Hell’s Half Acre: Vintage Guitar Wiring

The Hell’s Half Acre build has been over five years in the making. During that time there’s been a lot of stops and starts, and a lot of waiting in the wings while other projects received priority. All through it “The Acre” hasn’t complained. It knows that this is part of its story—the pre-history built right into the guitar.

This week I had some time and applied it towards the completion of this wonderful instrument. The cellulose faux tortoise shell material I got from my friend Paul Chandler was the perfect stuff for the pick guard, backplate and truss rod cover. Cellulose is highly flammable, so you have to be careful not to heat it up on a sander or saw. The final fit is done with hand files because this guitar is a one-off and doesn’t conform to any tooling that I have.

filing pickguard

Before loading the electrics, the control cavity gets coated with some defense contractor-grade shielding paint. A friend of a friend works for Pratt & Whitney, so I didn’t have to buy the minimum order of 20 gallons. This is the stuff that big corporations and the CIA use to block communications in safe-rooms. I figured it would be fine in an electric guitar. It goes on like pudding, so I have to use a special tip on my spray gun. Honestly, I only use it because I can, and it looks really nice.

Shielding paint

This guitar gets one of my prized Centralab rotary (blade) switches from 1953. It came out of some old telecommunications gear I bought at auction. One can only imagine the conversations that have passed through this piece. I spent about an hour and a half cleaning and aligning the contacts, then adjusting and lubricating the spring mechanism. It should be ready for at least another 50 years of duty.

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I love the look of the brown phenolic circuit wafer, and it has a lovely (and rare) old Bakelite switch tip that will look great on the guitar. The new versions of this switch are not built to this standard any more, and I enjoy finding and repurposing these.

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The electronics are twenty-year-old NOS potentiometers from CTS, and the tone cap is a Sprague Black Beauty that was pulled from some vintage equipment.

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I realize that 1930s materials and wire, 1950s switchgear and 1990s potentiometers don’t line up exactly with the 1860s theme of Hell’s Half Acre, but every decade is capable of raising a little hell, right?

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a video about the inspiration and build of this guitar.

Tulsa Pro Artist Proof Guitar

As the week begins, I’m back in the workshop with another Artist’s Proof guitar. This one is something I’ve wanted to do for a while—a double German carve Tulsa in white limba. The face of the instrument is a tightly figured curly maple, while the back is a nice chunk of figured limba—sometimes called korina here in the US.

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I’ve built the neck from a single piece of limba with a beautiful Braz rosewood fingerboard. My signature “Claw” inlay is at the 12th fret. As is often the case on my guitars, the headstock face is black ebony.

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Jack Drill

I’ll be using a TonePros adjustable wrap bridge, which should be interesting on this guitar. Here’s how I check the neck fit and angle before I glue it in place. The fit is extremely tight so I have to make certain it’s right before bonding—you don’t get a second chance do do it!

neck check

Following Guitar Instincts

A four decade tenure in the guitar-making world has given me a pretty good overview of things. As a guitar tech and musician I’ve recorded dozens of times in real studios and played live hundreds of times. As a designer, facilities and plant manager for a number of brands, I’ve overseen the production of tens of thousands of guitars. My lean/Kaizen consulting business has seen me working in the biggest guitar factories in the US and Mexico, and I’ve toured the guitar plants of Japan, Korea and China.

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But what I really enjoy the most is making guitars one by one with my own hands. And that’s why I’m really digging this Tulsa Artist’s Proof thing I’m doing right now. Each of these instruments starts off as a completely freewheeling, let-my-instincts-rule sort of jam session. They are ideas I’ve toyed with, or suggested to clients before—and never followed through with.

Two Pines

They aren’t “stock” models, and they’re all different. Some utilize combinations of woods, hardware and electronics that I don’t really offer on the stock models. Normally, I have a small team helping me build the Dantzig models: Tulsa, Milano, Tupelo and Rialto, but this is a different thing altogether. I’m a lot more hands on, and honestly, it’s the closest you could get to one of my signature guitars without the signature.

Marigold Guitar Morning Inspirations

Musicians are a bit like vampires. No, I don’t mean they’ll suck the life out of you—although that can be the case. It’s the hours they keep. I used to enjoy the upside-down, unconventional world of the working musician.  While others were brushing their teeth, getting ready for their meaningless day of drudgery at the office, my musician friends and I were stumbling out of a party or loading out from the night’s gig. The pale glow of the morning’s approach was always a special, quiet time before the bustle of the straight world took over.

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I’d been in the company of artists—like-minded souls, with great conversations and interesting points of view. Then it was home, for a solid six hours of sleep before rising at noon.

Today, it’s the reverse. The quiet time is still precious to me, but it’s at the start of my day now. I sip my coffee and listen to the birds—first a robin, then the Cardinal’s chip chip chip chip. As the sun crests the ridge, I’m walking down the wooded road to my shop. In the distance a chainsaw fires up and a dog barks faintly. This is the best time—so full of promise.

