My first custom guitar order came about in an interesting and unexpected way. One of my very good friends knew a local musician who wanted to get a custom guitar (he wanted a Martin-style tenor guitar with a cutaway). He had contacted some of the big guitar companies, but couldn’t find anybody who would build it for him to his specifications. He came over to my house to check out my guitar. He told me what he wanted and asked if I could make it. I reminded him that I had built only the one guitar, but the guitar he wanted didn’t seem that complex—so I felt confident that I could do it. He asked me my price, and I told him. I then said that I’d need about half down up front to buy materials. He took out a handful of $100 bills and dropped them on the coffee table, and said, “Is that close enough”? Suddenly I had my first order (and my first panic attack). It’s one thing to casually make a guitar for yourself, but quite another to have the responsibility to make one that someone will pay for, and show around and play around town. I needed a plan. First, I had to order a set of plans for an “O” size tenor guitar, and design how a cutaway would go into the plan. I had to make a workboard for the guitar (I used Bill Cumpiano’s method-instead of making a mold). I then carefully dove into the construction—very similar in a lot of ways to the guitar I had just built for myself—only simpler without the sharp cutaway and the multi-piece back. As I got further into the construction, I realized that this was really fun, and some of the panic became excitement to see the finished product.
At around the same time, a friend at work heard that I was building guitars, and he ordered a custom Strat-style solid body. All of a sudden, I had two orders. I had never thought about this becoming a business. However, l began to develop an inkling into its possibility. From that point, I further educated myself on guitar building. I bought a couple of books on electric guitar wiring diagrams (you can see the wiring harness for the Strat below), and started expanding the tools in my shop. I also had to learn how to put a stain on a guitar. A lot of experimenting went into this step.
My effort paid off, as both guitars turned out great. Please see the photos below. I’ve lost track of the tenor guitar over the years, but my friend is still playing the Strat, which he brought over to show me about a year ago, just before I moved from Phoenix to Southern California.
Following the completion of those guitars, I continued to do repairs and a couple more custom instruments before I had an opportunity to take a giant leap in my guitarmaking. From that point forward, I knew this is what I wanted to do…Stay tuned…more to come…