Frequently Asked Questions (With Answers!)
In the interest of giving concise and pertinent information on how I build guitars, I’ve listed commonly asked questions with my answers. Click on a question to see the answer.
In selecting from various luthier proven hardwoods, I have my own experiences to draw from as well as having read mountains of information documenting other’s experiences. There’s of course always more to learn and no two pieces of wood are exactly alike, but over time, fairly consistent qualities emerge. One can predict to a large degree which woods will be bright, will have mellow mids, will have a defined bottom, will have a growl with attitude, etc. There are so many choices that it’s usually possible to satisfy a player’s aesthetic preferences with the desired qualities of sound. Every guitar is a new adventure in trying to put together the ultimate appearance and sound. “Voodoo” enters the picture in that there’s always a theory and then there’s that magical day when the guitar is strung and played for the first time. Often a moment of surprise, but when using quality woods, parts and construction techniques, it’s most often a very pleasant surprise!
I have been asked, if a player can describe the sound qualities that they’re after, can I nail it with my wood and electronics selections? My answer is that I will take an educated shot at it and most likely get very close. I’ll also attempt to always have a variety of bass guitars on hand that I’ve built with a wide variety of wood combinations. If you can make it to my shop in Woodland Hills, California or to a guitar show that I’m doing, we can skip right passed those pesky theories and hear exactly what various wood combinations will sound like.
I try to use the best tool for the job. I constantly go back and forth between machines and hand tools. I try to be as efficient as possible but I will not design shapes based on what will be the easiest to machine. I design based on ergonomics and aesthetics and then I figure out how to best achieve those shapes.
If it was only about efficiency, many hand tools probably wouldn’t exist today. But they do exist because they’re the most accurate and best way to achieve certain results.
Here is where I likely part company with most makers. I was originally attracted to guitar making because I’m a musician, an artist and a sculptor. And making guitars involved everything I liked to do. I draw out full scale body plans on paper. I completely hand sculpt the bodies and necks with rasps, files, and sanding blocks. I feel that every piece of wood tells you something slightly different, that’s why no two of my guitars are exactly the same. I take great pleasure in the subtle differences because they are guided not be a lack of exactitude but rather the art of musical instrument making.
I have seen some manufacturing operations where the process is the following. There is much set up time, then you have a computer do a shaping operation, then there is much clean up time. In other words, the computer is doing what I consider to be the fun stuff and by doing the set up and clean up, you have to a large degree become an assistant to the computer. No thanks!! I think it’s critical in any creative endeavor to have some fun mixed in with all the hard work. Designing, shaping and sculpting is my fun!!
I feel there really isn’t one "perfect" finish, but below are descriptions of the two excellent finishes I use.
A. Hand rubbed poly/oil finish. This finish involves a multi-step process of very fine sanding, oiling, and fine wet sanding on multiple coats of oil. This oil finish contains many different resinous oils along with a small amount of urethane. It results in a beautiful permanent finish that goes into the pores, sealing and protecting the wood from the inside out. The final steps are to buff to a high sheen and wax with carnauba wax.
Pros – This finish allows wood to breathe, since the majority of the finish is in the pores and not built up on the surface. If scratched or dented it can be sanded, re-oiled and waxed, and it’s good as new.
Cons – Guitar should be waxed from time to time so there’s a small amount of maintenance involved.
B. Beautifully sprayed, extremely hard and durable finish that is hand buffed to a perfect shine. This finish can be a clear coat, sunburst or tinted with practically any transparent color desired. The articulation of wood grain with this finish is visually stunning.
Pros – Sexy finish. Hard shell protection, relatively maintenance free.
Cons – $350 up charge. If scratched or dented, this finish is more difficult to repair than an oil finish.