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.

switch refurb_1

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.


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.


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.

german Back

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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: