Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Central Coast's own “Guitar Man”


By: Juliet Nagle



Who is Gene Baker? Some people know him as 'Mean Gene', others know him as MGB, or to many he is identified for his Baker and b3 Guitars. He is a Partner, Master Builder, and Chief Engineer at The Premier Builders Guild (PBG) in Arroyo Grande. California. Gene has been known for being a Local Guitar Builder on the Central Coast for three decades. Some call him,”The Les Paul of the Central Coast.” Perhaps your already one of his greatest fans.

Where do I begin? I am thinking right from the beginning. So I asked Gene, "When did you get your first guitar?” He smiled and said, "I got my first guitar at age 5, more of a toy but still real. Then I got an acoustic from Kmart at 7, still didn't know I had to press down strings to a fret and took that same guitar very seriously at age 11 when it all came into focus." Gene started building guitars in Junior High. In 7th grade he wanted a Les Paul so bad but couldn't afford one. So he decided to make his own in Wood Shop. Gene really liked wood shop and the teachers all the way through high school allowed him to build guitars alongside his class projects. He graduated Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria in 1984 and in 1986, he went on to graduate the Musicians Institute of Technology (back then it was GIT). Gene was dubbed “Mean Gene” in his teens for his high energy fueled rippin' guitar riffs paired with a intense vocal approach. The Rest is Central Coast History.

clip_image006 At age 20, Gene set up shop in his parents’ garage in Nipomo and began doing repairs as well as building and selling “Mean Gene” guitars. He also gave guitar lessons. I asked Gene about his garage setup. He smiled and replied, "At this time, I am really into the Jackson/Charvel heavy metal Strat‘s and Randy V’s. This turned into a partnership with a friend named Eric Zoellner. which lasted about a year and a half. We actually moved out of my parent’s garage and into our first building where we did retail sales, lessons, rehearsal rooms, repairs, and built about 30 custom guitars over this time period. We had a local cable commercial that ran for a while and even plugging it on MTV. I would love to get it on our site for a joke because its kind of cheesy and captures the time period. After the business dissolved I took time off and wrote an instructional book and video entitled, “Mean Gene’s Insane Lead Guitar”. This was a 100 page book, 2 hour video giving the viewer a hands on basic theory lesson, written tests, playing tests, flash cards, exercises, chords, etc… It was produced and edited by Computer Cafe of Santa Maria. During this time, I gave lessons at three stores belonging to Owens Music in Lompoc, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo. At night I played in various cover bands on the local club circuit. Meanwhile Iwas still repairing and building a few guitars out of mom and dad's garage. He even took a trip one week and hunted for guitar buildings or sales related jobs in the Los Angeles area in hope to pursue playing more seriously. This ended up with no job but made some very good connections.” When I first met

Mean Gene, he was Rockin' it up in his band called, Mad-Hatter.

clip_image008 When Gene was 24 years old, he got a call from Roger Giffin, who headed Gibson’s west coast custom shop. While serving as Roger’s apprentice, Gene operated the shop alongside Roger for nearly two years. I asked Gene about this time in his life. He responded, “By this time I’m about 24 when I get a call from Master Builder Roger Giffin of the “Gibson West Custom Shop” in North Hollywood, whom I had met a year and half earlier on a job hunt excursion. So I auditioned for the job to be his only apprentice aside seven other guys. Six months goes by and no word about a job, but he said to stay in touch. clip_image010One day I get a call and he has an opening available, so I pack my bags and it’s off to North Hollywood. Roger and I operated this shop together for nearly 2 years building about 30 guitars and performing repairs, restorations and Gibson warranty work. We repaired anything, which was a great learning experience getting to work on Martin, Gretsch, Gibson, Fender, Rickenbaker and many others, so I learned a lot of vintage knowledge/history that I cherish to this day, giving insight on other methods of construction, hardware, finishes, electronics, cosmetics, etc… We worked alongside Gibson artist relations maintaining many local and touring musicians’ instruments on a regular basis. Roger Giffin was a major influence in the rest of my building career helping to hone my eye for details in all aspects and he’ll remain my mentor for the remainder of my life.”

clip_image012 In 1993, Gene started working for the Fender Custom Shop in Corona. Gene’s mentors and colleagues at Fender were and are still among the leading craftsmen in the industry. Gene rose to Senior Master Builder at Fender. When asked about Fender Gene said, “Fender started me off buffing the set neck models being produced, this lasted for a few months until the Robben Ford model was introduced into the Custom Shop. Being use to building Les Paul’s and a bit of hollow body experience they offered me the position. I worked closely with Robben Ford and Jeff Rivera (his guitar tech at the time) for about 6 months, making a batch of pre-production prototypes using various woods, chambers and hardware to release them for the January 94' NAMM show. We released 3 models with Robben’s collaboration, a solid body (Elite), a chambered body (Ultra SP) and a more semi hollow body (Ultra FM). Another 6 months after Robben’s Signature Model release. Fender appointed me a Master Apprentice to train Greg Fessler, who is now currently Robben Ford's Master Builder. There I worked alongside Fred Stuart and Jay Black gaining more vintage Tele and Strat knowledge while building decaled “Gene Baker” 1 off guitars. In January of 1995 they appointed me to Master Builder. Also at this time I prototyped and built the first Contemporary Carve Top Strats for the January 95' trade show.

