Guitar ModelsTo the left you will find the 9 standard custom models that we offer. There are many options available for each model -- woods, hardware, electronics, finish, etc. If you have ideas or needs of your own that you would like incorporated in your instrument let us know and if they will work we will be glad to do that for you. We don't do ugly, goofy or obscene however, and there are some things that just won't work together, so keep that in mind when you are designing your instrument.
At present we require 8-12 months from the finalization of the order for completion.
A word about Lutherie materials, components and methods
MethodsMost guitarists who are interested in a custom built instrument are already quite knowledgeable about wood, components and construction methods, it is, however, interesting to note that there is quite a little controversy over most of these issues in the lutherie world, even heated disagreements. Most of these, however, boil down to what works well for one and what works well for another.
An example would be the neck joint. There are many ways to make a set neck joint and most of them are very good. The primary concern is having enough contact between the neck and the body; as long as this is accomplished and a good hard, high bond, high vibration transferring glue is used, the neck joint is good. The neck joint I use, for instance, has stood the test of time. I have an E-90 that I built about 17 years ago that has no neck joint issues at all. And I know of instruments I have used this joint on that were done in the 1980's and are still perfect.
Gluing or not gluing frets is also an issue that can get pretty heated, but I tend to agree with Mr. Smith (PRS), you have to glue the frets in to have a stable fret set. Gluing frets will not adversely affect playability, tone or sustain, actually it stands to reason that the more sure the connection of any part of an instrument is to the whole, the more these qualities will be improved.
The finish is the last thing I would like to note on method. Much has been said about Nitrocellulose Lacquer, some think it is the only finish worth considering but there are numerous high end guitar makers who use a Polyurethane or Acrylic type of finish and no one is complaining about the sound of their instruments, some Luthiers have even gone to a Catalyzed Polyester. The breathability of lacquer is often cited as an advantage. This breathability is most often defined as tonal breathability though I have heard some speak of Poly finished guitars as being plastic encased or sealed as though the protective properties of the finish cause it to also trap the acoustic qualities of the instrument. Actually it is more a matter of the hardness of the finish that either allows vibration transfer or impedes it. Also the thickness of the finish can become an issue in this regard. There are some forms of Poly that are on the soft side, and some are too hard and brittle which can adversely affect the tone as well, and certainly there was a period when makers were putting far to much finish on their guitars but that is not often the case any more - though one can still find this to be the case on many imported instruments. There are a number finish types being used now that produce as good as or better performance than Nitro, some have the acoustic transparency of Shellac which is honored as the best finish acoustically speaking and as I have stated there are many very high end instrument makers who are using a Poly or Acrylic finish and are producing excellent sounding instruments (a good number of these luthiers are highly respected acoustic instrument makers) and many of the makers that do use Nitro use a Vinyl sealer for most of the build up and Lacquer is only used for a few of the top coats, any tonal advantage would be modified significantly by this. I have used Nitro in the past but it is so toxic not only to the one applying it but also to the environment that I won't use it anymore, I am constantly listening to and reading stories of luthiers that have had their health severely compromised from years of using Nitro; it just isn't worth it. We have used a non-catalyzed Poly that has a nice organic quality with good results both in durability (much better than lacquer) and tone. We are at present using a water based Lacquer which is actually an Acrylic Copolymer that is especially designed for stringed instruments, it is much less toxic than even the Poly finish and has good durability, great acoustic properties and easy repairablity (all the good attributes of Nitro without the toxicity). We also do a Tung Oil finish.
| Another hotly debated issue is tone wood. Actually there is a great
number of very good tone woods that have been used for guitars and many
of them are not in the narrow range of choices that some seem to think
are the only appropriate woods to use. Generally the thinking goes, if
you want a full, mellow, rich sound you need a body and neck made of
Mahogany. If you are looking for a brighter sound, a maple neck and an
ash or alder body is the only way. The truth is every piece of wood
sounds different. There are certain rules of thumb: harder, denser woods
are generally brighter and sustain longer and softer woods are
mellower, richer, but may sacrifice some sustain and can even get muddy
if too soft. But even these rules, in reality, don't seem to always hold
true. Some early Fender® bodies were made out of Pine (not considered a
hard wood at all) yet they produced that distinctive Fender® sound. |
Alder is a wood that is starting to find favor again in custom build circles after being set aside for sometime in favor of other choices, which is good because it is an excellent tone wood and can give as rich and full bodied a sound as mahogany and will often be lighter than mahogany. It is probably the most balanced of the tone woods.
The Alder we grow around here has a very rich, full sound; it seems a little less dense than Alder from other areas which may be the reason.
Korina (Black or White Limba) is another very excellent tone wood, and is extremely beautiful as well; I personally prefer it over mahogany. You will find that some of Gibson's® most valuable collector instruments were made from Korina.
Swamp Ash seems to be quite popular today because of its distinctive sound, light weight and nice grain, it is brighter than Alder, Mahogany, and Korina and has a very nice balance of brightness and warmth with a lot of "pop". however it tends to be quite soft, hence it is not as durable as some other choices.
Mahogany of course has a long history as a tone wood in instrument making. Mahogany's tone is warm and full with good sustain, though not very tight on the bottom and the highs are not very pronounced, which makes it a good choice to combine with a maple top to add a little tightness and stronger highs. There can be quite a range in the weight of Mahogany as well.
