Detroit: Rock and Roll, Cars and Reverend Guitars

by Marsh Gooch
Posted Mar 25, 2013 at 6:41am

When music aficionados speak of Detroit, they tend to go on and on about the slew of rock bands and R&B groups to come out of the area.

And why not? When you consider the sheer number of rock legends and near-legends from the area, it's easy to see how one could spend hours discussing the Stooges, the MC5, Alice Cooper, The Frost, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, The White Stripes, etc.

And we haven't even touched on Motown, nor the countless great Detroit bands that never hit the big time.

Yes, the Motor City is a place of legend. It's where America got its wheels and learned to drive. It's probably no coincidence that music from Detroit is driving, powerful and moves like nothing else.

From this garage of innovation came Joe Naylor, the man behind Reverend Guitars. Reverend, as its environs would practically guarantee, has become one of the country's preeminent guitar and bass manufacturers, evoking the same no-nonsense approach to style, function and performance that the Big Three brought to the muscle car era.

Naylor got his start in the guitar world when he was 19. He bought his first electric guitar, and in his by-then typical "I can make this better" manner, dismantled the thing on the kitchen table. And that figurative light bulb over his head lit up. "When I took apart that first guitar," Naylor says, "I knew instantly that I found my calling."

Next thing you know, Naylor was repairing his friends' guitars (and playing in bands), while pursuing his degree in industrial design at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. After college, he relocated to Arizona to attend the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, where he spent four months learning the ins, outs and insides of electric and acoustic guitar making, pickup design and more.

Upon returning to Kalamazoo, Naylor set up shop in his basement and spent the next five years immersed in guitar building and repair. It’s here that Naylor’s first guitar designs were born. “They were mostly single-cutaways, much like the current Reverend Charger body style,” Naylor says. “I designed a lot of semi-hollow and chambered guitars and made them out of every conceivable material, like plastic, foam, metal, phenolic and wood. I was infatuated with body flexibility and resonance and how it affected tone. Those early experiments taught me a lot, and I apply the lessons to everything I design today.”

Eventually he moved back to the Detroit area (where Naylor and his wife were born and raised) and opened up Joe's Guitar Exchange & Repair. "The shop experience was invaluable, easily as important as going to luthiery school," Naylor says. "We specialized in vintage/used gear and repair, so every type of guitar came through the shop. I saw what worked and what broke, and what was important to working musicians. I learned that simple is usually better."

In 1994 the shop became Naylor Amps. Boutique amps are common now, but Naylor was ahead of its time. "I sold it and started Reverend in the garage behind the building, figuring I'd have better luck with guitars,” Naylor says.

Reverend officially launched in 1996, the name coming from a magazine article about blues guitarist Reverend Gary Davis. “I saw the word ‘Reverend’ on that page, and that was it!”

Once established, the nascent startup began to attract guitarists from far and near. Early Reverend users included Carl Verheyen, the Red Elvises, Noel Roy (Lorrie Morgan), Brad Houser, Dave Pomeroy, Will Ray, Rick Vito (who has a Reverend signature model), Ron Asheton of the Stooges (See my last blog post) and Kid Rock, who was brought on board by his original lead guitarist, Kenny Olson.

“He liked the unique, automotive-inspired look and the Detroit connection,” Naylor says of Mr. Rock’s support of his guitars. “Then we ran that Guitar World ad with him flipping the bird. People went nuts — they either loved it or hated it, but suddenly everyone knew who Reverend was. He also posed with a Reverend on the cover of his best-of album, The History of Rock. He was real good to us and definitely helped put us on the map."

One guy who did love that irreverent ad was country guitar legend Pete Anderson.

"Pete approached me out of the blue at a NAMM show and was raving about how much he liked the ad," Naylor says. "He grew up in East Detroit (only two blocks from my old guitar shop) and totally got it." That meeting opened the door for a working relationship with Anderson, whose name now graces several Reverend signature guitars.

Of course, you don’t have to be from Detroit to appreciate Reverend’s guitars and basses. The clean designs and blue-collar functionality have attracted musicians from all over the world. Today you’ll find Reverends in the hands of everybody from Bob Balch of Fu Manchu to Billy Corgan to Meshell Ndegeocello, and in the hands of a growing army of players of all types who can dig the Motor City vibe.

