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5 Tele-Style Builders You Should Know

Bill Crook
Crook Custom Guitars

Crook Custom Guitars
Moundsville, West Virginia
Years Building: 20
Starting At: $2600
Average Wait Time: 8-10 months
Photo by Ken Blake. Photographed at Bill Crook's Moundsville shop. November 24, 2008.
How’d you get into guitar building?
Well, I’m 50 years old. Growing up around here as a kid, music stores were more worried about saxophones and violins than electric guitars. And my dad was one of those guys who, if your roof leaked, you climbed up there and fixed it; so when my guitar didn’t work, I figured out how to fix it. And I buggered up a bunch of them and went from there.

How do you approach the building of a Tele-style guitar? What’s your philosophy?
I love the looks of the past. It’s a timeless look and feel—and that tone! But for a lot of modern players there are some shortcomings that vintage instruments have. So I try to keep a lot of the looks and classic vibe, but I try to make them a little more user-friendly for modern players.

What do you mean by making them more user-friendly?
Some simple stuff, like compensated saddles and compound radiuses. Growing up, something that always drove me crazy with old Teles was trying to intonate them. And with a vintage radius, you were always hindered in how low you could get your high E string and bend it—of course, if you grew up on them, you didn’t know any better and you thought it was okay.

What would you call your flagship model?
Well, everything is built to order, so there really is no flagship model. But the basic model, if there was one, would be the 9.5 compound radius neck that I use a lot, with a very traditional bridge made by Callaham. I use those almost exclusively unless somebody’s looking for something different.

Who do you think is making the best Tele pickups right now?
You know, for the neck pickup, my favorite is the Adder Plus neck pickup; it’s a small company out of the Chicago, Illinois area, and I’ve used them for years, and they’re just a great pickup. My favorite bridge pickup is made by Peter Florance of Voodoo Pickups.

What do you hear in those pickups that you’re not hearing anywhere else?
There’s a richness in the midrange. It’ll be clean when it’s supposed to, but, like a good pickup should, when you dig in you’ll hear more harmonics and growl out of it. You know when you pick one up, and you’ve got an amp just sitting there on the edge, and you dig in and it gets big and fat? That’s what Peter’s pickup does for me in the bridge.

What makes your guitars unique?
A lot of it is the attention to detail. The final neck shaping I do by hand; I roll the edges of my necks because I want them to feel like a pair of shoes you’ve owned for years. I want it to be comfortable. The way I finish my necks is a little different, but again, it feels like old lacquer that you’ve played— it doesn’t feel sticky or glossy. I spend a lot of time on the fretwork, the nutwork, just going over the details.

My necks are held on with threaded steel inserts and machine bolts, as opposed to wood screws. I really like what it does for the sound of the guitar; it helps with the resonance and the sustain. And I build a lot of guitars that use string benders; guys are pushing down on that, and that’s anywhere from 16 to 22 foot pounds of pressure they’re applying. So besides the neck fitting in the pocket tight, it just keeps everything much more foolproof.

A lot of people know you for your paisley guitars; how did those come about?
It’s funny; I had never thought about doing them until Brad [Paisley] got his record deal—I’ve known him since he was a little kid. Myself and couple of friends of mine threw our money together, and I got the parts to build him a guitar as a congratulations present. He said that he really liked the [guitar] that I had previously built him, but he was wondering if I could do paisley. So I started researching it, and I knew that the originals had been done with a papertype covering, so I looked everywhere I could, on the internet, wallpaper stores. But even when I could find it, it looked like something from someone’s grandmother’s den. So this went on for a couple of years, and I ended up hooking up with a graphic artist. And we figured out how to do it, but it was an ongoing process of being able to get a print that looked like something— finding the right kinds of ink. Some of the first ones I sprayed—I didn’t know any better— I was using a lacquer-based sealer, and I watched the ink run right off when the lacquer hit it.

Who should be playing your guitars?
Ideally, a guitar player that wants to just play, and not fight the guitar, in terms of playability. Because ultimately you’re there to make music, and the guitar is just a tool to do that. And there’s nothing worse than trying to make music when you’ve got to worry about things like intonation. 

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