I was over at a friend's house in what must have been the summer of 1964. Someone said "Come see what's on the T.V.!" What I saw not only changed my life from that moment on, but literally millions of other kids and teenagers in America and around the world. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show actually made me notice the electric guitar for the first time. Afterwards, I remember very clearly drawing pictures of electric guitars on my notebook in the sixth grade before I really knew what they were supposed to look like!
It wasn't too terribly long before guitars started showing up in the neighborhood and being in a band was the ultimate thing to do. Looking back we played some pretty cool instruments in those days... ones that are now sought after by collectors the world over.
Around 1971, I visited a used and "vintage" guitar shop in Houston and it was all over. This place was a funky lowdown hole in the wall full of what most people at the time would have considered junk. I think at that moment I was "lost" to the guitar as a "piece of art," as much or maybe even more so than actually playing it. Within a month, buying used and vintage guitars became a real obsession and I could hardly think of anything except playing guitars and hunting for them.
Before the year was out I had teamed up with a friend and we formed what would later become Houston's oldest and longest running "guitar shop" to date. During the following ten years we came to be known as the source for repairs, refinishing, and classic instruments in the Texas Gulf Coast area. We bought, sold, traded and repaired thousands of guitars from all manufacturers, acoustic and electric, American and foreign.
A departure from guitar shop life and a commitment to guitar building was a radical change from those formative years. That "obsession" of buying, selling, repairing, restoring, and customizing countless classic vintage and modern guitars soon became the foundation of Robin quality and design. After many hard years of cutting wood and dreaming "the dream," we continue to push forward with new designs and strive for even higher levels of craftmanship and quality.
We get up each morning with one thing in mind... to make a better guitar. Just as a musician creates his music for others to listen to, we at Robin build guitars for people to play. That is the ultimate reward!
Every day we receive calls from people wanting to know about an "old" Robin guitar they have bought or are thinking about buying. What model is this? When was it made? How much did it cost new? This is the greatest! Where is the nearest Robin dealer? Please send more information!
It's responses like this that motivate us to be a better guitar company. Not always easy, but always gratifying. Keep your calls, letters, and emails coming! They keep us going! Thanks!
Reversal of Fortune by Willie Mosley
Reprinted from Vintage Guitar Magazine
..not that there was anything wrong with the business fortunes of the President of Robin Guitars & Basses to start with. Instead, the subtitle of this interview is a "double pun " concerning two facts: (1) Robin brand instruments were originally made overseas and are now completely handmade in Houston, Texas, and, (2) Robin instruments were the first to have an entire line with "reverse-style" headstocks; the earliest Robins had a slightly down-sized, "Explorer"- type head-stock, and the whole lineup maintained an upside down look until recent times.
Conversing with the contemporary guitar builder in his Houston office was an enlightening experience. Wintz was born and raised in Houston; there was, as most readers might suspect, a connection with the local musical instrument retailer known as Rockin Robin (details later), but we began by asking Wintz about times prior to the Rockin Robin connection:
VG: What about your guitar experiences prior to the Rockin Robin days?
DW: I started playing guitar when I was thirteen; it was strictly a British Invasion thing. It wasn't long after seeing the Beatles play in " Ed Sullivan " that I got hooked on wanting to play the guitar. My first guitar was a used pre CBS Mustang, which was actually a loaner from a music store until my shiny new red Mustang came in. I even remember at the time that the new one was "funky", in the negative sense, compared to the pre-CBS one; I didn't like the CBS one nearly as well. The fingerboard looked dried out, and it wasn't nearly as comfortable. As a kid, I was thinking that a new guitar should have been better than a used one, and looking back, I remembered such things about good features of vintage instruments when I began designing my own brand.
I traded the CBS Mustang in on an Epiphone Casino; the Beatles influenced that choice as well (chuckles)! In the late Sixties I got out of playing for a few years. Then around 1970 a friend of mine took me to Specialty Guitar Shop here in Houston; they had a lot of old stuff and it really zapped me; from that moment on I was a "guitar hound", going into pawn shops on a regular basis. I bought things like a mid-Sixties orange Gretsch 6120 with painted-on f-holes, and a midSixties Epiphone Sheraton.
VG: What about your playing experiences?
DW: Around the time I went into Specialty, I was just starting to play again, so the interests paralleled each other. I haven't worked at any job since then that didn't have to do with guitars. I played in a local band; it was all original music that was basic rock and roll, then we got into art rock, Yes-type stuff. We didn't play a lot, but it was a good experience. Then in the summer of 1972 Bart Wittrock and I started up Rockin Robin.
VG: Where did the store name come from?
DW: the song; "tweet-tweet"(chuckles). It fit the image of what we were trying to accomplish. Bart and I hit it off from the very start, and worked together for years; we moved to about five different locations as the business grew.
VG: The next obvious inquiry is about the advent of the Robin brand.
DW: We were at a NAMM show in Chicago; Tokai was exhibiting there. They were exhibiting some funky-looking new models, but we'd seen their cool replicas of old Strats, and we asked why they didn't have any there. They escorted us into a small room in their exhibit, which was chock full of replica guitars like that "Love Rock" Les Paul style they made, plus Strat copies. The bottom line is that we ended up buying every thing they had there; about twenty guitars. Once we sold those, we opted to get Tokai to manufacture some of our own designs, which included a smaller, reverse-Explorer type headstock. We went through hundreds of names, and settled on "Robin", which wasn't the same as "Rockin Robin", but it was similar. We didn't want to use either of our last names, and my middle name is Gibson, so that got ruled out as well (laughs)! The name Robin can apply to a man a woman; it's a folk hero's name; it couldn't be misspelled or mispronounced.
