What “custom made” means to me – visiting a local luthier
The common definition of custom made seems to be “made according to the specifications of an individual purchaser.” So, I guess, in the strictest sense, custom made is being fulfilled by this menu approach. However, to be a true custom builder you have to throw the menu away. When I was a kid, growing up in the UK, for some reason I was fascinated by American hot rods and choppers. Most of my pocket money went on magazines such as, Rod & Custom and Street Chopper. The machines that I drooled over were truly unique pieces of functional art. I grew up knowing that, to me, the word “custom” meant something truly special, a real one-off. If you set yourself up to build custom guitars you’ve got to listen to what the customer wants. The amount of information that is now available via the internet has, for better or worse, educated potential clients about all conceivable options, from the most mundane to the exotic.
Many guitar players, who come to me, have spent hours taking part in forums, discussing the virtues of various woods, designs, sizes, tunings, etc. They will have trawled the web looking at other luthiers’ work, picking up on styling ideas. By the time they come to me they know what their dream guitar should be like, but they also know that it doesn’t exist outside of their head. So it’s the job of the custom builder to realise those dreams. The process of listening to the client’s ideas and then developing them in to a clear design specification takes many hours of face-to-face negotiation or tens of emailed sketches and photos. There will be compromises to make, a guitar is subjected to the laws of physics and its main material, wood, has its own limitations. I also want to ensure that whatever I make, I will be proud of and not embarrassed by! In addition, the custom builder cannot be fettered by a dependency on jigs and templates – they must have the skill to be able to make something entirely by hand, back to first principles. Of course, the customers who know what they want are the easy ones! There are also those whose ideas are more abstract and require more assistance to achieve their dream guitar. I love the idea of making an instrument that is different from anything that has been made before. The time and effort involved is considerably more (and cannot always be reflected in the price, else you’d be unaffordable for many guitarists), but the satisfaction of getting to know each client and finding out what the instrument means to them is most definitely the pay-off.