Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Building a Custom Guitar From Start to Finish, Part 1: Getting started ...

Written By: Jac Harrison
At least once a month I get an inbox on social media or an email asking questions about getting a custom guitar built and all the bla bla bla that goes with it... so for the next few months I will be documenting a build from start-to-finish covering every aspect from how to choose a luthier (guitar builder), choosing a design that works best for you, how to not "over spend" and there will be video of the actual build from the luthier in part two of this series. On that note, this will be in a three part editorial series called "Building a Custom Guitar From Start to Finish", and will be in direct correlation with the Facebook group "Beardly Customs Build for LMG". The luthier I will be working with is Rick Link of Beardly Customs and he has agreed to do this build as an interactive workshop allowing you (the reader) to follow the step-by-step process of ordering a custom built guitar, and watching it built in real time while he answers questions in regards via the Facebook group. By the end of this editorial series you should have a complete understanding on how to spend a few thousand dollars on a custom built guitar while feeling fuc*ing amazing about it! Now let's get this party started...

Step one: Know what you like!
So you are at a point in your career as a musician where the "off-the-shelf" guitars aren't doing it for you anymore, or you are a hobbyist with some deep pockets... either way, your first custom build can be confusing as trying to understand why there is a market for country hip-hop music. This may sound ridiculous, but most guitar players are set in their ways and have no idea what else is out there, because we (guitar players) know everything! Sh*t... I was sold on the fact that I was a two humbucker guy for years and there was nothing you could tell me to change my mind until I played a HSS Strat and my whole world changed overnight. It is worth finding out what your true formula is before you throw down some serious cash on a one-off build. So put on your big boy pants, go to a music store and play everything. Don't just play what you are accustomed to -- but play it all. Get an understanding of how the different guitars work, what type of tones they are giving you, how they respond to your playing and pay special attention to what style of controls/setup you favor (knobs, hardware, switch placement and scale length). Getting a custom guitar built is just that, it's something you have dreamed up... the best of the best for you (that you can afford). You may be a Fender player but like the Gibson style controls or if you enjoy a Gibson body style but want it with a Fender scale and style tremolo. The best part about having a custom guitar built is being able to mix and match your favorite aspects from many different guitar manufactures into one instrument. In theory this should give you the best playing experience you have ever had making playing not only more enjoyable, but easier. 

Side note: 
Knowing what you like to play is one of the most important aspects of getting a custom built guitar. Hell, not knowing what you like to play and having a guitar custom built would be like going to a tailor and asking for clothing without any other specification... that sh*t just doesn't make any sense, and if you contact a luthier and have no clue what you want, you're just going to piss him off! A good rule of thumb is not to piss of the person building your dream guitar.

Follow this build on Gear Guys Radio every Wednesday night @ 9PM EST for weekly updates and join the Facbook group > HERE

Step Two: Do your research!
Now that you have a understanding of exactly what you want, open an adult beverage (or what I refer to as "rational thinking juice") while you search the web for you dream guitar. Chances are there is a luthier out there that specializes in what you are looking for. For example, this build is a hybrid of a mid 1990's Gibson Nighthawk mixed with a 1960's Fender Start but will have a modern HSS setup. No matter how much cash you have, you can't even order that from either the Fender or Gibson custom shops. A good starting point is Googling the interwebs for what you are looking for, in this case I would search "Gibson Fender hybrid guitar" to see what is out there. If you do not find what you are looking for, that's OK! Search for a local luthier, find one, pick up the phone, call and ask if they can make your guitar. If they do not specialize in what you are looking for, they may be able to refer you to someone who can. Another great way of finding a local luthier is by attending your local and/or national guitar shows. 

Step Three: Putting your dream guitar on paper with your luthier (guitar builder)!

Great... now that you have a luthier you will be working with, this is where their technical skills come in to play. If you understand technical terminology that will assist your luthier in understanding what you want built, I'm sure that they will be grateful for your knowledge, but if you are just a "know-it-all", this is the step that will bite you in the wallet if you are wrong. It is OK to not know the technical terms; that is the luthier's job and part of what you are paying them for. For example, if you say "I want a Gibson LP neck on a Fender Start body", that is telling your luthier that you want a 24 3/4 scale length set neck with a 12" radius dance floor on a guitar that traditionally come stock with a 25 1/2 scale length bolt-on neck with a 9.5" radius dance floor. This will not only change the pliability, but the overall feel and tone of the guitar. Spend some time explaining what you would like to achieve from this build and what you would change about your current guitar if you could. It can be as simple as wanting a light weight version of what you have now or something that is completely off the wall and unique. Rick Link (the luthier for this build) and I went back in forth for about a week in regards to this build from everything including tonewoods to hardware, and I speak fluent "guitar geek"... so my advice is to be patient and thorough with your design explanation. You will be rewarded with an amazing guitar that is built to your specification and functions the way you imagined it would. 

