It’s personal, very personal. My guitar is my traveling companion, my solace, and literally an extension of my personality. I know every nick and curve. I’ve caressed its strings and cradled it almost every day since we first met. I know this is the one. Oh, I’ve played around. Been through dozens of them, and played hundreds in all shapes and sizes. Whether too bright, tight, wired, deep, or shallow, skinny neck, fat bottom, thin, mellow, natural blonde, or sunburst, I know what I like.
Yep, it’s a lot like dating. You’ve got to play the field ’til the right one comes along. Or if you know exactly what makes your fingers tingle, why not just order one from the factory just the way you like it?
Until recently that was a dream slightly out of reach for most pickers. Unless you were loaded, or you were very good at playing Dr. Frankenstein with assorted pieces and parts, your chances of scoring a custom made ax were pretty slim. That’s all changed, thanks to computer-assisted design (CAD) and computer numerical control (CNC) machining.
CAD software enables the user to make, modify, and optimize 3D drawings of their design. With CNC those design coordinates are used to automate the controls of the manufacturing machinery. The widespread use of CNC in guitar building allows today’s technicians to cut and rout guitar parts to within one thousandth of a millimeter.
What this means is that companies can plunk down a factory just about any place in the world and manufacture a pretty decent guitar. You still need to use well-aged, hand-picked woods, and perfectly machined parts from well forged metals, but you end up with a perfectly playable ax that the majority of guitarists can afford.
So why buy a custom made guitar? It’s personal.
Martin Guitars, the champion of handcrafted American-made gems slid over to the dark side in the mid-90s and started using CNC. But, they brought with them some of the finest
craftsmen in the world, and a dedication to perfection. Visit www.martinguitar.com, click “Custom Shop,” then “Build Your Custom.”You can “design” your perfect guitar, step by step. First choose the body style, then fret board, wood: top, neck, and sides, everything right down to customized inlays. Prices start at around $3,000, but can easily top $10,000 on your first pick and click adventure.
Other manufacturers have been doing this successfully as well. Choose your favorite maker: Taylor, Gibson, Fender, G&L—you would be hard pressed to find a maker that won’t turn out a custom made product.
Signature Custom Guitars
If you admire the look and sound of your favorite guitarist, follow their lead. Again, it’s personal. Sure, it’s a marketing ploy, but when a manufacturer goes to the trouble of making a signature custom model for an artist, they mean business, and any guitarist worth a gross of picks is going to take the time to make their namesake as perfect as they can make it.
Now we really get personal. You’ll find their names right on the headstock. You probably won’t get them to alter their design for you. After all, the reason they make ’em is to make ’em just the way they like ’em. If you want perfection, go to where the perfectionists live. How do you find a good luthier? They live on forums www.luthiersforum.com, and belong to collections www.luthierscollection.com, and guilds www.luth.org, and advertise through word of mouth. Prices start at “call for price.” I treasure my LoPrinzi (photo above). He made mine and personally handed it to me in 1968. Yes, it has proved
to be well worth the investment.
Build Your Own
There are luthier kits you can purchase, and plans you can download to build your own instrument. Think of it. Your own custom guitar! You can even sign your creation just like the masters do, but don’t think you’re going to end up with a masterpiece on your first attempt.
High-end, Small Batch Manufacturing
Personal philosophy meets 21st century technology. Luthier Dan De Mars feels that “the planet absolutely matters.” He believes in using “the highest quality USA-sourced materials,” and with CAD/CNC machining he can build an exclusive small batch of “quality instruments with ultra-tight tolerances and greater consistency, all while producing less material waste.” In the interest of sustaining natural resources, he’ll plant two native Vermont saplings for every new instrument sold. His unique patented designs come from years of playing and tinkering.
When you buy custom you’re entering into a relationship that will last a lifetime. You’ll own a guitar that will become a part of you. Unlike buying a guitar off the rack, there will always be a direct link to your guitar’s maker; a doctor on call, who knows and cares about your instrument. It’s personal.