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Custom Guitar Articles

How to Pick a Custom Guitar Maker

by on Mar.09, 2009, under Custom Guitar Articles

Guitar ApprenticeThe U.S. handmade-guitar industry has exploded over the past 30 years. Here’s how to find a craftsman to build your ideal custom instrument.
July 2004

As far out as it may seem, a generation ago it was virtually impossible to lay your hands on an acoustic guitar hand-made in the U.S. But now, while other artisan industries have been automated out of existence (or exported to countries with cheaper labor), American guitar making flourishes.

Peace, love and lutherie

The group responsible for the custom-made industry, which includes more than 3,000 luthiers in North America who make about 150,000 guitars a year, can be described in one word: Hippies.

Until the 1960s, most acoustic guitars in the U.S. were made in factories owned by Martin, Gibson and a handful of other companies, explains Tim Olson, the founding editor of The Guild of American Luthiers’ American Lutherie.

Then hippies came along, who, Olson says, weren’t concerned with making a lot of money. Instead, they saw making guitars as a way of life. “They didn’t come at it from an angle of ambition. It was more of a free-spirited curiosity,” he says.

Lucky for the fledgling handmade guitar industry, Gibson and Martin made some of their worst guitars in the 1970s (both have had major comebacks since then). That, combined with the folk music revival, increased demand for good acoustic guitars, and allowed the handmade guitar industry to put down roots.

And the industry continues to grow robustly thanks to one trait from its hippie past — cooperation — a trait that remains the driving force behind the industry’s culture. Leaf through a copy of the industry Bible, Acoustic Guitar magazine, and you’ll find ads for workshops taught by the top luthiers. Guitar makers swap techniques, which shores up the entire industry, creating more demand and more opportunities for more luthiers.

Cooperation extends to big manufactures as well, says Rick Davis, a guitar builder who is the head of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans. The manufacturers have recently started hiring custom builders to help design new models, he says.

Custom Made GuitarThe case for custom

Custom-made guitars fall into two general categories: Those made as art for art’s sake (check out Beyondthetrees.com for examples from luthier/artisan Fred Carlson), and those made to suit an individual musician. Davis says guitar players often choose to commission a handmade instrument as “a matter of feel. A customer might say, ‘gosh I love the way Martins sound, but I hate their neck. I love way Taylors play, but I don’t like the sound very much. So I want a Martin with a Taylor neck. A custom maker can do that.'”

A custom maker also cherry picks from a woodpile to select only the best pieces. And, Davis says, a custom maker can take advantage of the wood’s individual qualities. Factory-made guitar tops (the most crucial piece of wood for a guitar’s tone) all have the same thickness, Davis says. But “every one of my tops is probably a little different, because I’m shaving off a couple of thousandths at a time, looking for that absolute moment when it just lights up and says, I’m there.”

A custom maker can also add inlays that you choose or design.

The cost of a custom-made guitar starts at around $2,000 — though the average price falls between $3,000 and $5,000 — and runs up to $50,000.

Meet your maker

But there’s more to buying a custom guitar than just price. It is a major commitment of time. Craftsmen often have a backlog of months or years. The more in-demand their skills, the longer you’ll have to wait. Small shops and few, if any, employees mean productivity is often limited to 12 to 20 instruments a year.

Your first step as a potential buyer should be to learn about guitar making yourself. Find out what goes into building a guitar so can better communicate your needs, and understand the luthier’s questions. Also be ready to describe your playing style — do you prefer flat picking, open tunings, what string gauge do you prefer?

Next, attend a guitar show where you have the best opportunity to look, listen to and play a variety of custom guitars. Take the opportunity to meet and speak with the builders. Some upcoming events include:

  • The Newport Guitar Festival, August 6-8 in Newport, R.I. (www.newportguitarfestival.com).
  • The Guild of American Luthiers’ annual convention and exhibition, July 7-11 in Tacoma, Washington (www.luth.org).
  • Healdsburg, Calif., guitar festival, August, 2005 (www.lmii.com).