I kept building 1 offs and became more involved with production sides of the shop, training, scheduling, even took on two apprentices to bring up through the ranks, Mike Bump and Mike Ponce. There were always so many new ideas and different ways to approach the same job. Builders would share their new techniques, past problems or triumphs, which could help you on your current project. There were so many other good builders, only a few which are still there and many have escaped like John Page, Alan Hamel, John English, Art Esparza, Jason Davis, George Amicay, Todd Krause, John Suhr, Steve Stern, Kenny Gin, Mark Kendrick, Larry Brooks, Yasuhiko Iwanade, Alex Perez, not to mention a lot of the guys coming up through the ranks. I became heavily involved with other projects, such as the Re-issue of the mid to late 60's big peg head Strat’s, production of round-lam necks, twelve strings, double necks, Bajo Sexto’s, the Showmaster Strat and the John Jorgenson signature model which were both released at the NAMM 98' show. I loved working at Fender, it was a very creative environment with a lot of great talent around to share ideas and always have some to push you to bring the quality level higher with every instrument as we developed new techniques and ideas. My learning came to a new plateau foreseeing manufacturing, marketing, and management on a grand scale.”

Gene eventually left Fender in order to apply his unique expertise to his own nameplate, Baker Guitars USA. Though he is no longer involved with Baker Guitars and the Baker Guitars name, Gene built his first Baker Guitar in 1994 and continued making his Baker Guitars until 2003. The Original Baker was built between 1994 and 2003 originally founded in Riverside in 1994 and relocated back to Santa Maria in 1999.


Provided by Reality Web Video

In August 2004, Gene launched Fine Tuned Instruments with the aid of Cliff Cultreri of Destroy All Guitars and endless hard work. FTI started shipping guitars in Jan 2006. FTI ran as a two to five man shop producing roughly 200 guitars before joining forces with PBG in Nov 2009. It started as a single man shop and Gene slowly put together each department. It grew from a single man business to a small crew of five delivering the b3 guitar line. Baker guitars are known for their smooth, comfortable lines that are very appealing to the eye and merge that with TonePros, Buzz Feiten with some of today’s modern technology and then you have a guitar built to be reckoned with.

clip_image014 When the economy crashed in 2008, Gene knew he had to make a change to save the brand. So in a combined effort, The Premier Builders Guild was founded on November 17, 2009 with Howard Swimmer and Michael Bernstein. They wanted to assemble a lineup of all-star builders and build guitars from those brands efficiently under one roof. PBG is a corporation that assists guitar builders by manufacturing and marketing custom guitars and amps. “I think the fact that we had Gene in our lineup out of the gate is what actually let us open a lot of doors,” says co-founder and former president Swimmer.

“Everyone who’s building guitars today knows who he is and of his commercial success with his line of b3s and Baker Guitars. clip_image016Michael and I didn’t know the other builders when we started building our group, but as soon as you mention Gene, it’s instant street cred. We’re making guitars for different builders, and Gene’s overseeing the production of each one of these different brands.” Swimmer also said, “The role that Baker took on is a tough one. It takes a certain personality to go in there and build someone else s guitar when you’re building your own guitars in the same building. And then to be able to execute it with the same level of pride as if it were your own. He’s a real diamond in the rough.” And Baker confirms, “I don't care if it’s my name on the headstock or not, as long as the machines are running, people are working, guitars are going out, and money is coming in. Each guitar has its own set-up requirements and each builder has his own unique specifications for his guitar.” Gene explains. The beauty of Gene is that he’s able to realize and replicate with precision what each builder wants with his guitar and make it become reality. PBG is a dream team of boutique guitar and amp master builders. Each one with its own unique individual point of view and brand. Each master builder makes specific models or their complete line available exclusively through PBG. And what about Gene’s own b3 line of guitars?

