Pierre-Marie Châteauneuf, who handcrafts guitars out of a one-man workshop in the small town of Montferrier-sur- Lez outside Montpelier in Southern France, says it was Slash that “injected the guitar venom” into him when he was 14. That same year, he got his first taste of lutherie when he sought someone to fix his very first guitar that was “just impossible to play.”
Châteauneuf had always been good with his hands—growing up he built toys with his amateur-woodworker grandfather. At age 16, he made his unofficial start as a luthier when his best friend approached him to fix a broken-in-two guitar. Because the result was so successful, several other guitar-playing friends started coming to Châteauneuf with their instruments.
But Châteauneuf didn’t jump into a fulltime building career right away. He was still primarily interested in playing the guitar, so he went the prestigious Paris Conservatoire to study music for a few years. It wasn’t until 2003 that he built his first electric guitar with help from friends, books, and the internet. After a one-year apprenticeship in 2005 building acoustic guitars with French master-luthier Claude Fouquet, Châteauneuf opened his own shop the following year.
Châteauneuf says that any form of art, be it architecture or African art, can be a source of inspiration for him. He also says that shapes—from that of a snake to the curves of a woman—can inspire him as well, but that he’s always trying to create his own thing. This is quite evident with some of his more unique instruments like the guitar/oud hybrid Byblos models and the futuristic-looking Mamba.
One unique characteristic of Châteauneuf’s building philosophy is his approach to finishes. While he utilizes many finishes, he prefers to use oil for his electric guitars instead of the lacquer used for most mass-produced instruments. The luthier favors oil because it permits the natural aging of tonewoods to continue more than lacquer, it feels unique, and allows for easier modifications and repairs.
When it comes to electronics, Châteauneuf’s current favorite combination is a single-coil in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge, as seen on the Blast Montréal. Though he uses a wide variety of pickups, he prefers French boutique makers, especially Benedetti and SP Custom, who offer a “custom-made sound and look.” At least for the near future, it looks like Châteauneuf will continue to search out the best possible pickup options for his instruments rather than make his own. “I like woodworking, but winding a wire around a magnet is not my cup of tea,” shares the luthier.
To Châteauneuf, “custom” means everything is possible and he offers his customers the widest possible range of customization possible. He encourages clients to be involved with selecting not only the woods and colors of an instrument, but also the shape, and possibly even coming up with an entirely new instrument concept. Handcrafting each instrument with traditional woodworking machines, Châteauneuf enjoys the one-on-one interaction with his clients, and keeps them involved throughout the entire process by sending them emails and pictures at every step. It’s no wonder the luthier cites dealing with the search for excellence while trying to deliver instruments on time as his biggest day-today challenge.
Pricing and Availability
Châteauneuf builds 10-15 guitars per year and the current wait time for a custom instrument is approximately four months. His electric guitars with an oil finish start at $2,000 (excluding shipping and taxes), but Châteauneuf says that can vary greatly with the large selection of woods, neck joints, electronics, finishes, and inlay options he is able to offer. Pricing for the Acoustic Byblos starts at $4,500. PMC guitars can be purchased directly through Châteauneuf or by contacting Kelcey Alonzo with Custom Guitar Boutique in New York.
The Montréal version of Châteauneuf’s “Blast” design— his flagship model—features a one-piece body constructed of African mahogany and a bolt-on, handcarved Peruvian walnut neck that’s capped with an Indian rosewood fretboard. Sporting a glossy Tru-Oil finish, the 25.5" scale Blast Montréal is outfitted with a Hipshot Hardtail bridge, Grover locking tuners, and for electronics, a Benedetti Single Rock in the neck and a Benedetti Cream in the bridge.
The Electric Byblos is cross between an oud and an electric guitar. With African mahogany at its core, the tung oil-fi nished top, back, and bolt-on neck are all constructed from 20-yearold African padauk. The 25.5" scale, fretless Electric Byblos has an ebony fi ngerboard with padauk fret markers, and like the acoustic version, has a total of 11 strings. For electronics, the instrument is outfi tted with a pair of Seymour Duncan SHR-1 Hot Rails that are loaded directly into the body, which forgoes the need for pickup rings.
The Xav’s one-piece, classic-looking body is constructed from a single piece of African mahogany that’s topped with highly fi gured spalted maple, and fi nished with natural lacquer. Also utilizing African mahogany for the neck, Châteauneuf topped the neck with an ebony fretboard that’s subtly decorated with rosewood inlay work between the 12th and 15th frets. Loaded up with Seymour Duncan pickups with a TB4 in the bridge and an SBDR-1 in the neck, other features of the Xav include the onboard Black Ice overdrive, Hipshot BabyGrand bridge, and Grover locking tuners.
Built as a special project for a good friend (and first drawn as a rough sketch on a stamped envelope), the Mamba is no doubt something to behold. Constructed of three pieces of wood that run the entire length of the instrument, the neck-through center section is padauk, while the two pieces that surround it and make up the rest of the guitar are korina. This unique design results in increased strength and stability, as well as increased vibration transmission throughout. The Mamba is adorned with mother-of-pearl vertical-block inlays across an ebony fretboard, has a lacquer gloss finish, and is outfitted with Steinberger tuners, a Hipshot Hardtail bridge, and a single, special-order Benedetti pickup.
Châteauneuf’s award-winning Acoustic Byblos is a hybrid between an oud and a guitar. Allowing guitarists to access Eastern sounds with the playability of a traditional guitar, the handcarved hybrid is constructed of African mahogany and padauk for the body and neck, Sitka spruce for the top, and the fretless ebony fingerboard is adorned with padauk fret markers. The Acoustic Byblos has a total of 11 strings—and with the exception of the 11th string—they are doubled and tuned in unison or an octave apart.
Châteauneuf builds basses as well, and his Blast BassX fretless 4-string boasts his signature PMC Blast design. He uses gorgeously figured flame maple to top the African mahogany body, and also utilizes flame maple for the bolt-on neck and the inlay work located on the fretless ebony fingerboard. Dressed with black stain and a Tru-Oil and wax gloss finish, the Blast BassX is outfitted with a Hipshot bridge, Gotoh tuners, and a pair of EMG 35DC active pickups.