A Mexican immigrant, his father Bernardo worked a variety of jobs upon coming to the US. An entrepreneur at heart, he eventually started up various businesses, including at one point, a couple of chili restaurants.
In 1946, and knowing next to nothing about guitars, his father purchased a small guitar shop in California. Changing the name to Bernardo's Valencian Guitar Shop, this was where the young Bernie Jr. spent most of his youth, learning about guitar building and repairs.
In the 50's the shop was building acoustic guitars on a custom basis. Taking the helm of the business, Bernie Jr. was soon also building a line of classical guitars in Mexico, based on designs originated by Ramirez guitars of Spain.
A die-hard flamenco enthusiast whose interests lay solely in nylon-stringed guitars , Rico eventually bit the bullet due to flagging sales, and started custom-building solidbody electrics that were copies of Les Pauls, Stratocasters and Telecasters in 1969. The first BC Rich original design, the Seagull, appeared in 1971.
With the help of Neal Moser, whom Rico hired as guitar designer, the company started producing many more original models. Moser was the designer behind the now-famous (infamous?) Bich, Eagle, Ironbird, Warlock and Mockingbird models.
The 10-string Bich shown in the pic featured 4 extra strings, which essentially doubled up the high E, B, G and D strings (the E and B were tuned in unison while the G and D were doubled an octave higher) for a 12-string type sound. The extra strings were anchored through eyelets in the headstock and tuned by tuning pegs mounted into a cutaway on the lower bout of the body.
Moser also came up with the names of some of the models --the Mockingbird was so named because it could emulate the tones of other big-brand guitars, thanks to its elaborate switching circuitry.
The company's provocative designs were only outdone by their controversial -- some would say downright sexist -- marketing campaigns. One of which, an advertisement featuring the lower half of a scantily-clad woman posing with a BC Rich Bich, drew a fair amount of flak from feminist groups in the '80s. The ad was also made available as a poster for $3.00, and according to Rico, several tens of thousands of these posters were sold.
Another point of controversy was the company's use of the term 'Bich' for one of its (guitar) models.
According to Rico, "We didn't even mean it in a feminist sense. It's just that whenever anybody says something is good, they say 'It's a bitch'. So we decided to use 'bitch,' meaning a 'great thing,' but spelt without the 't.'"
Bernie Rico passed away in 1999. His son and successor, Bernie Rico Jr., started Bernie Rico Jr. Guitars to carry on his father's legacy.