clip_image018Each model – Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, Wood – is aimed at a specific tonal space. All are precision instruments are for serious musicians whom embodies the unique expertise and passion of a man who is widely considered among the very best. PBG has ten employees and is putting out between 50 and 75 guitars a month. As the master builder and chief engineer for PBG, Gene personally oversees production of a limited selection of designs from three boutique brands—his own b3 line, as well as popular models from Dennis Fano and Saul Koll. Gene does the prototyping at the guitar shop while working closely with the designer to make sure each guitar is unique and precise to their exact specifications. Nothing leaves the building without him playing and closely inspecting it. Gene makes sure every single guitar passes the Baker Test personally before he gives his approval. And with all of the options available to PBG clients Baker says, “The shop’s focus remains on quality, customer care, accuracy, and thoroughness. The main thing is having a really good formfitting function and attention to detail. Many larger shops don’t have the time to make sure every little detail is really perfect, and so [at PBG] that is one thing we always pride ourselves on—that attention to tiny details.” PBG consists of B3 , Fano, Koll, D’Angelico (Archtop Acoustic)guitars, also Two-Rock and Tone King Amplifiers that round out the boutique gear package. Premier Guitar Magazine noted PBG as being one of the fastest growing guitar companies and received massive interest from their subscribers.



clip_image020The Mean Gene Band known as MGB is based out of Pismo Beach, California. MGB is best described as a High Powered Rock Band covering everything from Alternative Blues, Contemporary, Country, Disco, Funk, Progressive, Hues of Metal, R&B, and Rock. MGB is a seasoned group of Professional Musicians that have graced the stage and opened for many well-known artists such as Blue Oyster Cult, Quiet Riot, Robin Trower, andThin Lizzy also sharing the stage with Legendary Guitar Icon, Ronnie Montrose.

clip_image022MGB performed in his Memorial Tribute Concert dubbed “Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life In Music.” on April 27, 2012 in San Francisco. Gene was the only musician at the concert that got to play one of Ronnie's favorite guitars that he named “The Beast.”

It actually was the first Baker Guitar that Gene had made him. And you guessed it, Gene had built it special for Ronnie and it was his main guitar. Gene built 7 guitars total for Ronnie and he endorsed Gene's guitars for 13 years. Ronnie was and still is a huge influence in Gene's life. Ronnie and Gene were very close friends and he is deeply missed. RIP Ronnie.


Now to Introduce the Band:

Gene Baker - Lead Guitar/ Vocals:

Gene is the Founder and driving force behind MGB. Mean Gene originally formed the band in 2002. Gene has multiple Guitar Competition Titles under his Belt. He is the 1990 Author of “Mean Gene's Insane Lead Guitar” instruction DVD/manual. He is very well known among Guitar Enthusiasts. Guitar Greats like Ronnie Montrose, Lenny Kravits, Robben, Ford, Tesla (Brian Wheat), Thin Lizzy (Scott Gorham), and Motograter (Matt 'Nuke' Nunes) are just to name a few and have purchased and endorsed Gene's guitars through the years. Gene not only plays the guitar with exceptional vigor and passion. Gene ultimately lives Guitars.

clip_image024Kelly Atwell - Lead Vocals:

Kelly joined the Ranks of MGB in 2012. Gene met Kelly though mutual friends in the local band circuit just after Kelly moved back to the Central Coast from NYC. He was called one evening by his friend Eric McCornack. Erik asked Kel to come out and meet this guy Gene and his band MGB. Shortly after meeting him, Gene invited Kelly to come up on stage and sing with them. After belting about four songs, Gene was so impressed by Kelly's voice, capabilities, and range. Gene handed the Kelster his card and said "I want you in my band, call me".

And so he did. The rest is MGB as we know it today. Kelly is a virtual vocal chameleon adapting to most any style from soft to high intense rock leads. He is well known on the Central Coast for his Iconic Role in “High Voltage”, an AC/DC Tribute Band. He shared the stage with Legendary Ronnie Montrose belting out Ronnie's hits for Multiple Shows in 2011. Kelly's versatility and range expands MGB onto any avenue they wish to pursue. You can also check out Kelly in the Popular Central Coast Band, Copy Katz.

Johnny Punches – Bass/Vocals:

Johnny is a Central Coast Native of SLO. He moved to LA/Hollywood in the 90's to pursue his musical ambitions. Performing live at Venues such as The Roxy, Gazzarri's, The Whiskey, The Troubadour, Hotel Roosevelt for CBS, and the LA Music Awards on 2007. JP is a is a Local Bassist Hired Gun for a lot of Central Coast Bands. Gene and Johnny have been playing together for 13 yrs now and have had many fun and memorable shows along the way. John's solid versatile playing style along with vocal harmonies holds the rhythm together.

Brian Monzel – Drummer/Vocals:

Brian's passion for the drums stated at age 11. Inspired by watching Tommy Lee from Motley Crue he has since made a career on the drums. He studied with Darrell Voss at The Cuesta Jazz Program and has shared the stage with such acts as Hoobastank and Godsmack. Brian is also in the Local Band, Rumble. You can also find Brian instructing eager drum beginners how to throw down a beat as Director of Drum Set Studies at The Drum Circuit.


1 comment:

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