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Builder Profile: First Act Custom Shop

Builder Profile: First Act Custom Shop

What pickups are the guitars usually fitted with?

Archey: We like to use Kent Armstrongs, unless the artist is endorsing another product. We'll throw in EMGs or Seymour Duncans in sometimes. If they supply their own pickups, we'll put them in there, too. Some people have their own preferences.

You guys have built several models for bigger profile acts, such as Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and Perry Bamonte of The Cure. But at the same time, there's a big underground rock focus as well.

Archey: Absolutely. One of the coolest parts of the job is getting to build guitars for bands that we all really like. When we started out, we went after what we considered to be the hipper, younger bands at the time. With what the main part of the company is making, mostly kids are going to want to buy those guitars, So we figured it was a good idea to go after those bands the younger crowd will go see, and see them playing a First Act.

Also, a lot of what we've been able to do snowballed from the work that we did with bands early on. We got hundreds of bands [interested] because of Kurt Ballow from Converge. He normally doesn't lend his name to too many brands, he plays what he likes, and he usually plays it forever. Steve Pedulla from Thursday and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were huge, too. Our Delia model is based on the guitar that we designed with Nick.

Nick Zinner's latest guitar, dubbed the Fuzzaxe has a built-in fuzz circuit.

In addition to the Delia, how many different model types do you guys offer?

McGuire: As far as the limited editions go, we actually have five total. The Lola is a pretty straightforward rock guitar, with a beveled mahogany body and a low profile bridge. The Sheena is a single cut, alder-bodied guitar with a six-in-line headstock. The Delia and Delia LS are our semi-hollow models. Finally, there's the Delgada model, which has an offset body style, and is also available in a bass form. Of course, we do numerous body shapes and styles for artists when requested.

Tell us about some of those.

McGuire: The first guitar that we built for Brent Hinds [Mastodon], a double cutaway model with the offset lower horn, is one of them.

Archey: Another one is the dual guitar-bass that we built for Takeshi from Boris. I'm a huge Boris fan, and they wanted to come by when they were in the New York area a while back. I said, "Absolutely!" [laughs] He literally came by with mechanical drawings from a friend of his in Japan of what he roughly wanted.

McGuire: Roughly? I wouldn't say that!

Archey: [laughs] Yeah, they were actually dead-on diagrams. We had to tweak it a little bit, and we also had to downsize the scale slightly. He's like, 5'7" and 100 pounds sopping wet. I think it came out great.

The Boris guitar-bass doubleneck

Out of all of the custom instruments that you guys have had a hand in, what are your personal favorites?

Archey: That's tough, there are so many good ones. Well, as a bass player, I love the Takeshi [Boris] double-neck, and I like the Kelson Louis [Future Of The Left] Delia LS bass. Guitar-wise, I'm kind of leaning towards the recent one that we did for Steve Pedulla [Thursday], which was a hollowbody, offset doublecut monster. Those are my few that stand out right now.

McGuire: For me, I'd have to say the doublecut, 9-string carved top that we did with Matt Pike is one of my favorites. That one in particular is one that will always stick in my head. When he was telling us what he wanted, it was almost surreal. I had always wanted to do something for the guy, and I've been listening to his music since I discovered his old band Sleep in high school. So that whole situation of talking about what he wanted in a guitar, while he's telling us that he's eating a steak with his bare hands, was really strange.

Matt Pike's 9-String Double Cut

I really wanted him to play what we made for him, and I was a little worried that he wouldn't after a while. That guitar, with three doubled high strings, is the kind of thing that some people would try once then put in the closet. We put a lot of work into that one, from redesigning the stop bar and making adjustments to our original doublecut, carved top design. It's also one of those things where, being that we'll build what you want, you've got to be a little careful in what you say. Part of that conversation with him was, "I like a heavy guitar dude...make it real heavy." So, we did. He never did once complain about it, and I've got to hand it to him. He turned it into his main axe.

Archey: I think that we've done so well because we're just having a blast doing it.

McGuire: Oh yeah. I mean, even before we were working with Mastodon and High On Fire, it was great just being asked what artist I wanted to build for.

Archey: That's one of the coolest things about being here, that everyone is pretty involved. Half the time, I'll go up to one of the luthiers and ask them what their favorite band is, or what they're listening to that they're really into right now. After that, we'll go after them and see if they want a guitar. It kind of keeps everything as a little community within our shop, and makes the guys feel really good because they get to build something for somebody that they really like.

How long does one of these custom guitars take, on average?

McGuire: You know, it varies. It's usually anywhere between six weeks and four months, depending on how many artists and customers are already in line for a guitar, and the time we spend prototyping stuff.

Can a non-touring guitarist order a custom build?

Archey: We're totally open to anybody wanting a guitar. Just get in touch with us and we'll talk.

How would one go about doing that?

Archey: If a player is interested, they can contact us through the Customer Service page on our website, and John will work with them to get a price quote out. They can also email me at if they have any questions.
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