Tone Tips

When You’re Ready: Custom Shop Options for the Discerning Player

You’ve waited long enough—it’s time. Time to get the guitar you’ve been dreaming about all those years. You’ve been through pawnshop specials, Guitar Center clearance deals, and the B.C. Rich hand-me-down from your older brother that quit playing guitar when he couldn’t play “Eruption” in five minutes. You’ve been through countless body styles, pickup configurations, and neck shapes. You know exactly what radius you want, and you know the wood you want the fingerboard to be. You’ve got some serviceable guitars that perform honorably through your favorite pedals and amplifier, but you are ready for Excalibur. Buying your dream guitar should be a time of fun and excitement, but it can also be very perplexing. With the number of options available today, it can be hard to narrow it down completely to find “the one.” With that in mind, I thought I’d cover a few things worth considering when you’re ready to take that step, if you haven’t already. Strap in—it’s time to talk about spending a bunch of money on a guitar.

Boutique

There are a lot of boutique brands available today. When I say boutique, I mean smaller builders, i.e., not Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, and others. These guitars are typically made in small batches—smaller than a giant corporation, anyway. Many of these brands offer their take on a classic formula. For example, Nash Guitars makes excellent Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Jazzmaster-esque models, with various custom colors and pickup options. Many of these have a relic job, if that’s your thing, but you can also order them in a clean finish. A Nash will cost you about two grand depending on what you want. There are plenty out there to choose from, or you can spec your own through an authorized dealer. Fano guitars are another great option. They look familiar, but are a departure in design from their inspirations, and the result is unique tones and looks for the player that seeks something classic yet modern. Like Nash guitars, there are several options for Fano guitars—you can purchase them pre configured, or order one with all of your favorite ingredients. TMG offers takes on classic Fender designs, as well as K Line Guitars. Rock and Roll Relics is another company that offers both Fender and Gibson-inspired models, and all of the aforementioned brands are made right here in the U.S. of A. I’m only scratching the surface here with the brands mentioned—there are many and there’s no reason to think any of them aren’t awesome. Get your hands on as many as you can and find out what works for you.

 

Custom Shop

If you prefer to go straight to the big dogs, they have plenty of high-end options for your consideration. When I say high end, I’m talking about stuff that runs at least a couple thousand dollars. That’s not to say guitars beneath that price range aren’t worthy—nothing could be farther from the truth. But guitars found in the higher price range usually cater to a certain crowd: the player that knows what he or she wants. For example, Fender recently released their Journeyman lineup of electric guitars and basses. They’re sort of an amalgamation of all things past and present. The Journeyman Telecaster offers such features as a compound radius neck on a vintage, yet modern and comfortable neck shape. Some models also have a contoured neck heel for more comfort and smoother access to the upper frets. Throw in hand-wound pickups, and you’ve got options you just won’t find on standard model guitars. Gibson has what seems to be an endless number of high-end options. There are so many series of Les Pauls available that it’s hard to keep them straight. On the low end of the high end, you have stuff like the 1958–1960 Les Paul Standard reissues. Then, if you want a crazy, super-tiger-flamed aged Lemonburst figure top, you can get one that’s been worked over by the legendary Tom Murphy, and it will likely cost as much as a quality used car. If you can, buy one used, that alone can save you well over a thousand dollars. Generally speaking, if you know exactly what you’re looking for, there is a guitar for you in the upper echelon of the big brands. These models are made for players that want a very specific thing, and don’t mind shelling out some dough to get it.

 

Made to Order

For the player that has something a little bit different in mind, this is the way to go. Have you always wanted a guitar in the shape of Florida? Perhaps you’re a die-hard Cheap Trick fan, and you want something with five necks to give you back problems on stage? Or maybe you want the most incredible, matched flame maple top, with the most exclusive hand-wound PAF replicas, but you want them in a Stratocaster-style body with a set neck and a maple fretboard? If you have the money, the sky really is the limit here. A lot of brands, including the big companies, will build whatever you want. If you have the vision, and the cash or credit line for it, they can make it happen. There are a couple things to consider when you go the made-to-order route. You have to be very careful when ordering; oftentimes there are no refunds, and once it’s done, it’s done; the instrument is all yours. Sure, you’re stoked about Clemson’s victory over Alabama, but do you really want that tiger paw on the front of your guitar? Is a purple fretboard mister right, or mister “right now”? Are you going to hold on to this guitar forever? It’s ok if you like to trade and sell gear—I certainly do. I’ve had so much stuff come in and out of my collection that I can’t remember a lot of it. If it’s possible that you may trade or sell the guitar in the future, consider how marketable it will be. Personally, I don’t ever buy things and think of them as leverage for a future deal; I get something because I really want it at that time. But time passes, and sometimes we move on from gear. That’s reality. If you know you have a tendency to keep things for a few years, then move on to something else, having a very esoteric guitar isn’t going to be the best trade bait—think of how well you’ll be able to pass it along in the future.

 

There are many roads to getting your dream guitar. In general, you’ll be spending more money than you have in the past, but that doesn’t mean you have to sell your house for it. I mentioned Nash guitars earlier, as they are one of my favorite boutique brands. Every Nash I’ve played was awesome, and you can probably find some used for around $1600. While that’s certainly more than pocket change, that is very reasonable for an instrument many players feel is on par with the relic job custom shop models from Fender. On the other end of the spectrum, you could empty your savings account for an unbelievable Nik Huber Orca, a master-built masterpiece that will have everyone ohoing and ahhing every time you take the stage. It really comes down to this: Find out exactly what you like, and determine how much you are willing to pay for it. Four thousand bucks may seem like a lot, but if it’s for a guitar that you’re going to play every day, and it brings joy to you and the people you share your music with, it’s an investment. Good luck in your search, and above all, remember that guitars are tools for making music, and making music should be fun.

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