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.

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.


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


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





On the Fringe

In the margins, on the fringe, away from the mainstream and lurking in the shadows of popular culture. Those phrases describe the people I respect and admire most. You could say that I’ve unconsciously—or consciously—modeled my career after those people. I’ve never wanted to be a household name, and I don’t care if everyone knows my work. The important thing to me is to do good work and build cool shit. Grandstanding is against my nature, and in the past when my job required me to be the face and voice for an organization, I did the job reluctantly. I saw it as part of the way we all put food on the table. It provided everyone in the shop a chance to continue doing what mattered.

Hamer guru tour at Lighting Joe’s
Hamer guru tour at Lighting Joe’s

Our traveling roadshow was a harbinger of what others do today. I liked meeting the dealers and the customers, but after each appearance was over I would go back to my hotel with a migraine—the reward for strong-arming my natural shyness. When I started my first guitar blog in October of 2005, I had to do it against the wishes of the parent company’s vice president, who didn’t even know what a blog was. He went home, asked his kids, and then told me it was a bad idea. I did it anyway and paid for it myself. My intent wasn’t to elevate myself, but rather to share the stories of how the crew and I made—cool shit. Those pages told of the daily life in our shop and turned the spotlight on the key people who worked there. It was the first time any of them got the credit they deserved, but were denied by policy. I’ll admit that I did get a sense of vindication when a few years later, Premier Guitar magazine called it “essential reading” for those in the industry. At that point the marketing pukes put a link on our main website and I almost immediately started to lose interest. I had 11,000 people coming to look, and yet I wanted to derail it. When I left, they struggled to emulate what I had started, and it didn’t end well.

So, is this some sort of failure complex? Possibly. The Woody Allen line from Annie Hall comes to mind: “I would never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” More likely, I just don’t like crowds. I prefer to meet people one on one and make a real connection. And that’s what the blog felt like. I could talk about what I wanted and share with a few weirdos who got it. As soon as it was a “big deal” it was serving the wrong purpose. I prefer to interact with the kind of souls that look to the details and make the connections offered up by references rather than have it all laid out for them in easy to understand WOW soundbites.

One guy who gets it—Steve Mesple of Wildwood Guitars
One guy who gets it—Steve Mesple of Wildwood Guitars

In my present shop I have only myself to praise or blame. I post when I wish and don’t worry about trying to please everyone. My monthly column/blog Esoterica Electrica is the result of just being myself, and the good people at PG have given me a lot of freedom to explore subjects from my own perspective. I get to ask the questions that most people aren’t asking, because that’s where the cool shit is. In the era of the long tail, I don’t need to kiss the ass of the same old, and I’m assured that there is sufficient traffic for me to continue. And now, as this incarnation of my Workshop Blog has served millions, I still consider it comfortably small potatoes.

My guitar building continues unhindered by the constraints of the corporate hand that often strangles itself. Occasionally I collaborate with my compatriots from the now-shuttered old shop, but mostly I work alone. I have a manageable work schedule that allows me to write, photograph, travel and meet interesting people who inhabit the fringes like me. I’m happy that people like you hang out with me in our virtual meeting spot, and I do appreciate the nice emails and enjoy answering you questions. Oh yeah, I also get to make cool shit.

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.


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.

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.

Crow: The Visitor

Since my childhood, the electric guitar has called me in ways I simply cannot explain. From the first strains of  “Greensleeves” that shook the camp gymnasium windows, to the feedback drenched nights at Chicago’s Electric Theater—I was hooked. Similarly, my builds are formulated in a part of my brain that defies concious explaniation.

I imagine dusty boots walking railroad tracks, birds of prey and the jumble of words racing down antique telephone wires. A sixth sense that connects the delta with those who live in the city. The Crow is a messenger, harbinger and scrappy traveler. Like the touring musician who lives by his wits and intuition, the crow is alive in all of us.


Roping in the Acre

After a few week’s absence from the docket, the binding of Hell’s Half Acre is back on the burner. Both neck and body are trimmed with a checked purfling made of ebony and maple—then bound with Italian-made cellulose.


Of particular beauty is the florentine cutaway, which is my siganature flourish. I love the way the purfling and ivoroid binding mitres at the peak. It’s a bitch to do, but the results are worth it. Getting the black stripe of side purfling to line up isn’t a walk in the park either. If it were easy, wht fun would it be?


The idea here is to evoke the cowboy theme contained in the history of Fort Worth’s most lawless period and place known as Hell’s Half Acre. The checked, half-herringbone really does look like the trail driver’s lariat. Now the guitar is completely roped in and ready to bring home. Just as the trail bosses pushed their herds north from Texas to the railheads in Oklahoma, we’re ready to push on with our project.

Binding the Acre

Any build is a journey of refinement as it progresses. Rather than beginning with an idea fully formed, I set off in a direction and look and listen for clues along the way. That’s not to say there isn’t a plan, just that it isn’t set in stone. The constraints of stubbornly adhering to a preconcieved path ignores the creative and intuitive process.


As Hell’s Half Acre starts to shape up, with its rope purfling, my eye told me that a little extra touch was needed on the side of the instrument to balance out the busy look of the top. It didn’t need to be so ornate as to distract, so I settled on a single black stripe within the ivoroid binding.


Starting with some strips of cellulose binding in ivoroid and black, it’s a matter of laminating three pieces togeter before adding it to the guitar.


