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Commissioning a Custom Instrument

So you're looking for a new guitar. Commissioning a custom-made instrument gives you nearly infinite options. Imagine a gem crafted by hand from exotic solid woods and polished to highlight the dazzling beauty only nature can provide. Imagine the feel of a neck carved to fit precisely into your own hand. Now imagine that this has been done exclusively to bring your musical vision to life.

If you can imagine it, I can build it. The first step is to consult you, the player. A fine instrument should last you the rest of your life, so it is imperative that it be exactly right for you. We would consider your playing style and technique, the "look" you like, the kind of sound you want, the amount of versatility you need, and of course your budget. This consultation is arguably the most important part of the building process, so we'll take as much time as we need to get it right.

Because each guitar is hand made individually, it can be built to almost any shape. While I specialize in ergonomically-shaped instruments, together we can determine what works best for you particular playing style. Ideas will be refined through concept sketches before a final plan is drawn up. For some ideas, see my Gallery.

For electric guitars and for the back, sides and neck of acoustic guitars, nearly any timber of sufficient strength and stability can be used, although each will tend to impart a certain tone. There are dozens of choices available, ranging in colour from white to black, green to purple, and everything in between. They may be austere or wildly figured, very light or extremely dense, and can be economical or breathtakingly expensive. Fretboards, bridges, and tailpieces are generally made from matching pieces of ebony, maple, or various species of rosewood, although other species can be considered. Inquiries are always welcome- I can help you make the right choices to create the appearance and tone you want.

You may want a purely acoustic instrument, or to have a pickup installed which faithfully reproduces the acoustic sound of the instrument. For electric guitars you may want a vintage-style pickup, a cutting-edge modern design, or some unique custom electronics, including MIDI. There are many terrific pickups and preamps available on the market to be built into an instrument, as well as some pickup winders who can create totally custom designs; contact me for more information.

My guitars are now normally finished with a premium natural-resin-modified oil. This is a very thin finish that lets you see and feel the grain and colour of the wood in a way that regular lacquers can't match. While robust, water- and solvent-resistant, it is still easy to retouch if needed, and will age gracefully to a warm satin patina. You may instead opt for a traditional french polish finish. This is more fragile and time-consuming to apply, and is best used only on the finest acoustic instruments where it can be appreciated for its beauty and tonal transparency. I prefer to use clear and uncoloured finishes, the better to demonstrate the incredible natural beauty of fine wood.

Since I don't have the overhead of a factory, a marketing department, or a large workforce, my guitars can cost little more than a top-quality factory-made guitar. Here is a range of values (in Canadian dollars) for a basic custom instrument:

Electric guitar or bass: $4000 and up

Flat-top guitar: $5000 and up

Archtop Guitar: $10,000 and up

Requesting exotic woods, custom contouring or advanced electronics systems will raise the price, but I am still committed to providing excellent value. To see some examples of what's possible, view my Gallery.

When the design has been finalized I will provide you with a price quote. The price becomes "locked-in" and construction begins upon receipt of a 30% non-refundable deposit. If requested, I will provide periodic progress reports, with photo, so you can see your guitar take shape.

It takes time to produce a one-of-a kind instrument; expect your custom order to take 8 months or more to be completed. After receipt of the final payment, the instrument is yours. It will carry a 10-year warranty for the original owner, meaning that I will replace or repair anything within the terms of the warranty free of charge. But that's not all: you have two weeks to decide if the guitar lives up to your expectations. In the unlikely event that the guitar is not to your satisfaction, you can return it for a refund (minus the 30% deposit).

One-of-a-kind guitars made in this way are the ultimate expression of the luthier's art. Expect the guitar to undergo some changes in the following months and years. It will probably need minor adjustments after a few months as the wood settles into its new life as a musical instrument. Some woods will change colour over time, sometimes very noticeably. The tone of the instrument also matures, quite dramatically at first, then more slowly, but always for the better. You will adapt to your instrument in wonderful and subtle ways, and it will adapt to you.