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My wife, Carla, had planted Marigolds at the entrance to my shop, and every day they make me smile as I approach the door. They are bright and welcoming—exploding with red, gold and yellow in the morning light. So, it wasn’t a surprise when I mixed up a new batch of glowing lacquer shaders and dyes to use on a few new instruments.

I’d been staying mainly with browns, deep cherry, naturals and muted ambers, which are still some of my favorite guitar finishes, but the flowers had made me think of more bright reds and yellows. So I made a few sample blocks.

Samples

I still think about the old times, and staying up all night. Bill Murray holding an enormous bunch of colored balloons in a deserted warehouse district street at 4 AM, or David Copperfield sharing cocktails and a childhood story on a balcony overlooking the lights of Chicago. Too many good memories to dismiss as wasted youth. But I like the morning for different reasons now, and my head doesn’t hurt.

 

Tulsa Guitars: Studs’ Revenge

Buckle rash. We all know what it is, but opinions about it vary. A belt buckle or jean studs can disfigure (some would say “relic”) the back and edges of a guitar in short order. Many believe that it renders an instrument less than desirable while others regard rash as a badge of honor. The sight of an otherwise pristine relic from mid-century American music lore made less than perfect by a former owner’s lack of compassion, and their desire to keep their trousers from falling down can make you shake your head.

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Today I saw a video of Joe Walsh onstage in the 1970s brandishing a fine example of a late ’50s burst—his gigantic concho belt sawing its way through the old-growth mahogany like the Colorado river creating the Grand Canyon. It made me both cringe and smile. Then it hit me. The revenge of the guitar.

My Georgia Pine Project #1 guitar has a pair of tooling holes drilled through its back that were used to create the router tooling. I didn’t want to pretend like they weren’t there, so I just carried on with the build. But as I watched the Walsh video, it dawned on me that perhaps it was time for the guitar to fight back. In the 1980’s I’d designed stud-laden guitars for KK Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, but the idea of putting the cart before the horse on my new guitar was just too tempting, and I had just the weapon.

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Every day I wear my tough as nails Levi’s work shirt—I have a closet full of these iconic and practically indestructible black shirts. The one shortcoming they possess is they have metal studs for buttons. On a few of my shirts, I have removed the cuff buttons because they can interfere with sanding and polishing—clanking and scratching while I’m attempting to make things nice and neat. I wondered, what if the guitar was  outfitted with its own set of molesting buttons? The shoe would be on the other foot, so to speak.

Cutting Button

Right then and there, I grabbed some cutters and snipped the iconic Levi’s studs from the very shirt I had on. What great inlays they will make on the back of the guitar! The lucky person who gets this instrument had better be careful what they wear because it will be armed to fight back.

Iconic Levi’s Stud Buttons
Iconic Levi’s Stud Buttons

Here’s the Walsh video:

Georgia Pine Project—Artist’s Proofs

The chips are flying and the lacquer is wafting through the air in the workshop as I press onward with my series of Artist’s Proof guitars. These are basically prototypes—all different. The first examples are now entering the painting stage, and include the first two of the Georgia Pine guitars.

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This is Georgia Pine #1, which has a maple neck and a spalt maple top.
The A/P designation is on the headstock
The A/P designation is on the headstock

The second GP is all pine with a maple neck. As with the first, the fingerboard is rosewood with pearl dots and a seven-piece “claw” inlay at the 12th fret.

Dantzig Guitar with my distinctive Claw inlay
Rosewood with my distinctive Claw inlay

These instruments are insanely light in weight, and I can’t wait to hear them sing. Although they are routed for humbuckers, I intend to use single coil pickups in the neck position. The airy and open sound of the pine should match up nicely with what I have in mind.

At the moment there are ten different A/P guitars in progress, and although a few have been spoken for, there are still some available for purchase. Contact me to discuss the details—this is a great opportunity to get what amounts to a one-off guitar at “Team Built” pricing.

German Carve on the Bench

One of the things I’ve wanted to incorporate in my designs is an old-school type of relief carving sometimes called the German carve. While at Hamer I couldn’t really do it because it was not in the “Hamer tradition” as it was called. The closest I came was with the Monaco guitars, which featured a more radical scallop at the edge. But in my shop, I make the rules, so I’m making a few Artist Proof instruments to see how it looks on a Dantzig guitar. What do you think?

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My Tulsa model with a German carve flame maple top

The resurgence of the so-called “German carve” is an interesting development in the world of guitar fashion. Traditionally used on furniture, I first noticed it on the Mosrite Ventures models I lusted for in my 1960s youth. Actually, it was quite popular with European guitar builders (mostly in Germany and Italy) where a man named Roger Rosemeissl grew up working in his father’s guitar shop.

Roger Rossmeissl

Eventually, Rossmeissl came to America and began working at Rickenbacker, where he designed a number of instruments in the late 1950s. A few of his designs featured the carved relief technique he had learned at home in Germany. Later, Semie Moseley would work alongside Rossmeissl at Rickenbacker before striking out on his own. Moseley’s new company was named Mosrite, and he carried the European carving over to his designs for the Ventures.