This was still kind of a part-time thing; there was no long-term plan and we weren't a couple of luthiers.
VG: The photo of you in the updated version of American Guitars shows you with the first Robin guitar; in addition to the reverse Explorer headstock, it appears to have a bound, Strat-shaped body.
DW: Exactly; that's an' 82 guitar. Due to copyrights, we couldn't do a traditional looking Strat copy. We were definitely the first to have a reverse headstock on a bolt on neck; Firebirds were sort of reversed but had banjo type tuners. There wasn't any "deep" marketing concept behind the reverse headstock; we just thought it looked cool. We couldn't tell that there was any audible difference; it was strictly visual. I know some companies since then have said that a longer string length on the bass side gives a different sound, but our headstock was marketed for its aesthetics.
The two things that are true about a reverse headstock is that it goes "against the grain" of what players had been conditioned to seeing, which is exactly what we were trying to accomplish, but a reverse headstock on a guitar is also easier to tune; a player's arm doesn't have to twist like it does on a conventional headstock.
VG: I've got to play devil's advocate at this point and note that an issue of your company's newsletter that I perused announced that you were switching to a conventional style headstock. Comment?
DW: We're not trying to tell people that "this is the way it ought to be"; marketing research indicated that conventional headstocks would probably get a better overall reception by the public.
VG: What about the switch from a foreign manufacturer to domestic production?
DW: We used Tokai for a while, then we got some stuff from them that didn't meet our quality standards. I went over to Japan; I'd just started the Allparts Company, and went over there looking for parts as well. I ended up turning down an entire shipment of guitars that was ready to be shipped to us. Later I switched to ESP, and other companies as well. I still had one foot in Rockin Robin retail part, we were using the back part of the store to set up the imported guitars.
Around 1987, the dollar took a nose dive against the Japanese yen. Prices got so high I figured it was either time to get out or go on and start a factory, and I was a glutton for punishment (laughs). I'd made guitars before, but not on a production scale. Once that decision made, there were a couple of years of transition; the guitar facility moved to a separate location from the store, of course. So it was "Bye-bye, guitar shop; hello, production!" Bart and I have remained on great terms; we're best friends.
VG: Did you start out making the same styles you'd been importing?
DW: Yes, we made neck through the body archtops; we'd been making a similar guitar in Japan called the Medley Custom, so we called the domestic one the Medley Custom TX, for "Texas". That's an expensive type of instrument to start out with; we made a few of those then decided to go with bolt on, which is okay for the hard rock look; the Medley was oriented towards that market.
VG: Is this facility your first location?
DW: No, We've only been here since the first of'94. The first location was sort of built up as we went along; one thing on top of another, but when we moved out here we laid it out like we wanted from the beginning; it's a user friendly shop and we're really happy here.
VG: Let me ask you about some particular Robin styles; you can let us know whether they are/were domestic or imported, and comment about each. First, the Artisan; it looked like a bound SG.
DW: that was an imported model; there were only about a hundred and fifty of them made. People who own them are nuts about their Artisans; I still get call about them. Michael Stevens, a Texas luthier who was with Fender's Custom Shop at one time, actually made the prototype.
VG: Is the Medley your longest running style?
DW: No, the Ranger is; we started those really early; around 1983. The Ranger has proven real successful over the years; we've introduced a baritone version of it. With its pickup configuration, a Ranger is an extremely versatile instrument.
VG: Are the Medley and the Ranger your most popular models?
DW: Well, the Avalon is coming on big time ; we're back ordered several months on it. It's something a bit different for us; it has a 24 ¾ inch scale, and a single cutaway carved top on a body that's wider and thinner than a Les Paul. The series is set neck. The Custom Classic and Custom have mahogany bodies and mahogany neck with maple tops. The Deluxe & Flattop have ash bodies with mahogany necks. We're the first to offer that kind of wood combination; obviously the Flattop doesn't have a carved top chuckles).
VG: The Wedge was a bit unusual looking.
DW: Imported, radical, discontinued. Obviously, it was oriented towards the "glam metal" bands, but it was actually quite comfortable.
VG: There was a model that I only saw in a bass; it was called the Freedom. It had a great feeling neck on it, in my opinion.
DW: That wasn't domestic, either. It was only available in a bass, it was supposed to be a cross between a Music Man and a Tele bass. It had two Double Jazz-type pickups, and they were active; it was so powerful you could plug a set of headphones right into the instrument; you didn't even need a preamp! The first Freedoms had real wide necks, then they went to more of a Jazz shape; you probably played one of the latter types. It might not have sold well because of distribution; I think it still has potential and we might try it again, but we're definitely more of a "guitar company" than a "bass company".
VG: The machete is an original, domestic style that seems to have done pretty well for you.
DW: Absolutely. I saw a guitar that another company was making, it looked nothing like Machete, but it inspired me at the right time to come up with a new shape. I went home and come up with the Machete in about thirty minutes. The view from the rear end of it is unique; it has three "stairstep" drops of a quarter inch each, and that look is fully patented. Something like a Firebird has one drop of maybe a sixteenth of an inch, but the Machete rally has a great aesthetic. It comes in set-neck and bolt-on versions.
