1980 - 1982
1980 – Service Box
In order to do better business with the dealers, we have developed the "Rockinger-Servicebox". A large wooden box with labeled plastic assortment drawers, which contained almost everything you needed in the shop for replacements and repair parts: sockets, potentiometers, switches, screws etc. Luckily I had some nice buddies in Göttingen who published a city magazine and had a photocomposing computer. They didn't have "normal" computers yet, so I had a lot of writing done there - headlines in the catalogues and especially the labels for the drawers of the service box. This was well received by all kinds of guitar dealers and wholesalers.
In 1979 a competitor had come on the scene, Harald Kadagies' "Sound & Vision" in Bremen. He offered American products, the first Di Marzio pickups, boogie bodies, Warmouth, Schecter necks and guitars, shielding kits and all sorts of technical reading. The time for such products was simply ripe, the whole guitar world sought to individualize their instruments by "tuning" them. And we were right in the middle of it.
Our catalogue was small (A5 format) and useful, but not necessarily charismatic. Harald's catalogue was thicker and in A4. In addition he gave the impression that several people were working in this company ("You can ring the crew out of bed from 11 o'clock!").
Harald has always been a very nice guy, on top of that with correct hanseatic behaviour. At that time (he was in his early 20's) we met at the Frankfurt Music Fair and he was immediately ready to add our kits (already the ones with continuous necks) to his assortment. Competition can fertilize!
We often talked on the phone and eventually considered merging the two companies. But there was a little catch: Harald revealed his concerns about his American suppliers and revealed not much later that in case of a merger he would have difficulties to raise the already agreed initial capital. I was reluctant to abandon the idea of doing without this man. His catalogues alone were real masterpieces of graphics and text; miles better than our Letraset glue and scribbles.
Züli and I discussed how this brilliant man could be integrated into our already flourishing company and made an appointment with Harald in Bremen.
11 o'clock in the morning, we were appropriately Hanseatic punctual. Hm, a bit strange, a dignified turn of the century apartment building, whose bell sign signalled that Harald's Sound & Vision shop was located on the second floor. At first nothing happened when we rang the bell. Shortly after, a young man with a bum-like appearance left the house (later turned out to be the singer of Harald's band "A5"). Only then the door was opened, Ok, so we went up and into the holy halls. So this Harald was living in that big apartment in the old building, which he had partly designed as a showroom for his parts and Schecter instruments in a visually brilliant way. We didn't have the staff we expected, a brilliant one-man show. And Harald had a correctly managed card index with a lot of customers and plenty of orders, which he could not fulfill due to the tardiness of his - especially American - suppliers. In addition, Meinl had just taken over the distribution of Di Marzio pickups from him. And Schecter had also just switched to the competition, namely Musik Schell.
Harald seemed to have just come out of his coma, but he slowly came through again and we finally dedicated ourselves to the purpose of our meeting. Our scepticism gave way to the perfectly designed showroom and Harald's obvious sense of order, so we actually agreed to merge. We paid off his outstanding debts and he immediately set to work to create a really cool Rockinger catalogue. Oh yes, the name Rockinger was borrowed from the Hanoverian guitarist Arndt Schulz, who used to call himself Arndt "Rockinger" Schulz. Arndt soon wrapped a lot of pickups with us.
In line with the merger, we decided to move all of them to Hannover. My quasi-hometown, Rock City with the largest number of bands nationwide. There we rented the first floor of a cute back building in Südstadt at the Hildesheimerstraße, part of a former bicycle repair shop.
When we moved, Hanni and Jule stayed in Göttingen for a while, and all three of us lived in our offices - a company flat share, so to speak.
Our upper floor had a long corridor. To the left of the courtyard were the offices and to the right was a huge empty room about four metres high with two large skylights in the roof. Harald then turned one third of it into an impressive showroom including a shipping department - the other two thirds were for the workshop.
Harald, Harald, Harald Kadagies ... A really brilliant designer and copywriter, a man of unerring good taste with a fat load of rebellion. He had designed an adventurous collection of heavy metal bodies and described all his creations in the new Rockinger catalogue so tasty that every freak had to have his mouth watering. He also owned a large collection of heavy metal comics. One of them was a story about a fantasy rocker named "Heilmann", who fought duels with other guitarists with his guitar decorated with female breasts and finally shot them into the afterlife with a "beam of extremely weird sounds". From this Harald then created some very nice ads - Heilmann and his guitar, excellently equipped with Rockinger parts: "This sound is a killer! And later we even built this guitar, it had to be...
One of my maxims is: "Bring together the good forces." And the powers will remain good as long as they all move in the right direction. Sometimes, though, things turn out differently. And so it is with Harald. Unfortunately, our chief designer was psychologically rather unstable and tended to increased consumption of alcohol and drugs, which soon led to a permanent state of depression. This became so unbearable over the coming year that we had to advise him to leave.
