Bernardo Chavez Rico was born in Los Angeles in 1941, actually in East Los Angeles, home to the city’s largely Hispanic population. Growing up in a guitar-oriented culture, Mr. Rico came from a guitar household. His father, Bernardo Mason Rico, was a guitar-maker, with a shop where he built guitars, vihuelos, requintos, bajo sextos and other instruments for the Mexican-oriented musicians in L.A. playing in local Latin conjuntos and mariachi orchestras. He also sold guitarmaking parts through the mail. The Rico shop was originally known as the Valencian Guitar Shop in around 1947, and later as Casa Rico. Eventually, as Bernie joined his dad, it became known as Bernardo’s Guitar Shop.
Bernie Rico had begun working in his father’s shop as early as 1953 or ’54, building ukuleles out of koa. Soon thereafter the American Folk Music Boom began, and Rico recalls that his father’s shop made banjos and retrofitted a lot of banjo necks on other brands. “Prior to 1964, we also converted a lot of Martin guitars to 12-strings because Martin didn’t make 12s before ’64.” Rico also remembers building some steel guitars during those early days, as well.
Bernie Rico continued to make acoustic guitars. However, by the mid-’60s many of the customers for guitars were country musicians, and, well, the name “Bernie Rico” just didn’t make it with country players. Bernie changes the name of his guitar shop to "B.C. Rich" after his sales rep Lat Combs idea. This was in around 1966 or 1967. Up until 1968 Rico made only acoustic guitars. Probably only about 300 of these acoustics were built.
In 1968 Rico built his first custom electric solidbody. At the time he was doing a lot of refinishing and repair work. He had an assistant working for him who suggested that he start getting more avant guarde in his finishes.
Rico’s custom guitars — basically versions of popular Gibson and Fender models — continued until the early ’70s, when the trademark weird shapes began to appear, and the B.C. Rich began to become legend.
Gibson “copies” and the Seagull
In 1969 Rico began his first attempts at guitar production with ten Gibson EB-3 bass copies, with arched tops and fancy inlays and ten matching Les Paul guitars. Both models were carved out of one single block of mahogany.
The first of the weird shaped B.C. Rich guitars designed by Rico was the Seagull guitar and bass, which debuted in 1972. The Seagull was a single cutaway guitar with two humbucking pickups and the characteristic B.C. Rich assymetrical three-and-three headstock. The rounded upper bout featured a little point about mid-way on the bass side (reminiscent of the early Carvin designs from the late ’50s and early ’60s), while the cutaway horn had a typically dramatic downward turn to it.
The Seagull design also coincided with Rico’s first use of neck-through construction, a method which would soon become strongly identified with B.C. Rich’s better models. Mr. Rico recalls sitting around with other guitar makers, including Rick Turner of Alembic fame, discussing the potential merits of neck-through construction. Neck-through construction was used on most Seagulls and other models throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, although not exclusively: some bolt-necks were also built, but these were in the minority.
Heelless neck joint
An essential feature of Rico’s neck-through design was the heelless neck joint, which was entirely his idea. This is characteristic of many of his guitars to this day.
The first endorser of B.C. Rich guitars was Dominic Troiano, who had replaced Randy Bachman as lead guitarist in the group The Guess Who at the time. It was Troiano who first used the active electronics which became common on B.C. Rich guitars. It was also through Troiano that Rico hooked up with guitar designer Neil Moser, who worked with Rico through the ’70s.
- C. Rich guitars were distributed by L.D. Heater, a subsidiary of Norlin (which owned Gibson guitars) in Salem, Oregon. Because of this connection, B.C. Rich was able to obtain Gibson pickups, and the earliest Riches used Gibson humbuckers. However, since Rich guitars featured such things as coil taps and phase reversal, each Gibson pickup had to be disassembled in order to install four lead wires, a lot of work, needless to say! Use of Gibson pickups didn’t last long, because B.C. Rich guitars started selling well and, with the L.D. Heater connection, Gibson found out and was not happy.
DiMarzios and self-distribution
Rico next turned to using Guild humbuckers, but these again required disassembly. Finally, in around 1974, Rico called Larry DiMarzio and asked him if he could make four-lead, dual sound humbuckers. “No problem,” was DiMarzios response, and from 1974 until 1986 (when B.C. Rich began making its own pickups), B.C. Rich guitars featured various DiMarzio pickups.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that B.C. Rich stopped being distributed by L.D. Heater in 1974 and began distributing itself.
A Little background on BC Rich's founder, Bernardo Chavez Rico.
Taken from Vintage Guitar's Feb. ’95 issue with corrections by various sources. The original article contains a lot of errors.