Lee Garver
GMW Guitar Works

GMW Guitar Works
Glendora, California
Years hot-rodding: 20; 15 as a painter
Starting at: $1200 Base price (one pickup model); $1450 Base price (two pickup model)
Typical wait time: 5–16 weeks
How did you get into painting guitars?

Its funny because my background isn’t in art or paint… I graduated from Stanford with a Ph.D. in Synthetic Organic Chemistry. After doing that in the field for a few years, I realized that I couldn’t do that the rest of my life. I actually got my foot in the door while searching for a keyboard in the eighties. The guy who was selling it to me introduced me to Wayne Charvel. From that point, I had Wayne build me some guitars, and then I met Neal Moser because Wayne was working with BC Rich. Moser got me into the industry by building, and then as we moved into the nineties, it became more autonomous with GMW.

For painting, I set up my own booth in 1990 – 1991, and I had another guy that did all the painting. I just learned by watching over his shoulder, and in 1995 I just took it all over and painted everything myself. I just shut up, watched and took other painters’ advice.

What prompted you to go into the custom, hot-rodded paint world?

I think my influences started from just admiring the Jackson/Charvel and BC Rich companies back in the eighties. I’m a product of the Van Halen, George Lynch and Journey generation. My graphic artist, Dan Lawrence, used to work for Jackson and BC Rich, so I sort of followed into that mold because I loved and identified with those guitars. I wasn’t really a wood-based kind-of-a-guy back then; I was more interested in the graphics and flash on the guitars of those rock bands during that era. We started doing repairs and modifications on Jackson/Charvel and BC Rich guitars, and that’s how I built the GMW name.

As we moved into the nineties and the new millennium, I became disinterested in that kind of work—just this year I stopped doing repairs, modifications and new paint jobs on guitars from other companies, so we could focus solely on GMW and Empire guitars. I just turned fifty-five, so I wanted to take my company in its own direction before the wife puts the hammer down and makes me come home.

What models of guitars are you painting now?

We still have our influences from the eighties and nineties flowing in our shop with the graphics. With the Empire line, we blended it in a manner where we’ll have exotic woods, but the overlays on those will be intense graphics. We’ll cover the traditional guys with straight ahead paint schemes and colors—guys into graphics and eye-catching designs—but also a blend of both those worlds. While they may want different paint jobs and graphics, our client base seems to be rooted in that Jackson/Charvel camp of smokin’ guitars and crazy, colorful designs.

Are you guys willing to do custom orders on paint or graphics?

Yes, we’re open to custom graphics and paint ideas, but with our extensive online archives, people usually find either a design or paint scheme usually find either a design or paint scheme that works for them. And if nothing else, it provides them a starting point. People just go through our “Generator” on the site and design the guitar how they want, with several options for each area and components of the guitar. When it comes to the paint, they just simply refer to the archived graphic or paint, and we can reapply that design or graphic to their particular body style. Even if the two guitars are different, they can get a basic feeling of what will be the end product.

What seems to be the go-to setup and paint style people go with at GMW?

I’d say most of them are going to be like a Fender Strat or Jackson-esque guitars, which is our SS model. Our graphics and paint schemes seem to just flow and fit better on those styles of guitars. Probably just another nod to our influences… the eighties rock/metal movement, in line with the Jackson Soloist models. But we do stuff on the LP-style, a Star-style and even quite a few Tele-style guitars too.

What are some paint schemes that embodies what GMW is all about?

I’d have to say our hot-rod flame, snakeskin and camouflage models are our most popular, with additional paint schemes on request. Who are some artists you’ve done work for? The most recent were the two polka dot flying Vs for Zakk Wylde, plus we have also built guitars for Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters, Michael Anthony and Dweezil Zappa.

Why should someone buy a GMW guitar?

I think because we give you the most bang for your buck. We simply don’t have the massive overhead that the bigger guitar companies carry, which equates to consistent value. In addition, we listen to what you have to say and what you’re looking for in a guitar, and we make sure the end result is better than what you expected—its all about customer service and satisfaction at GMW. In fact, I answer all the emails personally and within 24 hours.

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