I thought I would start this blog series with a deceptively basic question: why build a guitar? Or maybe “why I build guitars” is a better question. I mean there are a lot of other builders and companies that make stringed instruments, and between the internet & online suppliers almost anyone can put one together (or have access to all the info about building one). So why jump into this particular pool?
Simple answer: I love guitars. Since I was about 3 or 4 I loved the sound of guitars, most notably distorted guitar. First memories are of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” played on my uncle’s 8-track. Then KISS “Alive II”, Cheap Trick “Live at Budokan”… fast-forward to Van Halen’s “Unchained” and it was just all over for me. Guitars would be my life, and all consuming.
I started playing in 1985 on a used Ibanez Roadstar II (still have that one) and just couldn’t put it down. Even before that I was completely intrigued by the mechanical properties of the instrument itself: geometry, how it worked, how it was built, etc. I’d walk down the main drag of our town to the music stores & just go in and stare at the guitars. I had guitar ads & catalogs all over my room. Before I got the Roadstar I was obsessed with getting a guitar, and not just one… wanted a wall of them. I was particularly diggin’ the Ibanez Iceman & Destroyer, Gibson Explorer, BC Rich Warlock, and anything else that was “different”. Well, I’m fourteen and poor and can’t afford a wall of guitars. How hard could it be to build one? (author willfully plummets down rabbit hole)
My first “build” was ambitious: “remove” the neck from my dad’s el cheapo acoustic guitar and glue it onto my 2x4 sandwiched body blank to make an iconic BC Rich Warlock (80s metal!!!). The term “remove” is being polite… I smashed the body on a rock until the neck was “removed”. Needless to say it was less than spectacular, but it was the first step in figuring out how all this worked. Now, this is pre-internet, so trying to find actual books on construction, theory, and suppliers was somewhat limited. A few years go by and I’ve been modding other guitars (pickups, painting, etc) to suit my needs, but again… I REALLY wanted to know (mathematically & theoretically) how does an electric guitar function?
One day I stumbled upon my local luthier/repair shop and I happened to catch the owner without any customers hanging around. I pestered him for a while about how a guitar functions, and eventually (probably to get me to leave) drew a truss rod configuration on a napkin to illustrate how it worked… then promptly threw it in the garbage behind the counter & just stared at me. While I was pissed at the moment (I wanted the napkin), it was my first real nugget of knowledge outside of any “put these pickups in your guitar and you’ll sound godlike” advise. So every few months I’d visit, but avoided the owner so I wouldn’t be poking him with my questions and just hang around looking & asking about stuff. Eventually one of the techs would order me a “how to build an electric guitar” book. In hindsight I probably should have visited the library, but I digress…
Up next: “Reinventing the wheel vs just making a really cool rim” or “Your proximity to knowledge is proportional to how much you learn”.