With this article, we are telling you about the history of BC Rich, an iconic brand of the metal scene.
A bit of history
Some might not know it, but at the origins of the brand is Bernie Rico Sr.’s father. The link is not that obvious, but come to think of it, it cannot be otherwise.
Bernie Rico Sr. indeed has founded B.C Rich around 1966. But before that, Bernie Sr. worked on guitars in his father’s workshop. His father created ukuleles out of acacia. That is certainly what made Bernie Sr like the making of string instruments.
Bernie Sr created his first guitar in 1955, when he was 14. According to him, this guitar was awful, but he managed to sell it for 35$ (!) to a woman who liked how it looked (nylon strings, shiny black).
The fans of the BC Rich guitars can therefore thank Bernie Rico Sr. and his father. And with them, the scene would not be what it is now.
Following this first test, Bernie Sr. made his first 300 acoustic guitars, under the name BC Rico before having to change the name.
Then in 1968/1969, the first electric guitars are released, Gibson EB-3 copies with a archtop, as well as Les Paul copies, made of mahogany. It’s the beginning of a new area for BC Rich, which releases in 1972 the Seagull prototype, a guitar with a new shape, but quite close to a Super Strat.
In 1975, Bernie Sr. decided to redesign the Seagull, leading to the Seagull 2, the Junior Seagull, which will eventually lead late 1976/early 1977 to the Eagle.
B.C Rich Seagull
It took close to 5 years to move from the Seagull to the Eagle, marking the brand’s first steps in the “pointy guitars” market, different from the usual classicism.
1975 is also the year the Mockingbird (short Mock) was released. This Mockingbird is then different depending on whether it’s made in Tijuana (Mexico) or El Monte (California), the two workshops of the brand at the time.
B.C Rich Mockingbird
The reason for that difference is that the boss of the El Monte workshop thought the horn of the Mock was too skinny, and called it “Skinny dick”. He decided to make a larger one.
Only 2 years after, in 1977, was the Bich released. The design of that model is bolder, more radical and you can clearly notice the shape is moving towards something more angular, like horns.
B.C Rich Bich
The brand then has released one new model per decade, without really see its sales surge. Till the end of the 80’s, the market is then still a niche, but the beginnings of heavy metal will change everything !
B.C Rich Deluxe
The 80’s and BC Rich’s good days
Because of the interest for the genre, BC Rich came up with the Warlock in 1981 . At that time and till 1982 when the department manager died, the acoustic guitars were still produced.
The year 1981 is a key year for BC Rich, first with the Warlock but also with the head with the 6 in line tuners, and not 3*3 as it always had been. That year is also the start of the “Japan era”.
Bernie Sr. managed to import guitars made in Japan under the name BC Rico (to differentiate between USA and imports). Because of a dispute with the Rico Reeds company, the name had to be changed. The company decided to use the name BC Rich for all guitars, imports or not. The brand that we know now was then born.
Things accelerated after that. It only took 2 years for new models to appear. In 1983, the Ironbird, the Stealth as well as the Widow were sold for the first time. It is also the start of the NJ series, the real one, coming from Japan, built till 1986 by Masan Tarada and Lida.
B.C Rich IronBird
B.C Rich Stealth
B.C Rich Widow
Till 1986, the NJ were made by Cort in Korea, following a first try in 1984 and the shutdown of the japanese production. It is also the year BC Rich first produced its own microphones (BDSM) and stopped an exclusive collaboration with DIMarzio.
In 1987 and 1988, Class Axe started marketing and distributing the guitars. That period is considered the worst for the brand. A lot of persons and a lot of know-how left then, workshops closed, and it became impossible to get your hands on an hand-made guitar through Class Axe. BC Rich was shunned, it was a hard blow.
During that time, guitars with a serial number starting with “i” were released. On the second hand market, that often means “do not buy” : no quality control, no information about the wood or the fittings used… Pure rubbish.
Only in 1993 did Bernie Sr start managing the brand again. He tried to get the former workshops working again, but without the employees, who found work elsewhere by then.
It took Bernie Sr. about 6 years to properly relaunch the brand, but without ever coming back to the 80’s level. The damage had been done.
Nonetheless, some new model saw the light of day. In 1995, the acoustic guitars made a come back with the B-41C, offering a cutaway and abalone trimming. That same year, two other guitars were also marketed for the first time, the Ignitor and the V prototype.
B.C Rich Ignitor
B.C Ignitor JR-V Deluxe
1999 is a milestone. Bernie Sr died on the 3rd of December.
A new model was sold, the Beast.
B.C Rich Beast
Following the Bernie Sr’s death, his son, Bernie Jr, became the manager. Things were not so easy, as he didn’t have his father’s experience or personality to oversee the workshops or the distribution, and so on. The quality went down.
He then tried to cut the costs, but his management did not go well.
Before long, BC Rich got into financial troubles, and in 2000 already, HHI (Hanser Holding Inc.) bought it. HHI still owns BC Rich to this day.
Bernie Jr was then in charge of the Custom Shop department, but not for long. He was fired by HHI for what seems to be some wheeling and dealings in the outsourcing.
There are 2 versions of that story, Tim Keyes’ and Neal Moser’s.
According to Tim, Bernie Jr. was supposed to have the guitars made at the Custom Shop in Hesperia, where Neal asserts they were outsourced to the Tijuana workshop. No one will ever really know.
You know the rest. BC Rich has not released any new models, just new series, which does not bring much.
It is clear that BC Rich has been very badly managed (and still is). There was definitely better to do with good quality guitars, such as the NJ series or those coming for the American workshops, and with all those different shapes.
Today, the brand is not that widespread on the market. HHI focuses on the American market, and floods Europe with low quality guitars. BC Rich is clearly lagging behind the competition, such as Ibanez, LTD, Schecter, ESP, LAG, Vigier and so on. And there is not much it can do to improve its image.
Its only presence is at shows, such as the NAMM. In Europe, it is totally absent. It is not even present at Frankfurt’s Musik Messe, the second biggest music show in the world (after the aforementioned NAMM). The other brands have amazing booths, with plenty of guitars and bass guitars, musicians coming in for demos. Just like at NAMM. But not in Europe.
And for the fans of the brands, especially of the pre-1985 production, have a look here. The book is now done, and will be published.
The different shapes of bodies and heads
As we have seen, BC Rich has proposed for several decades different models, some of them quite bold. Here is a short summary:
There are many different series. Sometimes the difference are minor, so it is not necessary to talk about them.
Just know that the “One”, “FR”, “Silver” and ”Bronze” series are entry range products, which we cannot recommend. The woods used, as well as the quality of assembly and finishing are below par.
If you want to own a good quality BC Rich, you should rather turn to the “NJ”, “ST” or “Pro X” series. But the current best one is the “NJ Deluxe” (mahogany, EMG), followed closely by the “Pro X”. It is all relative however, it depends on what you are looking for. On that topic, we advise you to read the BC Rich Warlock NJ Deluxe review, published on this website.
Once again, it is important to stay away from guitars with a serial number in “ixxxxx”, except if you’re looking for a cheap, entry range, alternative, that you can carry around or tinker.
The best one you can get second-hand is a real BC Rich NJ series, made in Japan, with a Bcxxxx serial. If you come across one, do not hesitate too long. Except if a truck drove over them or if they were used for gardening, they are well worth the US models.
This is also the article about BC Rich ends.
What do you think of these atypical guitars ? Do you even own one ?
Thanks to Unholy from BC Rich Amateurs for writing this article and to Joffrey for the translation !