Acetone-solvent adhesive is used to melt and bond the edges together on a caul of aluminum. There is a raised stop that holds the parts true and provides sideways clamping pressure as the assembly sets up.


There are lots of different ways to do this, but I used this technique to make some test strips up to check the appearance before I commit to it.


The next step is to rough trim the black material so that it can be scraped flat to the ivoroid. The black strip was a little too big so I’ll have to trim it with a nipper.


A few passes with the cabinet scraper is all  that’s needed to get things ready to put on the body. I’l also trim the final edge on the binding to reduce the width of the small white stripe and make sure it fits perfectly into the routs on the instrument.


I think this is going to look great on the sides of the guitar which will be painted with an opaque black lacquer.

Hardware Handiwork

Now that spring seems to be truly here, work on finishing the Sakura guitar ramps up. Here’s a bit of background on the control knobs.

I had decided to use my own handmade control knobs like I did for the Crow. First, I tried a series of metal Tele-style and plastic old-school cupcake knobs—they just weren’t right. The Sakura guitar demands something that both blends in, and complements what’s already there. The chrome just stood out too much and dark knobs did too. So, it was time to pull out the knob-making gear.


The first step is to pour acrylic resin into my silicone mold. I made the form from an original 1947 lap steel knob I got from a collector friend of mine. I was lucky to find one in good shape without any crazing or cracks. The secret to using this resin is getting all the air bubbles out before it sets up. I found that vibrating the material with an electric oscillating sander did the trick.


The surface tension in the mold creates a slight dish shape on the top that I want to remove. I use a fine file and then sandpaper on a stone to take the scratches out.


The fine scratches are then removed on a polishing wheel with some white compound. Spinning the knob slowly in my hand also breaks the edges slightly, which gives the knobs a broken-in feel.


As nice as the clear knobs look, they were slightly distracting on the Sakura’s cherry face, so I had decided to add some opaque silver in the inside cavity. This will tone down the look and match the engraved front plate better.


Here you can see the knob’s full .650″ height. Although they are larger than a traditional “speed” knob, their clarity keeps their look balanced on the guitar. I mixed a little yellow into some silver lacquer to match the nickel plating on the front plate.


As you can see, the silver changes the look just enough to subdue the knob slightly. There is still enough clear to allow the background to show through too. After the lacquer cures completely, I’ll swap out the test knobs that are on the guitar.

Attending to the Details

The best part of the big picture is attending to the details that make it up. I want a guitar that works on many levels, so apart from having a great theme that is cohesive and focused I want the details to stand up too.


To make a truss rod cover, I fly cut some ebony to .040″ and laminate it to a sheet of ivoroid cellulose. The next step is to trace my shape with a pencil and rough cut the blank with an inlay saw and the dremel. After I get close enough, it’s just a matter of hand sanding with small blocks to achieve the final shape. Lastly, I drill the mounting holes.





Although I liked the finished shape, I wanted to integrate the look with the rest of the guitar. Sakura’s headstock is ebony over cherry red, so I used the same cherry lacquer to pinstripe the ivoroid.



The next detail was to slot the string nut. There are many ways to choose the string spacing on a guitar. None are best, but they all feel slightly different. I like to keep the spaces between the strings uniform as opposed to the center to center dimension. I recently wrote about this in my monthly Premier Guitar column.

I generally use genuine ivory for string nuts—I love the color and texture. However, the Sakura is a Japanese theme so I chose oxen bone. The final touch is to sand the bone down to 1500 grit and then polish with a small buff and compound. The bone polishes up nicely and looks good against the lower gloss lacquer. Now it’s just a matter of oiling the board and stting up the guitar.

Friday Fretboard: Sakura Details

With the Sakura finish having cured for fourteen days, it’s time to pull the fingerboard mask and do  the detail work. I begin by making an incision across the bottom of the string nut with an Exacto knife. Then, using 600 grit sandpaper on a rubber block, I sand the edge of the board—cutting through  the lacquer to the wood and frets. This allows me to gently remove the masking tape without shattering the lacquer on the sides of the neck. The next step is to go over every milimeter of the fingerboard edge with the knife. This cleans the edge and bevels it for a smooth feel.


I decided to put some of the masking into the Sakura’s journal—I like the way it looks. It’s an interesting artifact of the build and is a perfect companion to the previous page with the color tests. The label is included as wel—the number is a reference to the finished weight of the guitar without hardware.


There are a lot of little details that need attending to before Sakura can be assembled. One thing I like to do is to polish the potentiometer casings. It doesn’t make the guitar sound any different, but it makes me happy to think that if someone ever opens up the guitar, they’ll enjoy what they see.


Using techniques that I’ve learned from years of art training, I age the plastic with heat and dyes. This brings out the swirl of the plastic in the button and gives it a warmth that beckons you to touch it.

The next step is to pre-wire the electronics and mount everything on the engraved front plate for fitting on the guitar. It won’t be long now.


Pickup Progress and the Z-Ray Factor

The Sakura’s engraved steel plates interact with the magnetic field of the pickups. This made it essential to do on-guitar ear testing with mockup parts prior to picking the final configuration. I’ve chosen the set from about ten different possibiliteis based upon my taste, but knowing full well that this guitar is going to sound unique because of its construction parameters. The most satisfying sound came from a set that Seymour wound for me in his pickup man-cave in Santa Barbara. Shimmering highs, with a strong midrange wallop—these gave the guitar a huge presence for big Stonsey chords.