You can also browse the Web to find luthiers near you. You’ll find lists of guitar makers on both the Guild of American Luthiers and the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans Web sites.

Look for craftsmen who specialize in the type of guitar you want. Then ask for references. Talk to the musicians who play the instruments to make sure they’re satisfied with the workmanship.

Confirm the price and methods of payment. Most custom guitar makers typically expect half up front and the rest on delivery.

And finally, find out what happens if you’re not satisfied. With most makers you’re stuck, but some may offer a limited money-back guarantee.

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High quality acoustic guitars generally feature solid wood construction

by on Mar.06, 2009, under Custom Guitar Articles

Shiny GuitarThe acoustic guitar is a popular stringed instrument which originated in Spain.  It has a flat, waisted body, a round sound hole, and a fretted fingerboard, or “neck,” along which run six strings.  The strings are fastened to tuning screws at the top of the fingerboard, and to a bridge which is glued to the instrument’s sound board or “belly” at the other end.  The strings on acoustic guitars are usually made of steel.  On classical guitars, the top three strings are usually made of nylon or natural gut, while the lower three strings are metal.  The strings are tuned to E, A, D, G, B, and E (starting with the second E below middle C and ending with the E above middle C).Acoustic guitars are the instrument of choice for many country and folk music guitarists.  High quality acoustic guitars generally feature solid wood construction, with spruce or cedar tops and rosewood or mahogany sides and backs.  Medium quality guitars may combine solid wood tops with laminated sides and backs, while entry level instruments are often made from laminated woods.  Guitar necks and fingerboards are typically constructed from stiff woods such as mahogany, ebony, and rosewood.  Guitars are designed for either right-handed or left-handed players.  With a right-handed guitar, the player’s right-hand fingers pluck or strum the strings while the left-hand fingers are positioned at the appropriate frets
to produce the desired pitches.
How Acoustic Guitars Work

How does an acoustic guitar produce sound?  Quite simply, when a guitar player hits a guitar string, the string absorbs energy and begins to vibrate.  However, this alone is not enough to create sound waves that can be heard.  In order to be heard, the energy must come into contact with a mass of lower density.  The guitar’s hollow body enables this to happen.  In a nutshell, the body of the guitar acts as a soundbox.  The energy from the vibrating strings travels through the saddle and bridge over which the strings pass, and eventually to the soundbox.  The soundbox amplifies the vibration of the strings, so that the sound can be heard.  The guitar’s volume and projection are a result of the soundbox.
How is the soundbox assembled?  The front of the guitar is called the “soundboard,” while the sides of the guitar are called the “ribs.”  There are small strips of wood that allow the front, sides, and back to be glued together, and these are called “linings.”  Once the pieces are glued together, the joints are hidden by “edging.”  The inside of both the soundboard and the back of the guitar will have something called “strutting” or “bracing.”  Basically, these are strips of wood that are laid across the surface in a pattern.  The struts serve to strengthen the wood and prevent it from warping, but they also allow the soundbox to vibrate and produce the best possible tone.

Tone, simply put, is what the guitar sounds like.  Even high-quality guitars will differ in tone.  The design of the soundbox will affect the sound characteristics of a guitar; as a result, many guitar makers, known as “luthiers,” will change the design of each guitar slightly to produce varied tonal qualities.  The goal of every luthier is to ensure that their guitars have even tonal gradations, with no areas where the tone or volume changes abruptly, and no areas where there is over-accentuated harmony.  Different designs mean that some types of guitars are better suited to particular styles of music.  For example, Martin flat-top guitars are popular with fingerstyle guitarists because of their clarity and defined bass pattern, while Gibson flat-tops are frequently used by country musicians because of the rhythmic sounds they produce when chords are strummed.

Guitar Shape and Size

Most acoustic guitars share the same basic shape.  The body looks like a figure-eight made up of an upper bout, a thin waist, and a lower bout.  However, the dimensions of these three parts of the guitar will determine what it sounds like.  Guitars with smaller upper bouts have enhanced treble frequencies, while guitars with larger upper bouts have enhanced bass frequencies.  Acoustic guitar sizes vary as well.  Flat-top, steel-string acoustic guitars come in standard, jumbo, and dreadnought sizes.  Today, there are a wide variety of steel-string and nylon-string guitars available on the market.

