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Will Ray's Bottom Feeder: JSW Cutaway Guitar

Will Ray's Bottom Feeder: JSW Cutaway Guitar
Will Ray made this guitar into a cutaway, after being frustrated by the reach to the highest frets. It wasn’t easy, but he enlisted the help of a woodworker neighbor.

Oh boy! A cool custom guitar built by one of Buddy Holly’s songwriting partners.

I’m always a sucker for odd guitars, so when I saw this baby on eBay a few years ago, my picking fingers stood at attention. It had a Bo Diddley-style, rectangular-shaped body (with no cutaway at the time), Gretsch-style pickups, and a Tele control plate. It also had a Tele-style maple neck with “JSW” painted on the turquoise headstock. In doing a little research, I learned that Sonny West, a well-known guitar builder out of Texas who also co-wrote several of Buddy Holly’s hits, made this guitar. I could see potential in this guitar, so I sniped it at the last minute for $90 with free shipping.

I had some cigar stickers and put a few on it, so it could officially be classified as a cigar-box guitar now.

When it arrived, I decided there was enough room on the tailpiece side to install a Hipshot B-Bender. I also figured that since I was installing a Hipshot, I should get a better bridge to accommodate the Bender, so I installed a Wilkinson Tele Half Bridge, which can be strung from the back as well as underneath. It was easy to string the B string through the existing B-string hole on the rear of the ashtray without having to drill an extra hole to accommodate the Hipshot. I also really dig the sound of these compensated brass saddles.

Although the Sonny West-built 6-string came with Filter’Tron pickups, the Hipshot B-Bender and bridge were custom additions made by Will Ray.

I played it onstage a few times with my band and really liked the way it sounded, but wished I could do licks further up the neck. So, I took it to my neighbor, who knows a thing or two about woodworking. I explained the problem and we set about giving the guitar a cutaway. He used a band saw and carefully cut out enough space so I could have access to all the upper frets. We discovered that the body was semi-hollow, which contributed to the instrument’s light weight and resonance. He took some of the wood from the cutout and filled in the areas that were exposed by the cutaway.

Sawing the cutaway created openings in the semi-hollowbody cavity, which were expertly plugged, and then artfully decorated with cigar box stickers.

Bottom Feeder Tip #887: Before attempting to modify a guitar like this, make sure the guitar is worthy of such an endeavor. In this case, it was. I became a fan of Sonny West guitars after this experience, and have since purchased a second guitar by the builder and did the exact same thing, adding a cutaway and a Hipshot. Because I’m into cigar-box guitars, I had some cigar stickers and put a few on it, so it could officially be classified as a cigar-box guitar now.

The Fender-style headstock features the initials of the builder on its turquoise finish: “JSW” for Joe “Sonny” West, who also co-wrote the Buddy Holly hits “Oh Boy!” and “Rave On.”

So, is it a keeper? Yep. I love the sound of the pickups, and when playing in a club, the guitar can give me nice controllable feedback at around 20 watts, due to its semi-hollow construction. And the Hipshot adds a new dimension to the sound. Listen to my audio clip online and hear this baby for yourself.