With that part of the build process completed, it was time to assemble the finished engraved pickup set.



The first step was to remove the mockup covers. and then replace them with the final brushed nickel and engraved versions. I’m always careful not to distress the parts while handling, but I also like to leave some evidence that an actual human built the guitar.

No guitar that I make is ever perfect, and that’s what makes them perfect.


With that job done, I turned to the process of shielding the control cavity. I previously used a shield paint made in Belgium that did an excellent job, but electronis genius John Grail turned me on to an American-made nickel-based paint that is used by military electronics makers to isolate computer and communication rooms. I procured a small amount and thinned it enough to go through my touch up gun.


This stuff goes on like rice pudding but dries to a nice silver layer and the conductivity is off the scale. I’m thinking of painting my house with it to avoid Z-Ray exposure and unwanted cell-phone calls. Enjoy your weekend!


Sakura Backplate Engraving: Pre-Fit Closeups

It’s now time to apply the final lacquer coat to the Sakura, which means a final fit test is in order. This procedure allows me to check all the clearances and alignments of the hardware without the danger of damaging the final finish. I also don’t want to compromise the engraved pieces. These parts took nine months to be engraved by hand, and I absolutely want everything to fit.


Everything seems to fit fine with just the right amount of clearance for the last thin coat. I’ve decided to go with a lower gloss vintage style nitro to alow the brilliance of the metalwork to come forward visually. This will be achieved by adding a flattening additive to the nitrocellulose lacquer before spraying.


Every time I unwrap the engraved parts they bowl me over with their fabulous detail. I only wish that these photos could reveal the depth of the work that is visible in person.


The cherry blossom petals are adorned with real rose gold and the leaves are green gold. At the very top of the picture a 24k yellow gold sun rises through the clouds. The entire plate background is finished in brushed nickel.


Now it’s time to get into the paint room and get on with the program.


No Corners Worth Cutting

I’ve spent a lot of my life cutting corners. Carrying two bags of groceries at a time to save steps, or taking a back street to clip a few precious seconds off a trip to the store. We all do it. My hobby is racing sports cars—the ultimate corner cutting exercise.


At age thirteen I devised jigs and fixtures to hold brass tubing in place while soldering them into slot-car chassis to be sold at a local hobby store. A succession of factory jobs building things like film inspection machines, splicers, mechanical scales and grain moisture testers introduced me to the big-time of cost-cutting time management. Even my promotion to purchasing agent at nineteen taught me the ideas of maintaining a lean inventory and shaving pennies off an order. Later, my studies with Japanese Kaizen gurus Yoshihisa Doi and Hajime Oba took this to an even higher level. You might say it’s in my blood to look for a better, faster, cheaper way.

When I first set up shop as a guitar maker, those same skills helped to fashion jigs and fixtures that kept things consistent and maintained an orderly flow. My training had also taught me to seek help and insight from those more experienced than myself. So, in 1980, while setting up the Hamer guitar factory in Illinois I invited a visit from Stan Rendell, former President of Gibson Guitars. As he looked around, Rendell pointed out places where money and time could be saved without upsetting the customer. He mentioned that he could help whittle the time it took to make a complete guitar to under eight man-hours. I was horrified. The changes he suggested would certainly have reduced manufacturing time, but not without consequence. It became clear that the modern world had shifted its focus from improvement and consistency, to reducing cost without affecting customer perception.

Today, I’m beginning my second day of testing pickups for the Sakura guitar. Every build goes through this process because every guitar is different and unique. From experience, it’s easy to whittle down the choices before I even begin. Still there are variables that only ear testing can address. I have a test rig that holds a pickup in place under strings to give me a baseline along with measuring the impedance and inductance. Because the Sakura guitar has steel plates on both front and back, the inductance will be important. Still, the final ear testing in the guitar will be the final exam.

When I talk to people about what I do, the thing that always surprises them the most is how much time it takes. In a one-click world where the emphasis is continually on saving time and cutting costs, this kind of patient work is almost viewed as quaint. I could just put a pickup that was deemed “good enough” in the guitar and assume that the customer will change it out anyway. But that would be a waste of my skills. I just remind folks that I’ve already cut enough corners for several lifetimes.


Fitting Sakura

The week has really flown by. I’ve been so busy with a host of things that I’m only now getting a chance to survey the fitting of Sakura’s parts. Eight long months ago, I delivered the steel plates to be engraved with Heidi at Baron. They were right in the middle of some very high-profile jobs so I knew I’d have to wait my turn. Luckily, I had plenty of other work to do, but now it’s time to get back on the Sakura. The first step is checking the fit, as the guitar has been painted in the interim.


The brushed nickel finish looks great against the transparent cherry lacquer, and the neck fit is perfect so I won’t have to do any finessing there.


Time to dig out the hardware I set aside for this build and carry on. More in a few days. I’ll post some photos of the back plate then.


Tweed Case Wrap Up

In keeping with my intention to construct individually singular builds for my Signature Series guitars, I’ve made certain that the cases are unique to each guitar as well. The Crow, inspired in part by travelling musicians and the escapades depicted in Kerouac’s On the Road, will receive a lacquered, woven-cloth covered hard case. The covering, which is often erroneously refered to as tweed, is actually a twill material familiar to guitarists as the finish used by Fender on their 1950s amplifiers and guitar cases. My reference was a 1940s suitcase that I found in a junk shop in New Hampshire.


