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Ritz Guitar Co. produced guitars in 1988 and 1989 over an 8-month period in Southern California in Wayne Charvel's workshop in Ontario. The company became known quality based upon Wayne's notoriety and for their amazing cracked shell mosaic finishes on their 'Neptune' series which was originally patented, designed and built by Andy Soler. Each little piece of shell was hand-cracked and stuck on the guitar body by hand. Introduced to Andy Soler's nephew Eric Galletta and eventually produced by Wayne Charvel, Andy Soler and Eric Galletta with Ritz being financially backed and majority owned co founders Brad Becnel's Sunset Ladders (Sunset Guitars) of South El Monte, CA and Cliff Wildes (Microtech International Inc CEO and the band "Off White") of East Haven Conn, they made around 150 guitars with only about 25 being the cracked shell 'Neptune' models. The first two collectable models were handmade by Wayne Charvel in Gold Abalone and gold plated hardware for Cliff Wildes and a White Abalone for Brad Becnel, both featured in Ritz magazine ads. The other models were the 'Exotic' series, which used rare woods (e.g. Cocobolo) and kept them as a natural finish, there was a one off 'Exotic' model made from small pieces of rare woods stuck together like a mosaic to form the body of the guitar, in a similar idea to the shell finished 'Neptune' series. The lower cost 'Classic' Series had painted or Zolatone finishes with Wayne Charvel making his first ever 1 of a kind Midi guitar in corvette red for Wildes. All body shapes were Strat style, however, there is a rumor that a V shaped Ritz Neptune exists. The examples of shell types available were; Violet Oyster, Brown Lip, Black Lip, Green Shell, Abalone Shell, Nautilius Shell, and Snake Lip. Most Ritz Neptunes had Alder bodies for their light weight and some with Maple or Bubinga bodies under the shell finish. They mainly used Seymour Duncan, PAF (pickup) or Schaller Guitarenparts pickups (The Schaller's were custom made for Ritz and looked a little like EMG's and renamed as 'Ritz pickups' for the catalog, the Schaller's were the pick ups that Michael Angelo Batio used on his Rocket model.). All came with the Kahler Tremolo System Spyder model. The guitars retailed for over $2000.00. Most of the later Ritz guitars featured Warmoth Guitars necks made for Ritz as Ritz were running out of money and time to make their own. These necks were thinner than the Ritz made necks but still very good. The Warmoth logo can be located at the join on the on these necks if you take them off. Also a few Ritz Guitars were made after the demise of the company in 1991. This is thought to be because Wayne Charvel had a few Ritz necks left over and he attached them to one off custom orders at a little less money. A great book to read by the man himself Wayne Charvel is “The Custom Guitar Shop” which includes the Ritz story.
Michael Angelo Batio Ritz guitars
Michael Angelo Batio was the most famous user of these guitars. He appeared in The Ritz Guitar Ad with a 'Brown Lip' Ritz Neptune along with his famous Ritz Quad Guitar (originally built by Wayne as he was under contract with Gibson Guitars; the headstock logo later changed to 'RITZ') which had 4 necks and was famously stolen on the second night of his band Nitro's first show in El Paso Texas http://www.angelo.com/html/the_quad_guitar.html A range of Ritz Neptunes can be seen in the Nitro video 'Freight Train' including an Abalone shell finish guitar originally made for Howard Lesse of the band Heart (Leese never took delivery of the guitar however). This guitar which is the Neptune that Michael Angelo uses the most in the Freight Train video is also exactly the same one that featured on the Ritz catalog cover. Also in the Nitro video a Brown Lip, Nautilus guitar and Nautilus Bass guitar (as used by bassist TJ Racer) and also a yellow Classic model Ritz. There was also a Ritz 'Rocket' model made for Michael Angelo.
Other Ritz players
Mike Hall, the guitarist with the band Killer Dwarfs also used a Ritz Neptune in the band's video 'Dirty Weapons'. A collector/player in the UK is rumored to have at least 14 of the 25 shell neptunes ever made. There is also a Van Halen Ritz Neptune that Ed Roman has for sale in Las Vegas, however Eddie Van Halen has never owned or played this guitar. Nancy Wilson and Howard Leese of Heart used Ritz Guitars in the 1990 Heart video "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You". Leese also had a Ritz custom made for him that was featured on the front of the Ritz catalog.
End of the company
The Ritz Guitar Company went out of business due to manufacturing problems in obtaining shell bodies which resulted in Becnel and Wildes discontinuing financial support of the company, liquidating the inventory and closing the company. A company resurfaced with the cracked shell finish Neptunes and a slight design change under the name WRC Guitars, which is the initials for Wayne Richard Charvel (which also included some telecaster body designs). There are rumors that many Ritz Neptune bodies and necks are stored somewhere in a warehouse without pick-ups and necks since the company went out of business.
The guitar received a very favorable review in the British publication 'Kerrang' in 1988, but overall there was not much press about them and spokesman Michael Angelo was not a huge draw at the time. Carrying a relatively high price tag ($2500 to $5000) virtually none were ever sold as new. A lot of the Ritz Guitars appeared in Scotland and the UK due to a Scottish distributor who decided to distribute most of the Ritz's ever made, which he planned to sell in the UK marketplace. Also a guitarist from New Orleans was known to have purchased 8 Neptunes in 1990. Eventually, the distribution company folded due to lack of sales and most were auctioned off by a bank after being repossessed from the liquidation, in a Glasgow, Scotland auction with most guitars being sold to buyers who were unaware of what Ritz Guitars were and were bought for next to nothing.
Numerous infringements, particularly in the United States was and is being done without his verbal nor written conformity. Andy Soler, the patent holder, had a hand in building all the original Ritz and WRC Guitars. Eric Galletta obtained the Gibson Owned Trademark WRC from Gibson Guitars. WRC Guitars was a nominee by MMR Musical Merchandise Magazine in 1994 as "Most Innovative Guitar". Galletta continued to build guitars under the WRC Trademark well into the late 1990s eventually starting his own line of instruments under the Galletta trademark. Contact Eric Galletta for more information http://www.gallettaguitars.com.
- http://www.vintaxe.com/catalogs_american_ritz.htm (Ritz catalog)
- http://www.vintaxe.com/catalogs_american_wrc.htm (the WRC catalog)