Passion, innovation, creativity, and drive. These are just a few of the words I would use to describe Joe Neal, the founder of RockRabbit Guitars.
Joe, a cabinet makers son, grew up in a small town in Indiana, where hard work was a part of life. When Joe was 14, like many kids of the 80s, he dreamt of learning to play the guitar. Unfortunately, at the time, a new guitar wasn’t in the budget. It was then that Joes father said, “Why don’t you just build one?” After laboring every weekend in his fathers shop for a year, the guitar was finally complete. Joes excitement quickly turned to utter dismay however, when he realized the guitar was virtually unplayable.
As the years passed, Joe did finally get his hands on a guitar, and learned to play. However, at the age of 22, while working in the family business, Joe cut his left hand at the base of his fingers, right down to the bone. Needless to say, this had a dramatic affect on his ability to play.
For the next 20 years Joe continued honing his craft as a cabinet maker. One day, he decided to give the guitar one more try. After a bit of time, the strength began to return to his fingers, and Joe was playing again. With renewd excitement, Joe also decided to give guitar building another try. You see, over the years Joe came to learn a valuable lesson from building that first guitar when he was 14. That lesson was, that sometimes it takes a few failures to find success. In fact, it took Thomas Edison a 1,000 try’s before he created the light bulb.
Joe began building guitars in his spare time. One day he realized that he was beginning to build some pretty amazing handcrafted guitars. Joe then decided to take a leap of faith, and began building guitars and guitar parts full time.
Joe is a custom guitar builder who makes stunning handcrafted guitars. However, what first drew our attention to RockRabbit, was his line of guitar parts that included an innovative control plate for the Fender Telecaster. Anyone who’s ever played a Tele knows that the pickup switch is difficult to access while playing. As a result of feedback from customers, Joe created a control plate for the Tele that angles the pickup selector switch, making it much easier to switch pickups in the middle of strumming the guitar. It’s one of those simple solutions that makes you wonder, Why didn’t they just do it that way to begin with?
RockRabbit makes a whole line of custom parts, such as, control plates, bridges, saddles, truss rods, etc. Joe personally fabricates each of these parts out of aircraft grade polished aluminum, or, out of titanium. Yes, you read correctly, I said titanium. I think it’s interesting to note that it took Joe several months just to learn how to bend and craft titanium parts. It’s an extremely difficult metal to work with. Therefore, the titanium parts cost more. Are they worth the extra cost? Well, let me tell you the benefits of titanium parts, and then you can decide for yourself.
First of all, titanium is 200 times stronger than steel. Therefore, the parts can be made smaller, and thinner as a result. Also, imagine what the strength of a titanium truss rod might add to the neck of your guitar. There are also those who are allergic to certain types of metals and coatings such as nickel. However, there are no allergies to titanium. That’s why it’s used by orthopedic surgeons to repair broken bones. Finally, the tinanium can be polished to look like chrome. So it needs no bulky coatings like chrome or nickel. Most importantly, it will never tarnish.
Finally, RockRabbit is a custom guitar and guitar part builder and fabricator. That means Joe can build just about any guitar, or any part to your specifications. So if you don’t see what you need in the RockRabbit store, just talk to Joe, chances are, he can build it.
Before writing this article I had the distinct pleasure of having a conversation with Joe Neal. To say I was impressed with the man is an understatement. I truly admire any individual with the gall and drive it takes to suddenly change career paths, and pursue their passion.
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As always, thank you for your time, and know your gear.
Contributed by: M. Sawyer