The modern material supplied by the manufacturer was not an acceptable reproduction, so I went about lacquering it myself. I wanted the patina of age and experience that would be a fitting companion to the guitar itself.


The final touch was to add a hygrometer to monitor the humidity within the case. The gauge was inserted into the case pocket from the outside, which required a pair of pass-throughs to allow the interior air to reach the sampling point on the back of the hygrometer. I used brass grommets to match the rest of the case hardware.


Here a setting tool is used to crimp the grommet onto the pocket lid. This connects the main chamber of the case to the pocket.


I combed through my leather selection to find a remnant to use for the case pocket’s pull tab. I’d entertained making the pull something crow or bird-themed, but rejected the idea as too cute and just went with a utilitarian pull tab of brown leather to match the case trim.


Once trimmed to size and burnished to match, I punched a hole and fastened the pull to the pocket door flap with a brass rivet.


After the gauge was sealed to the outside with silicone I could insert the pocket into the case. The orientation is such that it can be read easily when the case stands on its end or side.


Now it was just a matter of fitting everything and screwing the mounting blocks into the case. The inside is finished with red velvet plush and the back of the gauge is covered except for another brass grommet.


The entire idea is to allow the interior humidity and temperature to be read from the outside. This is particularly useful when the instrument is in a rack with other guitars.


For an all analog solution, I think it turned out quite well. After living with the results for a few days, it has become so normal to check the readings that I can’t imagine not having it there. The Crow’s nest is ready.

Active Lifestyle Weekend

Regular readers of this page are familiar with my obsession with vehicles. True enough, my current column in Premier Guitar maps out paralells between guitars and cars. So please forgive me if I dwell a bit more on the full-throttle side of my brain.

In addition to hanging out in my shop and building guitars, I write for automotive publications and websites, including, home of the Active Lifestyle Vehicle awards. ALV is the only car-of-the-year program to combine the input of nationally-recognized automotive journalists with elite and area athletes to determine which cars and trucks best meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles. To my delight, I was asked to participate as a member of the judging panel. As a bicycle enthusiast and outdoorsman-by-default, I felt that I could at least add loading guitars and amps into the vehicles as a real-world test. Our mission: drive and evaluate thirty two vehicles in seven categories.


This year, the ALV evaluations were held in Phoenix, Arizona at the home of Local Motors, builders of incredible off-road vehicles—drool-worthy machines from hell. The event was also sponsored by OnStar and world-famous collector car auction powerhouse Russo and Steele.


Below is a view inside the Local Motors factory. LM treated us to a nice breakfast buffet and a tour of the facilities. Through the windows behind the Astroturf seating area you can see into the engineering studio.


Seeing the Rally Fighters being built up close was a thrill. I’d followed the evolution of the company over the years so it was a priveledge to be invited inside.


Lusting over the stripped down and purposeful machines along with me were with esteemed journalists (and heroes of mine) Larry Edsall and Denise McCluggage. If you’re a car person, Larry and Denise probably need no introduction. For those who aren’t familiar I’ll say that if there’s a subject in the automotive world that Larry hasn’t published something on I have yet to find it. Apart from being a fine author, journalist and motorsports photographer, Denise drove a Ferarri for Luigi Chinetti’s organization (NART) and was class winner at the Sebring International 12 hour in 1961. Unphased by A-list rock stars, I was thrilled and nervous to meet her.


Also on hand was former Indy 500 racer Lyn St. James. Before Danica Patrick, Lyn was Indy’s first female Rookie of the Year in the first of her seven 500s. In 1995 she set the world record on a closed-course for women—averaging 225.722 mph. Yow!


I was hoping to ride shotgun with Lyn testing the 550 horsepower Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. This thing has got some serious grunt—sort of a Corvette station wagon. By the way, the Caddy would make a slick ride to get you to a gig—as many musicians tend to run late. It actually will swallow up a half-stack, three guitars and a pedalboard with the rear seats folded down. If you are playing club gigs and can afford this ride, you’re probably doing it for fun anyway. Here during the initial walk around Lyn is casting a glance at the Range Rover Evoque.


Despite my initial impression that it was a watered-down suburbanite car, the Evoque intrigued me in person. Small enough to get into my garage at home (hint) it was nimble and fun to toss around. The interior was pure joy, with double stitched leather everywhere. Powered by a turbocharged four cylinder, the Evoque is at once a throwback to the original Land Rovers and a look at the future of the marque. I had to ask the brand specialist if it was indeed a four—it was fairly spunky. I barely know who Victoria Beckham is, but I think this car is sexy. Will it go offroad? I think most buyers never will.


Another favorite of mine was the new Fiat. Like a blast from the past, Fiat comes back to American roads with this funky little car. Although totally worthless as a musician’s gigmobile due to a miniscule cargo area, I had to vote it up as one of the most enjoyable rides. The smile on my face as I zipped through the Phoenix traffic was almost as big as when I floored the Caddy. The exterior color cues inside the car were a nice touch.


Surprisingly quiet, the Fiat registered an average of 62 db at 60 mph—about the same as my Audi S4. For comparison, the Audi Q7 on hand was about 59db and the Cadillac was 56db.

