, and they incorporate concepts that were happening in and around Los Angeles in the late ’40s and early ’50s.
The guitar featured this month was built around 1964 for the legendary country-jazz guitarist Roy Lanham—a hotshot picker who played with such groups as the Whippoorwills (Roy Rogers’ backup group for many years) and the Sons of the Pioneers. Lanham was an early Fender endorsee, and he wanted Allen to copy his favorite Fiesta Red Jaguar, and that’s the Allen creation seen here. With its Jaguar-approved short scale (231/2"), this guitar is a Fender Jag-meets-Gibson Byrdland, with a healthy dose of Mosrite on the side. Astute guitar geeks may also recognize the body shape is almost an exact outline of the rare Harmony H74 “half-cutaway” thinline electric. In fact, Allen admits the body shape was indeed traced from one of those Harmony bodies.
This guitar is typical of Allen’s work, where almost everything is crafted by the man himself—often with primitive hillbilly ingenuity. For example, the pickup covers are crafted from layers of black and white Plexiglass that are stacked and glued and sanded down. The headstock sports a flared shape reminiscent of a D’Angelico or Stromberg, and the neck is both glued and bolted on, with decorative mother-of-pearl dots covering the neck screw holes on the back of the guitar. Totally unique.
Allen made approximately 50 guitars in his early period—mostly for country and western performers such as Eddie Dean and Merle Travis. When the bottom dropped out of the guitar market in the ’70s, he began a thriving banjo business that took him into the ’80s. Then, the guitar bug came back in a big way, and Allen began making archtop electrics on a custom-order basis, which he continues to do to this day.
Special thanks to R.C. Allen, Larry Briggs, and Garrett Immel.