The "four and two V" headstock is from a guitar I made for myself in 1974.
VG: Back to the Avalon for a minute, since it's your most recent model. Details?
DW: Some of the other details you need to know is that it has a straight pull on the strings to the tuners, and single Kluson-type machine heads. The headstock has a fourteen degree pitch and a sort of a "deco" bevel on the back of it. The nut is like a Martin nut in that it sits on the headstock instead of the fingerboard; it's a little harder to do it that way, but we pay attention to details.
VG: The Octave Guitar isn't in your current catalog.
DW: No, but we still make them as custom orders; in fact, we're working on one today out in the stop that I'll show you. It's a cool instrument for studio doubling and "chicken pickin", but it's a specialty item, like a twelve string guitar.
VG: You had to have been pumped up when an MTV Mardi Gras special some years ago showed Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan playin "Pipeline" on a double neck Robin that had a regular neck and an Octave Guitar neck.
DW: You bet! There were only about twenty five or thirty of those doubles made; that sequence is well known by a lot of people.
VG: What about the dolphin inlays I've seen on some instruments?
DW: Originally, those appeared on Medleys, but I don't remember if they were designed specifically for Medleys or not. It's an option for Medleys and Avalons; it's standard on an Avalon Custom Classic, which is top of the line. A guy cuts the dolphin inlays for us locally; they're very exquisite and very detailed.
VG: What about endorsers?
DW: We're getting back into that; sometimes we're so busy that endorsement activity has to go on the back burner, so to speak. Recently the guitarist for White Zombie has been using a Machete; that's a big plus.
VG: Your video discussed custom orders. Comment?
DW: That's not a large portion of our business, but I think any guitar builder has to consider that part of the business. Many players are willing to pay a premium to get exactly what they want, and while custom orders take as long or longer than the time frame promised, the owner is so delighted with the instrument he's a "convert"(chuckles).
VG: This may sound like " the reverse of the original reverse situation ", but what about the export of your U.S. made instruments?
DW: They go primarily to Europe and Asia. The Europeans buy a lot of Medleys; recently Rangers have begun selling well in France. The markets overseas depend a lot on the value of the dollar, of course, so prices can still fluctuate; some things don't change.
VG: Recent projects and future plans?
DW: We wanted to come out with a classic looking 24 ¾ scale instrument, and the reception to the Avalon has been gratifying. I may look at something like the Artisan again as a next guitar style, but right now we've got some great looking instruments that are extremely high quality. We've just begun distributing Rio Grande pickups; those are selling well, too. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, but we're not resting on our laurels at all.
Robin evolved into Alamo Music Products, Which also began making a second brand of guitars called Metropolitan, which have a cool " retro-vide".
By Michael Wright
There are a lot of places you might think of when it comes to guitars. And certainly nobody would question the inclusion of Texas in the list ("How, how, how"). It's been the birthplace of some of the best picking there is. Some big vintage guitar shows, too. But, while there've been some big distributors located in the Lonestar State , surprisingly there haven't been that many guitar manufacturers. Alamo in the late '50s and '60s. More recently a handful of smaller shops have thrived (including a revival of the Alamo brand). But the granddaddy of Texas guitarmakers is Robin Guitars of Houston, a small company that's been devotedly making some fine guitars for more than two decades now. As one of their ads once proclaimed, Robin is one of " America 's best kept secrets."
Rockin' Robin Guitars
Robin guitars are the brainchild of Houston native Dave Wintz. In around 1972 Wintz opened up one of the earliest vintage guitar shops in Houston , Rockin' Robin Guitars and Music, which still exists. For the next decade he bought, sold, repaired, and hot-rodded used and vintage guitars. In around 1982 or so Wintz and his partner Bart Wittrock became aware of some of the vintage copies being made by Tokai, and thought it would be a hoot to sell some. "We got some of their catalogs, which were really cool," recalls Wintz. They went to the NAMM show in Chicago and visited the Tokai booth, where they saw a bunch of uninteresting stuff. They said, "Where's the real stuff." The Japanese representatives huddled and then waved them back into a closing room in the booth. There were a bunch of the vintage copy guitars and basses, models such as the Love Rock and Springy Sounds. They bought the lot, took them back to Houston and began selling them out of Rockin' Robin Guitars. These quickly sold out, and they ordered about a hundred Springy Sounds Stratocaster copies, and these arrived without the Tokai logo.
When the crate of new guitars came Dave and Bart felt like they were opening gifts on Christmas morning. The guitars did not have cases, so Robin ordered some from GG Cases, their current supplier. Dave and Bart had some decals made up to look like Fender's "spaghetti" logo that said Robin and under that "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!" "It was all about fun," says Wintz. Later on " Houston , TX " was added down where "Custom Contoured Body" would normally appear. These guitars were also quickly sold.
Off with her head(s)
Then Fender, which was in deep trouble by then, had its famous run-in with Tokai, stranding a shipment of these vintage copies in Customs because of trademark infringement, the old headstock story. The rumor at the time (which still persists) was that Fender had the heads cut off, however, according to people involved, Tokai just had to ship some replacement necks before the guitars cleared Customs.
Not long afterwards Robin got a visit from some Customs officers who wanted to know if they had this and that. Of course, they said no. "We didn't know anything about headstock trademarks," says Wintz, "it was just grins."