My driving partner, Ironman triathlete Jeremy Hendricks and I both found the Mazda 5 to be well thought out and comfortable. In most categories the Mazda was unceremoniously capable. From ease of loading to seat comfort and control placement, it checked all the right boxes. The 5’s proficient yet unremarkable personality won its class with a rational-minded score, yet neither of us could envision owning one. Personally, the “Zoom Zoom” whisper on the TV comercials has lost my vote for any of their products. How’s that for pretzel logic?

Audi had their Q7 and A7 make the final cut. I was surprised how the Q7 felt much lighter and managable than its size and weight might indicate. Probably the most refined of the bunch, the A7 seemed slightly out of place among the scrappy Kias, Nissans and VWs. It wasn’t for me to drive as its popularity with the testers kept it too busy all day. Shame, it probably would have spoiled me for the rest.

Out on Local Motors’ off-road test track, the Land Rovers and Jeeps were trundling over basketball-sized rocks at a moderately slow pace—both showing strong trail manners. Until I lived in New England I had no clue about how this sort of thing could ever be important.


Then, to put things into perspective, Local Motors rolled out their Rally Fighter (road legal in 50 states) and hammered through the course at 40+ mph. The LM test driver got a little air and tested the 20 inch suspension travel with photo-spy Brenda Priddy aboard. Go Brenda!


Next year, I’m driving that.

Without sounding like a kiss-ass, I’d have to say that there wasn’t a bad vehicle in the bunch. Just to make it into the finals, a car has to be of a significantly high quality—which made our evaluations difficult. There were some surprises, and the Jeep over Land Rover turnabout demands a rematch. Believe me, the manufacturers are already hard at work stepping it up.

After a day of driving dozens of vehicles and hanging out with great, enthusiastic people it was time to go back to the hotel and chill before dinner. That evening’s fare was the fourth mexican meal I’d had in two days, but the stories and comraderie were the best part. I wasn’t surprised how many car people were also guitarists. I’m already looking ahead to next year. Now, if I can just score an Evoque for a long-term test.


The evaluations took into consideration overall design, engine power, fuel efficiency, and cargo capability. In the final tally, the athletes’ votes and those of the jury panel members each accounted for fifty percent.

Following are the winners of the 2012 competition by category:

Best Value On-RoadSubaru Impreza
Best Value Off-RoadJeep Wrangler
Luxury On-RoadAudi A7
Luxury Off-RoadJeep Grand Cherokee 
Green ALVVolkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI
FamilyAudi Q7 TDI

 Many thanks to Automotive Spy Photographer extraordinaire Brenda Priddy for her generous help with the photos for this story.

Photos ©2011 Brenda Priddy and Company (except Cadillac stock photo and my crappy cell phone pics).

Correction: I previously wrote that Denise McCluggage had been the first woman to race for the Ferarri factory team, which is not true. Her association was with Chinetti’s North American Racing Team-the US Ferarri Distributor.

Headstock from Hell

Pressing onward with the Hell’s Half Acre guitar, I’ve gotten the neck blank to the rough carve stage. To do this, I use a cabinet scraper as described in my previous post. After the truss rod has been installed and the spline glued in, the final headstock shape could be cut. Jim looks on as I finsih up.


In the photo below, you can see the tuner holes which are undersized until the moment the tuners are fitted. This will give a snug fit for improved vibration transfer.


The stepped channel for purfling and outside binding has also been cut. I’m using a half-herringbone purfling made of alternating maple and ebony pieces to create a look that evokes an image of the cowboy’s lariat. Here, you can also see the ring groove that has been cut at the headstock tip for the pearl monogram inlay. More after a while…

Saturday Morning Shop

I like Saturdays. It’s quiet and nobody calls, so the workflow is uninterupted. I also like it because it’s usually when Jim comes in to help out. He’s always curious about details, so I’m usually showing him a lot of stuff I’ve taken for granted for decades. Like how to carve a neck by hand with a scraper. I refer to him as my apprentice but he’s really more like my memory exercise trainer.


Little things that come instinctually to me, like how to slightly bend the scraper, are revelations to someone on the learning curve. Jim is a quick study though. He’s good with tools, and his keen intellect allows him to see things both close-up and within the bigger picture. Most of all, he’s got the right attitude. In exchange, I get stimulating conversation and continuing education on all sorts of subjects.


With a degree in Literature and Folklore from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and University of Edinburgh, Scotland Jim has always tread the line between his head and his hands. He was first introduced to instrument making while doing research on dulcimer builders in the Black Mountain region of North Carolina and can’t get it out of his blood. Even when we’re talking about other things, like books, eastern religion or motorcycles, somehow it all relates to the job at hand. That’s why I like Saturdays.


Crow Wing Spread in Guitar Player

With about fifteen minutes to kill before our pizza was ready for pick up, my wife and I ducked into Barnes & Noble. Carla headed directly for the photography magazines while I hovered over a copy of Vintage Motorcycles. Eventually, I made my way to the music section and opened up a copy of the latest Guitar Player.


The main subject was dedicated to fuzz boxes so I was curious and hoping to see some coverage of my good friend Analogman. Before I got to the effects-pedal article I found something that stopped me dead and brought a smile to my face.


Wow! Just wow. There she was, spread out over two full pages—Rick Whittey’s epic shot of the Crow perched on a tree branch. Now, of course I knew that the editors had the shot, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Even when you pour yourself into a project like I do, you’re still happy when people “get it” and this told me that they did.

