1980 - 1984
1980 - TTT – TRU TUNE TREMOLO
Right from the start, product development was my main concern and I had just discovered the new, first Floyd Rose tremolo on Matthias Jabs' Stratocaster. A total insider tip: uncompromising clamping of the strings at both ends (saddle and bridge). Matthias, who often came in at the time, was rightly enthusiastic about it, but at the same time he criticized the idea: "If a string should ever get out of tune - which can happen with extreme string pulling - the clamping lock on the saddle had to be loosened with a time-consuming and awkward Allen key in order to retune it.
That's how I got the idea with the fine tuners: Clamping only on the saddle (which always caused a certain friction problem together with the tuners). Tuning the tremolo with fine tuners (which were already known from string instruments). The Rockinger TRU TUNE TREMOLO was born! It worked perfectly. And to take things to the extreme, we had developed a small Allen key holder which was screwed onto the back of the headstock to accommodate the necessary clamp keys. By the way, this key holder is still copied by several Asian companies today.
Shortly afterwards we had our first stand at the Frankfurt Music Fair - a real adventure! Harald, now a freelancer, had created a kind of Hawaiian feeling with artificial palms for the stand. Our neighbour was KRAMER-USA. Their boss, Dennis Berardi, saw our tremolo and was fascinated. Jawoll: The Americans were enthusiastic about our fine-tune-tremolos and the pickguards in "mint-green". In no time at all, a contract was drawn up and we had to increase the production volume considerably.
Dennis Berrardi was immediately able to enthuse Edward Van Halen (first Floyd Rose supporter) for it, and our Rockinger tremolo was then released in the USA as "Edward Van Halen Tremolo". All the other German guitar companies and of course the suppliers were in very bad shape because of the Japanese competition. The Hardware Company was all the more jubilant, because we were constantly submitting orders for hundreds of these tremolos, wonderful! That was a good year!
In life not everything goes smoothly (just as a warning, in case someone hasn't noticed it yet ...). Of course this includes missed opportunities. For example, I got hammered into a historically important conversation with Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Just in the moment when we shook hands, my business partner Ingo called me on his mobile phone that he was now standing at the backstage entrance of the hall and if I could get him in. So I apologized to the two Stones and said: "Just a moment, I'll be right back. It's much better if all four of us talk together." But that was the end of the matter. When I finally had Ingo in the Meet & Greet lounge, Keith and Ronnie were long gone. These things happen, and you can get angry about them in hindsight. It's like when the shaving brush fell into the toilet. But what the heck, you gotta be able to put it away. There are worse things than not talking to Keith and Ron. (But Eddie van Halen, I really wanted to meet him. Then I would also switch off my mobile phone first. I promise.)
1982 – Rockinger USA – Bernard Ayling
Unfortunately also Mister Floyd D. Rose had not slept, but on his part - independently of us - developed a fine tuner tremolo. This came to our ears at an opening party of Musicians Place "MP", a music store in Hannover. Job, the bearer of bad news, was in this case called Frank Untermayer and was an employee of the Hamer company. And Job Frank followed suit: Kramer intends to discontinue his collaboration with Rockinger in order to do business only with Floyd Rose in the future." The world is small ... Züli and I immediately flew to New Jersey, USA, to Kramer to get to the bottom of the rumors. Of course, the Kramer family tried to deny everything, or at least to talk down. But by chance we discovered a clue on a pinboard about the upcoming Floyd offensive. It all sounds like a spy thriller, I know...
Coincidence: Also in New Jersey, and in Asbury Park of all places, right next to the Kramer Factory, was a hip vintage guitar dealer named Bernard Ayling, who had occupied part of our booth at the Frankfurt trade fair. He spoke fluent German because he lived in the Saarland for twelve years as the son of an American occupying soldier. We visited him without further ado and described our situation to him. And lo and behold, he immediately offered enthusiastically to take over the USA distribution for our Tremolos.
After all, the Kramer's had given us a telephone number of Eddie's management in Los Angeles, so that we quickly took a flight to the West Coast. The only contact we had in LA was a friend of our bass specialist Henner.
Angela "Angie" lived in a dilapidated but beautiful Spanish house in Whitley Terrace on the Hollywood Hills with a somehow stranded movie producer. The guy who opened the door after ringing the bell several times in a confused way must have been that producer. He politely asked us to come back in a couple of hours because he was on acid and this was not the right moment. "Okay, okay, we'll come back later..."
So Züli and I drove with our rental car to Hollywood to the parking lot of a liquor store. There we hung out with a few bags and just watched the people. That alone had already something LSD-like. A never-ending bustle of hectic characters in the form of fucked up, totally finished guys, convertible driving juppies, obvious drug dealers and break clowns, who seemed to drive in circles with their arschteur Ferraris and Lamborghinis all the time, so that everybody could see them. Just typical Hollywood. At some point we were fed up and went for a little ride and then we drove back to Whitley Terrace.
