An Ass For Every Saddle

The Ventures were my first rock band crush. I wanted to be like them, look like them and sound like them. I had begged my parents for an electric guitar after a young counselor brought one to day camp and played it for us. My school buddy Larry turned me on to The Ventures, and that, as they say, was that.

The original Ventures lineup with Nokie Edwards on bass

Before that, I didn’t play guitar. I had briefly taken violin and piano lessons, but I couldn’t stick to it, because it was the electric guitar that had captured my imagination. Compared to the cutting twang of the guitar, those old orchestra instruments seemed quaint and boring. I dreamed about owning a Jazzmaster because That’s what The Ventures had on their album covers. I was absolutely convinced that the JM was the secret to their sound. I hounded my parents mercilessly until the caved in and took me to a little music shop in Chicago to look at guitars.

When we returned home I hadn’t gotten an electric. Instead, my folks rented an old Gibson LG-1 acoustic from the music store, and signed me up for some lessons. I think they imagined I would tire of this phase just like the previous instruments, and they would just return the guitar. Imagine their surprise when I kept at it.

Actually, the LG was good practice. It was a “student” model with a short scale and small neck, but it was crudely made and not set up very well. The impossibly hard to play action and huge strings built up my calluses and toned my tiny hand muscles. It was like training with weights on. I knew it was torture, because Larry had a ES-330 with nice low action, and I was certain that’s why he sounded better than me. He’d let me play it for a few seconds, then grab it back and I had to return to the LG.

Then, a shocking thing occurred. The Ventures changed guitars. Suddenly, without any warning they appeared on new albums with these crazy looking, brightly colored instruments. I was sure that they were made of fiberglass, just like the surfboards the Beach Boys sang about.

Brightly colored headstocks, and horizontal logos. Obviously this made a lasting impression.

I stared at this album cover and daydreamed about Mosrite guitars like the ones The Ventures used. Well, maybe that’s not all I daydreamed about.

After a while it became clear that I wasn’t giving up on guitar. I sometimes wonder what my mom and dad would have thought if they knew that the next step would alter my life forever.

My parents took me to Main Music in Skokie, Illinois to purchase an electric guitar. They were a Mosrite dealer so I headed right for that display. To my horror, I realized that they were just made of wood, not the brightly colored fiberglass I had imagined. Only moderately let down, I indicated to my father that the Mosrite was what I wanted. Alarmed by the price of the Ventures axe, my dad gestured to a nearby Teisco, bristling with gold foil pickups. “This one has four microphones on it,” he said.  “And, it’s more affordable.” Instinctively I knew it was junk. The salesman was pushing a gently used white Fender DuoSonic because it “had better resale value with the Fender name.” Still not convinced that the electric guitar was anything more than a fad, my Father split the difference price wise, and bet on the Fender brand name. He was clearly thinking resale.

The Gremlins electrified at last.

At long last I finally had an electric guitar, even if it wasn’t a Mosrite, it was mine. The 2nd hand Duo Sonic wasn’t my first choice, but it was what my parents could afford. It was pretty much a piece of crap compared to professional instruments like Larry’s Gibson with the big P90s, but it was small enough for a young boy’s hands, and it was white, so I could pretend it was fiberglass.

As disappointing as the DuoSonic was, it was the gateway drug to a lifelong addiction. When I look back at my path I can clearly see the influence of my earliest impressions. It’s no coincidence that my current guitars sport the German carve like my beloved Mosrite design, and the Dantzig (and Hamer) logos appear horizontally in the center of the headstock. Many of the names of guitars I have designed over the years like the DuoTone, and SuperPro are a tip of the hat to my first electric. So in retrospect, that little white Fender did me a solid service. I’ve only learned recently that my DuoSonic with brown pick guard was only made in that configuration for four months! Ironically, today for some reason these budget student guitars are now coveted by a new crop of young guitarists. Eventually they’ll move on too—I couldn’t wait to trade up. I guess there is an ass for every saddle. I still want that Mosrite.

Making More Than Just Guitars


More than 45 years ago, I had a dream to build a vintage inspired guitar for myself. It all came to fruition in the back of our little vintage guitar shop in the Chicago area when we started Hamer Guitars in 1973. Some people say we started the “Boutique” electric guitar trend—but I never saw it like that. I was just doing what I loved—making cool stuff. 


A lot has happened since then. I’ve built instruments for lots of my musical heroes, and worked for many famous brands in the guitar world—Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Guild and a whole lot more. I’ve helped build—and rebuild—small shops and big factories around the world. I’ve won awards, been on TV and interviewed by more magazines than I can remember. It’s been a crazy ride. But none of that matters as much as the pure joy of making stuff with my hands for people who share my passion for the guitar. 