I rounded the corner of the aisle where Carla was standing and flashed the spread just to see her beautiful smile.

Thanks guys.


Ye Ancientest Bone Orchard Angels

A while ago I wrote about how my headstock design came about. I was reading a book called In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaology of Early American Life, by James Deetz. The book is a study of the archeological history of  early America (or New England) which is where I currently reside.


Chapter four entitled Remember Me as You Pass By outlines the evolution of headstones carved in Connecticut and Massachusetts  in the period between 1715 and 1829. I was struck by the author’s description of  how the symbolism used on headstones changed in step with society’s evolving ideology and notions about life, death and the hereafter.


The gravestones begin as simple markers with warnings about death, transitioning to the memorials that we are more familiar with today. The inscriptions begin to refer to the “earthly remains” alluding to the idea of a soul or afterlife being separate from the buried husk. It is interesting to note that society’s concept of the human being’s place in the universe is not static. Even today, despite our “modern” scientific arrogance, we are still evolving our understanding of what it is to be alive.

Yesterday, my casual glance came across the book. I was reminded of my earlier post and the way that chapter influenced my design. It was a gorgeous day so I decided to take a field trip to one of the early graveyards mentioned in the book.


Sandwiched behind a freeway entrance ramp and a dead end street, I found New London’s “Ancientest Bone Orchard” quiet and almost forgotten. I made my way around looking at the stonework and reading inscriptions. Just as I’d hoped, I found examples of exactly what I’d read about.


This is an early example—a winged death’s head. Note the row of scary teeth and blank eyes. Certainly a grisly warning about the end of the line.


Next is a transitional winged skull. The bottom of the nose resembles a frown as the teeth become less evident as well.


Another skull sports crossed bones and a very prominent frown. The teeth have migrated to the bottom and appear almost as a collar.


Finally, surrounded by urns and flowers, the cherubs and angels appear around 1860. These headstones clearly are memorials as opposed to just body markers. The upturned wings, eyes and mouths signify a happier ending than the death’s heads of just half a century before.


Although tramping around in a three hundred year old cemetery isn’t my usual idea of a picnic, I was thrilled to witness the actual articles in the Deetz book. It was a sobering reminder of the transience of life. As I read the inscriptions I couldn’t help but to think of the families who have grieved at their loss. I said a few words—a kind of haiku—and moved along home.


Even though the shape of my headstock isn’t exactly the same as the headstones that helped to inspire it—I’m still hoping that it too will be remembered as people pass by.

Sakura Guitar Engraving Update

The idea for the Sakura Guitar came to me in January while at a sushi restaurant. The large bottle Sapporos may have had something to do with it. My original “napkin” sketch on dinner table set things in motion with a large cherry blossom (sakura) inlaid on the body. In other views I sketched large metal plates with engraved flowers.


As the next day arrived, the sketches still looked cool so I pressed onward. The first real step was to start a dedicated journal of drawings and notes as I played with different ideas.



Slowly, things were coming together. The more I read about Japanese history and the significance of the cherry blossom as a symbol of rebirth, the more I knew this project was going to be fun. I decided to design a motif to be engraved on steel plates for both the front and back of the guitar in the tradition of Tony Zemaitis’ work.


I cut the plates from a sheet of cold rolled steel, and then finished the edges and drilled and countersunk the mounting holes.



I didn’t want to use lasers or chemical etching, the technique that is most often seen on guitars today. I wanted the real thing—hand engraving. This technique creates a sparkle and depth that absolutely cannot be matched with shortcut methods. I wanted to raise the bar.

At first, I thought about learning engraving and doing it myself. As insane as that seems to me now, I really thought of it as an option. I’m good with tools, can draw, and have steady hands—why not? Well, the more I looked into it, the more I realized that real hand engraving was a whole career path, not something you pick up in a few days or even months. The kind of work I was looking for was something that takes a lifetime of dedication. That’s when I found Heidi Roos.


After a thirty year career as a jewelry designer and goldsmith, Heidi turned her attention to hand engraving. Recruited by renowned gun decorator Paul Lantuch in 2003, Heidi helped launch the engraving department at the legendary Sturm, Ruger & Company. Mentored by Lantuch, Heidi learned even more old world techniques that have served her (and her high-profile clients) well.

Six years ago she came to Baron Engraving in Trumbull, Connecticut where she has completed projects for celebrity customers and collectors. Her resume includes commemorative editions for Harley Davidson, Beretta and Colt, including the Centennial edition of the Colt 1911. Recently, Heidi’s shopmate Rob Bunting, engraved a custom Browning High Wall rifle which sold at auction for $143,000 to benefit the USA olympic shooting team. When I learned of Heidi’s love of Japanese art, I knew she was the only one to bring my Sakura project to life.


Yesterday I rolled over to Baron to see how Heidi was coming along with the work and I was simply floored. The level of detail is beyond what I imagined. Seeing my drawings translated to raw steel by a master like Heidi just about brought me to tears.


Here you can see her working on the branch and flower detail that sweeps around the edge of the back plate. In the center you can see the Sakura that “grows” up the center of the guitar.


We decided to spot-plate the blossom petals with rose gold for a pink hue. At the top of the scene the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, signifying a new future or rebirth. The sun will be inlaid with 24k gold.