Nevertheless: Harald was a formative figure at Rockinger due to his infatuation with design, from whom we learned a lot. He has been living on La Gomera, his dream exile in the Atlantic Ocean for a long time ... But the contact has never broken off until today. Here his latest email: "Oh, old friend, we're not going anywhere anymore - my party times are over - how can a creature endure such hustle and bustle soberly - we hate to leave our own clod - we avoid the hostile outside world with its confusing social interdependencies - tired and leaden the old man sinks back into the pillows - never again - never again! H.“
Here are two examples of Harald's wonderful, self-produced comics:
1980 – Fender Replacement Parts
At the end of 1970 there were already all kinds of parts on the market. It was no longer necessarily the time to invent completely new things. But now it was time to nag, or rather to analyze the qualities of existing things and apply the resulting knowledge.
The main event was the end of Leo Fender guitars - that is: the sale of Fender to the American multi-allround music company CBS. What was then produced under the CBS direction from then on obviously didn't sound as good as before. And didn't look as good with the new, clunky shapings. The now introduced three-point neck fastenings would have been okay, if only the neck pockets had not had so much play. And the originally beautiful steel block tremolo of the Strat had given way to a cheap, all-cast zinc part, which was very happy to get out of tune. The whole world was still trying to get hold of a pre-CBS fender somehow.
And so the guitars and basses made under Leo Fender experienced an incredible renaissance. Whether as a whole or in individual parts. This was also true for copies made from either the same woods or more exotic materials such as bubinga, zebrano, rosewood, etc.
We did not want to stand idly by and watch this unexpected boom. We were able to make the necks ourselves, as we did with our kits - even with continuous necks (whereby the head plates made much more work). In addition, the market demanded that we offer painted necks. By a lucky coincidence we found an ingenious varnisher just outside of Hannover, who not only varnished but also worked with fine grinding and polishing blocks and produced best surfaces. We also offered a Rockinger Mattlack-Spray for sale.
But what about the bodies? Idea: My in-law's period furniture factory. We gave them the templates for the outer forms and bought cubic meters of wood. Then the blanks were milled to the exact outer shape and we only had to pick them up. For the background knowledge: Such a body is sawn out a little bigger at the band saw and then copied to the exact size at the copy router. In this factory there is a woman working who sawed out the blanks at the band saw so fast that you could hardly believe it. But the blanks had neither shapings nor cut-outs, just the outer shape and flat on top and bottom. At the same time we bought an old, but fully functional Schanbacher & Ebner copy router for 600 marks, as well as a table router for the shapings. In addition, of course, the matching milling cutters and lots of grinding equipment to smooth and round everything and - not to forget - an exhaust system for dust and shavings. And there we had them, the "Fender" kits!
We had employees and temporary staff from the very beginning, especially as far as this tiresome accounting is concerned. "When founding a company, the first thing you have to do is to make sure that your finances and bookkeeping are watertight," a business economist friend of mine had told me. And that's how Gerda Maus came into play. The always good-humoured young woman took care of the finances meticulously and mercilessly. And she also took care of the shipping. Her eagerness and her whole appearance then prompted Harald to design a provocative, full-page advertisement in the "Fachblatt" with a photo of Gerda.
Horst Gropp, often simply called "Grumm" or "Mr. Grumm", had already made the very first kits clear on the basis of our designs. He was practically our first carpenter/guitar maker. A super creative guy with a great sense of humor. Together we expanded our woodworking and increased the machinery. For good reason all professional machines, no junk from the DIY market. And some of them were real colossuses, like the stationary router, a big table router and the Bäuerle branch hole drilling machine with three drill chucks, a real animal.In fact, we had to hire a piano transport company to have these huge pieces lifted into our upper floor. Pure amateur muscle power would have been in vain...
Now we were finally able to do the cut-outs for neck, pickups, electrics and bindings on the router and the shapings for forearm and placenta belly on the bench router. The body blanks still came from the furniture factory, the neck blanks from the Erlangen wood company and the fingerboards from the Klier. For pressing in the frets we got a more massive upright drill, in whose chuck the slightly inward curved press-in punch was anchored.
Our kits with full-length necks still worked quite well, although the large number of musicians prefer to buy something finished rather than to create their own creative design. But the tendency now went more into this Fender screw-neck technique and "tuning" by guitar parts.
And here is a catalogue foreword, which was quite popular at that time:
Due to the enrichment of our assortment with all kinds of brass hardware, the weight of our cheap shelves, which were rather unstable at the beginning, increased extremely, and it came as it had to come: at one shelf the legs buckled, it fell to the side and dragged the other parts shelves along like domino stones. That cost us time and money.
It was time to expand our product range. We expanded our "standards", like Strat, Tele, Jazz-Bass and P-Bass-Bodies with Explorers, Flying Vs and a scaled down "Mini"-Explorer. And very important: We were way ahead of the Americans, because they could only offer bodies with standard milling for Europe due to transport and organisational reasons.
