A legacy of innovation thirty years in the making
The seed for Ryan Guitars was planted at Christmastime in Southern California. 1984. Kevin Ryan—an Ohio-born cabinet maker and furniture designer—had recently taken a job in the thriving California aerospace industry, designing fighter jet models for transonic wind tunnel testing.
On this particular Christmas, Kevin received a book from his wife called, Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology. The book explored techniques for building a steel string guitar by hand. A hand-made steel string guitar was still a relatively new concept in the 1980’s. A handful of independent luthiers around the world had originated methods for doing this over the previous two decades and created a cottage industry for handmade steel string instruments from scratch. But the majority of steel string guitars made in North America had always been turned out by factories—familiar names like C.F. Martin, Gibson, and Guild.
The book Kevin held in his hand contained some of the founding insights of the burgeoning independent guitar-maker’s movement. Immediately, Kevin knew he wanted to be a part of it.
For the first few years Kevin was building guitars, it seemed like he was putting in 100 hours of work every week. He’d work days at the wind tunnel, constructing scale prototypes of emerging aircraft designs, then hurry home, have dinner, and spend long evenings constructing his first guitars. As the worlds of aerospace engineering and guitar-making converged, Kevin would consult colleagues on the most advanced ways to ensure the strength and responsiveness of the guitar body. Engineers normally tasked with outlining strength-to-weight ratios for stealth bomber wings were giving input on the design of guitar bracing systems, bridge design, and neck placement. Kevin Ryan’s dreaming and collaboration with his aerospace colleagues first coalesced in 1987 with the first production model Ryan Guitar: A fingerstyle, OM/OOO-style guitar with a powerful acoustic voice—the Mission Grand Concert.
Years later, Acoustic Guitar magazine would describe the Mission as one of the most influential guitars of the last thirty years: “A blueprint for scores of other builders” and “a modern classic.” The success of the Mission confirmed the shop Ryan shop’s burgeoning culture of seeking inspiration outside the guitar industry to conceive some of the most advanced acoustic guitar designs in existence.
2017 marked the Ryan shop's thirtieth anniversary.