Marsh Gooch is a graphic designer and writer from Seattle who has been playing guitar and bass "for an awfully long time." Currently the bassist in King County Queens, he's held marketing positions with ESP Guitars, Ampeg, Line 6 and Reverend Guitars. He rocks to all kinds of music, especially classic and punk rock, and actually prefers the Damned over the Beatles. At least half the time. He can be reached via his web site,

Add a Comment

Similar Guitar News

Summer NAMM 2015 Video: Reverend Guitars (7/23/2015)
As always, several members of the Guitar World crew were on hand at the 2015 Summer NAMM Show in lovely and talented Nashville, Tennessee, taking pics, getting the latest gear news and shooting plenty of videos. While we were at the show, we wer...
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band “Scream At The Night” — Exclusive Premiere (1/21/2015)
With a title like “Scream At The Night,” who wouldn’t sit up and listen?! From the band’s upcomingSo Delicious album, it starts off with twangy guitars and a down and dirty harmonica, this could be called a protest song. A call to action. If not...
NAMM 2015: Reverend Guitars Launches Six New Models, Including Descent, Sensei Jr. and Double Agent OG (1/19/2015)
Follow Guitar World's coverage of the 2015 Winter NAMM Show with gear news and videos on, updates on Facebook and photos and more on Twitter and Instagram. Reverend Guitars is introducing five new models to the line for NAMM 2015...
Win a Reverend Bob Balch Signature Guitar! (1/6/2015)
Teaser Content: 
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band Announce 'So Delicious' Tour (12/16/2014)
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band will begin the North American leg of their new tour on February 25 in Chicago, Ill. The So Delicious tour will reach 50 U.S. markets including the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival before hitting inter...
Reverend Guitars Releases Charger 290 Limited Edition (11/17/2014)
Each fall, Reverend Guitars takes one of its models and turns up the volume a bit to make a limited-edition machine. This year, the company chose the Charger 290. The model will be released in three colors: Metallic Alpine Green, Metallic Red ...
Reverend Guitars and Monster Music Collaborate on Exclusive Sensei HB FM (10/29/2014)
Reverend Guitars and Monster Music have collaborated on an exclusive Sensei HB FM model. From Reverend: The Reverend Sensei HB FM is a Flame Maple Gloss Rock Machine with raw, midrange warmth for authentic rockers. The Monster Music Exclusive i...
Musikmesse 2014: Blackstar showcases Billy F Gibbons' Reverend 15 (3/14/2014)
Read more about Musikmesse 2014: Blackstar showcases Billy F Gibbons' Reverend 15 at Musikmesse 2014: We swung by the Blackstar stand over in Frankfurt and this leather-clad beauty caught our eye: The Revered 15, custom designed f...
NAMM 2014: Reverend Introduces New Collection of Signature Guitars and Basses (1/23/2014)
It’s the year of the Signature Model at Reverend Guitars. Four new Signature Models will be debuted at NAMM: The Reverend Bob Balch Signature Model, the Reverend Meshell Ndegeocello Signature Fellowship Bass, the Reverend Reeves Gabrels Signatu...
Reverend Guitars to Introduce Four New Models at 2014 Winter NAMM Show (11/26/2013)
It’s the year of the signature model at Reverend Guitars. Three new signature models will be debuted at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show: the Reverend Bob Balch Signature, the Reverend Meshell Ndegeocello Fellowship Signature Bass and the Reverend Pe...
NAMM 2014: Reverend announces new models (11/26/2013)
Read more about NAMM 2014: Reverend announces new models at NAMM 2014: Reverend Guitars has unveiled three new guitar designs which will be launched at the forthcoming NAMM show. The new guitars include three signature models: the...
Found Sound: Grey Reverend (10/17/2013)
Grey Reverend, otherwise known as Brooklyn-based artist L.D. Brown, came to playing the guitar almost by accident. Back in 2005, Brown was moving into an apartment in Philadelphia, and, perhaps by fate, inherited an acoustic guitar left by the ...
Reverend Introduces Gilded Pete Anderson Signature Guitars (8/28/2013)
Reverend Guitars is offering two of its Pete Anderson Signature Models in Gold Metal Flake. There are just 10 each of the Reverend Pete Anderson Signature Eastsider and the Reverend Pete Anderson PA-1 RT — and they are available only at Wildwoo...
Reverend Guitars and Heavy Rock: Past, Present and Future (5/31/2013)
Way back in 1996, when Reverend Guitars founder Joe Naylor designed the first Reverend guitar, the philosophy was simple: Design the best guitar you know how to. Make it look cool and sound great, and put it out there and see what happens. He w...
Small's: Reverend Guitars' Favorite Detroit Bar (5/1/2013)
Running a guitar company sounds like a whole lotta fun, doesn’t it? I mean, you get to be around guitars all day! What could be cooler than that?! Granted, there are a number of things that go into keeping your guitar company going that have ne...