 

Today, all things old are new again so it doesn’t surprise me that the scalloped appearance of the German carve would appeal to a new audience. For me, it is a tip of the hat to some of my guitar-building heroes—and to the Ventures model guitar I dreamed of owning when I first started playing guitar. I can’t wait to finish these new instruments.

Tulsa Artist Proofs

There will soon be a small number of unique and interesting “Artist Proof” Tulsa guitars available for purchase.

Work on the Tulsa models continues with a major streamlining of the workspaces in the shop. Beacause the Dantzig guitars (as opposed to the Signature models) are team built, I needed to create fixturing and work process standards that all of us can follow.

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Right now in order to test the tooling I am personally building a few guitars in very different configurations, including alder, mahogany pine and Limba bodies, spalted maple, German carve flame tops and full Korina guitars.

Pitching

A couple of these instruments will have maple necks with rosewood fingerboards.

side dots

This is a fun and satisfying part of the process as I explore options beyond the stock Tulsa specifications.

fretting

This group of guitars will help me decide on future configurations for the Tulsa model. For right now, these are “Artist’s Proofs” which I will offer for sale after I get a chance to evaluate them. This is an excellent opportunity for some of you to acquire a rare version of my Tulsa model. If you are interested in grabbing one of these guitars, contact me directly.

Strong Indications

If you ever wondered what a typical day in the shop is like, I can say with confidence that you rarely know what you’ll get. As much as I’d like to say that it’s all cutting and carving wood and making lovely instruments, it often is far from that.

Explorer Bench

This morning I wanted to drill a few holes in a fixture I was building, but the drill bit was vibrating a bit as I set about to drop the quill. A quick inspection with my favorite Brown & Sharpe indicator showed about .005″ run-out at the chuck. This would translate to a more severe wobble at the end of the bit, so it had to be fixed. Sometimes a chuck will have debris inside, or the bit may have a burr; either of which can create a bit of run-out. I examined the bit, and it seemed fine—a roll test on the surface plate showed it was true. I was confident that a quick blast of compressed air would clean the chuck interior and I would be on my way. Or perhaps it was the arbor coming loose. My conscience demanded that I set things truly straight by disassembling the whole thing to put my mind at ease. I’d been wanting to reduce the return spring tension as well, so no better time than the present. The best way to determine a problem is to systematically go through each step until you find the source of the problem.

Out came the wrenches, wedge set and the arbor drift. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. Measured, solvent cleaned, then lubricated properly—the whole thing went back together beautifully. The culprit? A little bit here, a little bit there all added up to too much play in the end.

dial indicator

When I put the indicator on the arbor it was only showing about .001″— which is pretty much dead nuts for this type of machine. With the chuck cleaned out and fitted snugly, it was ready to rock. By then it was lunchtime.  At least I knew that the rest of the day could move ahead without incident.

Spring Forward

Yesterday was a gift. March has certainly come in like a Lamb. The mercury (remember thermometers?) touched the mid-70s, and  dogs were sleeping in the sun outside the shop. I had all the doors open, allowing a warm New England breeze to sweep through the workspace as I glued up a pair of Tulsa body blanks.

chamber

Building guitars is always a joy, but when the weather is nice and the sun shines into the shop, it’s even better. Here is a two-piece, figured white limba back on the router table. The internal chambering has just been finished, and it’s ready to receive a curly maple top.

Tulsa Top

Next up is a similar guitar that is a few steps ahead in the build sequence. This is another maple-topped, limba Tulsa body in its final shape—ready for the pickup and control routs.

Testing Tulsa Tooling

My Tulsa guitars have been getting popular, so I decided to streamline and rebuild some of the tooling I use to build them. I hadn’t figured on “tooling up” properly so this was an opportunity to make use of my experience and do things correctly. Having great tools allows me to spend more time on the things that matter most instead of trying to remember dimensions and build order.

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One of the things that does require a lot of handwork is the fitting of the neck. Because my neck tenon is full width, and has square corners, the pocket in the body must match. The router leaves a rounded corner, so the only way is to hand chisel the corners.

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The mortise (pocket) is routed slightly undersize, so that I can open it up by hand until the neck is a tight fit, and that happens at this stage.

Pitch

Once the neck fits, I clamp it temporarily to check the pitch to the bridge. This one is getting a wrap tail, so that’s what you see here. I actually like to do this before the neck is fretted and the body completely finished. That way if things are going astray I have less time invested if I have to switch gears—like using a different neck! Thankfully, my tooling and measurements are precise, so this one is right on the money.

Welcome to Jol Dantzig’s Guitar Diaries

—the new home of the Dantzig Guitars Workshop Blog.

As my instruments evolve the workshop does as well. This blog, diary or whatever you want to call it, is now a cleaner, more concise place for me to ramble aimlessly as I follow my muse—wherever that may lead.