However, they decided to stay in the guitar manufacturing biz and separated the Robin guitar operation from the retail store. Wintz and Wittrock moved Rockin' Robin to the corner of Shepherd and Portsmouth Streets. The shop opened onto Shepherd; a large room in back was entered at 2042 Portsmouth and became the Robin warehouse, which they called The Portsmouth Trading Company. Wintz set about coming up with original designs.
One point Wintz likes to make is that Robin has never produced lots of guitars. "People think that if you're a 'company' you're automatically big," says Wintz. Even for American made guitars the most Robin has ever produced in a month is 60. Most of the Japanese models were made in very small quantities.
Taking a page from the Firebird story, Wintz put a reverse headstock on his guitars, making Robins perhaps the earliest to sport what would become an '80s staple. It wouldn't be Robin's last first. The original Robin reverse head was a downsized version of the droopy Explorer style. Having learned from the Tokai incident, Wintz applied for a trademark on the head shape. Unfortunately, he only got put on supplemental trademark list, which meant things were on hold for five years. In 1983, Kramer introduced its so-called "hockey stick" heads, basically identical except for being non-reverse. Wintz immediately complained to Kramer President Dennis Berardi, but since his trademark was only supplemental, he couldn't pursue it further for years. By the time he got permanent trademark status, Kramer was on its way out of business.
Wintz contracted with Tokai to produce his first designs. The first Robin guitars of 1982 included some progressive models for the time and one classic that would persist into the present.
The progressive models included some of the earliest Strat-style guitars at the beginning of the shift toward "Stratmania." These were the RV, RG and RH Series. The interest in Strat-style guitars was just picking up, and Robin was ahead of the curve, or at least with the leaders of the pack. In 1980 Grover Jackson began to sell custom-made bolt-neck Charvel Strat-style guitars, most with one humbucker. In 1981 Kramer introduced its first wood-necked guitars (with Fender-style headstocks), including the Strat-style Pacer. Ibanez Roadstar II Strat-style guitars also appeared in 1982.
The new Robins had bolt-on maple necks with reverse six-in-line heads and 21-fret maple or rosewood fingerboard options with dot inlays. Tuners were left-handed units, by the way.
The RV Series had squared-off edges on the body and no arm contour. The RVs had bound flamed sycamore tops with a traditional vibrato that was stamped "Made In Japan ." The RV-1 had a single Tokai '57 PAF humbucker with a mini-toggle for coil tapping. The RV-2 had two '57 PAFs.
The RGs were more like a traditional Strat, with contoured alder or ash bodies and pickguards with three single-coil pickups, otherwise similar to RHs. The RG-50 and RG-80 were almost the same, with the RG-80 having a v-shaped vintage-style neck. The RG-50 had a polyurethane finish; the RG-80 and RG-100 had a nitrocellulose finish. The RG-100 was an 80 with gold hardware. These guitars corresponded to the Tokai Springy Sound ST-50, 80 and 100 models.
The RHs lost the pickguard and had one (RH-1, with coil tap) or two (RH-2) humbuckers, similar to layouts seen on contemporary Charvels. Controls were mounted through a back rout.
All of these guitars were significant early contributions to the superstrat form. In retrospect they look fairly conservative, but at the time they were setting the stage for what was to come. The RG and RH series lasted only about a year, while the RVs made it through 1984 or so.
The classic model that also appeared in 1982 was the Robin Ranger. This had a body shape that was the same as the squarish RV Series but without the binding. These look thinner because of the pickguard, but are really the same. The neck was bolt-on maple neck with the reverse head and maple fingerboards with black dots. A white pickguard covered the cutaways down to the middle pickup, with an extension down to a metal "Tele-style" plate with a volume and tone control. The middle pickup was a Strat-style unit, the bridge pickup a Tele-style. The Les Paul-style pickup select sat out on the edge of the upper horn. Rangers had a bridge/tailpiece assembly.
There were two models, the Ranger and Ranger Custom. The Ranger was made of alder with slanted bridge and perpendicular middle single-coils. This Ranger was made by Tokai and had a 21-fret fingerboard. The original Ranger lasted through 1985.
Later, production was shifted to ESP and their version was called the Ranger Custom. It had a 22-fret fingerboard and was bound ash with an additional neck pickup, a reversal of the typical "superstrat" layout of the '80s. The bridge pickup was still a Tele-style unit. This gave you the bluesy Strat-style tones in the trebles plus a jazzy capability at the neck. Reversing the usual h/s notion was not new. S.D. Curlee had done it in the mid-1970s. But it was still a novel strategy in '82. The ESP-made Custom was differentiated from the Ranger with a new reverse "Strat-style" head. The Custom was available with an optional Kahler locking vibrato beginning in 1985. This original Japanese Ranger Custom lasted (as an import) through 1987, although the Ranger Custom, different mostly only in a few details anchors the Robin line to this day. A lefty Custom was offered as well.
Another guitar that Robin debuted in '82 was the Soloist, another reflection of Wintz's vintage background. Basically, the Soloist was an upscale version of the Gibson SG. It had a bound, carved flamed sycamore top over a mahogany body, with a set-in neck, bound rosewood fingerboard with dots, an elevated pickguard, twin Gotoh humbuckers, and a tune-o-matic-style bridge with stoptail. Again, upscale versions of Gibsons were not new. Both Hamer and Dean had begun that game back in '76. But the Soloist was the first, and maybe the only, take on an SG.
