“I somehow fell into the perfect job for me!,” said Rickie Hinrichsen. “I don’t know if it’s talent or just being in the right place at the right time! I’m just a very lucky guy.”
Rickie was about 38 years old when his wife, Heidi went to a garage sale in Pawnee City and found a little orange acoustic guitar and brought it home to surprise him. That night they went to the video store in Seneca where they had a few music accessories and he bought a little beginner book of chords and songs. Rickie said “I believe it was that same night that Bryan Ruegge stopped by our house and I showed him the guitar and said we should learn how to play together so it would be more fun.” They used to practice quite a bit and it took a year or two before they got together with Megan Bowen and formed Assembly Required. They played a couple of shows and then recruited Mike McManus to play bass. Megan graduated high school and was getting ready for college so they brought Tony Wood aboard as the new drummer. A few years later they added Daniel Kettlehake to the band and they stayed together until he and Heidi moved to Nashville in January 2012.
Once the couple decided to try to move to Nashville, Heidi applied for her dream job at Vanderbilt Hospital. They were preparing to make a trip down so she could interview for the job.
While sitting around one night trying to think of places he could apply for work, Heidi found something that said Gibson was hiring. They laughed thinking that would be something if Rickie could get a job there! They made the trip for Heidi’s interview and while waiting in a coffee shop for her to finish interviewing Rickie called Gibson and asked if it would be possible for him to come and do an interview that day.
Amazingly they said, Sure! On their way home to DuBois, Heidi got a call that she was accepted for the position at Vanderbilt. Things got very real and very scary! Back in Nebraska they got busy packing up all our belongings and getting the house and farm ready to sell.
“I then got my call from Gibson, I was hired! I explained that we hadn’t moved down yet but would be moving in about a month and they were very accommodating and said that would be fine!, said Rickie. They made the move in January and after finding an apartment Rickie started his new job at Gibson USA as a “binder”.
He was trained to put the decorative edging (binding) on the body of Gibson guitars. “It’s quite a difficult job to master but I made friends quickly and enjoyed my new job. I was even approached one day by a couple of managers and asked if I would be willing to represent Gibson and do a TV interview!” said Rickie. He couldn’t believe they wanted him to represent Gibson! What a thrill!
“They took me to a spot in the area where there are lots of guitars hanging on hooks from the ceiling while the paint dries. There were two chairs and lots of cameramen. I was being interviewed on CNN for a show called “Artisans” or something like that! It was a super fun interview and little did I know that was the start of many things to come,” said Rickie.
He slowly graduated out the job as a binder. His biggest accomplishment while doing that job was the quality that he learned to put into a guitar.
“There is a quality control person that looks at each guitar body after the binding has been carefully glued and wrapped. The QC person uses strong lighting and closely inspects every inch of binding. Any imperfections are rejected and the binder responsible gets a “mark.” Each binder is allowed 3 marks per day. I took my job so seriously and was so intent on doing the best job I possibly could that I went for the entire year without a mark. That QC guy still works there and he still tells people about that accomplishment to this day,” said Rickie.
“The story that I’m about to tell you will seem unbelievable but it actually happened just like this.
I was asked to do some improvements around the plant to streamline work and improve appearance. One day I was working on a new bench and a supervisor came up and said, Hey Rick, you can draw… right? I smiled and said, ‘Sure!’
“He handed me a sketchbook and pencil and led me up some stairs to the Gibson showroom. When I walked in there were tables with management people seated around them. At the head of the main table was a younger looking guy with long hair. He introduced himself and told me he was the New Product development person,” said Rickie.
Rickie continued, “They asked me to do some sketches for them as they discussed some ideas. I did my best to rough sketch ideas for them but since it was a Friday I asked if I could look over my notes and bring them some more refined ideas the next week. They agreed and that weekend I drew several poster sized ideas up for them. When I took them to them on Monday they loved them!”
“My pictures made it all the way to the owner of Gibson! That experience led me to become friends with the New Product guy and one day someone told me that he was trying to get the engineers to figure out how to carve paisley into a guitar. When I saw him I said, I think I might be able to help you with that. (Which was a bold thing to say because I had never carved anything like that in my life!). He said, OK!,” said Rickie
He told me to take anything I wanted and give it a try! He printed out a piece of paper with some samples of paisley that he liked and to use as a starting place for reference. Rickie took a guitar body home and went out and bought 3 carving chisels. He worked on that guitar in his spare time at home.
He started slowly and taught himself as he went.
He would draw a little section and then carve. Then draw another and carve. It took him all winter to finish. “I was so nervous when I sent that new product guy the text telling him I was done. I didn’t know what he would think of it. I texted him a picture and waited for the response. This is the picture I sent him,” said Rickie
He was impressed. Rickie took it to the Gibson Custom Shop the next day. The Custom Shop is a different building than Gibson USA. Rickie said “They are a couple miles apart and although they are both Gibson they differ greatly in what they produce. They finished that guitar and everyone was pleased.”
The excitement died down so Rickie got busy and did something new. “I asked to take another guitar body home. I bought a couple more carving gouges and drew up my next idea on the guitar body. It took me several months to carve the next one,” said Rickie.
“I sent the picture to the new product guy but he happened to be overseas at the time. He responded to the text and asked me to please take it to the Custom Shop and he arranged for me to meet the General Manager. The next thing I know I am being asked if I would like to become the artist for the Custom Shop!,” said Rickie. It took almost a year for him to actually make the move because the General Manager at Gibson USA was not willing to let him go. “He and I are very good friends today and we still laugh about it all,” said Rickie.
“I am still amazed today at the awesome trust they put in me,” said Rickie “They give me total freedom to create anything I can dream up.” He does custom orders for customers and I also creates his own ideas which Gibson sells to collectors and buyers from all over the world.
Rickie has made many trips around to different parts of the country to trade shows and events. Gibson promotes him along the way and he has met so many wonderful, interesting people. “I have met Eric Clapton, Slash, Tony Iommi, Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramall II, Los Lobos, Phil X, Jimmy Vaughn, Sheryl Crow, Nancy Wilson, Tommy Thayer, Joe Walsh, Vince Gill, Albert King, and many, many more,” said Rickie
“Not only do I get to meet stars but there are so many interesting people from all over the world! I’m truly living my dream! Gibson had a room for all the stars playing at Eric Clapton’s crossroads festival to hang out and I was lucky enough to be invited. I had a bench and was demonstrating carving. All of these superstars were coming to watch me after they played on the stage. They told me that somebody said, Hey, there’s a guy in the lounge carving guitars! Pretty soon they were all coming to watch and talk to me. It was an amazing 3 days I’ll never forget!,” said Rickie.