Whether I build an instrument for you, or you just enjoy the stories about the shop, I thank you all for the support and kind words of encouragement that allow me to do what I do.

More Tulsa Guitars

Carving a maple Tulsa neck—this one is going to be a little different!
If it turns out the way I hope, I’ll be making more. As a big fan of the Stratocaster and Telecaster, I appreciate the snap and spank of a long-scale maple neck, so I’ve decided to build a few Tulsa guitars that stray from my usual repertoire of maple-capped mahogany with mahogany necks. It will be an interesting experiment and when they are done I will offer them for sale.

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Meanwhile, I’m busy doing more inlay work. Here, I’m using a small chisel to square up and cut sharp corners that even the tiny router bit won’t cut. This is for a Tulsa model made of white limba. This is a beautiful piece of Brazilian rosewood from my decades-old stash.

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Here we have a customer guitar mahogany neck with a rosewood head plate. The truss rod has just been installed and I am prepping it to receive the matching fingerboard.

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Tulsas on Deck

The reception of my Dantzig line Tulsa model has been very satisfying for me. It is a way to offer my designs in a more timely fashion for those who do not desire a one-off guitar. Today, I am laying out the inlays on some rosewood and ebony fingerboards. The Tulsa model comes adorned with basic pearl dot markers, but can be optioned with a number of my “signature” inlay patterns.

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I still lay the inlays out by hand and rout the pockets out manually. Not quite as quick as the CNC methods that we used at Hamer, but it’s something that I enjoy.

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These fingerboards have the “full claw” which entails 70 separate pieces of mother of pearl and abalone per board.

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The examples above feature the “Claw” inlay at the 12th fret only, but can be had with the full claw treatment as well.

Also available are Chevron and T-Bird inlays, for those who desire a slightly less intricate pattern.

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This is the three piece T-Bird inlay, shown at the 12th fret. The Chevron inlay is a single part without the center piece—the simplest of my large patterns. Many customers have opted for a 12th fret inlay only, but you can order any combination.

Back in the Saddle

It has been a busy few months—lots of research, writing and following up on things, and not as much building guitars as I would like. That’s not to say that my shop has been idle. Space is always at a premium, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned—no matter how much you have, you’ll fill it up. So, in order to make things a little easier on myself (and my clients) I’ve been streamlining the shop. If you follow my posts on Facebook you’ll know that I’ve gotten the Hell’s Half Acre build back on the bench, and it feels good.

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The tobacco sunburst is appropriately named for this cowpoke guitar, and it turned out really nice. I’m back in my paint room, which has been upgraded, and am now putting on clear coats of nitro.

Lately, I’ve been infatuated with three things: French polish, old violins, and the patina of age on vintage guitars. I’ve been working on a way to stylistically blend these influences into a thin nitrocellulose guitar finish.

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Here is a test panel compared to an original 1964 Precision Bass. I’m not trying to match the color here, just the sheen. It is a combination of additives in the lacquer, and a hand polishing technique using a wool pad and lots of elbow grease. It’s not as easy as buffing a high gloss, or spraying a satin paint, but I think the results are great. This process gives the guitar more of a real musical instrument vibe, and less of a “production/factory” look. After all, I don’t make toasters or automobiles—I don’t think of guitars as appliances.

Then and Now, Short Form

Here is a template that I made in the early 1980s. It has been used to start the process on thousands of instruments. It hangs in my shop to remind me of my journey and all of the wonderful people I have met along the way. At the lower right hand corner is a current color sample block for a client’s guitar order.

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I’ve never done this for the money, but I like to be paid for my time and expertise. I didn’t start building guitars because I wanted to be rich, or even to be a businessman. I just wanted to make cool shit. I figured that if I satisfied myself, maybe there would be a few people like me who might want one of my guitars. So far, it has worked out way better than I’d ever hoped.

Patterns of Behavior

Space, the final frontier. It’s always a battle to find enough space in the workshop. If I’ve learned anything over the years it is that if you have the space, you will fill it, and there will never be enough room. Consequently, I’ve become very good at squeezing more things into less space. The downside is that sometimes you forget where things are, or that they exist at all. This runs in direct opposition to my Kaizen training—where visual systems rule the roost. I find it neccessary to routinely jockey tables, benches and machinery around in order to accomodate projects as needed.

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Good things in small packages: the original 6L headstock pattern.

As I was rearranging things yesterday I came upon a small box marked “Jol’s work patterns.” Inside was a time-capsule of paper cutouts shaped like guitars folded up neatly. In an instant I knew what I’d found. Before the advent of CAD, I did all my design work in full scale on a drafting table. When specifying a custom order for construction in the shop I would draw it and then cut the pattern out to be used as a template in the woodshop. These paper patterns contained all the location and configuration information we needed—it was the blueprint that we used to create a customer’s guitar.

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A customer’s order with Floyd Rose and custom control location

I have many large boxes full of my original Hamer drawings, blueprints and templates, but this small cache was part of a stash that somehow got separated from the rest. It was a bit like time travel to look through it and I intend to share more of it as time goes on.

