My Guitar’s On Fire and That’s OK


I have met people who spend $1500 on backyard fireworks every summer. Others choose to indulge in things like thousand-dollar split-bamboo fly rods, custom snowboards, $400 blown glass bongs. I knew a guy who collected mounted and shellacked Mexican frogs posed to look like they’re playing tiny Mariachi instruments. Hey, whatever turns your crank.

What turns my crank is guitars. I’m obsessed. More than once my wife has found an open issue of Guitar Player Magazine on the bathroom counter next to the toilet, but I swear I’m reading it just for the articles.

I love the way they feel, the way they sound, and mostly the way they look. My big hollow-body Gretsch, with its transparent orange finish, period-correct thumbnail fret markers and chrome hardware is my favorite—and coolest—guitar ever. It’s the perfect vessel to help me disgorge the rhythmic stew of rockabilly and country music I call Maximum Honky Tonk.

But it could be even cooler.

Gretsch Before.  Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

My Gretsch, naked as the day she was born. In Korea.

I realized that after seeing a few examples of custom painted guitars on the Facebook page for Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms. Their talented crew, which includes George G. Nizzle, Nicole Friday and co-owners Rich Rienhart and Shawn Nomura, work their airbrush magic on everything from hot rods and motorcycles to golf carts and vintage refrigerators. But it’s their stunning artwork on guitars that had my jaw hanging open like a dog trailing a gut wagon.

I announced a couple of months ago on Facebook my desire to add a flame job to the Gretsch, and a couple of my guitar-crazy friends were immediately horrified. They were fans of that classic orange, and assumed that my guitar would be coated black and splattered with things like bloody flames and rotting skulls with maggots crawling from the eye sockets. Despite my own misgivings, I assured them the flame job would be understated and tasteful. You know, like a Randy Rhoads solo.

Shawn Taping. Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Kronos airbrush master Shawn Nomura masks off the binding, which should never be subject to open flame.

I took the guitar down to Kronos. Their shop is a popular hangout for gearheads and musicians, and headbangers in particular. Members of Walking Corpse Syndrome, Universal Choke Sign, and other regional metal outfits frequently stop by to enjoy an adult beverage and swap news about Missoula’s metal community.

These Kronos crew are always busy, but they’re smart enough to make it a fun place to work. An electronic drum kit that shares a corner of the shop with a Marshall stack and a trio of electric guitars provides frequent ear-splitting interludes for employees and friends.

They have “Kronosified” dozens of electric guitars with flames, lightning bolts, skulls, demons, and a cough syrup nightmare’s worth of post-apocalyptic horror imagery, but it’s their unique style of ghost flames that caught my eye.

Gretsch. Sanding. Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Sanding, or ‘cutting’, the finish is a step that’s done several times throughout the process. Don’t worry, the guitar is heavily sedated.

“I know it’s not a pointy guitar like a Dean or a Schecter,” I told Rich Rienhart, “but I would love to see what you could do with some flames.”

Rich assured me that Kronos (he named the business after the father of Zeus in Greek mythology) could handle a country jazz box just as well as all the menacing, put-your-eye-out models that come into the shop from all over the country.

Nomura learned his airbrush chops working on custom cars on the Southern California circuit, winning some national awards along the way. He brings that high level of experience to bear on each project he tackles at Kronos. He was eager to sink his teeth into the Gretsch.

Shawn Buffing. Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Shawn Nomura buffing the vampire slayer.”

“Guitars are the most challenging projects,” he says. The reassembly must be precise in order to maintain the instrument’s playability. “Unless you just want it to hang on the wall and look cool.”

He’s also a player, and he’s built several guitars from kits. Two from the ground up. Kronos’ custom work on guitars is swiftly drawing attention from the music world, thanks in part to Rienhart savvy use of social media. Their Facebook page has garnered nearly 2,000 likes in less than six months, and when Rienhart posts a photo of something like the recently-completed monochromatic Harley scheme based on the bike owner’s tattoos, it can reach a half million viewers by the end of the day.

Nizz Shawn.Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

If every shop in Missoula had this setup in the corner, we could actually affect the rotation of the earth. That’s George G. Nizzle™ on drums.

This kind of exposure is crucial to the shop’s goal of attracting customers worldwide. Earlier this year they completed a paint job for one of the musicians they sponsor, Kenny Giron. KG is an internet sensation whose YouTube videos have generated two million views and almost 10,000 subscribers. The orange-bearded guitarist from Nebraska shreds with speed and power, and Kronos designed a custom axe for him based on the Dimebag Darrell signature Dean model. Giron recently traveled to Missoula to pick up the guitar and treated the Kronos crew and a few lucky local metalheads to a face-melting jam session at the shop.

Kronos is heavily invested in the community, Rienhart told me, and they’ve donated merchandise to various fundraisers  and sponsored several local shows. They also donate work for national organizations that interest them. One such instance was a stunning Dimebag tribute guitar for Ride for Dime Chicago, a charitable event set up in honor of the slain Pantera guitarist. The guitar features blue-white lightning bolts on a black background, and a striking likeness of Dimebag, head thrown back in mid-shred. There are two shiny dimes embedded in the peghead: one from the guitarist’s year of birth, the other from the year of his death.

Gretsch During the customization. Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Flames partially completed. Now, where’d I put that can of lighter fluid?

Now that’s attention to detail.

The detail and realism of their flame jobs are what I was hoping to see on the Gretsch, and Kronos knocked it out of the park. These photos really don’t do it justice, and it is breathtaking to behold. Turning the guitar back and forth in the sunlight seems to cause some flames to come forward, others to fade into the background.

And the mirror-like finish makes this think look about three feet deep. I asked Nomura how he achieved this effect, and he said one of the secrets is to apply several clear coats before they even put pigment into the airbrush. This repeated sand-coat-buff process is very time consuming, but the results are worth it. It’s like looking through into Flathead Lake and clearly seeing the rocks on the bottom through twenty feet of water.

Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Talk about a deep finish! This looks like you could drop a few ice cubes in there and drink it on a hot day.

“We could just turn them out all day long (without this process) and most people wouldn’t know the difference,” says Rienhart, but the integrity of their artistic efforts is of utmost importance to the shop. “It’s what we want to be known for.”

Rienhart left a successful corporate career to start the shop with Nomura, and he infuses Kronos with some of the techniques he learned to motivate employees and allow them to achieve their personal potential. The result is a committed, confident crew that all pitch in with the various tasks involved in creating a beautifully airbrushed work of art, be it a scooter helmet or a chopped and customized VW Beetle.

Custom painted guitars by Missoula’s Kronos Kustoms.

Reassembled and ready to rumble. The flames are subtle but striking, like the songs on my last CD. Or, I mean, the opposite of that.

I’m grateful to Kronos for elevating my guitar to the level of a functional work of art. These guys know what they’re doing, even if I don’t. I took all the electronics and hardware out of the Gretsch to save them some time, but putting it all back together turned into a three-hour head-scratching cluster-boink.

So now it’s all back together and ready to rock. Everything seems to work, although I may have to call the Kronos dudes for a little advice—every time I turn up the tone knob my garage door opens.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


MIM NewsletterLike this blog? Don’t miss another one. Sign up for our E-Newsletter.  It provides you with a list of all the week’s stories/blogs and is delivered to your inbox every Tuesday morning.