Private Collection: Richard Kingsman

In nearly four decades of collecting, Richard Kingsman has amassed an enviable selection of classic guitars and one-off curiosities.

Richard Kingsman started collecting guitars in the 80s while touring as a professional guitarist. Having owned several guitar shops since then, he was in many ways the original kid in a sweet shop.

“After being in bands for as far back as I can remember and owning guitar shops for 25 years, I’ve lost count of how many guitars have passed through my hands”, says Richard. “I own The Music Trading Company in Rye, Sussex which can be a huge strain on my wallet, especially when a favourite that I may not have or a cleaner model comes in for part exchange.

Although, there are signs that I’m slowly getting over the habit!” he laughs. “I also had the collecting bug in the 1980s. It was call the boom-years for amassing guitars, because you could afford to buy old guitars before it all went silly.

1930s Bakelite Premiervox, 1950s Maccaferri G-40, Silvertone L562 Colorama, Fenton-Weill Dualmaster

When it came to picking up vintage axes, Richard had a key advantage over other bargain hunters… “I’d look through the weekly music papers like the Melody Maker, which came out every Thursday, for the best private deals,” he explains. “But I knew a local newsagent in Soho who received delivery late on Wednesday, so I was one step ahead. I’d often go to see one guitar and leave with two amps and six guitars.”

It was an addiction that eventually grew into something much more substantial, however… “I was always looking to the future and after years of trading, I just decided to open my own shop,” Richard explains. “The first was in Ealing Broadway.

Looking back now, I think we were a little bored and just collected as many guitars as we could hoping they’d be worth a fortune one day. Luckily, I focused on what have now become the classics, many of which I used in my band, Straight 8UK, in the 80s. We played a lot of high profile gigs and toured Europe with Queen in 1980.”

Richard’s guitar of choice in this period was a hard rock icon – one that saw its share of battle scars over the years. “My main guitar for that period was a black Gibson Flying V from 1970, Richard confirms. “I had the Vibrola fitted by Peter Cook, removed the tone control circuit and fitted a mirror scratchplate. It had a headstock repair after it fell off a stand whilst recording our first album, I saw it topple and couldn’t do anything about it. When a Gibson falls over, it’s usually the headstock that suffers. Luckily the record label paid for the repair.”

2012 Gibson Skunk Baxter Firebird, 2002 Firebird VII, 2015 Firevbird VII, 1976 Firebird Bicenntenial & 1967 Firebird III

As well as the classics, Richard’s V-love takes in some truly unique birds along the way. “I also have a Natural V2 with Boomerang pickups and a Gibson Moderne, which is number two of four prototypes built in 1980,” he enthuses. “I’m more of a rock player so I naturally lean toward a Flying V, Firebirds are also high on my list, but I’ve only upped the numbers to five in the last few years.

“I have one Non Reverse Firebird at the moment from ’67 with three of the best sounding P-90s I’ve heard, I’m told they used old stock P-90s from the 50s, maybe that’s why. My favourite is my ’02 Firebird VII with a copper finish, followed by a Skunk Baxter signature model from 2012, also in copper, which has on-off and phase controls for the Classic ’57 mini-humbuckers.

Then there’s a blue mist Firebird VII from 2015 with a trio of full-size humbuckers – these new generation models certainly balance better on the shoulder unlike the early ones like my black Bicentennial model from ’76. I adore black guitars.”

Indeed, as we go through his collection, Richard’s love of black is clearly in evidence. “Here are two more in black,” he says, pulling out two Les Pauls. “A Custom with amber binding and my ’94 Classic, which is my favourite of all my guitars – I’ve been gigging this for over 10 years.

Gibson Explorer, Gibson V2 Natural, 1970 Gibson Flying V, Gibson Moderne

Apart from being black, it has all the attributes that I want in a guitar, like Kluson tuners, a distinct carved top, nickel hardware and hot ceramic pickups.

I’m lucky to have a great choice of pickups here, especially the early ones like the P-90s on my SG Juniors from the early 60s. I have one refinished in white and a pair in Cherry red, one of which needed a lot of restoration work by Clive Brown and has turned out the best of the three.”

As is the way with buying vintage curios, the dreaded ‘R’ word is a frequent companion – but it’s not something that phases Richard. “Several of my guitars have required restoration work, or a project I’ve left half finished. My ’66 Tele is a fine example. It came in to one of my shops in Acton around 1999. It was covered in carved leather with rope binding.

1960s Gibson SG Juniors

As I’m a vegan I had to get the leather off, but the adhesive had melted into the nitro and destroyed the original sunburst finish. I was going to go for a respray, but stood back and thought it had such an aged look about it, unlike the back, which is immaculate. It had been played so hard by the same guy for over 25 years, that he’d scalloped deep divots under the 2nd and 3rd strings, which I carefully filled and levelled off so it was at least playable.

“I have several T-types here including a black Schecter that Pete Townshend used in the early 80s and a Fender I used throughout that decade, in black of course, with a mirror scratchplate.”

With so much knowledge and experience under his belt, it’s no surprise that Richard has formed his own opinions on guitars through the decades.

Fender Jaguars and Jazzmaster – all 1960s

“I’ve come to the conclusion after handling so many early Strats, that the transition models from ’65, when Fender sold out to CBS, seemed to have that extra sparkle,” he insists. “The one in Lake Placid Blue is no exception, while my sunburst from ’60 with a slab fingerboard, still sounds stunning. It has a notably darker resonance.