For the Want of a Tool

I love tools—I’ve got boxes of them in my shop and in my home. My wife chuckles and shakes her head, I’m sure, because there’s a tool kit in almost every room of our house. Every new job I take on is an opportunity to acquire a new wrench, cutter or crimper. Punches, files, clamps and drills fill my heart with joy. Pantographs, saws and shapers fill my workspace with lovely dust.

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As much as I adore specialized tools—the ones that do one thing and one thing only—measuring tools, that I use every day, or even every hour of every day are my bread and butter. Rulers, scales, micrometers, depth and diameter gauges. These are the implements needed to navigate the complexities of building something to close tolerances—like a guitar. But by far the most versatile of this class of tools is the dial caliper.

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I’ve had my Brown & Sharpe dial calipers since the late 1970s. The corners and edges of the mahogany case have been rounded off from three decades of constant use, and the mahogany itself is darkened from oxidation and the oils from handling. If you look closely, you can see the impression from the serial number stamp in the wooden case. Steve Ward and I used those calipers to build the original five-neck guitar and the twin necked “Uncle Dick” for Rick Nielsen. I used them to plot the original design for the sustain block bridge and world’s first 12-string bass. They were there to measure neck dimensions on KK Downing’s Flying V and Glenn Tipton’s SG when designing their signature models in 1984. Gary Moore and I used them to measure the neck width and depth of Peter Green’s Les Paul ’Burst.

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Almost every person of note who worked at Hamer handled this tool at one time or another. It’s is still insanely accurate and one of my most treasured possessions, and as much as I enjoy the new digital calipers that can add, subtract and convert to metric at the touch of a button, there is something satisfying about using the analog version. It’s a connection to something deeper than just the job at hand.

Golden Age Update

 

My last post about the huge amount of electric guitar builders making instruments today elicited quite a volume of mail in my inbox. Some of you had additions to my list while others wanted to know why certain names were deemed “worthy” of inclusion. A couple people with severe OCD suggested the list be alphabetized. For those who sent me names, we all thank you. I couldn’t really grasp why the list should be in alphabetical order (as opposed to by cost, state or body style for instance) but I did it just the same.

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I think that my point was well made before the addition of another 100+ builders, but now we have a bigger list to view anyway. As I said before, this list is not complete—not by a longshot—and it does not represent any sort of endorsement or judgement by me.

What do you think this says about the state of the guitar industry?

Enjoy!

 

