Mike Margolis is the man behind Red Rooster Guitars. He has spent countless hours in his Los Angeles shop tweaking and refining his vision of the ultimate gigging guitar. The result is the Rodster ’52 and Rooster ’55 and their unique cosmetic styling.
Margolis has played guitar for over 40 years, and he still plays out in Southern California, using his personal Red Rooster to perform live. With over 25 years experience in the music instrument retail industry, he knows what makes a great guitar that inspires players. Starting his own shop to build custom instruments happened naturally out of a love for guitars and a desire to present classic designs in a whole new light.
The timeless image of Keith Richards wielding a Telecaster served as the inspiration for as long as he can remember. Mike is drawn to the Telecaster platform as a workhorse guitar and go to instrument. The wide scope of sounds covers all the bases, perfect for the working musician in need of versatility. Red Rooster guitars provide that same utility value for gigging guitarists looking for one main guitar that can convincingly deliver a wide range of classic tones, and still look the part.
The stage presence and visual impact make each Red Rooster guitar unique. The traditional construction ensures that timeless sound is still in the soul of the guitar. The sound of classic blues and rock ‘n’ roll, descended from Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo and Chuck Berry, and then passed down to the Beatles and the Stones, and now on to you. Mike Margolis crafts your Red Rooster guitar to awaken your inspiration.
An Interview with Mike Margolis
Your shop is in Los Angeles. Do you feel a sense of history from that Southern California guitar heritage?
Southern California is the birthplace of the Telecaster which to me is the ultimate workhorse guitars. It’s also a mecca for custom cars which have always inspired me, Red Rooster guitars have traditional feel and tone but I give them a hot rod look. I have experimented for years with color and materials to find the unique custom look that makes my guitars stand out. I build the kind of guitar that I want to play on stage.
Tell us about your process for selecting wood for specific guitars.
I started out building Pine body guitars because I am in love with the sound of a Tele bridge pickup on Pine. It’s a traditional approach because the first Telecasters from the 1950’s were made with Pine, so that is the standard Red Rooster body wood, although I do make some from Ash and Mahogany. Working with Pine is more difficult since it is a softer wood but that’s what it takes to get the sound I want. I select the wood for weight and resonance, and build the bodies from scratch. I want the finished guitar to be light since these are designed to be played live, the target weight is 7 pounds.
What was the visual inspiration for your striking guitar appointments?
I draw inspiration from vintage classic cars. The feel of leather upholstery and a wood dashboard, the visual impact of shiny metal grills and brightwork, it’s all part of that classic experience. I emulate that vibe in my guitar designs, blending a mix of classic with modern upgrades and improvements for a retro cool result.
Are the guitars fully solid?
The guitar bodies are solid pine. Even though some of the designs have metal or croc skin banding inlaid into the sides they are still solid.
Have you developed any special processes for the cutting and inlaying the metal and croc?
In my shop I have designed special templates and fixtures to get clean and consistent results creating the metal and leather inserts in the guitar bodies. It was a long process to figure out the tolerences with the paint thickness and the size of the material so everything is flush to the surface of the instrument. Since wood is an organic material, each guitar is unique. I have learned to finesse the material to make it fit just right with changes in humidity and temperature.
What is the sonic inspiration for your guitars?
I am a child of the 1960’s and 70’s and have a great love for the classic rock music from that era, in particular The Rolling Stones. To me, Red Rooster guitars work great with low output pickups which I feel let the natural sound of the instrument come through, so the amplifier does the work. My guitars have a feel about them as when you grab ahold of one the first thing that says yes is the weight the second is the feel of the necks and the third thing is the tone. The guitars will ring without even plugging them in so you know when you do the sound will be there.
Do they play as good as they look?
Yes, even better. Necks are lightly lacquered and fine sanded to a super fast touch and feel. I make one guitar at a time. I pay special attention to the fretwork, I hand level the frets and polish them to a high luster for silky bends. I set the guitars up and work them in to test the setup before shipping. Red Rooster guitars deliver professional performance for accomplished players.
What are the specs of your personal Red Rooster guitar?
I now play only the guitars that I build. My main player is actually the second prototype Red Rooster I made. It has a Yin Yang symbol on the headstock as at the time I did not even have Red Rooster as the name of the company! It’s got the ’52 shape with a Jason Lollar imperial low wind in the neck position and a Lollar ’52 in the bridge. The neck I like is the V-C shape with 9.5″ radius and 1 11/16″ nut width. It has the perforated aluminum with a red backing and red screws, custom coolness that fits my personality for playing out.
Do you take custom orders or do you build what you want?
Some of both, actually. I build guitars to spec and for dealer order, along with custom orders for my customers. I pride myself on completing orders in a reasonable turaround time, so I encourage players to stay within the options shown on the model pages. I am still open to new ideas so if I can work it out I would be glad to build it and share the fun and passion of making Retro Cool guitars.