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.

Why do you favor neck through construction?
Physics and simplicity of design – the tuning pegs, nut, fingerboard, pickups, bridge and strings are all attached to one unbroken continuous block of wood. For the ultimate in sustain and transmission of tone from the neck and fingerboard woods, it’s the most direct way to get there. Body wings are then directly laminated to the same neck through block. It’s unibody construction from head to toe for the best overall sound transmission.

Why do you laminate the necks rather than going with a single block of wood?
The main potential draw back to neck through construction would come if you had a later problem with the neck. With neck through construction, it’s not so easy to swap out a twisted neck for a new one. Laminated necks are stronger and more stable, controlling if not completely eliminating the tension in the wood. I cut and plane the lamination strips to be quarter sawn for increased stability, and mix woods for combined wood tone properties. In addition, there can be a nice esthetic to the colors and proportions when building a neck with laminations.

There are various kinds of truss rods as well as graphite neck stiffeners. What do you use and why?
I have settled on using two way truss rods without the need for stiffeners. Having the ability to adjust a neck in both concave and convex directions gives you ultimate control. I find that the laminating process I use makes the necks very strong and stable and graphite neck stiffeners are redundant. Also, there is a certain amount of spring to a neck that is desirable, giving it an alive and responsive feel and sound.

Is wood selection somewhat arbitrary based on appearance or is there science behind your choices?

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.

What about the pickups and electronics? Many choices out there, how did you settle on what you’re using?
As the starting point, I look for a high quality durable design with an ability to reproduce sounds in an uncolored straight and true way. After that criteria is met, an ability to dial in a wide range of usable sounds. Science experiments have variables and controls. I favor an approach of settling in on a small number of electronic sets as my control and then varying the wood combinations to define the sound. I’m currently very happy with Nordstrand pickups with Aguilar preamps and Bartolini pickups with Bartolini preamps.

What about the tuners, the bridge, the strings and the strap locks?
I use Hipshot tuners for great design and quality. I use Hipshot’s A style bridges for the ultimate in sound, spacing and string height adjustability. I can obtain solid brass if preferred, but since weight is always a factor, I have gone to aluminum bridges with solid brass saddles. I find I get the best of both worlds from these bridges, great sound at roughly half the weight. I use Dunlop Dual Design strap locks because they’re bullet proof and strong and safe whether using the lock or just the strap hooks. Each bass comes with Dean Markley SR2000 medium light strings. I find them to be incredible for playability and expression.

Do you prefer to work on one guitar at a time or many guitars at a time and why?
I decided a long time ago that I would not send things over seas and that I would attempt do every phase myself. To make that work, I obviously have to be as efficient as possible. I will do operations on multiple guitars at one time when it’s the smart thing to do. As an example, it might take a half an hour of set up time to cut the fret slots in a fingerboard. Once I am precisely set up, I can do five or ten fingerboards in the time that it took me to get ready to do one. The same is true for template operations like routing for pickups and electronic cavities, cutting neck channels for truss rods, and for soldering electronics. So I do several operations that way for greater efficiency, but for the most part, I focus on each guitar one at a time.
What is your philosophy about hand tools vs. wood working machines?

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.

Where do you use computer based processes? Design? Body and or neck sculpting?

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!!

Are all of your solid body guitars completely solid or do you ever hollow them out?
I actually do some hollowing of many of the guitars both for a mellowed sound and to decrease weight. The technique of laminating a top wood to the main body wood allows for strategic hollowing. There are portions of the body wings that don’t come in contact with the electronics cavity, bridge or pickups that can be hollowed. Using woods such as wenge, cocobolo, ebony, paduok, and others, they have great tone and visual properties but are quite dense and can be very weighty. Compensating for that weight where ever possible helps to keep the overall guitar weight within reason.
What in your opinion is the perfect finish for a guitar?

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.