Sara Ray Studios
What is your definition of
Sara Ray Studios
Long Beach, California
Years hot-rodding: 20+
Starting at: varies
Typical wait time: varies
A lot of the guitar heroes have hot rods and
whatnot; I think it’s all part of the customized
lifestyle. That’s where you want more
out of everything. You can start out with
what everybody’s got, and that’s fine, but
some people want to add their personal
touch to it. It’s all very personal—some
guys will paint a ridiculously out-of-control,
chopped and dropped hot rod bright pink—
it’s just what they want. There’s no way to
rationalize it, because it’s all personal taste.
You grew up around hot rods, right?
Yeah, living in California and having a family
that was involved heavily in that, there were
always custom cars around. I literally grew
up on the beach, and that’s where you’d
take your car: down to the beach. There’s a
big culture of it that really began out here.
You’ve done some cool work with fellow
SoCalites at Fender’s Custom Shop. How
did that come about?
Someone at Fender/Gretsch came to me…
I think they actually found me at one of the
big car shows, because a lot of the builders
love cars and motorcycles, and they’re usually
there. And they asked me if I’d paint
a guitar but they didn’t give me a theme.
That turned into the Victory Guitar, which
was a Gretsch 6120 that was going to be
for the NAMM show in Tennessee. I did
a WWII [theme], not really sure what they
wanted from me, and it’s now on display at
the 8th Air Force museum.
Did the company just send you a 6120?
When I get the guitars, it’s just the bodies
usually, but sometimes I get the neck too.
It all varies; every single one has been different
and there’s really no standard. But I
live fairly close to the custom shop, and the
builders all live around me, so it’s pretty convenient.
I can call them or they just come by
the house—they like coming by the house
anyway, because they get to see all my stuff.
I understand you do an impressive
amount of research on your projects.
Some people have a limited knowledge of
what they’re looking for, especially with history
and artifacts, like airplanes. I make it
a point to spend a lot of time around the
actual things I admire like that. I’ve been on
most of the airfields on the West Coast and
to military museums all throughout Europe.
I meet a lot of people that are involved
with it, and so I have a big network of people
that I can go to for information.
It’s really important for me that it’s as historically
accurate as it can be for a paint
job. I’m not sure what it is, but ever since I
can remember, I’ve always been completely
enthralled by history and wars and whatnot.
I think it’s a past life kind of thing. [laughs]
You antique your guitars? What do you
like about that technique?
They’re all antiqued generally. I don’t think
there are a lot that haven’t been aged that
much. But being surrounded by antiques,
I like them better. Everything I have is
older and some of the stuff I have is almost
ruined, old and just falling apart, but it gives
it such personality. I try to take that and
reproduce it on something to give it a little
bit of history, to give it a little bit more story.
I don’t really buy anything new that I don’t
have to; everything is old and beat up, and
when you have a house filled with that, it
really is a whole different kind of world.
You’re also using a matte finish on a
lot of these guitars.
Yeah, pretty much. I don’t think I’ve ever
been asked for a gloss finish. If it’s a
Masterbuilt guitar, we talk about what it
should look like when it’s done, and they’ve
all agreed with me on the finishes I pick. It’s
all been matte or satin; there have been a
couple of flats, but I don’t think I’ve done a
glossy one yet.
And if I customer is interested, they
should just get in touch with you?
Definitely. I tell people, “The quickest way
to get something done by me is to get it
started.” If you wait and you want deadlines,
there’s no way to know because each
project is so different and there’s really
no set standard of how long it’s going to
take or what I’m going to do with it. The
Red Baron guitar took three whole months,
and it was just an adventure in guitars. I
lived and slept it for three months; it was
constant reference work. I flew to London
and went to the Imperial War Museum. And
then some only take me like two weeks. I
like to do pinups that are a little different,
and I can do those fairly quickly, but it still
requires two solid weeks of work. I wake
up, I have my coffee and start and don’t
stop until the sun comes up.