For this build I wanted to have some fun with my followers and friends on social media while making a guitar that I would be able to use; so I put down my "must haves"... a HSS setup on a 5-way blade with an on/on switch to run the bridge humbucker in series-vs-parallel mode, a bolt on 60's "C" shape 25.5 scale neck with a 12" radius, and the rest we (Rick and I) let the members of the Facebook group "Beardly Customs Build for LMG" decide from body type, pickguard material and hardware. When the group decided that the Nighthawk body was the winner, I was kind of apprehensive about going with it. To me a Gibson Nighthawk was always "that hybrid mistake" Gibson did back in the 90's to compete with the new guy at the time (PRS), but completely failed. I have always thought of the Nighthawk as a Gibson in Fender clothing, like a pre op "TransFENDER" in today's terminology. I sometimes wonder how they came up with the idea... was it a prank guitar from the Gibson R&D team made from all the crap that they didn't use from the year before? I can just see it now... a bunch of stoned hippies playing Hacky Sack and trying to "save-the-world...man" by recycling unused parts as a joke. It's quite possible that the conversation went something like this... "Ha man, we really fuc*ed up... what are we going to do with all these extra jazzbox mini hubuckers, that crazy sideways humbucker thing and why do we have Tele necks?... I know, let’s build one guitar with one of each in it and we can use that new Epiphone prototype body that no one liked." I really can’t see any other way that they would have come up with this design. With that said, I do like the concept of having a Strat style guitar with a Gibson body and bridge to "mix-it-up" a bit, so that is what this build will be. She will be a fusion of the best of both guitars and not a cluster-fuc* hodgpodg of Gibson parts on a Fender scale with a 5-way switch.

To start, I'm not a set neck kind of guy. I like a bolt on for the sustain, because science. That whole myth about a set neck giving you more sustain is a bunch of crap. The glue acts as a buffer between the neck and the body absorbing the vibrations dampening the frequency response and darkening the tone. The amount of sustain you lose is miniscule, but I just like to make that argument to "ruffle-the-feathers" of the set neck diehards. In fact the best sustain is achieved from a neck through body, but that also yields a slightly more compressed tone, and I'm not a fan -- so this build will have a bolt on neck. She will be a Strat at heart with a few of the Nighthawk's features including a 12" radius and body style, but have a non-tremolo modern Gibson styled one piece tune-o-matic bridge giving her a unique look while reducing string tension by eliminating the string-through-body design of the Nighthawk.  Besides the obvious changes such as the pickup configuration and control locations, we will also be adding a top mount wood pickguard with forearm contour giving her more of that Strat feel and making her less ugly in my opinion.

Follow this build on Gear Guys Radio every Wednesday night @ 9PM EST for weekly updates and join the Facbook group > HERE

This Build Specs:

The 7th Fret Inlay 

Oreantation: Right Handed
Nut Width:1-11/16"
Nut: GraphTech Black TUSQ XL (Pt-6116-00)
Neck Profile: "60 Style" Oval .810 at 1st fret 
# of Frets: 22
Fret Wire: 6150
Radius: Straight 12"
Inlay: 7th fret (Maple inlay) 
Side Marker Dots: Glow-in-the-dark standard spacing
Tuners: 4x2 Hipshot locking
Finish: Satin oil 
Scale: 25-1/2"
Mounting Holes: Standard 4 Bolt
Wood: 3-Piece Maple/Purple Heart

The sketch I sent Rick 
Body Shape: Nighthawk
Neck Pocket: Strat Shape
Wood: Mahogany top and back with maple/walnut/maple veneers
Oreantation: Right handed
Control Rout: Top Rout with Pickguard
Pickups: HSS
PickGuard: Ebony (Strat Style to fit body)
Bridge: Hipshot Babdy Grand
Input Jack: Side Mount
Contour:  Forearm ContourTummy Cut
Scale: 25-1/2"
Strap Buttons: Hipshot Locking

Step Four: Saving time is saving money!
If there is any way you can save your luthier time or supply them with parts you either have or will order, it will save you on the total build cost. For the most part your luthier makes just the guitar and farms out the pickups and/or hardware. Ask if you can supply these parts and if you have the know-how to assist in any way with the electronics -- your luthier may be open to the idea. For this build I supplied a pre-wired pickguard (that I assembled) so all Rick has to do is transfer the electronics to the pickguard he is making for this build saving him a few hours of labor and the cost of parts. If you cannot wire a pickguard yourself you can order your entire wiring harnesses pre-wired by MojoTone.com and have it shipped directly to your luthier. 


Pre-Wired "S" style pickguard template.
Neck Pickup: Zexcoil SV5W
Middle Pickup: Zexcoil SV50
Bridge Pickup: MojoTone Classic Alnico II Humbucker 
Volume Potentiometer: Vintage Taper CTS 500k short shaft
Volume Mod: 150k resistor /.001MF capacitor
Tone PotentiometerVintage Taper CTS 500k short shaft
Tone Capacitor.022uf /600v Mojotone Dijon
On/on switch: Bridge humbucker series-vs-parallel mode
Switch: CRL 5-Way leaver 
Input Jack: Switchcraft L11 Mono 1/4"
Wire: 22-Ga Stranded Cloth Covered

Step Five: And the waiting begins!

Now that you have commissioned a build... it's time to forget about it until your luthier contacts you. The person building your fully custom dream guitar is just that, a person -- as in one person that builds only one to two guitars at a time. This is the most painful part of the build for us guitar players since we are impatient. You have put up 1/2 the cash and you will not see anything on average for about 4 to 6 months. Be patient, get a a temporary hobby that you can master in about 6 months like knitting or playing the bass guitar. It is OK to contact your luthier to see how things are going... but just don't be a jerk about it --  your luthier wants to get the guitar done as much as you want it. 

Read Part II, The Build  (In October 2015)
Read Part III The Review (In December 2015)  

Follow this build on Gear Guys Radio every Wednesday night @ 9PM EST for weekly updates and join the Facbook group > HERE

                                                     Follow Local Music Gear on facebook  -HERE-


Posted 08/2015 
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