.Strum and Fret

Attack of the Killer Guitars is a musician’s fantasy

What’s something you don’t ordinarily do with a guitar unless you are a true devotee?

Stand in front of one and stare without touching it.

That will change Friday when the R. Blitzer Gallery is features “Attack of the Killer Guitars,” an art exhibit of electric guitars, painted and decorated by internationally renowned, impressionist painter Eric Hoffman, and set up by master luthier Rick McKee, a.k.a. Ukulele Dick, who calls the show, “Fine art you can shred on.”

McKee (who has worked on guitars for Santana, Doobie Brothers, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Ramones, and Pat Simmons) has rebuilt vintage rock guitars and set them up to “feel like they play themselves”. Hoffman has painted them to the heights of abstract art. This collaboration of two lifetime friends will knock out guitar players and art aficionados alike.

Craig Mitchell’s band The String Bean Serenaders will open the exhibit followed by a “pick-a-thon” of local guitarists. Sunshine Jackson of The Carolyn Sills Combo says “Everyone is going to be there!”       

secure document shredding

Born in Santa Cruz in 1952, the young artist experimented with colors from crayons. Art teachers and local artists encouraged him to follow his dream, and he decided to go to art school instead of living the stoner life in Santa Cruz.

 His buddies called him Crazy Eric for going to college. The name stuck, and Hoffman says he wears it as a badge of honor. After graduating with an MA and MFA in art from San Jose State University, he exhibited paintings in New York, Paris, Grenoble, Nice, London, Athens, Rome, Los Angeles, Dallas and San Francisco.

From a visit to Crazy Eric’s studio in Live Oak, he is anything but crazy. He is carefully measured about his work.

“You can’t put the emotions from colors into words,” he says.

 But when he shows you a dazzling guitar with brilliant colors organically running down the body and speaks of how he dipped the body into a tub with his colors floating on top of water, just by the way he holds it and describes the technique, you get it: it would be like asking a mother how she feels about her newborn child.

“This is a paint that I get from Germany. It’s completely different, I built up hand painted layers and then I worked back through it with sandpaper. It’s kind of like an archaeological dig. I go back through the paint that I paint on wood surfaces and carve back into it with a variety of tools. It has texture, it’s three-dimensional power relief. I’ll finish this one with hand brushed lacquer.”

Ukulele Dick is naked. To be fair, he did call me while in the hot tub with his partner and the show’s associate-producer, Laura DeFreyne. As McKee describes one of his guitars in his upcoming show, he starts slowly and then talks faster and faster.

“Richard, these guitars are hand painted, abstract expressionist with a variety of techniques developed by Eric Hoffman. One of a kind. I just put together a ‘NuTone” electric guitar that embodies the spirit of 1950s and 1960s sci-fi space adventure films. Based on a Les Paul Jr. 24 3/4” scale length, it includes a badass bridge, die-cast tuning machines, three 1960s Tedisco pickups, space knobs and strap buttons, three on/off pick up selectors with the middle pickup out of phase for Intergalactic Tones, air pressure gauge, and a Howard Dumble pre-amp!”

People will be able to buy the guitar at the show for $5,400 or a trade.

He started building guitars when he was 12 in Pasadena.

“ I found a couple of guitars that were absolute trash and went into the garage and started fixing them up. Then I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and John Lennon was playing a Rickenbacker and it looked like it was shaped like a pear.

“I found a guitar made from a Formica tabletop, bought it for five bucks and cut it down with a handsaw until it looked like a pear.”

Ukulele Dick is a Gail Rich Award recipient, the original creator of the White Album Ensemble and the original bandleader of The Planet Cruz Comedy Hour.

Attack of the Killer Guitars, the high art and hot guitars of Eric Hoffman and Rick McKee, starts First Friday 5-8 pm. The guitars will be displayed on custom stands made by metal sculptor Craig Mitchell. The exhibit will include canvases of Eric Hoffman paintings as well. The show runs through April at R. Blitzer Gallery, 2801 Mission Street, Santa Cruz.

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