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Work of local guitar craftsman will be seen on SNL
A custom guitar made by a local craftsman will be used by singer Kesha on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend.
Yuman Rick Johnson owns two guitar lines, one called Johnson Guitars USA and the other Stremel Guitars USA. He has designed one-of-a-kind instruments for big names such as Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Night Ranger, Jimmy Buffet, Alabama and now Kesha.
Kesha, a break-out artist who has three top 20 songs, including the No. 1 hit "TiK ToK," will use a guitar made by Johnson shaped like an assault rifle.
"It is a spectacular guitar," Johnson said. "It has Roman candles, bottle rockets, surface-to-air rockets with autographs and flamethrowers. Kesha... might be shooting flames off on television. We sent that thing next day air from Yuma to New York. It left here Thursday at 2 o'clock."
Johnson said RCA, Kesha's label, contacted him a few weeks ago to request the guitar.
"You can see her with a machine gun because she is a little whacky."
In addition to machine guns, Johnson has also built a Russian MiG jet guitar with hammer and sickle inlays; a Gumby Guitar; a Betty Boop guitar; an F-18 guitar with afterburners; several Egyptian deity guitars; and many others.
His guitars are on display in many night clubs around the United States including a few Hard Rock Cafe sites, and also in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.
Johnson is the only guitar builder for the National Rifle Association, and recently donated a Tommy gun guitar to them for an auction.
He has also completed a black widow guitar for Alice Cooper which is sitting in his shop waiting to be picked up. The body of the guitar is the black widow, which appears to be eating a likeness of Alice Cooper's head, which sits atop the fretboard.
"I've made a lot of guitars for him," Johnson said, adding he got his start in the mid-1980s.
"I started building guitars in 1976, then started to build them professionally in 1985. I made guitars and took them to the trade shows in Los Angeles and some of the first clients were Alice Cooper, David Bowie and Night Ranger."
Each guitar is handmade by Johnson, except for the electronic pick-ups and tuners.
"I like to do about 10 a month," he said. "First and foremost these are all real guitars. I put all good quality hardware into these. I use Seymour Duncan pick-ups and Grover tuners. They are all made in the U.S. I make the necks and the bodies and make my own paint jobs and art work."
Johnson has always been self-employed, and enjoys the freedom of being in charge of his own designs.
"Being that I am not stuck to just one design like the big companies, I have the luxury of doing anything. The sky is the limit, whether it is a dragon guitar or machine gun or a traditional Stratocaster style or a Les Paul or Telecaster."
Johnson said he draws his inspiration for each new design from things that catch his attention.
"The thing about these guitars is power. Incorporate cool power with electric guitars and then you are on to something."
In his youth, Johnson traveled all over the world because his father was in the military. While living in the Philippines, he discovered his love of wood making.
"I saw Filipino craftsmen painting raw wood and it turned out to be so pretty when they were done. It was something I could do with my hands. It was very interesting as a young kid because it was something I could do by myself and create from start to finish."
Johnson took that love affair with exotic hardwoods and now uses it to build his guitars.
"You get different tonal qualities out of different wood," he said. "Mahogany will have a very nice rich warm tone that rings true. Maple is a very dense hard wood, so the tone will be brighter and crisper. Ash is also a heavy dense wood so it will have a bright tone."
Johnson is himself a guitar player.
"I play the guitar and that is the other thing," he said. "You have to be a good guitar player to build guitars. It is like building race cars. How can you build a race car if you've never driven the race?"
Johnson's shop, Guns and Guitars, is located at 3939 Avenue 3E No. 124, just across from the Main Gates of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. For more information about his guitars, log onto johnsonguitarsusa.com, or call 580-6630.
"Saturday Night Live" begins at 10:30 p.m. on KYMA channel 11.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.