So we developed a modular milling system, with which we could offer e.g. Strat bodies with tele neck milling and humbucker at the bridge, or tele bodies with Strat tremolo, middle pickup and rear electric compartment - custom kits, any variations. Milling was done over the centerline and bridge position to ensure that the strings were absolutely centered over the body and the scale length (nut to bridge) was accurate. For this purpose we had a support base into which corresponding holding frames for the body blanks could be inserted from above. For the underside we had a lot of insert plates (templates) with different cut-outs, which were exchanged for the respective customer's request.
In between a look in our showroom after the shelf collapse disaster...
Usually a professional stationary router (also called copy router) has a lowerable, high-speed motor with a chuck for milling cutters of different diameters and profiles. Centrally underneath is a chuck for interchangeable guide pins, also of different diameters. These engage in the milled recesses of the template bases so that the body can only be moved as far as the guide pin fixed in the table allows. Thus the shape of the stencil is copied cleanly 1:1 into the body. And should a milling - for whatever reason - be too small, simply replace the guide pin with a smaller one so that the milling cutter can be moved a little more.
On this machine we also milled the bindings. For example, you take a guide pin with a diameter of eight millimetres and a milling cutter with a diameter of twelve millimetres, which then takes away two millimetres all round. Look at the nice sticker that Horst has stuck on the milling motor (10 years of drunk driving)!
After Gerda and our second "steady man", Horst, came then:
When it came to bass, our Henner was an influential man in the ever faster growing company. A total jazz bass freak, who owned some really old jazz basses and constantly conjured up his own creations of this model from some parts
"Uncle Hennes" was really obsessed and even then he considered the exact pickup positions of the basses to be the most important thing. And indeed, that was true, because certain overtones can be produced best that way. And the shaping of the bodies was almost as important to Henner; those elegant slimmings for the belly and forearm.
Munich studio bass legend Günther Gebauer still plays our fretless with ebony fretboard with enthusiasm. And whenever we design a new bass - no matter what scale - these are the most important details to me to this day.
And another nice incident: Henner had a brief love affair with a Russian woman named Tamara. There he always hummed the following on the melody of "Caroline" (Status Quo): "Tamara, Tamara, whether gross, net or tara. Tamara, Tamara, sweet love".
When the first strats were built, the naturally bright white pickguards - made of celluloid at that time - had ABS or PVC, which was not used at that time. But what was the first way to recognize an old Strat? Well, it was already known back then (1979) that the first indication of a pre-CBS Strat was a slightly greenish pickguard colour resulting from several years of exposure to UV light - i.e. over the years the upper white layer started to become more transparent. As a result, the black middle layer shines through to the outside, creating that greenish-pinkish, striking shade that made the expert collector's heart beat faster even then.
So I asked the colophony expert Mr. Glassl whether this shade could not be reproduced. One can! So we ordered this pickguard material from a celluloid factory in Italy, which was able to produce any colour we wanted. They cast the stuff into blocks, cut it (like veneer of wood) into thin layers and laminated the upper and lower layer mint green with a middle layer in black. A few thousand marks had to be made loose for a minimum order quantity. But in the end we didn't care, because we were on the right track. Our "original" celluloid pickguards were even more authentic than the ones the Japanese and then the Koreans produced a few years later from PVC or ABS.
Horst and Tom
After Horst, Tom Kaiser was the second carpenter to start with us. Immediately after we bought another milling machine, he started to shape the bodies with even more meticulousness and tried until everything was even more perfect - or better said - with less regrinding work.
On a bench milling machine we always used the thick 40cm head, which we used to mill the fretboards to curvature and to work out the forearm shaping of the bodies. For the back belly shaping we had mounted thick cylindrical cutters on both machines, which both, taken together, then ran in opposite directions. This had a specific purpose: when the milling head dips into the wood in the belly shaping process and has reached its lowest point, the blades of the milling head start milling outwards against the grain. It can happen that the expensive wood tears out to orn: scrap, waste. So - to avoid this - you mill with one cutter clockwise to just about the middle and then with the second cutter counterclockwise from the other side. So nothing bad can happen in the middle anymore.
And back to the neck fits: If you own an old Rockinger body and find the stamp "Grumm" or "Tom" in the neck cut, you can be sure that you have acquired a valuable collector's item! Especially Horst's way of signing each neck cut by hand was always a ceremony and his neck cuts were always very accurate. We made an advertisement about it later with the headline "He (the cock) must enter, even if the two of us are crying) Rein musser, und wenn wir beide schreien!". Horst Gropp: A super guy...
And I can't remember how many nights we stood at the workbench with a crate of beer and developed new ideas and designs. One of the first projects was this guitar with the female breasts from the Heilmann comic by Harald Kadagies. We really worked on this wonderful body almost until dawn, a real joy when you could finally stroke over it with your hand and everything - apart from the elasticity - felt just perfect!
When headless basses became more and more fashionable, Horst contributed a nice design, the "Grum-Stick". And Tom is still working here today, although after more than thirty years with his long hair he is the one of us all who still looks almost the same as he did back then.