This article originally appeared in the Chicago Daily Herald here
Glenview native a teacher, rocker, guitar maker
by Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire
Del Breckenfeld’s long and winding music career took him from suburban guitar teacher to rocker to guitar designer.
And the Glenview native has accumulated some great stories along the way — like the time ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons sent him and fellow designers a box of fur and wanted guitars covered in it.
“Then he said, ‘I want to make them spin, ha ha ha!’ We were laughing, but we were thinking, ‘Spinning guitars?’
“We did it, and they used them on MTV,” Breckenfeld said, referring to ZZ Top’s 1983 “Legs” video. The guitars would become one of the band’s iconic visuals.
“The beauty of that instrument … it’s the most personal thing you can ever imagine. That’s their tool of the trade,” Breckenfeld said.
Breckenfeld learned about the trade firsthand. He’s one of the founding members of the 1980s rock band Gambler, which plans a one-night reunion show in the spring.
Gambler, known for hits “Walkin’ the Streets” and “Follow your Heart,” often opened for the era’s top bands such as Styx, Cheap Trick, Dire Straits and Foreigner.
The exact date and location of Gambler’s reunion show are still being worked out, but it will be sometime in late March.
“We thought, let’s re-create the fun we had in that era. That was the era of Chicago rock,” Breckenfeld said.
For most of the past few decades, Breckenfeld has created and marketed guitars, working for companies such as Washburn Guitars in Mundelein and Fender in California.
Two years ago, he launched his own music/film/sports/entertainment marketing company, Amplify.
Breckenfeld’s guitar marketing career began while he was working at Dean Guitars in Chicago. He and the owner went to St. Louis to blindly pitch Budweiser executives on an idea they had: a red “bowtie guitar” with the Budweiser logo on it. He laughs remembering their long hair and casual rock ‘n’ roll look compared with the blue suits and power ties of the men they were pitching. But the pitch worked — they got an immediate order for 1,000 guitars, even though they were used to producing only 60 to 70 a month.
Soon more companies and musicians wanted to partner with them to have “official” guitars with company logos or a musician’s name. The business expanded into custom guitars for music videos and Hollywood movie props.
Over the years, Breckenfeld has authenticated and provided period-appropriate guitars on countless well-known movies, including “That Thing You Do!” “Jersey Boys,” “Rock Star,” “Walk the Line” and the upcoming Freddie Mercury biography.
The Freddie Mercury project is the biggest of his career — there are already 50 custom instruments — and designers are paying attention to every detail on each guitar Mercury and his band Queen ever used.
“People who know guitars can tell if it’s not right,” Breckenfeld said. “It’s like when there’s a movie set in the 1990s and a Cadillac Escalade is in it. You go, ‘Wait, that shouldn’t be there.'”
Ever since Breckenfeld’s mother gave him a neighbor’s hand-me-down guitar, music has been a part of his life. From teaching guitar classes at Karnes Music in Niles to performing on rock ‘n’ roll stages and then working with A-listers in the entertainment business, he says it’s been a fun ride.
“Whatever I did, it was going to be based in music,” he said. “I could never let go of that dream.”
— Jamie Sotonoff