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.

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.