Browse this website, AcousticGuitars.us, to learn more about acoustic guitars and the people and companies that make them.

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Bad Tuners, Low Batteries and Old Strings

by on Mar.03, 2009, under Custom Guitar Articles

Guitar building processHave you ever found yourself in this situation? You’ve set the intonation on your guitar or bass perfectly. Your tuner reads exactly the same pitch for the harmonic at the twelfth fret and the fretted note at the twelfth, but some frets still produce notes that are out of tune. The previous Xylem article discussed intonation and how to adjust it properly for guitars and basses. This two-part article will address various intonation problems and their solutions. After you have completed any of the adjustments below, you should re-intonate your instrument. While reading, keep in mind that instruments that intonate perfectly for every fret are very rare and you should expect slight variations from perfect pitch. However, you should be able to fix variations greater than about 6 cents sharp or flat in most cases.

Bad Tuners, Low Batteries and Old Strings

(Please follow the link at the bottom of the article to view the associated figures)

When checking the intonation of an instrument, make sure to use a decent quality chromatic tuner with fresh batteries. The intonation may seem to be off simply because a cheap tuner, or a good one with low batteries, produces inaccurate readings. Another potential cheap fix for bad intonation is a string replacement. As guitar and bass strings get old, they become corroded, develop pits and dings, and the cores stretch more easily, all of which can affect intonation.

Excessive Relief

Ruling out a faulty tuner or old strings, the next thing to check is the relief of the neck. If your instrument’s intonation is properly set at the 12th fret, but is still incorrect at certain other frets (especially those in the middle of the fretboard), it may have too much relief. Excessive relief requires that the strings travel further to contact the frets, which causes the strings to stretch further and results in a slightly sharp pitch. To correct this problem, optimize the relief of your instrument (refer to the Xylem truss rod articles, parts one through three for detailed procedures for optimizing relief).

Nut and Saddle Slots

On a well-made nut, the slots are angled down towards the headstock and, as a result, the string contacts the nut at a single point in the slot nearest the fretboard (Figures 1 & 2). If the nut slots have more than one contact point, or the contact point is further away from the fretboard, intonation may be thrown off. If the nut slots of your instrument are not cut at such an angle, and/or the highest points of the slots are not right at the fretboard face of the nut, the nut slots may need to be filed. You will need a set of gauged nut-slotting files that match your instrument’s string gauges to file the slots properly (these can be purchased from luthier supply companies, try to get files that are about .003″ larger than your string gauges). File away material in small increments, making sure that the depths of the slots do not exceed ½ to ¾ of the string’s diameters. If the slots are already too deep to allow further filing, you may need to install a new nut. Once the fretboard faces of the slots are higher than the rest, you will have fixed the problem. If you are not comfortable filing the nut yourself, most repair techs and luthiers (including myself) charge between $20-$50 for nut modifications.

A similar procedure can be done to the slotted saddles on some instruments. Extra caution should be used when filing these saddles, as they may not be as easily replaced as the nut. Saddles that consist of an edge only (such as those found on most acoustic guitars) should not be filed in this manner. Also, the strings should be pressed down into the saddle slots with a fingernail to ensure that the strings are contacting the leading edge of the slot.

The second part of this article will discuss how to modify a nut that is too high for proper intonation and a few simple, cheap ways to improve the intonation of an instrument with fixed saddles or moveable saddles that are adjusted all the way back or forward. Thanks for reading, see you next month!

Copyright © Anthony Olinger, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars 2008.

Follow this link to view the figures for this article.

If you have any questions or comments about this article please visit the Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars website and follow the “Contact” link on the navigation menu on the left.