The Soloist barely made it out of prototype status. The first one-shown in the Robin catalog-was made by Mike Stevens from Austin , TX , and is still on display at Rockin' Robin. It was about this time that Jackson introduced its Soloist. In 1985 the name was changed to the Artisan after the NAMM show.
The prototype was sent to Tokai and they produced several copies, each with a different finish, including at least a cherry sunburst and a goldtop. As we shall see, relations between Robin and Tokai were deteriorating, so the model was given to Chushin, who produced approximately 125 examples in cherry sunburst, tobacco sunburst, black (gold hardware), cherry, and orange. There were supposed to be 25 in each finish, but most seen are either cherry or tobacco sunburst.
Despite the glorious plans, the model disappeared from Robin literature after 1986.
Finally, Robin introduced a totally unique shape in 1982 on several totally unusual guitars. This had a contoured rounded lower bout with slightly inturned pointy cutaway horns. Plus the new reverse heads. Pickups were mounted on Strat-style pickguards. Bridge/tailpiece assemblies completed the outfit. One was the Mando, in alder with a maple fingerboard, four strings, a single middle single-coil, and a mandolin scale. This was also made by Mike Stevens. Carvin had made an electric solidbody mandolin back in the late '50s and '60s, but no one had that bold a vision until Robin in the '80s. This was the only Mando made and its whereabouts are unknown.
The Octave was similar with a six-string neck. This was basically equivalent to capoing up at the 12. The RDN was a doubleneck version with the Octave and a regular six-string neck, in ash. Both of these were made by ESP in Japan . Only 25 RDNs were produced, either in two-tone sunburst or metallic red. The RDN disappears after 1985. The Octave was more popular and made it through 1987, transitioning to American production in the custom shop thereafter.
This new Robin shape found on the Octave translated to a regulation guitar line in 1983 with the introduction of the Rival Series. This had the rounded lower bout with a comfort contour plus the hooked cutaways and were made of alder. The headstock was the reverse quasi-Strat-style as found on the Ranger Custom. Fingerboard options were maple or rosewood. Rivals came with a traditional vibrato with an LTS locking vibrato option, which appeared to be simply an added locking nut. Three models were available. The Rival had three single-coil pickups in a Strat-style layout with a pickguard that covered the front two. The slanted bridge pickup was mounted on its own little surround, similar to some contemporary Takamines. The RL-1 lost the pickguard and featured a single bridge humbucker. The RL-2 was the same with a second neck humbucker. The RL-1 and RL-2 are only described in the catalog, not shown, and it's possible that none were ever actually made. These guitars were supposed to come in several sunburst and some cool metallic and pearl finishes, although the pearl finishes are mainly what's seen. They were offered through 1984. The Rival was Dave Wintz's least favorite guitar design. Only approximately 25 Rivals were ever produced.
The Rivals were made by ESP. At about this time Robin began to have quality problems with Tokai. Some guitars came in with bad truss rods and had to be turned into parts. Wintz and Wittrock made their first trip to Japan to find out what was going on. They inspected a container waiting to be shipped and found funky binding problems, a mess. They rejected the lot. At this time Tokai was heavy into its Talbo project and was having tooling problems. Tokai told Wintz and Wittrock that they were too small a customer. Robin stopped doing business with Tokai, and focused on its relationships with ESP and Chushin. ESP produced the bolt-neck models and Chushin the set-neck guitars, though they occasionally did bolt-necks, too.
A Medley of Raiders
In around 1984 Robin introduced another new series that would have some legs in the line, the Raider, made by ESP.
The Raiders were inspired by Mosrites, basically a reverse Strat body. Made of ash, the initial '84 Raiders had full rounded, contoured bodies and horns. Fingerboards were either rosewood or maple with dots. They came equipped with a traditional vibrato, but you could have a Kahler as an option. The Raider I had a single top-mounted humbucker at the bridge. The Raider II added a neck humbucker. The IIs had a reverse hockey stick headstock. The Raider III added a pickguard with three single-coils in a Strat-style layout, plus the reverse Strat-style headstock like a Ranger Custom. Later Raider I and II models changed to a reverse blade head.
Getting a wedgie
Wintz decided that Robin needed something more distinctive and began working on what would be one of Robin's more novel designs, the Wedge, which appeared in 1985. The Wedge is a true original. Basically, the body was more or less a very large triangle with a glued-in neck coming out of one side at an upward angle. In addition, the sides were angled, not square. The heads on the first few were Robin's original reverse style, but Wintz thought it needed to be more pointy and created what would be known as the reverse "blade" for the Wedge (subsequently put on other models). These were outfitted with two humbuckers. The Wedge Custom had a bound ebony fingerboard with pearl triangle inlays and featured a tune-o-matic-style bridge and stop tailpiece. The Standard had a bolt-on neck with bound rosewood 'board with dots and had a tradition vibrato. Either could be had with an optional Kahler locking vibrato installed in Houston . According to one source, the Standard was available with Floyd Rose in 1988.
The Wedge looks like it would be uncomfortable, but the design is remarkably well-balanced and comfortable. The Wedge even plays well if you're sitting down. Only about 200 Wedges were ever made and Wintz still has a few unsold Wedges lurking in the warehouse.