There are a number of other exotic woods that are very good tone woods and are used quite frequently on custom instruments. The most important issue however that needs to be addressed with which ever tone woods are used in an instrument to bring out the tonal qualities desired is the way the wood is handled. Wood needs to be properly aged to be stable and bring out its inherent tonal qualities to the full. We keep a large stock of wood on hand so we can age it for several years before it is used in a guitar.
One could write a book, I think, on the subject of tone woods, but the main thing is to be open to all the possibilities that are available in acquiring a custom guitar and making the most of them.
ComponentsComponents can be another long winded discussion, I would like to make just a few notes here on the subject.
Tuners: Grover, Gotoh, Schaller, Planet Waves, Sperzel as well as some others make good tuners. Locking tuners are really the only way to go if you are using a tremolo, unless you are using a locking nut; then they are not necessary. I have found in most cases, locking tuners work as well as a locking nut as far as keeping tune as long as the nut is made properly out of the right material and the head has proper amount of tilt back - and the guitar is easier to tune and change strings with the locking tuners rather than a locking nut. A guitar that has a tune-o-matic or hard tail bridge will not gain very much more tuning stability from locking tuners, but they do string up quicker.
Bridges: I like the Schaller 3d roller hardtail bridge for a fixed bridge, it has excellent tone, sustain and adjust ability. The Schaller Floyd Rose is hard to beat for a Floyd Rose tremolo. The Wilkinson VS-100 and 400 are great tremolo's. The Gotoh 510 tune-o-matic is excellent.
I had a client ask me about the different methods of string attachment in regard to bridges and their effect on tone and sustain so I have chosen to add some of that conversation to what has clearly been an abbreviated discussion on bridges merely listing my preferences.
The question of what type or bridge design will give the best tone and sustain actually comes under the heading of what kind of tone (and sustain for that matter) one is looking for rather than which method would provide the best-most. The quest for tone and sustain actually ends up being a compromise between the two, the best sustain would come from a bar of steel with the string firmly fixed on each end with the nut and bridge milled out of the bar, but the tone would be awful. The warmer the tone the more the sustain tends to suffer (archtop hollowbody Jazz guitars are not known for their sustain but are very warm toned instruments).
Some feel that the Les Paul Standard is the end all be all of sustain and tone (tune-o-matic/stoptail), others like the telecaster (string thru), still others think that the Stratocaster with a classic 6 screw trem is the ultimate tone machine while others would say that any trem is the worst possible choice of bridge for great tone and sustain, and a jazz musician would go for a floating wood bridge of Rosewood or Ebony with a tail piece of the same. Much of this is subjective, in the sense that it is relative to the kind of tone and response the musician is after. Although the ardent adherents of a particular method might beg to differ, standing back and listening to the debate tends to support the view that it is subjective or at least relative. I have seen (and built) examples of all of these methods that had excellent tone and sustain, the quality of tone and sustain as related to the bridge method is largely determined by the quality of the bridge as well as the other components, materials and the way they were all put together, one does have to admit that from a purely mechanical standpoint the string thru properly executed would seem to be the best, however great tone is not just a matter of mechanics.
A string thru design can give more punch and have a lot of resonance, it is a good choice if you want a lot of attack and fast response, however the design of a string thru bridge will effect how this plays out. The standard tele bridge which has a base plate the front of which floats over the route for the bridge pickup in which the pickup is also mounted will tend to impart a metallic resonance and twang, a string thru hardtail like is found on the Strat will have a warmer tone. The wrap around bridge although being of a completely different design will also give good punch and ringing tone with very good sustain.
An interesting attribute of the spring Tremolo design is that it creates a natural reverb which if properly setup with the bridge made of the right material can be quite pronounced which lends a very nice resonance to the instrument (steel seems to increase the reverb effect but brass seems to have a warmer tone).
The standard tune-o-matic bridge has long enjoyed a large following for its full tone and good sustain. A variant of this type found on the Yamaha SG2000 circa 1976 had incredible singing - sustaining tone. The neck through body construction certainly helped in this regard but the unique design of the bridge really brought it home. At first glance it looks more or less like a standard tune-o-matic however they embedded a brass sustain block into the body under it and mounted the bridge in it. This is one of the reasons I prefer the Schaller roller hardtail. The base is a substantial brass casting that gives excellent tone and sustain. I also like it for the roller saddles which are easier on the strings, the fact that I can adjust the string spacing is also a big plus.
There are many methods of bridge design that provide good tone and sustain, what needs to be decided is how one wants these attributes to be expressed.
Electronics: Wow! books have been written on this subject. I would like to only mention a couple things here.
First: You don't need to buy a $200-$300 pickup to get a great sound. Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Golden Age, EMG, Lace, Shadow, Rio Grande, Lollar, Wolfetone, Fralin all make great sounding pickups for any sound needed.
Second: Keep it simple, if possible; complex wiring with a myriad of switches most of time never gets used, gets more costly with complexity and some wirings just end up a compromised sound of what would sound good on an instrument designed for that sound. Having said this we do all the various wiring and pickup combinations out there and some are interesting such as piezo systems and some of the active circuits, which, besides the sound modification they provide, most also convert the signal to low impedance which lowers signal noise considerably and allows longer cables. The down side of course is you have to replace batteries periodically.
I hope that these ideas are a help in working out what you would like in a custom guitar.