Friday, August 24, 2018

A Reflection on Robert Ruck

I am stunned and saddened at the news of Robert Ruck passing away. Of all the people in this guitar business he is the most unexpected; he was one of the strongest, healthiest most self aware and balanced people I know. It’s hard to believe, hard to accept, and yet, there it is. Death is such a fact of life now. I know, it’s alway been there, but it is really catching up.

Robert was already a legend when I met him in the early 1990s, famous for his fine guitars, amazing skills and prolific output. He was a role model and an inspiration. He was generous with is thoughts and his time, his tremendous knowledge and work abilities. And he was a bit mysterious. Periodically he would pack up his workshop and family and move somewhere completely different, lock stock and barrel. When I met him he was in Washington, near Seattle, and he later moved to Hawaii, then to Oregon and then to Wisconsin. I was introduced to Robert by my good friend and colleague Jerry Roberts, who came of age with him as young guitar students in Florida and remained close from then all through until now. Jerry has probably played and sold more Ruck guitars than anyone besides Ruck himself and has kept in steady contact with him until recently. Jerry actually arranged a very interesting liscensing deal between Ruck and my guitar company to make a special model of guitar which he designed for us to produce and for Jerry to sell. The design was beautiful, creative and the guitars were wonderful. We did that for about 10 years and those guitars are still loved and sought after. It was this model that first introduced me to the idea of sound ports, that was Robert Ruck’s idea. The curious thing was that at the time of those first drawings Ruck hadn’t actually done it himself. I was so excited and honored to get this project with him that I made the first prototype very quickly, about a week, and when I drilled those holes in the upper shoulders of that guitar and heard the difference, it was a major revelation. I actually called him up in Washington and said “Bob, this is a wonderful idea of yours — you should try it”. And he did, though I’m not sure he was as constant with ports as I have been. It was a bold idea in 1998, but now it has caught on, and some variation of ports is very common among guitar makers, old and young. 
The last time I saw Bob Ruck was in Denver in 2016 when he was there to receive his lifetime achievement award at the GFA festival. It was wonderful to hang out with him and his wife and daughter, a reunion of sorts, and we both said “this is really nice, we need to keep in touch, maybe build some more of those guitars”. He was on the verge of another of his inscrutable moves, from Oregon to Wisconsin. We didn’t keep our pledge, and that was the last time we spoke. You never know. I’m very, very sorry he’s gone.

Kenny Hill