Jay Monterose

Bergenfield, New Jersey
Years Building: 25
Starting At: $5000
Average Wait Time: 6 mos. - 3 yrs.
Photo by Will Barrientos. Photographed at Lark Street Music, November 25, 2008.
Have you always been playing Telecasters? What have you discovered about the instrument over the years?
Absolutely not. I did the same thing that Danny [Gatton] did; I was playing Gibsons for years before I got to the Telecaster thing. The Telecaster thing started in the D.C. area because Roy Buchanan was playing. And nobody had ever heard anybody do that with a Tele before, so it opened up a lot of our heads about what you could actually do with that guitar.

So we started playing those guitars, and then we discovered their shortcomings. There’s a lot of great attributes to the’ 53 Tele. It’s odd to think that the first production guitar would end up being the best platform all of these years out, but we didn’t like the fact that you couldn’t get the guitar to intonate. The bridge plate was floating on the guitar; there was enough space to slip your business card under the front of it, and with the bridge plate not making full contact with the body, it would oscillate, causing the pickup to feedback and squeal. So we knew that was kind of screwed up. Also, the necks would loosen and shift in the pocket, causing string misalignment.

What did you do to address problems with the neck pocket?
In the process of addressing this, and the other shortcomings, we ended up creating a new paradigm in solidbody guitar construction. We designed, engineered and produced high-quality hardware based on this theory of mechanical connection. With repeated removal of the neck for adjustments and service, the wood screw holes would strip out, allowing the neck to shift. We came up with a system where we drill and tap the hard rock maple and install carbon steel threaded anchors. We also replaced the wood screws with stainless steel machine threaded screws. Our choice of hardware allowed us to retain the vintage look, but without the neck shift. And with the neck drawn down under maximum compression, the result is unparalleled resonance and sustain.

How did you apply the concepts to the rest of the hardware?
The saddles are made of the best material—no cheap stuff here—and I actually invented the vintage-style barrels that intonate perfectly. With the bridge we started with a special alloy that enhances tonal characteristics and sits flat on the body, transferring maximum string energy and sustain. Because of the special alloy we use, our bridge does not affect the sensitive magnetic flux field of the pickups; the pickup sees only the vibrating strings.The hardware is machined, not stamped. I make every piece by hand personally—I consider it a real art. Others have tried and failed to match my quality of craft or tone, but it all starts in my hands.

Why aren’t more guys doing it your way?
Mass producers can’t do it my way. The handmade quality comes from being a true craftsman and artist. I have total command of my skills and tools. Most guitar guys don’t have the same expertise, knowledge and creative ideas. The ones that do can’t execute it in the same way. We’re all unique in our talents; I happen to be a player and a builder. I’ve never understood builders who can’t play on a professional level or push the envelope of their designs. Necessity is the mother of invention; Danny Gatton and I had to build our own Tele-style guitars because there wasn’t anything commercially available at the time that met the demands of our playing, and our pursuit of perfection.

What is your flagship model?
I make total art-style guitars called the DG5394 and 5394. I’ve spent years refining them to be the finest handmade Tele-style guitars available anywhere, handmade with premium old-growth wood completely by me. Other than the fretwire, tuners and stainless screws, we manufacture everything else—from an exact replica of a ’53 Tele body to handmade Charlie Christian pickups. All of the patterns, templates and fixtures are based on my Tadio Gomez ’53 Esquire and are dimensionally accurate to .020”. You can’t tweak them any further!

What kind of pickups are you using in the 5394?
The two basic options available are the “vintage- style” handwound single coils spun on Danny Gatton’s homemade pickup winding machine that he had wound on since 1967. He even showed Seymour Duncan how he wound flatpole Broadcaster pickups on this unit back in the day! This also includes the “Chuck Christian” models on the DG5394. For the hi-fi humbucking freaks, we incorporate the “rocket science” d esigns of pickup giants Bill and Becky Lawrence.

Who are you guitars meant for?
Vintique guitars are for anyone who loves the fifties-style Teles, but requires a no-holds-barred platform to execute the highest order of functionality in this type of instrument. It’s as versatile as the artist playing it. Tele giants from James Burton to The Hellecasters use our hardware, and Danny Gatton, Bill Kirtchen and Jim Weider have played the guitars as well. Vintique is also currently building guitars for Vince Gill and jam band king Steve Kimock.

Some people have raked you over the coals for fulfillment problems and lengthy waits. Is that fair?
Thanks for asking that! The music business and industry as a whole can be tough. It’s not easy to be an artist making music or to achieve a high art in manufacturing. Unless you have a golden horseshoe buried where it counts, it’s a labor of love. I’ve been dragged about with promises and been taken advantage of, and unfortunately some of my clients have had to endure the lows with me. The good news is that this year my pal Steve at Angela Instruments will be distributing our hardware, and I’ll have guitars at Gothic City Guitars as well.