Dennis was the name of the supposed film producer and he was probably halfway down from his trip. And Angela was there, too. Yes, on the first floor was a free room with two beds where we could stay. They were also happy about the beer cans we had brought with us, because there was quite an emptiness in their fridge. Anyway, this Dennis seemed to be on his last legs financially.
We told him about our plans for Eddie and Dennis advised us to drive down to Sunset. There's a lot of guitar stores there. So we started to go, and we were standing in front of the "Guitar Center". We went in, and there they were, the Kramer guitars with our tremolos. We got into a conversation with one of the salesmen about that, "Yeah, yeah, Van Halen, wow! And the next thing he announced was that Eddie was expected here in a few minutes because he had to pick something up. And you wouldn't believe it, seven minutes later, we shook hands with Eddie Van Halen. And the man even spoke some German, because he was born in Holland (they usually can).
Then we talked a little bit and mentioned that we had a guitar for him in the car, a red and white painted starshape with Tru Tune tremolo. So we all went out to our car and unpacked the Starshape. Eddie, anyway excited about Tru Tunes, and so we took this nice photo on Sunset Boulevard. We had achieved everything we wanted out of nowhere. And even more ...
On the way back we bought a load of food and drinks and made ourselves comfortable with Dennis and Angela on the terrace. An amazing view over L.A. ... Every now and then a hummingbird swarmed up to the drinking station, which was specially installed for him on a terrace post, standing almost silently, wonderfully exotic in the air and sucking water out of the glass tube with its long, thin beak. Like a large moth or an oversized pigeon's tail. Where else can you ever see a hummingbird! These little propeller animals are just incredibly bizarre.
Back in Germany
Back in Germany, everything continued on the road to success. Besides the Tru-Tune, I had developed other locking tremolos: the "Les Trem II (Les Trem I was without a fine tuner), which could be anchored in the tailpiece cases of a Les Paul or SG in the same way, without having to change anything. A new addition was a special roller bridge in the dimensions of a Tunamatic bridge, which already then had a lateral locking possibility as well as two grub screws to fix it. I still don't know what the company "TonePros" is supposed to have a "patent" on. Furthermore, I am absolutely of the opinion that a "normal" Tunamatic bridge, which moves with the tremolo, works much better.
Rollers rarely roll well. Mostly they tend to rattle or jam. But that was not the spirit of the times. A real challenge: Telecaster with tremolo: I didn't stop brooding ... With success: After some back and forth we had finished the prototype ("Tellybrator"). A locking tremolo, which fit exactly on a Tele. However, we first had to drill a hole with a diameter of 20 millimeters for the pressure spring under the base plate, which was not visible from the outside. With the Tellybrator and other parts, we naturally also boosted our USA business even more.
Made in Germany
My friend, the "Doc", alias Klaus Peter Reinicke, gave me the idea to include the Mercedes car brand in our advertising campaign. "For the Americans, Mercedes is the symbol for German craftsmanship par excellence!" That's how the saying "It's not only Mercedes which makes German products famous" came about. Züli and I posed - both with guitar - in front of our neo-classical town hall on the hood of a 1968 double-lamp Mercedes 280-SE and announced that we designed excellent tremolos in addition to sauerkraut consumption.
Our success was astounding, with Bernard Ayling receiving various letters from marketing and advertising agencies saying that "such an ad would not work at all". But - cheeky as we were - we had them on the hook, the Americans!
To pack the Tremolos and other hardware we had bought a skin-pack machine. You put the stuff on a cardboard about the size of DIN A2, pull a transparent foil from a roll over it, and while a heating element heats the foil from above, you switch on a vacuum pump that sucks the foil over the hardware onto the cardboard and glues it. We had developed a new design for the cardboard to emphasize our "Made in Germany" for the Americans - Hermann the Cheruscan with a Rockinger Rocket in his stretched right hand. Today rather doubtful...
With the Tellybrator and various other parts we have of course also boosted our USA business even more. See for yourself!
It should also be mentioned here that my great-grandfather Karl was an ingenious inventor of steam locomotives. Over the years, he designed no less than forty-five models for the Austrian State Railways and invented the so-called Gölsdorf axle, which, in the case of locomotives with more than two axles, allowed the additional axles to move horizontally in curves to adapt to the radius of the curve.
In Vienna's first district they named a street after him and today you can google your fan club on the Internet.
This Mac was a wonderful writer for the trade magazine of the time and our fan from the very beginning. (He also had a little crush on our accountant Gerda Maus during our first appearance at the music fair. Well, her last name was already part of the program ...) Apart from that, he liked our products, almost invoked our positive energy and loved our sometimes abstruse ads. And he was a guitarist, had a studio near Leverkusen and was a fan of Frank Sinatra. But unfortunately he was also a fan of hard drinks, which ultimately put him underground in the 90s. A real loss (and not only because he always wrote nice things about us).
1983 – Jörg Sürie
In January 1983, Jörg Sürie started with us as a commercial specialist, because neither Züli nor I were sufficiently gifted merchants and we wanted to bring Rockinger forward in terms of organization. Jörg looked more at the numbers and soon got the nickname "Jake" - I don't remember if it was one of the guys from the TV series "Dallas" or "Denver". Here you can see him on the right, on the left Pierro Terracina from the Company Magnetics. They produced active pickups in Rome in EMG style and we had taken over the distribution for Germany.