A Medley of Robins
In around 1985 Robin introduced another mainstay model, the long-standing Medley Series. The Medley was perhaps Wintz's favorite design of the period. This was a genuine superstrat, with the squarish shape of the Ranger, with thinner, pointed horns, plus the reverse blade headstock. Pickups were the soon-to-be conventional hum/sing/sing, with a coil tap, although some examples are seen with three single-coils, two humbuckers, and even a few with a humbucker/single/humbucker arrangement. Medleys had a two-octave fingerboard and a Kahler as standard gear. Two models were offered. The Standard was made of ash with a bolt-on neck and dot-inlaid rosewood fingerboard. The Custom had a bound, carved mahogany body with a set-in neck, bound ebony fingerboard, and triangle inlays. By the way, the very first shipment of Medleys had a "Made in Japan " sticker on the back of the neck under the finish. These were covered over with a "Custom Made" sticker that was sealed with a shot of clear coat. Like the Ranger, the Medley would continue to be a part of the Robin line to this day.
The rising sun sets
The Japanese era began to come to a close for Robin in 1986. The dollar-yen exchange rate was so unfavorable that Japanese guitars were becoming almost as expensive as American-made guitars. At about this time ESP landed a big contract with another guitar company and concluded working with Robin. Also, in '86 IMC, the Fort Worth company that had the Hondo brand, bought Jackson/Charvel. Chushin was having financial problems. IMC moved in and made a deal with them to make the Charvel line exclusively, further freezing out Robin from its Japanese suppliers. Dave Wintz decided to start making guitars on his own. He sold his interest in Rockin' Robin to Wittrock, and used that money to tool up at a new location. And that began the American part of the Robin story. Robin continued receiving guitars at the Portsmouth warehouse into 1987, and continued to sell Japanese stock that was in the pipeline at least through that year. Basically, the last Robins made in Japan date from late 1986 or perhaps very early 1987.
Creating a factory
During 1987 Robin continued to sell Japanese Robins until the inventory cleared. The operation on Portsmouth in Houston was merely a warehouse, so Wintz needed different digs. He located a place at 4914 Dickson, Unit B, just a few blocks from where he lived. Wintz shuffled his remaining inventory between locations in the back of his Jeep. "I knew how to build a guitar," recalls Wintz, "but I didn't know anything about building guitars !" He had to put together a production facility literally from scratch. He bought a band saw and a shaper. Then he went to the library and got every book on guitars he could find. Not to look at the guitars but to look at any picture of a guitar factory he could find, to try to figure out how guitars were built and assembled.
Finally Wintz had his fledgling factory put together and Robin's American production began in 1988. "We started out the wrong way," says Wintz. "The Japanese model that we liked best at the time was the Medley, so that's where we started. But it was a through-body archtop with binding and recessed Floyds. They're hard to make. If we had it to do over again we'd start with simpler bolt-neck guitars!"
Wintz made the first bodies in Houston . He contracted with archtop luthier John Buscarino to make necks for him. He also got some bass bodies and more necks from Larrivee in Canada . These were all assembled and finished at the Dickson facility. Then Wintz hooked up with Gene Fields, a former Fender employee who'd been involved with the Starcaster project. Fields had a bunch of guitarmaking equipment, which Wintz purchased, giving him neck-making capability.
The first American Robins were the Medley Custom-TX series, the TX meaning they were assembled in Texas , of course.
A word of caution about American-made Robin guitars. Japanese-made Robins are pretty consistent in terms of details. However, from the beginning of U.S. production, Robin operated a custom shop. This meant that just about any feature you wanted could be had, including custom graphics. This means you can expect to find just about any variation on a Robin, and it's probably Kosher.
The new Medley Custom TXs had Robin's now-typical squarish "Strat-style" body with pointed horns and neck-through construction. Necks had two-octave fingerboards and came with your choice of the trademark reverse blade headstock or a new split or winged four-and-two shape. All in the catalog had locking Floyd Rose systems. Wintz gave some of the various models names such as Deluxe, House and Sport, but no details are available on which was which. We do know that models came with either bound or unbound flamed maple carved tops over mahogany or a solid wood, probably ash. Fingerboards were mainly rosewood bound with triangle inlays, bound with dots, or unbound with dots. Pickup options included regulation hum/sing/sing, hum/sing/hum, and a single humbucker, at least.
The new split or winged headstock was actually based on a guitar Dave Wintz had built in his mother's garage back in 1973 or '74. It was a guitar he called the Pegasus.
By 1989 the Medleys had settled into their more familiar nominations as the Medley Standard and Medley Custom, always 24-fret guitars.
The Medley Standards had bolt-on necks with the reverse blade head. The Standards had ash bodies, rosewood fingerboards, dots, and Floyds. The Standard I had a single humbucker. The II had twin 'buckers. The III had three single-coils. The IV had hum/sing/hum. A V, VI and Deluxe are listed in some sources, with no data.
Most interesting was the '89 Medley Standard IV Robinite model. This was model with a top covered in bound swirled pearloid available in various colors. "Back in the '60s," recalls Wintz, "a friend had this Italian guitar, I think it was made by EKO, with four pickups and sparkle on the front and pearloid on the back. We thought that guitar was really cool, and the Robinite was our tribute to that guitar."
The Medley Standard I lasted only a year. The III made it through 1993. The Medley Standard II and IV are still in production. By '94 the split head was optional.
The '89 Medley Custom continued the TX line, with carved flamed maple over mahogany. The neck had the split head and an ebony fingerboard with dots. Two humbuckers and a Floyd finished it out. The Custom lasted only through 1990.
