building a guitar

The AI-generated ideal … but maybe not for a human.

If there’s such a thing as a perfect guitar, the bots should know what to do by now, right?

There’s no doubt that guitarists simply cannot agree on what is the best instrument. After all, best is so subjective in this context that the very idea is laughable. Still, the unspoken dream of many guitar builders is to offer a guitar that everybody will like.

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Chad Henrichsen (in photo) and Gonzalo Madrigal are the two master builders in charge at the Gretsch Custom Shop in Corona, California. Henrichsen arrived at the shop in 2008.

Master builder Chad Henrichsen pours his creativity into Falcons, Jets, Penguins, and other axes that soar, including the Tom Petersson 12-string signature bass. His secret: experience and micro-attention to detail.

The art of guitar building lies somewhere between Zen and a lightning strike. The watercourse way of experience dictates some processes, their workflow eased by years or decades of practice. Other turns come in a flash of inspiration and leave an instrument that will give off a distinctive creative charge for decades.

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Blue Öyster Cult’s 1972 debut album—home of the original version of “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll.”

What does a banana with a humbucker wedged into it really prove about guitar sound?

I recently asked Alexa, the device I pay to spy on me in my home, to play “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” by Blue Öyster Cult. I hadn’t heard the song in ages, but the opening riff sounded so damned rock that my immediate reaction was “That’s exactly how a Marshall should sound!” Then, the algorithm kicked out “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses, followed by AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”—both also exactly how a Marshall should sound. Later that day, I pulled out the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album, and, indeed, E.C.’s combo sounds exactly how a Marshall should sound. So does Anthony Pirog’s amp on The Messthetics and Five Times Surprise. And since the latter is a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute, I dropped the needle on Mahavishnu’s live Between Nothingness & Eternity and, well, you know, John McLaughlin’s amp sounds exactly like a Marshall should sound.

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