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.

factory floor

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.

 

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.

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