Take Your Time, Son

There are a lot of things about guitar building that I have yet to learn. One thing I do know is that taking your time building a neck is a worthwhile investment. Wood is not as unpredictable as some folks might like to suggest, but you have to know where to look. Years ago I did some research on how necks in their raw and finished states behaved over time. My tests were conducted on two separate occasions and each involved a test group of ten necks along with a control group of an additional ten in a climate-controlled chamber. Every neck was measured daily for three months with electronic equipment capable of a resolution of 1/10th of one degree. Both times I achieved similar results. I’ll spare you the details, but my conclusion confirmed that proceeding slowly over time was the best way to build a stable instrument.

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Today I’m taking a neck that has been in progress for several months to the next level—the rough carve. As you can see, the fingerboard has been bonded on, but is still flat. The first step is to make some radial marks on the shaft with a pencil, which allows me so see wherre I’ve been. This process is repeaded several times as the neck is broght closer to final shape and size. I probably could do without this step after all this time, but I still do it out of habit. I’ll use a cabinet scraper to bring the back of the neck to within .050″ of its final dimension, then back on the shelf it goes. By this point, most of the movment has taken place, but any last twisting will be taken out when the fingerboard is radiused in eight more weeks.

Standard (Parts) of the Industry

My column in last month’s Premier Guitar about profiling amps seemed to touch a nerve among guitarists even though it was really aimed at manufacturers of amplifiers. The debate raged on for a while, racking up some record website hits and massive pageviews of this blog as readers searched for information and backstory.

This month’s article is off to a similar start. It targets the idea that Fender created a de facto standardization of parts and simple manufacturing steps to make an electric guitar. It’s no secret that the Strat and Tele are the simplest instruments to build. Don’t get me wrong—I love bolt on Fenders. I worked in a factory where we made 900 a day. It’s the instrument equivalent of Lego.

My piece touches upon the shops that build parts (necks and bodies) for a swelling contingent of home-builders. Rather than name names or point fingers, I’ve merely laid out some of the story behind the ever-growing community of parts-guitar assemblers masquerading as “builders.” Also mentioned are the huge offshore factories that churn out instruments for lots of famous and not-so-famous brand names—side by side on the same production line. It seems that I’ve ruffled a few feathers, even among the folks wha actually build guitars from scratch. Go figure. They may be mad, or say it’s sour grapes—but they know I’m not lying.

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The Great Clone Debate

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Nothing pisses off guitarists like an article about plagarism. My latest column for Premier Guitar touches upon the legal (or not) debate about cloning, profiling, sampling and just pure ripping off. Not melodies, phrases, riffs or lyrics; but sounds. The issue is related to, but not about copyright infringements of songs, or sampling of riffs for songs. It’s about the gray area of sampling a manufacturer’s amp parameters into another device such as the Kemper amp. Personally, I like the idea of cataloging all of my vintage and modern amps into one library, but clearly this is something that makes the manufacturers queasy if not hopping mad. For those of you out there making boutique amps and effects—hurry up so I can borrow one of your creations in order to sample it into mine. That way I won’t have to buy yours.

For those of you who just wanted to hear the nice old Silvertone combo in the photo, scroll down to the sound clip videos below.

True and Lasting Value—Journaling the Build

The requests come in daily. Can I make a Telecaster? Would I build a bass using a Fender style as a starting point? Will I ever make a guitar that the average musician can afford? My answer is yes, and no. I can make a Telecaster, anyone can make a Telecaster. I can make a great one, but that doesn’t interest me. I politely suggest that they invest their money in a collectible vintage 1950s Fender. If they are bound and determined to spend money on a replica I send those folks to a fellow builder who is known for knocking the T-style out of the park. Tom Anderson or Creston Lea come to mind. If I didn’t mention you, please don’t take it personally.

It’s not that it is beneath me, it’s just not what I do. I love Telecasters, I just don’t make them to sell. The P-bass thing falls into the same category. I have a lovely 1964 3-tone sunburst Precision which is my go-to bass. Why would I want a copy, when I already have a rubber stamp version from ‘64?

p bassAnd that’s what most guitars are—rubber stamp instruments. I don’t condescend, it’s just fact. My bass and my beloved ’56 Stratocaster were just churned out of a factory that CBS saw fit to buy for $100 million in today’s money. Not exactly a boutique shop. Even brands like PRS build hundreds of instruments every day. The chances of your guitar being one of a kind are extremely limited. This is not to say that these guitars aren’t great tools—they are. They may be genuine, but they’re not an original. In the art world this is known as a serigraph (or its poorer cousin lithograph). Merely a reproduction of an original. Unless you have the very first pre-production protoype, you own a copy.

So when someone asks where they might try one of my guitars, the answer is simple—in my shop. OK, here’s the short story to save you the effort required to read my blog or website. There is and will only be one Sakura. Only one Crow. Only one Hell’s Half Acre, one Copperhead, one Wardenclyffe, so on and so forth. I build true one-of-a-kind instruments for people who understand the value of something original.

Here’s a video episode that explains a bit of my building process.