A E Guitars,

Abel Axe

Abita Guitars

Abyss Guitars

Abyss Guitars

Ace Guitars

Agile Guitars

Ali Kat Guitars

Andrews Guitars

Aria

Aristides Guitars

Artinger Guitars

ASG

Asher Guitars

Austin Guitars

AXL Guitars

b3 Guitars

Bacorn Guitars

Banning Guitars

Batson Guitars

BC Rich

Bear Creek Guitars

Becker Guitars

Bell Custom Guitars

Benavente Guitars

Benedict Guitar Company

Black Mesa Guitars

Black Pearl Guitars

Blade Guitars

Blu Guitars

Blue Eagle Guitars

Bolin Guitars

Bootleg Guitars

Boris Guitars

Bourgeois Guitars

Branch Guitars

Brubaker Guitars

Buzz Feiten Guitars

Byrd Guitars

Campbell American Guitars

Campellone Guitars

Caparelli Guitars

Carl Barney Guitars

Carvin

Chafin Guitars

Chappell Guitars

Charvel

Chris Larkin Guitars

Cilia Guitars

Cimarron Guitars

Citron Guitars

Collings Guitars

Conklin Guitars

Cort

Crafter Guitars

Creston Guitars

Crook Custom Guitars

Cycfi Research

D’Angelico Guitars

Daisy Rock Guitars

DBZ Guitars

Dean Guitars

Decava Guitars

DeLacugo Guitars

Delaney Guitars

DeTemple Guitars

DGN Guitars

Di Vill Guitars

Dingwall Guitars

DiPinto Guitars

Dolan Guitars

Doppler Guitars

Dragonfly Guitars

Dragonfly Guitars

Dreamer Guitarworks

Driskill Guitars

Dudley Customs

Dudley Guitars

Duesenberg Guitars

Eastwood Guitars

Eastman Guitars

Ed Clark Guitars

EER Customs

Electra Guitars

Electrical Guitar Company

Elliott Guitars

ESP

EVH

Falbo Guitars

Fano Guitars

Farida Guitars

Farnell Guitars

Fender Guitars

Fernandes

First Act

Flaxwood Guitars

Fleishman Guitars

Flinthill

Fliski Guitars

Fodera Guitars

Framus Guitars

Francis Guitars

Fretlight Guitars

Fujigen Guitars

G&L Guitars

Gadow Guitars

Gelvin Guitars

Gene Liberty Guitars

Gibson Guitars

Gigliotti Guitars

Gil Yaron

Giles Guitars

GJ3 Guitars

Glassical Creations

GMP Guitars

Godin Guitars

Gordon Smith

Greenfield Guitars

Gretsch Guitars

Grosh Guitars

Grove Guitars

Guild Guitars

Hallmark Guitars

Ham-tone Guitars

Hamburguitar

Hanson

Hanson Musical Instruments

Harden Engineering

Headless Guitars

Henman Guitars

Heritage Guitars

HiTone Guitars

Hofner Guitars

Hoyer Guitars

Huber Guitars

Ibanez Guitars

Italia Guitars

J. Backlund Guitars

Jackson Guitars

Jacob Chapman

James Tyler Guitars

Jay Turser Guitars

Jericho Guitars

JLS Guitars

John Carruthers Guitars

Johnson Guitars

Joseph Lukes Guitars

K-Line Guitars

Kammerer Guitars

Ken Parker Guitars

King Blossom Guitars

Knaggs Guitars

Knutson Luthierie

Koll Guitars

Kostal Guitars

Kramer Guitars

KXK Guitars

Lace Guitars

Lado Guitars

LAG Guitars

Landric Guitars

LaRose Guitars

Larry Alan Guitars

Leach Guitars

Learn guitars

Legator Guitars

Lieber Guitars

Lindert Guitars

Lodestone Guitars

Lollar Guitars

LSL Guitars

Luna Guitars

M-Tone Guitars

Malden Guitars

Malinosky Guitars

Marchione Guitars

Maret Guitars

Mario Martin Guitars

Martin Guitars

Maton Guitars

Mauel Guitars

McCurdy Guitars

McElroy Guitars

McInturf Guitars

McMahon Artistry

McNaught Guitars

McSwain Guitars

MDX Guitars

Melancon Guitars

Michael Kelly Guitars

Michael Tuttle Guitars

Mike Lull Guitars

Minarik Guitars

Mike Guitars

MJ Guitars

Moniker Guitars

Moonstone Guitars

Moser Guitars

MotorAve Guitars

Musicman Guitars

Musicvox

Myka Guitars

Nash Guitars

New Breed Creations

North American Instruments

Norton Guitars

Novax Guitars

Novax Guitars

ODD

Oktober Guitars

Ozztosh

Parker Guitars

Paul Rhoney Guitars

Peavey Guitars

Peerless Guitars

Pensa Guitars

Perri Ink Custom Guitars

Phantom Guitar Works

Potvin Guitars

Prestige Guitars

PRS

Pure Salem Guitars

Rebel Guitars

Recording King Guitars

Red Rocket Guitars

Reverend Guitars

Rickenbacker International

Ritter Instruments

Rizzolo Guitars

Ronin Guitars

Roscoe Guitars

RS Guitarworks

Ruokangas Guitars

Ruokangas Guitars

Russell Guitars

RWK Guitars

S3 Guitars

Sadowsky Guitars

Saul Koll Guitars

SB MacDonald

Schaefer Guitars

Schroeder Guitars

Scott French Guitars

Scott Walker Guitars

Sexauer Guitars

Shishkov Guitars

Silvertone

Slick Guitars

St. Blues Guitars

Starr Guitars

Stevens Guitars

Stewart Guitars

Stremel Guitars

Strobel Guitars

Suhr Guitars

Switch Guitars

Tagima Guitars

Taylor Guitars

Ted Crocker Guitars

TMG

Tobias Guitars

Tokai Guitars

Tom Anderson Guitars

Tonesmith Guitars

Tradition Guitars

Travis Stevens

Triggs Guitars

Trussart Gutars

Tsunami Guitars

TV Jones Guitars

US Masters Guitars

Veillette Guitars

Veritas Guitars

Versoul Guitars

Vesper Guitars

Vigier Guitars

Viktorian Guitars

Virgil Guitars

Volta Guitars

Vox

Warlatron Guitars

Warr Guitars

Warrior Guitars

Washburn Guitars

Wayne Guitars

Wood Hagan Guitars

Yamaha Guitars

Zager Guitars

Zarley Wideneck Guitars

Zemaitis

Zion Guitar Technology

Zolla Guitars

Zon

ZOZO Guitars

Golden Age or Glowing Sunset?

Every ten years or so over the last five decades a major publication has featured a big story about how rock is dead and the guitar is going the way of the accordion. Recently I read about how EDM is killing guitar-oriented music and that an entire generation is growing up without the power chord or jingle-jangle of guitar. My reaction was pretty much the same as it has always been—not so fast. How can the guitar be on the wane when so many different instruments are being offered—and sold at bargain prices? Or will that be the cause of its demise? Part of the guitar’s appeal has always been its status as a rebel’s badge, which is pretty hard to justify when there are more guitars than there are people.