In 1992 a headless version of the Medley was produced by the Custom Shop.
From 1992-95 Robin offered the Medley Standard II-Texas Slabtop. This had either quilted or curly maple over your choice of mahogany or ash, plus either the reverse blade or split head.
From 1993-99 the Medley VI Exotic Top was offered, basically a revival of the Custom with a humbucker and one single-coil.
Also from '93-96 Robin offered the Medley Studio II, III, and IV, in ash with a straightened out blade head, either maple or rosewood fingerboard, and a Wilkinson vibrato. The Studio II had twin 'buckers, the III had three single-coils, and the IV hum/sing/sing. Until '95 this was joined by the Medley Special, in ash, with an oil finish. In '96 only the Medley Studio II and Studio III were offered, with three single-coils or twin 'buckers, respectively.
The Texas Rangers
After Robin got its feet wet with the Medleys it returned to its bread-and-butter Ranger model. Reappearing in 1988 was the American-made Ranger Custom. This continued the reverse "Strat-style" head, with a bound ash body, rosewood 'board, dots, bridge/tailpiece assembly, and the characteristic upper-bout pickguard and sing/sing/hum pickup layout. A traditional vibrato was offered as an option in '92, but otherwise the Ranger Custom has remained virtually unchanged to this day.
Some other Rangers appeared over the years. In '88-89 a Ranger Vintage was available, with a pickguard, Strat-style pickup layout, and either traditional or Kahler vibrato. From '88-90 a 4/6 doubleneck was offered. From 1991-98 a Ranger Standard could be had, with a poplar body, though by '94 swamp ash could also be ordered. From '91-95 the Ranger Special was available, in poplar or swamp ash with an oil finish. In 1994-95 the Ranger Custom Exotic Top was offered, with a bound figured maple top. From 1994-96 the Ranger Studio featured a swamp ash body, three single-coils on a pickguard and a Wilkinson vibrato. The Ranger Revival, same as the Studio but with a traditional vibrato, was available from '94-98. In '94-95 the Ranger Revival Special could be had with an oil finish.
The Robin Medley and Ranger models remain the mainstays of Robin's offerings.
If the Wedge was the most curious Robin model during the years of Japanese production, the Machete is definitely the most curious model of the American years. "I wanted something different, a new original design," explains Wintz. "I'd seen Phil Collen in a Def Leppard video on MTV and he was playing an unusual guitar. Later I found out it was a Jackson Phil Collen model. That guitar inspired me to create the Machete." The Firebird, which had provided the inspiration for the reverse headstock concept back in '82, gave Wintz the idea of a stepped body, though it only had one. Wintz looked at the arch of a Les Paul from the end and translated that profile into three steps. Like a Les Paul, he put flamed maple over mahogany.
"It only took about 30 minutes to come up with the Machete, working with a pencil and paper," says Wintz. He worked out the shape in various sketches, working to get it visually balanced. "The public liked it," and the guitar remains in the Robin stable to this day.
The Machetes debuted in 1989, with the Deluxe and the Custom. Both were neck-through-body, with 24-fret fingerboards, dots, and the split head. Both had twin humbuckers and came with a stoptail or optional Floyd Rose.
The Machete Deluxe had a ribbon mahogany body and rosewood fingerboard. In 1991-92 a number of Deluxes were made with "African Korina" bodies. By 1992 this had become a poplar body.
The Machete Custom was the flamed maple/mahogany with a mahogany neck and ebony 'board. In 1991 the neck changed to maple, and in 1994 the model changed to a set-neck. Both the original Machete Deluxe and Custom lasted through 1995.
In 1991 the first Machetes were joined by the Machete Standard. This had a swamp ash body and a bolt-on neck, otherwise similar. In 1994 coil taps were added and a "moon cut" relief at the neck joint. The Machete Standard is the current standard-bearer for the Machete concept.
Several other Machetes appeared during the run. From 1992-93 the Machete Special was offered, a Standard with an oil finish. From 1993-96 the Machete Custom Classic was available. This was basically a set-neck Custom with an ebony fingerboard. While it was available for three years, only about 10 were ever made! From 1995-99 a Machete Exotic Top was offered. This was a Custom Shop guitar with a bound quilted maple top, again a variation on the Custom.
Raiders, Tedleys and Rawhides
In addition to the new Machete, an old fave the Raider joined the American Robin line probably in 1989. This had the old Mosrite shape, but now with squared-off edges, slimmer body, more pointy horns, and a Floyd. Heads were the ubiquitous reverse blade. The Raider I had a single humbucker, the Raider II two. These may have been only available that year. In around 1991 these changed into the Raider Standard I and IV. Like the Medleys, these had 24-fret rosewood fingerboards, and either two humbuckers or hum/sing/sing. These lasted through 1992.
Several other familiar and new models appeared during the early 1990s. From around 1989-93 the Octave was available. In 1991 Robin introduced the maple Tedley Standard VI, basically a slightly modified Telecaster with a two-octave maple or rosewood fingerboard, dots, reverse blade head, humbucker and single-coil, and Floyd. This lasted until 1994.
The Tedley was reworked in 1995 to become the Rawhide. This was another Tele-style shape, made of swamp ash or poplar, with either pearloid or tortoise pickguard, three Rio Grande single-coil pickups and a bridge/tailpiece. In around 2000 or so the Rawhide added body binding and became the Rawhide Custom. The Rawhide Custom continues to be offered.
