Interview with Joe Naylor from Reverend Guitars

From time to time, you come across a guitar that just floors you. it doesn't happen all that often, so when it does, you should really savor it. It's occurred to me only three times since I started playing. The latest one was when a friend of mine let me borrow a Lava Swirl Reverend Rocco... I had to have it!

I became more interested in the Reverend brand - I now own three of those jewels - and emailed Joe Naylor about an interview. Joe answered my email within the hour, enthusiastically agreeing. There's nothing better than hearing it straight from the guy whose genius is responsible for some of the most innovative guitar and amp designs of the past twenty years.

My thanks to Joe for some fantastic guitars, and for playing along! You can find out more about reverend guitars on their website at

1. Please share any biographical information you care to...

Born 1961 in Ann Arbor, MI, guitarist since 1980, hold a Bachelors Degree in Industrial Design, graduate of Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, and have repaired guitars professionally since 1982. In 1992 I opened Joe's
Guitar Exchange & Repair, a storefront specializing in repair and sales of vintage/used gear. The store evolved into J.F. Naylor Engineering, one of the forerunners in boutique amps and vintage style speakers. In 1996 I sold Naylor and launched Reverend Musical Instruments.

2. For those of us who may not have come across Reverend Guitars yet, what does your company do?

We offer unique, pro-level electric guitars in the $400-$600 range.

3. Joe, what pushed you to open shop?

Unemployment. Back in '92 I couldn't find a decent job, so I opened a guitar store. Everything evolved from there.

4. What is the Reverend Guitars philosophy? How is your company and its offerings different from the competition?

Our philosophy is pretty simple: build the best guitar we know how to in the mid-price range, and make it gig-ready out of the box. I think our level of R&D is exceptionally high for this price range. Let's face it, all companies pretty much have access to the same woods, hardware and electronics. What makes a great design is selecting the right combination of elements. Something as simple as choosing the correct value pots for a particular model can make the difference between good and great. It takes extra time and effort to tweak the recipe, and we're willing to go the distance. We're not saving our best R&D for a high-end line, this is it, we don't have a high-end line. I think an excellent indicator of our approach paying off is our Artist list... we have top-notch players touring the world with stock $500 Reverends.

5. Please explain the creative process at Reverend Guitars. How do you design a new guitar?

I come up with a basic concept based on what the line needs. Then I make a full size drawing on a drafting table, paper and pencil, old school. The drawing will usually evolve over several weeks. We're currently locked into two basic headstocks, so most the tweaks are to the body shape. I keep an extensive library of reference books that covers all the great 50's and 60's guitar designs, and I study them closely. They really knew how to design back then, not just guitars, but everything from cars to clothes to kitchen appliances. Ideally, I end up with a design that's
vintage influenced, but fresh and relevent to today's market. Anyhow, the drawing is scrutinized by myself and my staff. If we all like it, and we still like it a week later, that usually means it's good to go. Drawings are then sent to Korea, and we receive a sample guitar within a couple months. If it passes our tests we approve it for production,
otherwise we submit changes and wait for another sample.

6. Please share some trends that you noticed in the industry, or that are related to your business. For example, what model or pickup configuration do you sell the most, etc...

Overall, we mostly sell humbuckers and P-90's. Humbuckers and set-necks are hot in the rock market. Other than a Tele here and there, Gibson style guitars are dominating rock... SG's, V's, 335's, are on the rise, and Pauls are still fairly strong. P-90's are very hot with the blues and alt rock guys, and our Revtron loaded models do well with the alt country and roots rock players. Fender style guitars are still doing well with other music styles, but the traditional 3 single-coil Strat style has definately tapered off, we don't even offer one. Semi-hollows in general
have made a strong comeback.

7. Reverend Guitars used to be manufactured in the USA. I understand that it is not the case anymore. Could you please explain where they are now built, and what happens here in the States?

