Which components are outsourced?
I outsource hardware and electronic components, such as tuning keys,
pickups, and electronic switches. Oh, and cases. In the future, I will
be machining more of my own hardware. But all of the woodworking
is done in-house and always will be.
How do you go about selecting and mating pickups for your
That really depends on the design and tonal goals of the project, but
my clients tend to drive this decision based on what they want from
the guitar. I am fortunate that we have Jason Lollar nearby. I use his
pickups in most of my guitars because they are well made and they
bring out the nuances of my guitars quite well. His ability to nail a
custom design is uncanny. If I have a selection I need to choose from, I
use my ears.
How has your approach to building guitars evolved or changed
over the years?
My approach has always been experimental, and that has allowed me
to explore construction concepts and theories that are unorthodox
and somewhat radical. I also get to design and build some pretty
out-there stuff. I still believe the guitar is an acoustic instrument,
and this has shaped the way I design and work. But my craft continues
to evolve due to the fact that I am constantly learning about
what makes a great guitar. What I’m building today I feel is light-years
ahead of where I started. I hope to look back in five years and
think the same thing about today.
What do you consider to be your most unorthodox and radical
theories and approaches?
From a theoretical perspective, I do not differentiate between acoustics
and electrics. I see them at opposite ends of the same spectrum. The
concept of a solidbody acoustic allows me to incorporate ideas from
both ends of the spectrum. Without giving too much away, I will say
that I have developed acoustic designs that allow characteristics of a
solidbody to shine through, and vice versa. The design and construction
techniques play out more in my semi- and full-hollowbody and
acoustic-style guitars, which are much more complex structurally. Being
self-taught, I design bracing systems to fit the design I am working
with. So the “out-there” construction concepts relate to blocking and
tonal-structural bracing designs that are very different than the typical
X- and parallel-bracing systems employed by the vast majority of guitars
today, both acoustic and electric. Just take a look at the Flaretone
design or my Hollow Dragon to see some of these concepts at work.
I understand you burned a guitar you deemed a “tonal dud.”
Others might have passed it off as a factory second.
The guitar that I burned was a simple case of catharsis. It was a very
early guitar for me—my seventh—and I was exploring the concept of
solidbody acoustics. I was looking for the sweet spot, in terms of chambering
depth as it relates to the overall resonance. Well, I found it and
proceeded to pass it by rather quickly. I routed away too much vital wood
and the guitar lacked the vibrancy and liveliness my other guitars had. It
sat for two years before I finally got tired of thinking of ways to fix it. So
to get it out of my mind, I got together with another builder who also
had a problem guitar, and we took them out back and had a burning.
What amps do you use for testing guitars?
I use a Siegmund Midnight Special, which I like because it brings out
the acoustic qualities of electric guitars. It gives me insight into how
the small choices add up in the finished instruments.
Tell us about your full-access, heelless acoustic neck joint.
The full-access neck heel is the most amazing neck joint ever, what else
do you need to know? Seriously, this neck joint came out of a year-long
design concept to bring electric guitar playability to the acoustic realm.
The prototype design was built into a 3"-thick guitar body, and it has
the best neck access of anything I have ever built, solidbodies included.
I only wish it wasn’t so time consuming to construct. But the success
of the design makes it worthwhile, as there are a number of benefits
over a traditional acoustic neck joint. Because of the solid coupling, the
notes have consistent tone and resonance all the way up to the last fret.
Also, the neck geometry is stabilized to an extent that it should never
need a neck reset.
What’s in store for you in the future?
Full-sized acoustics with full-access neck heels, of course! It is the
culmination of my quest for the perfect acoustic guitar for electric
players. And, yes, there will be archtops with the new heel design or
some variation. Also, in the next few months I will be introducing an
exciting new series of guitars featuring the Skyway tremolo.
What is it about the Skyway that excited you enough to design a
whole series around it?
The Skyway takes a new approach to the tremolo that results in
a near-frictionless system, with direct acoustic coupling to the
body. This results in a trem that has the tuning stability and tone
transfer of a hardtail bridge. It is quite incredible actually. In addition,
they are very lightwieght, which makes them attractive to
me for unconventional usage. I can’t say too much more about
the new designs right now except that they will be unique in the
Tell us about some of your benchmark guitars.
The first benchmark guitar for me was my own personal solidbody,
serial #001. This was the first electric guitar where I deliberately
applied all of the acoustic principles I had learned from Harry
Fleishman. The result was an electric guitar that had amazing
depth, clarity, and a complexity—or, better yet, a musicality
my instruments had never had before. I realized I was onto something
when I got a comment at a guitar show from a gentleman
who said he never liked electric guitars before, but found mine
to be very musical. The next benchmark is the Dragonfly design,
starting with #015. This guitar blended the framework of an
electric guitar with an archtop to produce an acoustically rich,
electric-fusion guitar. It is still my most popular model and one
of the most flexible, in terms of tonal variety and design. I have
built several versions with different levels of hollowness, and each
one is a successful design in its own right. The Falcon #066 and
the Hollow Dragon #082 both follow in this series, as the design
becomes more acoustic in nature, yet remains firmly rooted in electric
Which guitars are personal favorites?
A while back, I built an all-Madagascar-rosewood electric that was
just amazing. That guitar could do anything, and it was beautiful and
smelled so good! Recently, I built a fantastic Dragonfly (#092) that’s
simply stunning. The tones were beautiful and the guitar just felt so
good to play. But my true favorite is always the one I’m going to build
next—it’s an obsession.
Do you ever have a hard time letting go of a guitar?
Oh yeah, it can be tough. I sometimes wish I could keep one for myself.
But my chosen path is to provide the tools. The best thing is to hear the
music played with these instruments. That makes it worthwhile.