The Rio Grande
Early American Robin pickups were generic units bought from suppliers. Soon they switched to some designs by Bill Lawrence, though they were being made by another company. Briefly Robins featured pickups by P.J. Marx. Robin even tried to become the sole distributor of Marxes, but that didn't work out. Robin switched to Seymour Duncans, which were gaining recognition in the early '90s. Robin continued to use Duncans for some time, though they were very expensive. It wasn't long before Robin was owing more than it wanted to Duncan . Wintz had seen Larrivee making pickups on its trips up and contacted them. Wintz bought the Larrivee pickup winding machine, but it was beat and didn't work. Bart Wittrock was fairly inactive with the company by this time and volunteered to wind pickups. In 1993 Wintz bought a good winding machine and Wittrock set it up in his garage. Wintz would work all day at Robin, go home for supper, and then head to Wittrock's garage where they would wind pickups from around 7 till midnight. They began with Strat and Tele single-coils. These were put on Robins. Rio Grande pickups were born.
In 1994 Guitar Player magazine did a pickup shootout called "The Attack of the Killer Pickup." Everyone but DiMarzio sent in samples, including, on a whim, " Rio Grande ." While there were a lot of good reviews, Rio Grandes came in at the top. All of a sudden, people wanted aftermarket Rio Grande pickups. No branding or packaging was available, but Wintz and co. quickly developed some and the brand was born. Increasingly Rio Grandes took over Robin guitars.
The response to the American Robins was good and in 1994 Robin relocated to its present location at 3526 East T. C. Jester Blvd. in Houston .
In late 1993 Wintz began to work on a new design based on the classic Les Paul. The result was the Avalon, which had a basically Les Paul shape but with an S-curve to the upper shoulder and cutaway. Not original. The Aria Protoype and Electra Endorser had had similar shapes, but they were history at the time. These had glued-in necks with a new three-and-three head, carved curly maple tops over mahogany, twin humbuckers, rosewood fingerboard, and stoptails. These were introduced in 1994.
Initially four Avalons were offered. The Avalon Custom Classic had abalone dolphin inlays, the debut of this trademarked inlay. The Avalon Custom had abalone dots and an optional Bigsby. The Avalon Deluxe was similar but with a swamp ash body and mother-of-pearl dots. The Avalon Flattop was flat swamp ash. The Custom Classic and Custom lasted through 1995. Both the Avalon Deluxe (bound poplar option in '02) and Flattop are still offered.
In 1995 the Avalon Classic, with abalone dots, took over for the earlier Customs. This remains in the line.
In 2000 the Avalon Pro debuted, with carved maple over mahogany, with dots (optional dolphins), and stoptail (optional Bigsby). This is still available.
In 2002 Robin introduced the Avalon Grand Classic, basically a Classic with gold hardware. Still offered.
Stompin' at the Savoy
In around 1995 Wintz decided he wanted to produce a semi-hollowbody Robin and set about designing the Savoy . Basically the Savoy is an up-sized Avalon. "I literally projected an enlarged image of the Avalon on the back of my office door and traced it when it got to the right size, a little smaller than a Gibson ES," recalls Wintz. With a milled-out back and solid top, the Savoy was one of the first contemporary guitars to feature solid timbers, as opposed to laminates. The idea was not totally new. Micro-Frets and Kustom had done it in the '60s, but most modern semis are made of laminates. After the Savoy was launched, Wintz even recalls a competitor who called him, pretending to be an anonymous potential customer, to grill him on how it was made.
Initially there were two Savoys , the Classic and Deluxe. The Savoy Classic had a mahogany body and carved maple top, with f-holes, set-in mahogany neck, twin Rio Grande humbuckers, nickel hardware, and a stoptail. The rosewood fingerboard had abalone dots, although in 2002 the inlays were changed to dolphins and it was renamed the Savoy Dolphin Classic. In 1996-97 the Savoy Grand Classic was produced, a Classic with grained ivoroid binding. The Savoy Deluxe was similar but constructed of your choice of swamp ash or poplar. A pickguard, gold hardware and a Bigsby were other options. The Deluxe was subsequently renamed the Savoy Standard.
In 2002 the Savoy line was joined by the Savoy Pro, basically a Classic with mother-of-pearl dots, plus optional pickguard and Bigsby. The Savoy Dolphin Classic, Savoy Standard and Savoy Pro are in current production.
Dating your Robin, by the way, should be a piece of cake. As a former vintage guy, Wintz knew to start his serial numbers with the date of manufacture. The first serial number began with 88.
Being conservative and patient
With the newcomers Avalon and Savoy and oldtimers like the Ranger, Medley, and Machete (and Rawhide), the Robin line has settled into comfortable middle age. Today Robin employs about 10 people. Recently Allen Hill joined to handle marketing, freeing Dave Wintz up to concentrate on design. "It's tough to make a guitar company go," observes Wintz. "You have to be in it for the long haul. It's hard because as a rock and roll company, you want to get the glory you didn't get as a player. It's tempting to go wild, but you have to be conservative and patient." Robin guitars continue to get fancier and inevitably more expensive. "We realized we were making too good a guitar for what we had been charging," says Wintz, "but it's never really been about the money. You have to make some money, of course, but it's always been about the guitars."
Robin guitars. Patiently handmade in Texas . No longer a secret.
(Reprinted with permission of VGM & Michael Wright).