Knoxville, TN…There are guitars and there are guitars, specifically those that have a memorable backstory. However, guitars of the latter category aren’t often available to the general public, except for those that have the means and the money to seek them out.
Happily though, the Smoky Mountain Blues Society, a 501 (c) (3) non profit organization, is giving everyone an equal opportunity to win a custom built signature guitar from Rigney Custom Guitars, an instrument that is not only one of a kind, but one which also bears the signatures of an amazing array of iconic Blues artists — Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Delbert McClinton, Derek Trucks, and Susan Tedeschi, among them. The guitar will be raffled off from July 1st through September 30th, with the drawing scheduled to take place on October 15th aboard the Star of Knoxville during the Smoky Mountain Blues Society’s monthly Blues Cruise. Raffle tickets cost $20 each with a maximum of 500 tickets offered for sale.
Tickets and the complete list of the Raffle rules are available on the Smoky Mountain Blues Society website smokymountainblues.org, and at SMBS events. People can also visit the website and Facebook for a list of upcoming Blues Society events. The first event where the guitar will be unveiled is the July 2nd Blues Cruise on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat. Devan Jones & The Uptown Stomp will be the featured band.
Proceeds from the raffle will benefit Blues in the Schools, one of the fundamental outreach programs provided by the Smoky Mountain Blues Society. The program, which was initiated in 1995, is offered free to schools and other youth-oriented organizations for the sole purpose of exposing young people to Blues music and to educate them about the importance Blues music plays in the overall umbrella of traditional American music. In 2016, the program reached over 1,400 children in East Tennessee, students ranging in age from Elementary School to High School.
Don Linde is the current chairman of the Blues in the Schools initiative and the person responsible for organizing the Smoky Mountain Signature Guitar Raffle. The concept was inspired by the Stone Soup Project in Detroit, Michigan, which launched a similar type of raffle to raise money for feeding the poor and hungry in that community. Linde met Paul Rigney of Rigney Custom Guitars on a Blues Cruise in May of 2016 and asked him to donate a specially built guitar that could be auctioned off in an effort to raise $10,000 for the Blues in the Schools and other educational outreach programs.
Rigney’s history of building guitars dates back to 2005, when he built his first instrument.
“For several years, I had enjoyed doing woodworking projects around the house,” he explains. “I received a Strat copy kit guitar from a friend for Christmas. I assembled it over the next several months, but it needed a lot of work to make it come out nice. When it was done, it met my goal of being nicer than a store bought guitar. I was hooked. I realized that I could make a nice guitar without the kit. I had the knowledge and the tools, so I started building guitars.”
Rigney’s introduction to the Smoky Mountain Blues Society took place in 2015 when he began attending the group’s events. He became a member the following year, and it was shortly thereafter that Linde approached him with the idea of building a guitar that could be donated to the Society.
“When I built the guitar, I was aware that it would be more of a display item,” Rigney recalls. “Yet I still wanted to build something that displayed the pride I take in building all of my guitars. To see the guitar today, with the signatures that have been collected, makes me feel proud.”
The guitar is built from the finest materials. Rigney chose Poplar for the body wood, giving it an excellent tone and a superb finish. The neck is flamed Maple, and Rosewood was used for the fingerboard. Rigney applied a new waterborne finish which is more environmentally friendly and user friendly. The gray color was chosen to connect with the Smoky Mountains. The tuners are by Kluson, the bridge by Nashville Metals, controls are CTS and Switchcraft, and the pickups are Vintage 52’s by Kent Armstrong.
“I grew up in a time when music and the arts were still taught in the schools,” Rigney says. “I got an opportunity to learn about the composers and performers and listen to all forms of music. The ‘60s provided my musical awakening. I loved Jazz. It was ‘cool’ and I later learned that it came from the Blues. My love of the Blues grew from that. Sadly, this does not happen in our schools now. The Blues in the Schools Program is trying to go out and do this. That’s why I built the guitar to help the program continue.” Please visit Rigney’s Facebook page for more information on his guitars and videos of his work in action.
Artists who have signed the Smoky Mountain Signature Guitar to date:
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Maurice John Vaughn