Reader Guitar of the Month: Guitiki
This month’s guitar, inspired by trans-Pacific tiki art, is elaborately decorated from top to bottom and has eyes that light up in sync with the music being played on it.
Inspired by a family trip to Hawaii in the mid 2000s, I discovered a passion for creating tikis. I’m also someone who enjoys playing surf tunes on the guitar, and I combined my design and 3D-modeling skills to craft unique tiki-inspired art to attach to my Gretsch. Driven by a desire to take it to the next level, I then wanted to design and build an entire tiki-themed guitar. But while I had the design aspect covered, I lacked the necessary woodworking skills and equipment to bring it to life.
Fortunately, my friend and colleague David Thiele, a seasoned woodworker, was on the verge of retirement and planning to invest in a CNC machine. Eager to embark on this project together, we began our collaboration in early 2020.
Through our partnership, I would send David test files of the guitar body, which he skillfully cut out of foam using the CNC machine. This allowed me to assess the shapes for comfort and size. Every aspect of this project was a trial-and-error learning experience, but immensely rewarding as we discovered innovative ways to accomplish each task.
Thanks to the help of electrical engineer Carter Smith, Guitiki’s eyes light up in sync with what’s being played.
For example, I assumed we would purchase a pre-made neck, but David insisted on crafting one from scratch. As expected, the neck proved to be challenging as we made several attempts at it. Attaching the frets was particularly frustrating, but David eventually figured it out by creating custom tools to set them firmly in place. In addition, I learned how to properly file and level them.
“Every aspect of this project was a trial-and-error learning experience, but immensely rewarding as we discovered innovative ways to accomplish each task.”
The electrical components for the eyes posed another formidable challenge. The idea was to not only have the tiki eyes glowing but also flickering rhythmically in sync with the playing. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to build such a device. Enter Carter Smith, a close friend and electronics engineer. Carter graciously designed an ingenious analog board that brought my vision to life, adding a mesmerizing touch to the guitar’s persona.
Even the pickup selector switch on Guitiki is tiki-themed.
The challenges and learning curves we encountered were monumental, intensified by the unexpected obstacles presented by Covid and a health scare. Nevertheless, we persevered, and by 2023 we had completed the build, affectionately naming it “Guitiki.” Our accomplishment didn’t go unnoticed, as we proudly entered it into the San Diego County Fair woodworking competition and secured second place in the musical instruments category. Currently, we are embarking on an exciting new “Son of Guitiki” build.
The journey has been nothing short of remarkable. Not only did we construct an exceptional guitar, but we also forged an enduring friendship that will last a lifetime. If you would like to learn more about the Guitiki and the build process, a video and website documenting the journey can be found at guitiki.com.
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