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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.57.25 AM

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:

Georgia Pine Project—Artist’s Proofs

The chips are flying and the lacquer is wafting through the air in the workshop as I press onward with my series of Artist’s Proof guitars. These are basically prototypes—all different. The first examples are now entering the painting stage, and include the first two of the Georgia Pine guitars.

Georgia Pine Guitar_01
This is Georgia Pine #1, which has a maple neck and a spalt maple top.
The A/P designation is on the headstock
The A/P designation is on the headstock

The second GP is all pine with a maple neck. As with the first, the fingerboard is rosewood with pearl dots and a seven-piece “claw” inlay at the 12th fret.

Dantzig Guitar with my distinctive Claw inlay
Rosewood with my distinctive Claw inlay

These instruments are insanely light in weight, and I can’t wait to hear them sing. Although they are routed for humbuckers, I intend to use single coil pickups in the neck position. The airy and open sound of the pine should match up nicely with what I have in mind.

At the moment there are ten different A/P guitars in progress, and although a few have been spoken for, there are still some available for purchase. Contact me to discuss the details—this is a great opportunity to get what amounts to a one-off guitar at “Team Built” pricing.

German Carve on the Bench

One of the things I’ve wanted to incorporate in my designs is an old-school type of relief carving sometimes called the German carve. While at Hamer I couldn’t really do it because it was not in the “Hamer tradition” as it was called. The closest I came was with the Monaco guitars, which featured a more radical scallop at the edge. But in my shop, I make the rules, so I’m making a few Artist Proof instruments to see how it looks on a Dantzig guitar. What do you think?

German Carve Tulsa
My Tulsa model with a German carve flame maple top

The resurgence of the so-called “German carve” is an interesting development in the world of guitar fashion. Traditionally used on furniture, I first noticed it on the Mosrite Ventures models I lusted for in my 1960s youth. Actually, it was quite popular with European guitar builders (mostly in Germany and Italy) where a man named Roger Rosemeissl grew up working in his father’s guitar shop.

Roger Rossmeissl

Eventually, Rossmeissl came to America and began working at Rickenbacker, where he designed a number of instruments in the late 1950s. A few of his designs featured the carved relief technique he had learned at home in Germany. Later, Semie Moseley would work alongside Rossmeissl at Rickenbacker before striking out on his own. Moseley’s new company was named Mosrite, and he carried the European carving over to his designs for the Ventures.


Today, all things old are new again so it doesn’t surprise me that the scalloped appearance of the German carve would appeal to a new audience. For me, it is a tip of the hat to some of my guitar-building heroes—and to the Ventures model guitar I dreamed of owning when I first started playing guitar. I can’t wait to finish these new instruments.