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Typical Day at the Big Box Brand

If you read the guitar magazines or visit online guitar-centric sites, you’ll have noticed that there are more brand names than ever before. In fact, it seems that there are almost more guitar companies than there are bands. For a player, this is heaven—so many designs and configurations to choose from! The vast offering of styles makes it a good bet that if you crave something, there’s somebody out there who can supply it for you at a price you can afford. There are vintage styles, modern styles, hybrids and mutant mashups in every color imaginable and some not to imaginable. Certainly this is a buyer’s market.

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But what about the builders? Can you imagine being in competition not only with offshore giants who can build a finished guitar for under $30, but with hundreds (or thousands) of local garage-based businesses? For some, it’s just a hobby where real profit isn’t important. This is the case for a lot of builders who are happy to make a few instruments a month down in the basement. It keeps them busy and maybe even pays for itself—if they don’t look at their time as costing anything.

I quickly compiled a list of some of the guitar brands being sold today. This list is by no means complete or comprehensive. In fact, my list contains just a fraction of what’s out there. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them. I ran out of patience before I ran out of names to type. Did I mention your favorite?

Peerless Guitars

Farida Guitars

Paul Rhoney Guitars

Banning Guitars

Blu Guitars

Wood Hagan Guitars

Veritas Guitars

Volta Guitars

Yamaha Guitars

Doppler Guitars

Lollar Guitars

Ham-tone Guitars

Gibson Guitars

Rickenbacker Guitars

Electra Guitars

Warlatron Guitars

Peavey Guitars

RS Guitarworks

Agile Guitars

Dudley Customs

Harden Engineering

Landric Guitars

Grosh Guitars

Dreamer Guitarworks

Fujigen Guitars

D’Angelico Guitars

Dean Guitars

Wayne Guitars

DBZ Guitars

Warr Guitars

Stewart Guitars

Carl Barney Guitars

Washburn Guitars

Scott French Guitars

Vesper Guitars

Koll Guitars

Fano Guitars

Moonstone Guitars

b3 Guitars

Zolla Guitars

Framus Guitars

Trussart Gutars

LAG Guitars

Ronin Guitars

Fender Guitars

HiTone Guitars

Ruokangas Guitars

St. Blues Guitars

McElroy Guitars

Hamburguitar

MDX Guitars

Collings Guitars

Ritter Instruments

Crafter Guitars

Viktorian Guitars

Giles Guitars

Mike Lull Guitars

Taylor Guitars

Francis Guitars

Maton Guitars

Kramer Guitars

Takamine Guitars

Martin Guitars

Godin Guitars

Gretsch Guitars

Duesenberg Guitars

Hofner Guitars

SB MacDonald

Creston Guitars

LaRose Guitars

Hoyer Guitars

M-Tone Guitars

Ibanez Guitars

Recording King Guitars

Suhr Guitars

G&L Guitars

Blade Guitars

Musicman Guitars

ESP Guitars

Fretlight Guitars

Zager Guitars

Schroeder Guitars

Potvin Guitars

Virgil Guitars

Lieber Guitars

Fliski Guitars

Black Pearl Guitars

Abyss Guitars

Abel Axe

Ed Clark Guitars

Abyss Guitars

Driskill Guitars

Andrews Guitars

Dragonfly Guitars

Farnell Guitars

Melancon Guitars

Michael Kelly Guitars

Ted Crocker Guitars

Tom Anderson Guitars

Batson Guitars

Greenfield Guitars

Mauel Guitars

Sexauer Guitars

Gadow Guitars

Fodera Guitars

Warrior Guitars

Abita Guitars

Ace Guitars

Bourgeois Guitars

Fleishman Guitars

Knaggs Guitars

K-Line Guitars

Campbell American Guitars

Conklin Guitars

Delaney Guitars

Learn guitars

McInturf Guitars

Sadowsky Guitars

Pensa Guitars

Novax Guitars

Stevens Guitars

Artinger Guitars

Dragonfly Guitars

Marchione Guitars

DiPinto Guitars

McNaught Guitars

Minarik Guitars

Nash Guitars

Moser Guitars

TV Jones Guitars

DeTemple Guitars

John Carruthers Guitars

GJ3 Guitars

Brubaker Guitars

GMP Guitars

Henman Guitars

Ken Parker Guitars

Malden Guitars

Tonesmith Guitars

Triggs Guitars

Zion Guitar Technology

US Masters Guitars

Bear Creek Guitars

Bell Custom Guitars

Dingwall Guitars

Dolan Guitars

Chafin Guitars

Bolin Guitars

AXL Guitars

Heritage Guitars

James Tyler Guitars

Leach Guitars

Michael Tuttle Guitars

Myka Guitars

Boris Guitars

MJ Guitars

Norton Guitars

S3 Guitars

Jackson Guitars

Tradition Guitars

Veillette Guitars

Chappell Guitars

Electrical Guitar Company

Byrd Guitars

Knutson Luthierie

King Blossom Guitars

Bootleg Guitars

Austin Guitars

A E Guitars

Grove Guitars

J. Backlund Guitars

Gigliotti Guitars

Hanson Musical Instruments

Benavente Guitars

KXK Guitars

North American Instruments

Red Rocket Guitars

Black Mesa Guitars

Chris Larkin Guitars

Larry Alan Guitars

Motorave Guitars

DGN Guitars

Malinosky Guitars

LSL Guitars

Crook Custom Guitars

Branch Guitars

Cycfi Research

EER Customs

Decava Guitars

Bacorn Guitars

Maret Guitars

RWK Guitars

Russell Guitars

McSwain Guitars

Schaefer Guitars

DeLacugo Guitars

Switch Guitars

Tsunami Guitars

Becker Guitars

Benedict Guitar Company

Gene Liberty Guitars

Citron Guitars

Hallmark Guitars

McCurdy Guitars

 