The idea to add some green gold to the branch and leaves came up, and we decided that done subtly it would add an entirely new dimension to the work. I just can’t wait to see the finished pieces—and this is just the back!

Sculptor’s Studio

Let’s get one thing straight—I don’t consider myself a sculptor. That said, I did find some things in common with Daniel Chester French when I visited his studio yesterday. It was a perfect New England summer day and after an hour of  pleasant driving we arrived at Chesterwood—French’s summer residence.


French is best known for his public works, most notably the nineteen-foot tall seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.


Chesterwood is located just outside of Stockbridge, Massachusetts—that’s right, the same town in the Arlo Guthrie song. With the Berkshire hills as a backdrop it’s a gorgeous piece of real estate. I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to create.


I’m always interested in how artists and designers work, so touring the studio at Chesterwood was inspiring. One of the things I found most interesting was to see the workup sketches and plans that preceded the final output. Art does not happen in a vacuum. As much as any musician can improvise a song or melody on the fly, most of their work is crafted over time. As a mixture of sculpture and assemblage, guitars are also three-dimensional objects that must catch the light and shadow. A real sense of balance and composition from multiple viewpoints needs to be established in both disciplines in order to be effective.

Chesterwood - the studio of Daniel Chester French located in Stockbridge, Connecticut. Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was the sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Memorial in Washington, D.C. The studio has a standard-gauge railroad track used to roll large sculpture outdoors for viewing in natural light. The museum holds what is probably the largest single collection of work by any American sculptor.
Chesterwood – the studio of Daniel Chester French located in Stockbridge, Connecticut. Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was the sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Memorial in Washington, D.C. The studio has a standard-gauge railroad track used to roll large sculpture outdoors for viewing in natural light. The museum holds what is probably the largest single collection of work by any American sculptor.

Seeing and feeling the artist’s environment is what makes something like my trip to Chesterwood studio so satisfying. French’s use of preliminary sketches and models reminded me of the techniques I use to prepare for my builds. The Chesterwood studio displays outlined and reinforced the research that an artist or designer must conduct to bring every aspect of their creation to life.


On a purely technical level, one thing I really thought was cool can be seen in the two photos above. Most of the work done in this studio was to be displayed outdoors, where the light is very different than in the studio.  When I need to view my work in a differnt light, I pick it up and carry it somewhere. Because his work was so massive French couldn’t just take it outside to look at it. The soulution was to build a portion of the studio’s floor on a platform that rode on railroad tracks. French would open the tall doors and roll his work out into the back yard so that he could see the effect of natural light!


Crow Debut in Guitar Aficiondo

Many thanks to the great people at Guitar Aficionado for featuring The Crow in the new (July/August issue). The Rick Whittey photo sessions were rewarded handsomely with super-fine printing and a full page size—right up front in the book.


Writer Adam Perlmutter’s words capture the essence of the build, nailing philosophy and circumstance behind it all. Somehow it is both perfect and pretentious at the same time. I even managed to slip in the word “schmuck” when talking about marketing guys—although it actually might have been something stronger.



Go ahead, buy the issue and brush up on your wine and cheese repertoire while perusing photos of Kirk Hammett’s crib in Hawaii. If you’re feeling oh-so-rebellious—steal it.


Crow Guitar Setup

With the frosted duco finish cured, I am able to continue with the assembly and setup of The Crow. Both the headstock face and the back of the guitar are hand buffed to a gloss finish with a series of compounds. The next step is to remove any residue.


The nitro was flattened five percent to give it a slightly lower gloss. It’s hardly noticeable, but gives the guitar a more vintage and “lived in” appearance. The idea is to build a guitar that already looks and feels broken in and experienced.


In this shot you can see the ivory string nut. I like this material for a lot of reasons, including its rich, grained appearance. Any tape residue on the fingerboard is removed at this point; I go over each fret with a small hand buffer to shine them up.


Once cleaned up, the electronics are fitted in through small openings in the pickup routes. The Charlie Christian pickups are mounted on stainless steel shoulder bolts from the back of the guitar. You can see the mounting holes in the photo above.


Held from behind and cushioned on on springs, the pickups do not touch the top of the guitar. This allows the top to vibrate freely while the pickups are isolated for feedback rejection. It also gives the guitar a sleek look because there is no mounting hardware in the front. Height adjustments are done with a 4mm allen wrench.


After assembly, it’s time to put a set of Pyramid Nickel Classic strings on and do the setup. First I adjust the truss rod. From experience gained in thousands of set-ups, I can pretty much guess how much bow to put in even before the strings are on. I set the bridge to a middle height and then string up the guitar. With a close approximation of the final action, I then can cut the nut slots to their final depth. Then the guitar can be tuned to pitch and all the final heights and truss rod changes can be made.

To do the intonation I used my vintage Peterson strobe tuner on The Crow. I’ve had this tuner since the early 1970s and used it at Northern Prairie and the first Hamer shop in Palatine, Illinois. Here is a photo from the very first Hamer catalog—you can see the tuner in the shot. I’m wearing a tacky madras shirt that I bought in London’s Carnaby Street in April of 1973. I believe that is Martin Barre’s Standard on the bench.


And now, here is the crow on the bench in the new Dantzig shop. Same tuner, same tech, same procedure. Thirty seven years later and I’m still at it! Just for fun we colored the photo to match the original.


