Visiting Ritter Instruments: Germany’s Wine district, Prince, buildings older than America and the Princess Isabella
“Rights guys I am off to Germany!” I say to Richard and Bob at TNAG HQ as I am frantically trying to close the zip on my broken bag to leave for my flight to Frankfurt.
Jumping off the Stansted Express, I head through customs and get to my seat on the RyanAir flight to Frankfurt. Extremely jealous of the (well organised) woman next to me as she watches season 7 of Game of Thrones, I desperately fight of the urge to ask for an earphone to join in. But no I stick to my Blackadder audio book and be done with it.
Quick rush through customs after touching down in Frankfurt and I jump in a taxi to Deidersheim. After a very hairy drive (average speed of 167 kmph) and what can only be described as a real life game of Grand Theft Auto, we arrive at Kaisergarten Hotel where Jens has very kindly put me up for the night.
On opening the door to my hotel room I am welcomed with a copy of Guitar Aficionado on the bed with ‘Greetings from Jens’ attached to it. This will be my home for the next three nights!
After a long day working in my room and a quick run in the German vineyards (not your average day at the office), I decide to go for a wander in Deidesheim town. Did you know Deidesheim has over 1,300 wineries and the third best Christmas Market in the whole of Germany, as well as one of the most influential electric guitar builders of today! Pretty Cool!
The streets and the buildings are beautiful and, according to locals, almost every room in every hotel is booked up most weekend. After my stroll through town I get back to the hotel to receive a text saying "Meet you in the lobby of your hotel at 6pm. Jens".
I first met Jens at the Holy Grail Guitar show last year, but obviously have been aware of his incredible guitars (and a fan) for many, many years. It does help that two of my all time favourite musicians George Benson and Prince both play (ed) his guitars. He approached me after myself and Michael Watts had been asked to be a guest speaker on a panel to discuss the guitar market on the opening day of last year's Holy Grail guitar show.
Jens and I spoke about the high end market, the similarity between art and high end instruments, music, the success of the EGB (European Guitar Builders Association) and most of all the way the guitar market is changing. We immediately got on like a house on fire.
We toyed with the idea of bringing his guitars into The North American Guitar but of course you must establish a relationship with each other before you can commit to a business relationship. So we kept in touch and kicked the ball around a bit…
Fast forward to Winter NAMM this year…
The funny thing about Ritter Instruments' guitar show booths is that there are never (and I mean never) any guitars available. He opens the booth and all are available, you walk around for an hour and come back and all have big SOLD signs on them. It is quite incredible.
6pm and I head downstairs to meet the man himself. We embrace with a nice hug and head over to his workshop. I've been waiting for this for a while! The building is 17th century and is absolutely beautiful, the old 4 metre (or so) tall barn style doors open and it is like you are walking into a movie set. Vine leaves, old bottles stacked up, old mirrors everywhere and a big sign that says RITTER! We have arrived.
Jens explains how he has been here for about 15 years. He was originally renting the space until the landlady suddenly decided she had to sell and sell quick and the entire building was going on the market in under two weeks. He of course went to the bank and luckily the bank manager loved guitars, and the rest is history!
We go into the work shop. I have been so lucky this year to visit some of our luthiers and understand their process and working environment. It always amazes me how different and yet how similar they all are. Never any mess, dust or tools left out and always meticulously organised!
When walking through Jens' wood collection you cannot help but see the guitars he is going to create!
Moving into the ‘Showroom’ we go through his collection he is exhibiting at this year's Guitar Summit in Mannheim tomorrow and I get to play a few!
The Guitar Summit guitars & basses.
TNAG's Princess Isabella in Dirty Blue..
This guitar is everything we could have wished for. The finish is exquisite, a quilted redwood solid piece with Transparent High Gloss hand polished in a ‘Dirty Blue’. It is fitted with Ritter FAT jazz pickups, custom gold frets and is light as a feather. This guitar will make one of our clients very very happy!
The Wall of Fame..
Right after indulging me for some time playing the guitars we head to dinner. Clearly Jens is known by everyone in this beautiful little town of Deidesheim, Hello Jens, Hi Jens, Cioa Jens...comes from most shops and restaurants as we walk past.
Jens takes me to his friend’s restaurant Deidesheim Hof where I very quickly learn is where Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, John Major, Václav Havel, Jacques Chirac and Mikhail Gorbachev all dined, along with The Queen! Not a bad place to talk about guitars and Rock 'n' Roll.
We did not stop talking (or eating for that matter). Discussing all the phenomenal artists he has worked with over the years (stories I wish I were allowed to tell), stories of his childhood growing up and paying for his mother and father's chimney with the first guitar he built, his first visit to Rudy’s Guitar store in NYC, meeting George Benson for the first time, meeting Prince for the first time and his acceptance into national museums all over the world. You cannot feel humbled by this man's passion for art, creativity, music and, above all, tone and the guitar!
Thank you Jens for a wonderful evening!
Jens will be joining us at The North American Guitar showroom this coming Thursday to unveil two of his instruments - the Princess Isabella and his Porsch model. We have complimentary champagne on arrival and guitar demonstrations from one of the most phenomenal session players in London, Dario Cortese.