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The term “custom guitar” means different things to different people. To some it means slapping cool Duncan pickups, a Hipshot bridge, and Sperzel tuners on a Warmoth body and neck. To others it means a guitar put together by a name builder with a body shape, neck profile, components, and wood chosen from a menu of options. However, to David Myka of Myka Custom Guitars, custom means custom—as in, you can commission a solid, hollow, or semi-hollow guitar in any shape you want. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can design the body shape and the Seattle-based luthier will bring your idea to life and fine-tune it to become the instrument of your dreams. Alternatively, you can choose one of Myka’s existing models as a starting point for a custom guitar. If you’re ultra-picky and have primo access to a good stash, you can even supply your own woods.
Myka is driven by a desire to push the envelope with guitar design. A self-taught luthier, he started building guitars in his teens using old 6-strings he found in the trash and gathering what he could from broken radios for parts. He took wire from transformers and wrapped it around 6-penny nails to make crude pickups. The first guitar he built had nuts and bolts for tuning keys.
Then, Myka purchased Steel-String Guitar Constructionby Irving Sloane. The book’s last chapter showed James D’Aquisto building an archtop guitar, and that image got Myka hooked—as you can tell by the homage-paying contours in the latter’s single-cutaway archtops. After digesting the D’Aquisto chapter, Myka started making carvedtop guitars. Many years later, in 2001, he took a class from Harry Fleishman to learn more about acoustic guitars.
Currently Myka guitars have a waiting period of six to 12 months (or more, depending on the level of customization). To get the inside story on these extraordinary instruments, we asked Myka to share his perspective and philosophy of guitar making.
What type of players are drawn to Myka guitars?
I tend to attract people who are looking for something very specific they haven’t been able to find elsewhere. It could be something completely custom or something that is inspired by a classic, but built to the highest standards. The truth is, I love a good challenge, and when I get a napkin sketch or a wild concept, I won’t hesitate to build it.
Do you have standard offerings as well, or is everything custom?
The core of my work is custom construction. However, I do have a standard set of about five body shapes to choose from, as well as custom design services. Each guitar shape can be made into a solidbody, archtop electric, or acoustic instrument. Quite often, it’s a hybrid of these construction styles. Every guitar includes a custom scale length, neck carve, and pickup and electronics layout, with the option of any binding and trim woods available. I also offer acoustic flattop and archtop designs, as well as any custom designs that can be made into an instrument without breaking the known laws of physics. So I guess that covers everything!
Have you ever turned away work before?
Yes. I do not build replica guitars. My goal is to expand the concept of the guitar, to refine and evolve it into something new. I certainly take inspiration from classics, but I prefer to work with my own designs.
How many guitars do you build a year?
Currently, I build about 16 to 20 guitars a year. That number is growing, and my plan is to build about 60 guitars next year, including my personal custom work. The standard work is done more efficiently, but the full-on custom work always takes extra time, so I manage it on a separate schedule.
What’s the ordering process?
Typically, there is an initial conversation about what type of guitar you want to have built. This leads into the design phase, which can last for a few weeks or more as every detail is pored over until a design emerges. For new shapes and guitar concepts, this phase can take months. I actually had one design phase—the fretless Dragonfly #071—last over a year. But, in the end, the design was nearly perfect—at least in my mind. The design phase ends with a spec. Then I work out a rough idea of the building timeline and I start when the time slot opens up in my schedule. During construction, I update my clients with photos and emails to keep them in the loop.