Everything is made in Korea. They are shipped here, and we check over every guitar. We have a detailed inspection and set-up process, and the final set-up and play test is performed by Zack Green, who has been with
us since 1999.

8. Could you give us some insight on the 10th Anniversary Jetstream HB model, and how it differs from the "regular" Jetstream HB model?

The difference is cosmetic. It has a silver metalflake top, black headstock and 10th Anniversarry decal on the back of the headstock. We're taking orders through 2007 only. It's really a stunning instrument, a veritable fishing lure for groupies.

9. Whatever happened to the "old style" hard shell case?

The white sides on the old case matched the white sides on the USA guitar body, but looked odd with the import guitars. We wanted a universal case, so it was dropped. The new case has a tougher look anyhow, which works
better in the rock market, which we wanted to further penetrate.

10. Are all Reverend guitars equipped with Reverend pickups, or do you use other vendors' products as well?

Current models use proprietory Reverend pickups designed by me, except the Gil Parris Signature which has a LACE Sensor in the middle slot.

11. What is the creative process behind the design and production of a new pickup?

It's much like designing a guitar. I start with a basic concept, submit specs. for samples, and test/tweak/test relentlessly until we get what we want. We're using the same pickup designs that we used in the USA guitars,
so they've stood the test of time. People rarely swap out the pickups in our guitars.

12. What should we know about the Revtron pickups?

They're based on the late 50's Filtertron. We wound them about 5% hotter than traditional, so they sing a little more. We also wound the bridge hotter than the neck for improved tonal and volume balance. It's a surprisingly
versatile pickup, great for traditonal styles and rock. But it does have a unique, strong midrange presence, so it's not for everybody.

13. What should we know about the Les Trem?

It's a great unit, in my opinion the best available in the top mount style. In terms of build quality, adjustability, smoothness, and pitch stability it's a step up from a Bigsby.

14. The Gil Parris Signature Reverend is a beautiful instrument. How did that come about?

Gil's been playing Reverend for years. When we came out with the imports, he approached us about a signature model. He was adamant about it being affordable and versatile. We collaborated and ended up with one of our
best sellers. Combining single-coils with humbuckers is always tricky business in terms of tone and volume compatability. But the LACE Sensor worked out great, and it doesn't hum.

15. If you were to give hints and tips to a first-time guitar builder, what would it be?

Take drafting and modern art appreciation classes. Buy books that cover the histories of the prominent guitar brands and study the classic models in detail. Work in a guitar store. Attend guitar shows. Go to a NAMM show.
Find out what players really want and why.

18. What do you perceive are the challenges of running an independent guitar company?

The guitar business is somewhat trendy, much like the music business. You have to keep up on what's hot. Otherwise, it's not much different than other businesses. To succed you need to take care of your customers,
keep the quality high, pay the bills, etc. Fortunately, we've been doing this for 10 years, and when we went to imports we already had an infrastructure and skilled staff in place.

19. Anything currently in development at Reverend Guitars that we should know about? Any new cool goodies for us to lust after?

Nothing earth-shattering at present. You might check back around January NAMM. Sign up for our e-newsletter at the website for Reverend news updates.

20. If you had to make a list of the top-10 best guitar tones out there, what artists/bands would make the list?

Here's a list of my personal favorites in no particular order:

The Who - Live at Leeds, Townsend is my all-time favorite guitarist.
Big Sugar - Gordy Johnson's overdrive sounds like God! They were big in Canada.
Van Halen - first record, it changed the entire industry.
Hendrix - Woodstock, sounds like a wild elephant.
Santana - the early records and Woodstock, much rawer than his current sound.
Jeff Beck - Wired, especially Goodbye Porkpie Hat.
AC/DC - Highway to Hell record, quintessential Marshall.
ZZ Top - Tejas, Billy sounds like Texas.
Johnny A - his clean tone is thick, ethereal and not too clean.
Stevie Ray Vaughn - the first two records, quintessential Strat tone.

21. Anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for letting me spew!

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