A Riggio Custom guitar stands out amongst the skyline of modern day electric guitar luthiers. In the Seattle-Tacoma region of Washington state, Joe Riggio was already a household name in guitar repair services. He was also a worship leader for many years and has played in many church bands as well. But in the last few years he has started to get national acclaim as an electric guitar maker that builds guitars from a purist vantage point… closer to the original Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters than the bevy of other builders out there. And now in Japan, his guitars are being held in high esteem too.
“A true Custom Guitar starts with a relationship between player and builder”
We received the very first Riggio Tango Paisley finished guitar Joe has made for this feature and it simply plays, looks and sounds great! End of story. But instead of me telling you about Joe’s fine luthier work, I thought I would pepper Joe himself with the questions that you might want to know.
[WM] Why is it important to study and know how the original solid body guitars were made by Leo Fender? What does it matter to modern day luthiers?
[Joe Riggio] Well, it only really matters if that’s the target outcome for your product. It’s important to me because it’s unapologetically what I’m striving to re-create for the player that doesn’t necessarily have the budget to own an original, but fully appreciates and understand the way they feel, sound and present themselves. It’s why I continue to surround myself with original examples, whether it be one that I’m authenticating, servicing or restoring. You must be intimately familiar with the originals to be able to make something that feels that way. Once in a while, someone who just doesn’t get it will ask why I make these guitars that emulate someone else’s design and if I plan to design something more original. I have no problem telling them that this is what I’ve always wanted to make and never tire of doing so.
[WM] What is the historical significance of the Paisley design on guitar bodies?
[Joe] The Paisley design, in my opinion, was a company’s response to a changing culture and a slight lull in sales. They were trying to appeal to a new hip new movement in fashion. Shortly thereafter, sales were revived by a post-Hendrix era.
[WM] Why did you decide to incorporate it into your new Riggio Tango?
[Joe] I had been trying to source the paper, similar to the wallpaper that was used on the originals. The other manufacturers that were using it were very closed-mouth about it and were unwilling to share their sources 100% of the time. After almost 5 years of failed attempts, a dealer of mine in Japan placed an order for 2 Riggio basses in the original Paisley finish: one in the original Paisley Red (Pink) and one in a Purple version. They didn’t bother to ask if I offered it, so the fire was lit to have it manufactured on my own. I now have it available in 7 different color variants and offer it separately to other builders.
[WM] Describe to us how your own Riggio brand pick-ups are made?
[Joe] All the Riggio Pickups are made in very small batches by my dear friend John Carlsen, exclusively for Riggio Guitars and are also available separately. They have really caught on for me and my guitars and now are found in almost every Riggio Guitar. John is a very talented pickup maker and has nailed every model we have developed together, including; 2 Tele sets, 2 Strat sets, PAF’s, Filtertrons, P-90’s, Jazzmaster, and Jaguar. I’m elated that these pickups hit the mark every time and I no longer wonder which brands to use. I do still honor the few orders that want something else specifically, but that’s really become the rare case.
[WM] That is remarkable, you offer premium custom electric guitars for discerning players as well as custom wound pick-up sets for sale so guitarist can pop your specialized pick-ups in their current guitars… and now you are offering exact replicas of Paisley paper for luthiers and guitar building enthusiasts to place on their own guitar bodies. You have quite a lot of offer here.
Tell us how your Christian faith influences your work ethic and creativity in what you make?
[Joe] Well, I guess the answer to that is kind of two-fold. God is the ultimate creator and certainly the most colorful, imaginative and diverse artist ever! We commonly focus on the other amazing aspects of who He is and how to be like Him, but the creative aspect is where I draw a lot of inspiration from. Secondly, in response to Col. 3, I try my best to treat every job and customer as if I am working for God Himself. Whether it be building a custom guitar or merely serving someone a general repair, I’m called to look at it that way.
Tango Paisley Specs
Finish: Paisley Red Nitro
Neck Profile: .880 “C”
Neck Wood: Maple
Bridge: Vintage Brass Saddle
Pick-ups: Riggio “Route 66”
Tuners: Gotoh Vintage
Pots: CTS 250K