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handmade acoustic guitars | the instrument of your dreams

by on Mar.02, 2009, under Custom Guitar Articles

Rose color Sunburst Custom GuitarThere are many people that own guitars or are considering purchasing a guitar for themselves or someone they love. They make great Christmas gifts, especially for young children. Musical instruments are a great gift to get for your little one, the whole family will have such a great time enjoying watching them play with it for the first time, it will be so entertaining. The family will have the ability to create many lasting memories to last a lifetime. Some people are choosing to have their guitars custom made. This is a great idea if you are wanting to show off your creative side. Having a guitar custom made will allow you to create a design, any design that you may want. It is a fun way to make the instrument of your dreams.

Custom guitars are created by experienced professionals for any kind of person, for all styles and tastes, from tough girly looking to total hardcore, it is all up to you. These are created to make you happy, so that you can show off your custom made guitar to all of your friends and family, they will all be so envious, wishing they had one for themselves. These are really a tasteful work of fabulous art and if you are interested in having one made for yourself then all you have to do is look into it, ask around, do the research. In no time, you too, could have one of these brilliantly made guitars of your choice. Now these types of guitars are not created for you to actually play them, they are specifically designed for you to show off to everyone, and possibly one day sell it for a whole lot of money.

It is no different than having a custom made bike or a custom made car, they are all unique and one of a kind. The same design is rarely ever used more than once, that is what makes your guitar so special and so unique. The designs that the manufacturers come up with are rarely marketed because of not wanting the same design put on different guitars, they want their piece of art to remain a one of a kind. The most common type of material they will be using would be rosewood. This material is so popular because of its lasting ability. Just make sure that they are using this when you have your own guitar custom made.

If you are interested in having a guitar custom made for you then you need to start now doing the research. Once you find the professionals that you are interested in using, contact them, go in and talk with them, tell them exactly what you are wanting. These specialists are ready and willing to please you and if you contact the right ones, you will know that you will be working with a reputable business. The result will be a one of a kind, fine piece of art, just for you.

Looking for a guitar or accessories? Check out Guitar Heaven for a full range of guitars and accessories. Also download free guitar lessons.

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Preparation before ordering a custom built electric guitar.

by on Feb.27, 2009, under Custom Guitar Articles

Personalized Custom built guitar1.) The first thing you’ll need to do is draw the guitar to scale. This doesn’t have to be an entire 3D drawing, but a large enough flat picture on paper drawn to scale, preferably of the head and body of the guitar can help speed up the design process.

What the luthier (fancy name for guitar builder) has to do first is create templates of both the neck and body of the guitar. These are made out of plywood or sometimes perspex, kind of like a flat version of the guitar that’s going to be created.

2.) You need to know beforehand exactly what parts you want on the guitar, as those measurements are crucial to the design of the guitar. An electric guitar builder can’t even think about starting on a guitar before all the parts are right there with him or her.
Acoustic guitar builders have less of a problem with that, seeing as there are less parts to worry about.

3.) Find a guitar neck that you like the feel of and try find out the measurements, like fretboard radius, neck thickness and scale length.

The best electric guitar construction method

There are three basic electric guitar building methods to consider. Mostly a good luthier will have this pretty much figured out, but surprisingly enough, there are some differing opinions.

The three methods that are most commonly referred to are bolt on neck, glued in or set neck, and neck through body construction.

In my opinion there is only one choice, and that’s neck through body construction.
This means that the neck runs all the way through the body, and the sides are glued on.
Second choice is a set neck.

Some luthiers will do something called a deep set neck tenon, which is half way between a set neck and a neck through. Not a bad compromise at all.

Good wood equals good tone

There are many good woods to use on a guitar, my favorite is African Mahogany.
A good idea is to do some proper research, the best kind being to listen to some of your favorite guitars and see what wood they used on them.

Guitar tone is a very personal thing, so no-one can tell you what to do there.
An experienced luthier will have a good grasp of the tonal character of various woods, so tell them what you want and they should know what to do.

The value of a personalized custom electric guitar is something that’s difficult to quantify. I’ve always said that any good guitar is worth more than the money you pay for it.

If you’d like to know where you can get your own true custom electric guitar, feel free to pay a visit and see what this Custom electric guitar builder created for me.

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