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In 2009, James opened shop in Peterborough, Ontario. While the body shapes of his guitars are certainly influenced by Paul Reed Smith, James brings in his own creativity through the use of unconventional woods. “Because I work extensively with various exotic woods, I can make each model sound like a different type of guitar,” says James. “So it’s not specific to each model what they sound like or anything like that.”
James believes there are so many ways to achieve various tones through woods other than the standards like mahogany and maple. “You know how players are always in the pursuit of the best tone? They can hear it in their head but often don’t achieve it. With the various exotic woods out there, they can achieve that,” says James. “I think guitarists are only getting a very small portion of what’s possible.”
Other characteristics of his guitars include atypical hardware along with neck-through and string-through construction. James believes neck-through and string-through builds provide the best tone and sustain possible. And even on his fixed-bridge models, he often uses Wilkinson roller bridges (which other makers typically pair with a Bigsby) to create more tuning stability.
Now an elder statesman at age 23, James has already built 15 guitars and is busy implementing new guitar construction and design ideas. Lately, he’s been experimenting with chambering techniques. “A lot of players nowadays like really light guitars,” says James, “and it’s really hard to accomplish that when you’re using woods like African blackwood and various ebonies as the main part of the guitar. So I’ve been working with different chambering designs that are yielding incredible tone.”
The Laurent sports an extended body shape with longer horns, and has a yellowheart top with body wings made of wenge. The three-piece neck consists of yellowheart sandwiched between two pieces of bloodwood. The neck and body have a polyurethane finish, and the pickups are a pair of Seymour Duncan APH-1s. This particular guitar sold for $3600.
This model with shorter, more symmetrical horns is James’ most popular. The pictured guitar features an African blackwood top and back with an American holly center and a three-piece African blackwood neck. “It’s a pretty intense-sounding guitar because of all that blackwood, which is typically used for clarinets and bagpipes,” says James. The Xylon has a 24.562" scale, ebony pickup rings, and a Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz/SH-5 pickup configuration.
James had used the Ora for his personal guitar, but it is now available for purchase. With a 24.625" scale, it has a purpleheart top and back, a purpleheart/yellowheart/purpleheart neck, and an African blackwood fretboard. The Ora is loaded with a Seymour Duncan APH-1 in the neck position and a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates in the bridge.
The Ursa sports a 5A-grade curly maple back, a curly Macassar ebony top, a Macassar fretboard, and a three-piece Macassar neck. Although Macassar is more common than African blackwood, James says it’s still pretty rare to find a guitar with this type of ebony neck. James installed a Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz humbucker in the neck position and a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates in the bridge.
The Teraux is James’ fretless bass model, sporting a 34" scale length and a 16" fretboard radius. This bass is constructed almost entirely from African padauk, but the fretboard is made of ebony with padauk fretlines. This Teraux has Seymour Duncan SMB-4a pickups in both the neck and bridge positions, and black Wilkinson tuners.
Pricing and Availability
Every Alexander James guitar is priced individually, based on the specified woods and custom specifications. “Because I use so many exotic woods and things can get pretty crazy, it’s really all based on your imagination,” says the luthier. “They range anywhere from $3000 to $7000, but can certainly go higher.” The waiting period for a guitar is typically four months, but at press time, each featured guitar except the Laurent was for sale.