The Rossmeisl Guitar Legacy
Roger to Rickenbacker
by Peter R. McCormack

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1950's Roger Guitar
Photo 2004 Frank Allen

The Rossmeisl "Roger" Acoustic Guitar

The Roger guitar was crafted from the late 1950s until 1962 by Wenzel Rossmeisl, a German jazz guitarist and luthier. An excellent example of this creation is shown in the above photo kindly submitted by Frank Allen. Allen, by way of introduction, is the frontman and bass player for "The Searchers." Rossmeisl named this guitar after his son, Roger Rossmeisl, who would follow in his father's footsteps as an outstanding luthier. Both men graduated from the Mittenwald School with Roger earning a Master's level degree. Consequently, father and son were influenced by their similar academic and practical training in late 19th century Northern German guitar design.

Even the casual observer will be captivated by the unique design and beautiful finish of this intstrument. The elegant German carving on the top of the body accentuates the classic lines of the archtop. The double binding on the front and back of the instrument highlights the thick body and is equaled only by the striking and meticulous binding of the f-holes.

Prior to Wenzl's making of the Roger series guitars, Roger Rossmeisl had moved to the United States in 1953. After only a brief stint with Gibson in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It would seem that a somewhat disenchanted Rossmeisl moved to California, perhaps due to his artistic temperament or as a result of his problems with alcohol.

After a brief period on the west coast, he eventually took up residence as a luthier with Rickenbacker in early 1954. Rickenbacker, as the name suggests, has a German connection with Adolph Rickenbacker. It was about to be influenced by more German ingenuity in a way that would forever change the look of the Company's instruments.

Roger Rossmeisl, sometimes described as having an unorthodox manner, was responsible for the innovative design of a number of the Company's instruments, most notably the Combo Series the Model 381 and the acoustic Jazzbo. He left Rickenbacker in 1962 shortly after the company moved to a new location in Santa Ana. He joined ranks with Fender and his flambouyant style is apparent in the Montego and LTD archtop electrics. He returned to Germany in the late 1970s and died in 1979 at the age of 52 years. Sadly, the brightest stars are sometimes short lived.

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Full Front View of The Roger
Photo 2004 Frank Allen

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"1958 Rickenbacker Jazzbo"
Photo 1958 Rickenbacker Int'l Corp.
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The Rossmeisl Style

While the Roger guitar is not considered to be the blueprint of the models that Roger Rossmeisl crafted for Rickenbacker, the resemblance between Wenzel's design and his son's creations is evident.

For comparison purposes, the Jazzbo or Model 760 is chosen here as it is an acoustic of similar design to the Roger. To begin, the German carve around the edge of the body is unmistakably "Rossmeislian" and this hallmark feature is evident on the Jazzbo. It sets off the archtop nicely and it is difficult to desribe where art ends and guitar crafting begins. Variations on this "carve" can be seen on the Model 381 and the Combo series. To a lesser entent the technique was used to very good effect at the tailpiece of the 300 series instruments as well.

The symmetrical f-holes have been changed by Roger Rossmeisl to exaggerated slashes and add a dramatic flair not present in the original design of Wenzl. The sound holes of both instruments are bound, a feature also used on the sound holes of a number of Rickenbacker models over the years.

The staining of the Roger and Rickenbacker Jazzbo is also highly similiar, expecially the darker region around the edge of the body, fading tastefully toward a natural wood grain toward the center. This is a technique that has become the signature of Rickenbacker guitars over the years, especially for those with a Fireglo finish. This same shading is also similar on the back-side of both instrument bodies along with the natural wood finish on the back of the neck. The bodies of both the Jazzbo and the Roger are bound and of similar thickness. The similarity also extents to the floating rosewood bridge.

Roger Rossmeisl did depart from the work of Wenzl in a number of respects. To begin, he 18 fret finger-board of the Roger has been extended to 21 frets in the case of the Jazzbo. Also, the tailpiece of the Jazzbo is in keeping with the sound-hole shape to a degree and departs from the more delicate tailpiece on the Roger. The significance of the unique "person" figure, painted in white, on the upper bout of the guitar is not known and certainly something worthy of future research.