Here a strange creation of Horst - the Toilet-Caster:
1984 The Tremolo-StealingThe guitar market continued to be dominated by fine-tuning tremolos with clamping systems: Floyd Rose, Kahler and Rockinger. I had not yet mentioned Kahler. This was an upstanding Californian, Gary by first name, who milled a lot of guitar hardware from brass for Schecter and other companies. All far ahead in the highly competitive business. And if there was something to pick up, the Japanese were quick to copy these good sellable things. To our horror, we had to discover an ad in the US "Guitar Player" magazine that showed an almost faithful Japanese copy of our Les Trems. Of course we were furious about it.
In March we went to the Musikmesse again. Horst had built a portable sound booth especially for this. Saint Joseph, what a lot of material we had to cart to Frankfurt! But we were the Kings with our tremolos and binding guitars and basses. And you always met a lot of illustrious people at this event.
And here in Frankfurt the product theft took on a completely different form. Gary Kahler appeared extremely upset at our booth and reported that there was a Japanese company called "Rokkoman" that offered copies of all currently available fine tuner tremolos and even specified them in their price lists as "Floyd Rose Tremolo", "Kahler Tremolo" and "Rockinger Tremolo". He had this price list with him, all in black and white. My breath faltered. Those wretched robber barons!
But what to do? First, talk to Mac Wonderlea, the old warhorse. This monstrosity must simply be brought to public attention through the media, the Japanese must be exposed! The plan: all those affected, along with a crowd of media representatives, go to the Rokkoman stand and rough up these people. Dennis Berardi from Kramer was quick to win, as was someone from the guitar player.
The next morning, we're actually round with them. 40 men showed up at the Rokkomans and took them to task. What that was all about, and if they hadn't had the idea to ask for licenses for their copies. And because it is the worst thing for the Japanese man to lose face, he was immediately contrite and ready to make any kind of confession. To this day I still don't know what went on in their brains. Perhaps another form of moral understanding? An absolute lack of awareness of injustice in these things.
Gary Kahler had already discovered that behind all this copying was the Japanese company "Takeuchi". Again and again he threw this name into the debate. Here is a photo of the Takeuchis that was passed on to me at the time.
Anyway, the Rokkomans, who also had other products to offer, immediately destroyed all price lists and offered cooperation. The next morning all Rokkoman stand members had red, crying eyes. Maybe I just imagined it, but they can actually cry on command "from above". These are things that non-Japanese people can hardly believe. And anyone who brazenly copies foreign products like that is generally not to be trusted. And that is how it happened. We never received any license payment, although we signed a contract shortly afterwards.
Our catalogs were very informative from the beginning, I think. Especially because in those early years people lacked a lot of information. So we tried to explain everything as detailed as possible, like historical background, "classical" designs of guitars and basses etc.
Very early on we also had a section in our catalogs called "Electrics for everyone", a basic manual that explained all the common circuits of the instruments on the market and all kinds of options for better circuits. This was close to my heart, because I myself (as no "cosmos electrician") am an incomprehensible idiot in electrical things. So I had tried to explain the situation to myself - and thus also to our customers - as simple and understandable as possible. Very simple: What I can understand as an idiot myself, others can also understand. And that was a complete success, which of course also interested the guitarist and bassist customers very much. Oh God, all these circuit possibilities with a multitude of pickups. All the coils of humbuckers, splitting, out of phase, 3- and 5-way switches. Even today I still have to look up certain things in my circuit collection because I don't want to keep it all in my head.
And Harald designed a new company logo for us - away from this Fender-like "brush-script" typography. On this website you can see all this under "old catalogs" and I once scanned a catalog from the 80s and put it in completely, because it gives a good overview of our work at that time. And of course you can also find the manual mentioned above (which is also available on the current Rockinger website). Unfortunately everything written at that time is printed very small - reading glasses recommended!
1983 – NAMM - and Buddy in ChicagoOne evening during the NAMM Music Fair, we took a daring trip to the South Side with Bernard Ayling. A certain Buddy Guy had a gig there. I didn't know anything about him, but according to Bernard he was the best. And that Jimmy Hendrix would have helped himself to the playing and sound. Buddy Guy really blew me away. Hot blues at the Checkerboard Lounge in Southside Chicago. A totally twisted place with wild black guys and fat black women who were always bawling some obscenity on stage. And Buddy gave back cheeky remarks and told little stories. Anyway, it was full of rock'n'roll and an unbelievable loud and quiet dynamic, enriched by total interaction with the audience. A tingling atmosphere completely unknown to me until then. If you don't know Buddy Guy, you have missed something! A private chauffeur drove us safely back to our hotel, because in the South Side you better take zero risk ...
Oh yes, on the Namm even Leo Fender and George Fullerton came by and watched our tremolos. "So you got some nice things," commented Leo.