 

 

 

Axes to Grind

In my latest column for Premier Guitar I describe the arc of some American manufacturing businesses including guitar factories.

Yesterday I paid a visit to Grover Jackson’s website to see what he’d been up to. The last time we spoke, about a year ago, Jackson had recently started a small guitar-building shop with ex-Fender salesman John Gold and they were building new instruments under the GJ2 name. He’d gotten himself a Fadal CNC and was about to release a new design called the Concorde. I was happy to see Jackson back in the saddle, he’d been an inspiration to me and I loved his original designs. I wished him luck and waited to see what amazing stuff he’d come up with next.

However, when I recently looked at his site, I was a bit surprised to see some pretty straight ahead Strat and Tele clones for sale. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It’s a tough marketplace out there if your headstock doesn’t say Gibson, Fender or Martin. The realities of the marketplace are in force even if your name is Grover Jackson. I know from personal experience that copycatting can be a double edged sword. It can make you, but it can cubbyhole you into a second-tier existence.

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On a related note, here is my latest column for Premier Guitar.

It’s about how the guitar industry is following a familiar arc. How many Packards, Tuckers, Humpmobiles, or even Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles do you see on the road today? There have been Shelbys, Deloreans, Studebakers, Dusenbergs, Hudsons, and Bricklins out there, trying to do battle against a stacked deck. For those of you who don’t know those names I’ll fill you in—they once were big shots in the car industry.

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So to all the small builders out there hanging on by your fingernails, you have my respect and I wish you the best. It’s not easy to survive in the shrinking guitar market—even if you have a famous name.

The Plywood Panacea and Masonite Mantra

Paul Simon wrote, “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts” and how correct he was. But Simon could have been talking about the product life cycle of any consumer item that relies upon favor for its sales.

 

In my latest column for Premier Guitar I examine the budget bin guitar fad. Click here to read.

Fifties guitars and boutique handmades are priced out of the reach for all but the wealthy or the truly dedicated players—something was bound to burst. Just as Andy Williams was left high and dry by the arrival of The Beatles, so too might be the fate of instruments from the golden age. Disdain of the old has often been the motivation for trends of the young.

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We don’t need your stinkin’ Les Pauls, PRS and Stratocasters, we’ve got cheapo student guitars that sound funky and make us look different than the old people in classic rock and country.

Maybe the suits at PRS will abandon their collectibles attitude and scramble to duke it out with more trendy upstarts like Fano. The executive teams at Fender and Gibson are already turning the microscope onto the pages of their cheesiest past offerings—you know, the ones that sort of inspired Fano in the first place.

Meanwhile, Rickenbacker just continues on making beautiful and glorious sounding, but practically unplayable art.

Read my latest for Premier Guitar

Winning

I guess I missed the memo. Forgive me because I’m just a little “slow” if you catch my drift. Now I smell what’s cookin’ and it’s the last fragment of my stupid optimism about art and the expression of the human condition. Because now I realize that rather than being humbled by of our tiny place in this immeasurable universe, life and art are really about winning. I used to believe that life was not a zero sum game and that the world held so much bounty and beauty that there was enough for everyone if they’d just take the time to look skyward and breathe nature’s divine air. I guess I’m an idiot.

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Training to win. The author in school circa 1965

I recently read a post from Esquire about how a rapper went home from SXSW early, because he “won”(their words) and it got me thinking—make that seething—about how everything in life now has to be a competition. Especially in this country. It’s the biggest, baddest, boldest, richest, righteous; most-popular-takes-the-prize mentality that surrounds us all. And it has always been this way. I was just a fool to think otherwise. Top forty, Billboard charts, top grossing movie, highest price paid for a painting and auction results on the morning news. What is American Idol if not a competition? Duh.

Even education is now about winning. Screw the arts—too hard to quantify. Our English and literature classes are now dumbed down to serve as training for corporate report writing. Learning is no longer the point; it’s all about positioning oneself for future employment. Imagine the fraud generated by all or nothing winning attitudes about the end game above all else. Creativity is given much lip service, but in the end it’s conformity that gets rewarded.

Still, I have optimism. Creative souls have always slipped through the cracks. In fact, I think the more robot-like the world becomes, the more misfits will rise to the challenge. Writing, filming, playing music, building and carving—not because of the money, not because of the fame, but because it has always been this way. That’s the creative person’s way of winning.