While the "Roger" and the "Jazzbo" have similar features, it is to be appreciated that the design of these instruments took place concurrently in the late fifties and early 1960s, and independently with father and son being thousands of miles apart. The likenesses of these fine guitars may be due to similar training or perhaps makes a case for behavioural genetics. Certainly it is no surprise that sons model themselves, at least in part, after their fathers. With regard to the John Hall, CEO of RIC, offers the comment

"I should point out that Roger and his father didn't have too much to do with each other, at least as far as the instrument style is concerned. Really the Roger brand guitars have nothing to do with Roger himself."

In spite of the rather tenuous connection between the "Roger" and Roger Rossmeisl, it would seem that Wenzl thought highly enough of his talents to name this model after his son. Regardless of the nexus between these fine instruments, clearly the heart and soul of each of these men was in their craft. It is a pity that they could not have spent more time together.

Shown below is a photo of the Rickenbacker Model 760 "Jazzbo" as it is crafted today. Notice the difference in shading of the finish, the reversed triangle fret markers and the less pronounced German carve. Nonetheless, the Rossmeisl features are still prominent.

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Full Front View of Jazzbo
Photo 2004 Rickenbacker Int'l Corp.
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"Full Back View of The Roger"
Photo 2004 Frank Allen

The Sound and Playability of the Roger

One of the most interesting aspects of researching this guitar was obtaining the comments from the owner, Frank Allen. His generosity in sending in the photos and his willingness to discuss the playability and sound of his guitar has opened up the door for much discussion. With regard to playability and sound Allen writes

"When I bought the instrument it was completely unplayable. The action was awful even with the bottom section of the bridge removed. I actually bought it because of the nostalgia (a guitarist in one of my first groups had one) and for the aesthetic value. The carve is beautiful and I love the shape of the distinctive F holes which Rosmeissl has reproduced on the Fender Coronado. But my local guitar tech who lives near me reset the neck (how I don`t know because there does not seem to be any interruption in the paint work) and now it plays very nicely. Not like a solid body rock and roll guitar but in a percussive chunk way like a tight jazz guitar. The tone is bright, a bit like a Django Reinhardt sound."

The neck of the guitar is a typical fiftes chunky section, unlike today's slim necked instruments. It doesn`t have an adjustable truss rod but I assume it has a metal bar although it may not. I could be wrong and perhaps that is why it is so thick. It would need thick wood to stop the neck from warping. It is much more square in shape than the Hofners I have from that period. In fact it doesn`t feel like any other guitar I have held. It`s definitely a rhythm guitar as opposed to a lead guitar. Now that it has been set up properly it seems to stay permanently in tune which a lot of guitars don`t."

Rossmeisl's style is evident in the roughly 10 LTD electric guitars that he made for Fender in 1968. The f-holes, single cutaway, with German carve is see in the photo below.

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"LTD Fender Electric"
Photo 1968 Fender Instrument Corp.
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"Bound Jazzbo Headstock"
NAAM 2001
Photo 2001 John Williams

The Rossmeisl Legacy

Nearly 50 years after the creation of "The Roger", some of the most cherished guitars remain those who were built or inspired by Wenzl and Roger Rossmeisl.

Today, luthiers at the Rickenbacker factory in Santa Ana, California continue to build timeless classics out of the German tradition introduced to the United States by Roger Rossmeisl. A stunning example of this can be seen in the bound headstock of the Jazzbo, illustrated above. During his short working career at Rickenbacker, spanning only eight years, he managed to captivate the imagination and respect of guitar enthusiasts in America and around the world. While he worked for a number of major manufacturers of guitars over the period of 1953 to to the late 1970s he left perhaps his greatest mark at Rickenbacker.

Thanks to Wenzl Rossmeisl, Francis Hall and John Hall, Roger Rossmeisl's work is as fresh today as it was during the 1950s. Thanks to Frank Allen, we have been able to reflect on the "Roger" and the family Rossmeisl's lasting contribution which continues at Rickenbacker with the Jazzbo and the model 381/12V69 shown below. I am indebted to Ms. Wendy Burton who once again passed on my questions to Frank Allen and then sent along his responses. Many guitars are made, but only a few classics are destined to endure. This is the Rossmeisl legacy.

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"1998 Rickenbacker Model 381/12V69"
Photo 2004 guitarleyrod

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