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Builder Profile: Veillette Guitars


Photos by Michael Bloom.

Colin Hay, a singer-songwriter who may be familiar to radio listeners as the voice of Men at Work, is also a Veillette customer. Today, Hay performs sensitive and fun acoustic shows to packed houses across the globe. He plays a Gryphon, along with Veillette Terz and Baritone models. The Terz is tuned to the player’s choice of G or A, has a scale length of 22", and is shockingly loud for its small size.

“They are built beautifully and sound fantastic—especially useful for recording as they inhabit a frequency range not usually occupied by any other stringed instrument,” Hay attests.

Wandering around Veillette’s website can be bewildering, partly due to the staggering number of models the company offers. The guitars are handmade, often custom ordered, and incorporate a wide array of options. And then there’s Veillette’s combined passion for chasing unusual sounds and giving his creations whimsical names.

“When you write a song with a Veillette guitar, you are writing it with Joe because that is his intention.” —Kaki King

The Gryphon is named after a mythical beast that is part lion and part eagle. There’s the Merlin, a high-tuned 12-string—E to E, one octave above standard guitar—that session guitarist Tim Pierce originally described as a “mandolin killer.” Then there’s the Minotaur, a short-scale bass. However unusual the names, Veillette chuckles and says there is “no rhyme or reason” to his naming conventions.

Fine Tuning
Since his medical recovery, Joe Veillette has approached everything in life, including his work, with a greater sense of rhyme and reason. After his medical scare, he married his longtime partner, Kimberly Kay, in a ceremony officiated by Michael Gurian, the same luthier who taught Veillette his first guitar-building class in the ’70s. On the business side, Veillette took a harsh stock of affairs, aided in large part by music industry attorney and veteran Ronald S. Bienstock.

“He said, ‘Joe, it looks like you’re doing great, but your company is worth nothing. You have no trademarks, you don’t have an LLC. It’s just some old machines and a bunch of wood.”

Veillette builder Ande Chase uses a go-deck and fiberglass rods to clamp down braces to a guitar body so it can set overnight. Photo by Michael Bloom.

Looking to the future, Veillette began putting into place the pieces to help solidify his legacy. Perhaps most notably, he also began to explore offshore expansion leading to the launch of his Avante line, manufactured in Korea. Based on his popular Gryphon model, the Avante instruments are exclusively licensed to adhere to Veillette’s exacting standards. They feature spruce tops, mahogany back and sides, a mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard and bridge, a piezo transducer and an active preamp. They have an 18.5" scale and are 32.5" long overall.

As someone who’s always focused on making precise tools for working musicians, Veillette was attracted to international building because of the lower prices he could offer when compared to what comes out of his three-man, entirely handtooled shop in Woodstock.

“It’s hard selling guitars at four or five grand for basic ones,” he says. “If someone sees Dave Matthews or Kaki King playing a guitar, it’s tough to tell them that they’re going to have to spend $4,500.”

The new Avante Gryphon’s are expected to retail in the $1,500 range, which Veillette acknowledges isn’t cheap but is certainly accessible to more people. And these more affordable instruments will retain the unique characteristics and qualities of his handmade models.

“These guitars are really, really good. They’re not one-third as good. They’re probably 80 or 90 percent.”

Joe Veillette retains the inquisitive nature and determination to pursue his passions that led him to walk away from architecture so many years ago. The business end of his operation may be more solidified these days, but don’t expect him to quote sales projections or quantitative analysis any time soon. Content, but not satisfied, he plans to enjoy his work.

“I’ve been making guitars since 1972 when I quit my job and I really enjoy it,” he says. “I love playing music and I love building guitars. I love the process of coming up with stuff that works and finding the way—that one little detail. I’m at a spot now where I’m really happy with my life. I can’t tell you there is any place I’m trying to get anymore. It seems like things are really coming together.”
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