What kind of person appears in movies, defended the country as part of an urban assault team, and builds unique guitars by himself combining old world craftsmanship, art deco design elements with a bit of spookiness thrown in? That person is Ventura, California’s Randy Parsons. With his company, Parsons Guitars, he builds whatever he can think of, leaving established classic designs to someone else. His vision is as unique as his price ranges, from the new Bruja model, all the way to the flagship of his Wonderland Series, The Mad Hatter.
The first guitar Randy built seems to set the tone for the following 20 years: this is something different. Starting his building career in Seattle, Washington and eventually moving to California, Randy is still the only person that works on his builds. While other builders try to expand after a few years, Randy kept it small, which allows an ‘anything goes’ work ethic, and painstakingly thinking through every part of the guitar. His background is impressive, and so are his designs. Randy states:
“If you want to build a great instrument you should learn how to play it. I studied classical and Jazz guitar at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA., earning a B.F.A. degree in 1987. After college, I joined the military and was part of an urban assault team. It was fun hanging off buildings and blowing things up, but it was also time to get back to my real passion, the guitar.
I began to travel, where I met and studied with world class guitar makers from all over the world. Among them, Reene’ Brune (Spain), Boaz (Israel), and Charles Fox (United States). Most recent, George Majowski “Uncle George”, who taught me the Kasha.
There were also small schools’ that I attended like the American School of Luthiery in Healdsberg. Today I focus on my business, the Parsons Guitar Shop. Began in 1995 and built on reputation, it is my goal to provide my fellow musicians with the best service possible.”
Randy has been the subject of a PBS Special, as well as appearing in several guitar magazines. Players such as Jack White and Jimmy Page have been seen playing a Parsons Guitar. Jack White even featured a Parsons in the movie ‘It Might Get Loud‘ where he performs with The Edge.
I recently asked Randy Parsons a few questions about his influences, his work, and the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Pickup he helped design.
Your designs seem to take cues from the Renaissance as well as Art Deco. What about those periods inspire your designs?
Both those periods went way over the top with art and design. It’s both amazing and sobering what was accomplished during those periods with old fashion tools. I also like to mix in a little spooky with some dark carnival art just to keep it real. As far as my designs and why I’m different. For me, I take each build very personally, actually I’m the only one in the shop building. I have a small team of women that run my life, so I can just focus on building. So that’s one thing, the guitars are built by me.
Also, I think some people can identify with, or appreciate my story. Being stubborn and staying true to my ideas and visions. Pursuing what you love. Going the slow road and taking risks, that’s part of my story. I’ve also built a few famous instruments and I’ve been in a few movies, I always love saying that last part, been in a few movies. This year is Parsons Guitars 20th year anniversary.
Why would someone order a Parsons Guitar over other designs out there? What makes a Parsons Guitar different?
Bottom line, I leave my customers with something special, a one-of-a-kind, something documented, something built from my own blood, sweat, risks and tears. A no compromise musical instrument.
What did you look for in designing your Seymour Duncan Custom Shop pickups*?
Designing my own custom Seymour Duncan pickup was both an honor and an amazing experience!, or as we say around here, it was amazeballz. My all time favorite humbucker is the Seymour Duncan Seth Lover. But it comes un-waxed. We made ours very similar to the Seth Lover and then we lightly waxed them. The covers were etched with my company logo and I hand stressed each one. I LOVE these pickups!! They come standard on my 2015 Bruja model. I wouldn’t use anything else.
*You don’t have to be a famous luthier to get the Custom Shop treatment. They can alter existing stock Seymour Duncan models or build your custom pickup from scratch for anyone.
The New Model
The Bruja is a new ‘production’ guitar for 2015, and is limited to only 250 pieces. It features an unusual double-cutaway quartersawn cedar body. It features a humbucker at the bridge and a single coil at the neck, while the Bruja Jr. features a single humbucker. Even though it is called a production guitar, it is still built by Randy Parsons himself.
Have you ever ordered a custom guitar? If you had unlimited resources, what kind of guitar would you have custom built for you?