Hand Guitars was founded by luthier JP
Thomas, a self-proclaimed “tinkerer”
who learned about guitars by taking apart his
first guitar—a late-’40s Sears-Roebuck resonator.
Before long we was rebuilding friends’
guitars, and then he landed a gig at an L.A.
music store in the ’60s. Twenty years ago, he
left the States for Australia, Indonesia, Japan,
and finally to Hawaii.
“While collecting old pickups, I decided
in 2003 to build my own relic’d guitars to
hear the pickups,” says Thomas. “As guitar
production progressed, so did my enthusiasm
for exotic materials from previous projects in
Asia—such as coconut shells, bamboo, and
cinnamon bark. In October 2009, I had one
of those ‘aha!’ moments: I glanced over at a
gecko figurine on my desk that polymer-clay
artist Jon Anderson had given me 10 years
prior, and I envisioned those patterns on a
guitar. That flash literally catalyzed the entire
Hand Guitars project.”
The polymer-clay aspects of Hand Guitars’
subsequent projects were designed, created,
and controlled by artist Anderson, who has
been working with polymer clay for 20 years.
Anderson applied his three-dimensional artwork
and processes to create two-dimensional
graphics that would work on Thomas’ guitars.
“I took knowledge from my glass-making
techniques to help transform the clay designs
into something thin, audio-transparent, and
applicable to the shapes and contours of a guitar’s
body,” says Anderson. The polymer clay is
bought, designed, and molded in a soft, Play-
Doh-like compound that is then heated to
create a 3mm-thick cap for a guitar body. The
resulting polymer clay is more like the acrylic
on pickguards than its original, gooey, molding
state. (Visit hand-guitars.com/node/71
see video of Anderson’s polymer-clay work.)
Naturally, gearhounds will want to know
how the polymer clay affects the guitars’ tone.
“The tone of our electric guitars comes from the
thickness of the neck, the quartersawn Canadian
maple, the rosewood or ebony fretboards, the
TonePros, Gotoh, and Hipshot hardware, bushings
that are deeply mounted into the one- and
two-piece bodies, the Duncan pickups, and the
vintage, paper-in-oil capacitors,” says Thomas.
“For us, I think it’s important that we started
with guitars that players already understand. The
current line of Hand Guitars are certainly reminiscent
of all the guitars I have ever owned and
appreciated, but my sole design objective was to
create shapes that were suitable canvases for the
unique materials that Jon and I create.”
The Telepath model shown above is nicknamed
“KoKo” and it has a two-piece tropical
ash body that features a 3mm coconut-shell
mosaic cap. It’s assembled with a slender,
C-profile Sulawesi ebony neck with 21
jumbo frets. Other appointments include a
coconut-shell composite nut, Gotoh tuners,
and high-quality, medium-torque 250k Bourn
pots. This one is fitted with Seymour Duncan
Vintage Stack Tele single-coils.
This Strat-style model features a two-piece
tropical ash body that’s covered with
Anderson’s voodoo-influenced polymer-clay
art and loaded with three custom, handwound
pickups. It has a slender, C-profile maple neck
topped with a 21-fret maple fretboard. The
nut is made from a coconut-shell composite.
The 25 1/2"-scale Tonero features a one-piece
East Java mahogany body with a Polynesian
tribal-style polymer-clay center panel and a,
three-piece mahogany neck with a Sulawesi
ebony fretboard that has 22 jumbo frets. The
hardware includes a TonePros ATVII wrap-around
bridge, a choice of Hipshot or Gotoh
tuners, and a coconut-shell truss rod cover.
This particular model is equipped with
Seymour Duncan P-Rails, but several pickup
options are available.
Pricing and Availability
Hand Guitar’s handbuilt, one-of-a-kind
custom guitars range anywhere from $1800
to $3600, depending on the complexity
of the design and how much polymer clay
is applied to the guitar. More intricate
polymer-clay designs can go for as much as
$6000. “We’re open to just about anything
you dare to dream,” says Thomas. Currently,
Hand Guitars’ wait time is
about three months.