Schecter Turns 30

If you dig Schecter guitars, you can thank legendary Who guitarist Pete Townshend for helping transform one of the foremost replacement-part companies into a maker of world-class instruments. Townshend had walked into Rudy’s Music in New York in the early ’80s, and asked the store’s builder to assemble a double-humbucker, Tele-style guitar from Schecter parts. That guitar was blasted all over MTV throughout 1982 in the Who’s “Eminence Front” video—played by both Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey—and Schecter soon became a guitar company.
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Started in Van Nuys, California, by David Schecter and three other owners in 1976, Schecter took advantage of the era’s obsession with hot-rodding guitars by offering upscale replacement parts such as exotic-wood bodies, brass pickguards, and tapped pickups. Renowned guitar builders such as Tom Anderson and James Tyler got their starts making necks and bodies for Schecter. Thanks, in part, to Townshend’s instrument and Mark Knopfler’s use of the company’s tapped pickups, Schecter ultimately grew out of its Van Nuys shop, and relocated to bigger facilities in Dallas in the mid ’80s. Sadly, the rest of the decade was not kind.

“Within a couple of years, the Dallas version of Schecter ruined a really popular American guitar company,” says Michael Ciravolo, Schecter’s president. “There was no direction, and they were doing lots of off shore models with no rhyme or reason. The company just went down the toilet.”

In 1991, Schecter was bought by Hisatake Shibuya, who also owns the Los Angeles Musician’s Institute. The company was brought back to Los Angeles, and reengineered as a small, custom guitar company. “When I came on in 1993, we were making a maximum of 45 guitars a month—all strictly by hand,” remembers Ciravolo. “Our master builder at the time, Tetsu Yayuma, is still with the company, and I’d put him in a room with a pin router and a pile of wood with anybody who’s considered a world-class guitar builder.”

Still, Ciravolo faced significant challenges as the company rehabilitated its reputation. “Schecter was pigeon-holed as a maker of expensive Fender knock-offs, and rightly so,” says Ciravolo. “But we could see a need for affordable guitars designed for a younger audience, and we developed the Tempest, Avenger, and Hellcat models. We found a Korean factory that could deliver the quality we wanted, and things really took off when we debuted our inexpensive Diamond Series at summer NAMM in 1998. We also had the foresight to see the 7-string as being a viable instrument.”

At the time, only one major manufacturer was making a rock 7-string, but it was originally designed for a high-A string, rather than the low B favored by emerging nu-metal players. Schecter’s affordable 7-strings—configured for dropped-tunings—put the company on the map. “There was a door there, and we kicked it open,” says Ciravolo. “In 1998, the 7-string people needed us, and we had the guitars they wanted. Four of our first bands—Papa Roach, Powerman 5000, Alien Ant Farm, and Crazy Town—were all over MTV and selling millions of records. We were also lucky that Jerry Horton played our stock [6-string] C-1 in Papa Roach’s ‘Last Resort’ video. That’s a model any kid could go into a store and buy for $400. Jerry gave the nod of approval to an affordable guitar, which opened up the consumers’ eyes, and kicked the industry in the ass a little bit. Now, there are a lot better guitars for the price than there were ten years ago.”

To this day, Ciravolo’s instincts as a player drive Schecter’s design strategy. “I don’t have a background in CNC, CAD, or drafting,” he admits. “I just know that I like non-traditional shapes. I’ll typically cut up pictures of vintage and classic guitars, and move the pieces around the floor like paper dolls until I find a shape that looks cool. There’s a certain charm to the process.”

“The simplest thing you can do if you’re selling musical instruments is to really listen to the players,” adds Schecter vice president Marc LeCorte. “That’s what we do, and, as a result, we can quickly adapt to fill niches when we see a couple of bands popping out that need a certain style of guitar. What we come up with doesn’t always work, but we’ve thrown perhaps 100 designs at the wall, and we have a solid 25 that continue to be in the Schecter line. I think it’s our willingness to take chances, our deep love of all music, and our determination to give players the instruments they really want that keeps Schecter energized and thriving.”