Jol Dantzig Guitars
The end of a good day in the little shop

I’m focused on character and individuality—guitars that look and feel broken in without resorting to scratches and dings. I use an old school finishing technique that makes them warm and friendly to your touch. These instruments remind me of old guitars I saw when I was a kid in the 1960s; when guitars were hand-hewn instruments not glossy appliances.

Stream of Consciousness

This is my original sketch for the Vernon Reid “Clock” guitar. Vernon and I collaborated on the ideas for what would be included in the painting. We sat in my car in front of The Lincoln hotel on Clark Street in Chicago, where Vernon was staying, for about an hour jotting down ideas in a notebook. You can see the page from that notebook in the photo.When I got back to my home studio I drew this layout. The body and drawing went to Jim O’Connor to airbrush, and he did a great job. It was all stream of consciousness stuff—we didn’t think it would be so iconic at the time, it was just something we thought would be cool and tell a story.

Tom Wheeler Has Left the Building


This is a tough one. A rough day, a sad day, and it has just begun. I’ve lost a friend. No, scratch that—we’ve lost a friend. Whether or not you knew him, Tom Wheeler was your friend too. If you’ve ever played a guitar or a bass, or made any kind of guitar music, Wheeler was there with you in some way. Most folks know him as the author of definitive books about Fender products, like The Soul of Tone, Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps, and The Stratocaster Chronicles, but he was more than just a writer of guitar books. Wheeler was the embodiment of the world’s passion for guitar, a position he held for four decades. You could say that he wrote the book on guitar, and you’d be correct. In fact, he wrote seven.


In 1974, Wheeler published his first effort titled simply The Guitar Book. This and its follow-up, American Guitars, an illustrated history, set the standard for how serious study of the six string should be conducted. These two volumes did more than just satisfy the curiosity of a handful of curious guitar lovers. By researching and chronicling the arc of the popular guitar—including electrics—Wheeler put a stamp of legitimacy on what might have been considered a bastard instrument. In no small way these books were part of the genesis of what is now called the vintage guitar trade. As both early reference guides and celebratory stories, these two books were cheerleaders for the continuing guitar juggernaut. By looking back to see from where the present had come, Wheeler gave the shadowy world of guitar shape, and a gravitas that invited players to learn history and honor the past.

We met in 1977 on a flight from Chicago to Nashville. He was going to Roy Acuff’s Opry Museum to photograph famous instruments for what would be American Guitars, and just like that—he invited me to tag along. I kept the notes as Bashful Brother Oswald gave us run of the place and told us stories. Acuff met us after a while and showed us Jimmie Rodger’s guitar. That’s just the way Wheeler was, sharing and inclusive. He and I were friends from that day forward.

Tom Wheeler was a husband, father, musician, historian, researcher, editor and a writer. He was the former Editor of Guitar Player Magazine, and was Professor of Journalism at The University of Oregon. I am proud and humbled to have known this kind man.

Dear Tom, we will miss you.

The New Vintage

This month’s Vintage Guitar Magazine features a review of my Tulsa Korina guitar. It’s a short piece that lays out the basics of what is essential about the guitar. The reviewer, Tom Guerra, got all the points of interest dead-on, so it was a joy to read. You’d think I’d be jaded, but I still get a thrill when people like my work.

Although the bit about being a “legendary luthier” has been used before to describe me, I’ve never been comfortable with the title. I feel as though there’s a bit of exaggeration going on—with both terms. In contrast, I am proud of the headline. The New Vintage. It describes what I am going for perfectly. And  even more profound is what it means in the context of all my work.

Almost 30 years ago I devised an ad campaign for Hamer Guitars called “Modern Vintage” and the phrase became synonymous with the brand. Since then it has been appropriated by companies that probably were not even in business then. Most of the tactics and ethos of our little company were new for the time. What we started has been ground into a meaningless barrage of boilerplate ad copy that I never saw coming. “Made for musicians, by musicians.” What a concept. “Time honored craftsmanship, the most exquisite tone woods, and state of the art hardware…” The jokes practically write themselves.

Custom Shop meeting

So, here’s to you—the marketing men and women of the boutique guitar world. When all the hipster hyperbole is sliding into the ditch you can pivot to bragging about how your CNC accuracy and SolidWorks 3D plotting makes you the NASA of the garage builders. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done. Hey, I’d better steal that New Vintage™ phrase before somebody else does. Thanks again Vintage Guitar for truly making my day. And that’s no exaggeration.