The last step is to intonate the guitar by adjusting the bridge saddles. First I set them to the 12th fret on the bench. Then I get the guitar in the playing position and tweak it from there. If you attempt to finish it on the bench while gravity pulls straight down, it’s going to be different when you put the guitar on your leg or on a strap.


After installing the truss rod cover, which is made from black ebony with a cellulose ivoroid binding, I trim the strings neatly. I’m going to jam on The Crow for a while to break it in more, and then it’s off to the photographer’s studio for some more formal portraits. I can’t wait to show them to you.

Frosted Duco Finish Flies

Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun is roaring in the shop today—fitting. With the fine weather and perfect humidity, I did give ’em the gun. Four more coats of nitro on Sakura, but more importantly, The Crow got the frosted Duco black lacquer. I had to wait overnight to see the complete result, and it’s breathtaking.

Duco Drying

Exactly as I’d hoped, the Duco finish looks like crow’s feathers, and it is different on every part of the guitar. From bold, wide crystals to small intricate patterns—it’s all there.

The next step was to carefully un-tape the masked portions and then scrape the binding clean at the right time. There’s a fine line between too soft and too brittle to scrape. Happily, I got it just right.


I use a sharp blade to scrape the black Duco lacquer off the binding. I can vary the depth of the cut with pressure and the width is controlled by the angle of the blade relative to the side of the guitar.

Scraping Binding

Special care was needed to avoid scratching the clear nitro over the binding on the sides. After I was done I went back and did some final polishing and cleanup.

There is a pleasing tactile sensation when you touch this finish—something I hadn’t thought about but am happy with. I can’t wait to get all of the parts on this sucker and fire it up. That will have to wait for a bit while the finish cures completely.

Signature Finish Guitar Hardware

I just received my first pieces of variegated nickel hardware from Dwight at TonePros. We’ve been batting ideas around for over a year, and it’s finally coming together. Based upon the traditional TOM vintage bridge, the alloys have been massaged and the finish is unique as well.


Of special interest are the tailpiece anchors. Machined from 1018 steel as per original vintage correct specs, they couple and ring out with a clarity that you don’t get from the cast pieces—or even brass for that matter. They are also the correct “long” length.


The matching tuner hardware is awesome as well. They are vintage Kluson type machines, but with a few important differences. First, the tolerances are to a more modern specification that wasn’t in the originals. Second, they are locked down from the top with a nut to secure them to the headstock. I individually fit each tuner, starting with an undersize hole. This increases stability and couples the string vibration to the head of the guitar. Here’s the test fit on a dummy neck.


I hand sand and buff each of the keys to eliminate any molding seams—this gives them a friendly feel like an old guitar. Then they are hand painted for a vintage patina. Then they are polished and fine-scuffed for a satin touch. I can’t wait to get these into the latest build. Thanks to Dwight and his crew for making this a reality.

Frosted Duco Spray

After the lengthy process to polish the cellulose tortoise binding it was just a matter of carefully taping off the parts of The Crow that would not receive the Duco.


The shop is humidity controlled, but there had been a lot of rain so I had to wait a few days to be sure. The Duco is very environment-sensitive so the temperature and humidity needed to be exactly like it was during my tests.


As the skies cleared and an even thirty-five percent RH was sustained. That’s the golden number—it was time to spray.


First step—tack cloth the entire guitar. This removes any large debris that may have settled on the surface. Then a very thorough blow-down with compressed nitrogen. I also use compressed nitrogen to spray. It doesn’t absorb water, so the spray is completely dry. It’s a little trick I learned from racing cars.


Now the moment of truth is upon us. After months of research, preparation and testing it’s time to pull the trigger. I have to admit that even after making so many guitars over the last  thirty-five years, my heart was racing a bit. Now it will have to hang and allow the paint to do its thing. As the solution dries it contracts and creates the “frosted” effect. It takes a few hours to form and dry. Hopefully all my planning will pay off.

Guitar Parts Gathering

As much fun as it is to scavenge for vintage parts, there comes a time when everything must be pressed into service. With the impending completion of The Crow, it’s time to gather things together and get ready for assembly.


This is one of the Jensen-made, oil-filled tone capacitors that I’ll be using. I sourced it from my friend Steve at Angela Instruments, and it’s matched perfectly to the single coil Charlie Christian pickups. The idea is to cut some of the highs but not completely kill the wonderful midrange that the pickups produce. I had the reclusive pickup guru John Grail examine the pickups and pots to help me with my decision. John has been restoring vintage pickups for the big boys since the 1960s and he really knows his stuff. True to form, he refused to be photographed.


Here’s the quartet of NOS potentiometers, the caps and the Western Electric wire I’ll be sewing into The Crow. I’ve got a few hundred of the last USA made CTS pots and John and I went through them all to find the matched set for this build.


I made a down and dirty wiring fixture from a scrap of maple that puts all the components in place while I solder everything together. Wiring this guitar  really is like building a ship in a bottle—The Crow has no opening on the back. Everything has to go through the small door in the bridge pickup route.


Everything is noted in the journal. I’ve attached some pieces of the wire and pickup insulation tape to the journal page. One of the pots was so far from tolerance that I decided to take it apart to study. When I was done with it, I glued it into the journal.


Of course, during any build like this things will change. In the journal, I’ll just cross out the old entry and make a new note with my thoughts on why the change was made.

Next up, the hardware.