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?
And 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.
During his visit to the Workshop Mark Spencer spent some time playing Sakura through his Milkman 40 1×12 combo. Here he explores some semi-clean tones.
Visitors to the Workshop are always a welcome diversion especially when they entertain the camera with their prowess on my guitars. But recently I’ve been prone to taking guitars on the road. Regular readers of this blog and corresponding Facebook page will already be familliar with my build process. I put a massive amount of forethought into what I call the “pre-story” of each instrument. I employ 1930s wire, 1950s switchgear, old-growth wood and old world craftsmanship to build a soul into each guitar. Still, the most important part of any instrument’s life is the experience it gains by being played. In this connection, I have ventured out into the world and allowed my creations the luxury of being stroked and spanked publicly. These instruments are not vintage, nor are they new. They are not used, as in second-hand. They are becoming experienced. Every player who caresses my instruments imbeds a bit of their being into the guitar.
With that in mind, I met up with Steve Kimock for a little soul searching. Every scratch on these guitars is a badge of honor.
All that remains in the Sakura build is the case and to complete the binding of the journal. So while we’re waiting for those components I decided to get some portraits taken. Hope you enjoy them.
Closeup of the amazing detail and precious gold inlay of the hand engraved plates.
Here’s a front shot that shows the overall form. I really like the way the tone knob shows the cherry color. I enjoy the small details so I try to work them in so that they continue to delight as time goes on.
So many things today are built to “wow” you on first blush, but then they’re done. That’s why they get “upgraded” or traded off by their owners. Sakura’s charms are subtly hidden from immediate view, which allows them to be revealed slowly over time. You’ll probably never find them all.
24k yellow gold sun. Click on the photo for more detail.
Yellow, rose and green gold inlets. Click for more detail.
Here’s the back profile showing how the entire form works together.
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.