I actually bought the blue one, which has a scalloped nut, from a friend who bought it from Norman’s Rare Guitars shop in California. It would seem it didn’t have a tremolo arm, so the guy took one off a ’59 Strat. As a purist collector, I’m a little upset that there’s a ’59 out there somewhere with the wrong arm!

1960 Fender Stratocaster, 1965 Fender Stratocaster

Lake Placid Blue is such an iconic and pretty rare colour, I also have it on my 60s Fender Jaguar, although it’s a little worn around the edges.

Ever the completist, Richard has always sort to build up full sets of guitars, even when they might not be to his taste… “To me, Jaguars and Jazzmasters are an acquired taste in both sound and playability,” he explains.

“They’re not really my cup of tea, but when they were affordable I wanted one of each model. I felt the same way about Fender Broncos and Duo-Sonics as well, it was a case of whatever came my way. I bought a sunburst Musicmaster in the USA simply because I was there recording an album in a band called AS-IS. I just wanted to say I’d bought a guitar in America. I trawled through several magazines and this seemed the best deal.

It’s all part of collecting – what I would describe as the guitar treasure hunt.”

Rickenbacker 325s

You don’t assemble such an enviable collection of classics by accident, and Richard always had a goal in mind, even if things have changed over the years.

“My original plan had always been to collect iconic milestones within guitar history,” he confirms. “But I was also inspired by oddities like Veleno and American Showster – the latter being built by Rick Excellente in Maplewood, New Jersey around ’84.

These exquisite guitars and basses were designed around the tail fin of a ’57 Chevrolet. This one is from the AS Series, is loaded with Floyd Rose pickups and the flagship flashing red tail light activated by the vibrato arm.

“The all-metal constructed Veleno guitars, were designed and built by John Veleno during the mid-80s. He was a master machinist and manufacturing engineer. The two body halves cut from aluminium are held together with Allen keys, they were available in chrome or gold with hardware and pickup options. My chrome version is loaded with a pair of Guild humbuckers. As it’s all metal, including the neck and fingerboard, tuning can be prone to temperature changes.

1994 Gibson Les Paul Classic & Gibson Les Paul Custom

It’s arguably the most ‘rock star’ guitar that I own – I believe less than 200 were produced, and they were owned by Mark Bolan, Jeff Lynne, Ronnie Montrose, Johnny Winter and
Greg Allman.”

The most unique guitar in this collection of classics and curios is no doubt his striking ‘8-Guitar’. “I know this is a one-off, as I had it built purposely for Straight8UK. I drew up some designs and made a prototype, which I took to Chris Eccleshall in 1981 – one of the finest British guitar makers from that period and still going strong today.

American Showster AS Series

It’s a striking looking beast with holes through the eight-shaped body and headstock. I also kept the electrics to a minimum with just one pickup and a single volume control.”

A rocker he may be, but like most 60s players, he grew up on healthy doses of pure British pop music, and Richard’s got the guitars to match.

“I loved the mid 60s, all we did at school was talk about The Beatles,” he explains. “John Lennon and a Rickenbacker just kick-started the whole rock ’n’ roll thing for me, he was the reason I picked up a guitar. The story goes that he had his natural Ricky 325 sprayed black, so I bought a natural and a black model, which sound the part through any of my Vox AC30s.

They’ve always been my favourite amp. When I was touring, I had three on the go, one for gigs one for spare and one in the repair shop. I have six here, two black and four beige, one of which is an early AC30/4 with just four inputs.”

“I’m stuck in the 60s for the next few guitars we’ll be looking at, including my Höfner 175, also known as the ‘Tandoori’ because of the vinyl covering that is still in excellent condition here, as the material was prone to shrinkage. I believe these were the experimental years – just look at the Art Deco concept on my solid-bodied Fenton-Weill, which is another legendary brand from British guitar building.”

1931 Gibson L-10, 1957 Gibson Les Paul Junior, Supro Rhythm Master Val-Trol, 1960s Vox Phantom XII

While his electric sensibilities make up the bulk of Richard’s collection, like any of us, he’s found room for a couple of acoustics for when it’s time to unplug…

“I’m not that much of an acoustic player really,” he admits.

“But there are three here that I’m glad I have in the collection, including one of the long lost Maccaferri plastic guitars from the 50s that were found untouched in a warehouse in the 80s. I have all the tags and the original cardboard box for my G-40. They originally sold for about £50, but they’re collectable now so prices have risen dramatically. There are still some good deals out there like this Silvertone archtop L562 Colorama Kentucky Blue from the early 60s.

“Going even further back, to think my ’31 Gibson L-10 is now 80 years old and still sounds good – it’s quite remarkable. I didn’t really have any intention of buying a classic archtop acoustic from the 30s, I simply bought this one because it was black!”

With such a large collection, having somewhere to keep them is always an issue, and Dave is thinking of downsizing… to a point. “I think it’s time to slow down and thin out my collection,” he insists, before countering. “But if anyone has a Firebird 1, please get in touch!”

Höfner 175

Contact Richard via the Music Trading Company website: www.musictradingcompany.com

Kingsman

Richard Kingsman, with two of his most treasured guitars – his Veleno, and his one-off ‘8-Guitar’, made by Chris Eccleshall