And over the years I’ve been asked the same two questions over and over: “How do you get into guitar making?” and “What does it take to have a career in it?”

Several months ago, I was approached by one of the wealthiest guitar collectors in the world. He requested that I send pictures of everything I make. After a month of emails and very short phone calls, I had sold him a big nothing. Apparently, no guitar I’d done in the past excited him. I had no choice but to throw down my last card—the Red Queen.

The Red Queen is something I’ve been planning for years—a hollowbody concept electric that can only be described as Alice in Wonderland meets Cirque Du Soleil—and it’s such a big, bizarre, painstaking project that the editors of Premier Guitar thought I should tell you about it even if it risks having some readers thinking this page has been set aside for self-congratulatory blathering. But the Red Queen is expensive—private-jet-on-wing-to-your-private-island expensive. So please rest assured that I’m not trying to sell you this guitar. I just thought you might like to ride along on this journey with me.


After giving this collector a few details about my vision for the Red Queen—such as that it would have a 1000-piece neck, a 500-piece top, and a few details that I can’t talk about yet—he responded with, “Well, I’m very interested in that.” For a guitar maker like me, this is one of those rare events one can only dream about. So I’ve been drawing up the details and making sketches for a few months, and now I must begin. There is no room for failure or disappointment when you’re dealing with a billionaire and a Red Queen. Either I achieve success or it’s off with my head. Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted on my progress with this guitar over the coming months!

As I reflected on this long-dreamed-of Red Queen project, I contemplated my career as a luthier up to this point. It’s been long, hard, and rewarding. And over the years I’ve been asked the same two questions over and over: “How do you get into guitar making?” and “What does it take to have a career in it?” Here’s what I tell people.

Step 1.

Shut up and do it. Do it today! Stop telling people (like me) it’s what you want to do. Instead, go buy some damn materials, some simple tools, and start cutting and gluing some wood. If you’re just drawn to guitar building as a great hobby, this will put you on your way. If you want a career, keep reading.

Step 2.
Spend two years learning to build. Seek out other guitar makers, take classes, research online information, and devote the months it requires to making sense of what you’ve absorbed. You can take one of those expensive courses where you build two guitars, but I’ve never met any would-be luthiers who actually continued building once they stepped away from the comfort of the classroom and instructors. My advice is to teach yourself first and learn to figure things out on your own. You’ll be better off in the long run.

Step 3.

Work in the field. Get a repair gig or start your own repair business. This is the way to start building a reputation and a clientele list. You’ll also learn tons about running a business and client expectations. While you’re at it, start acquiring luthier tools.

Step 4.

Keep building and always keep learning. After five to 10 years, you might start selling a few pieces. Build from the heart, build what you want, stand your ground at times, and be a bit stubborn.

Step 5.
If you can make it to the 15-year mark, congratulations! You should be fine.

Building a guitar is the easy part. The hard part is designing something original, finding a buyer, correctly negotiating a price (remember, if you think a guitar will cost you $500 to make, it will cost you two grand), keeping on schedule, managing the budget, finishing the instrument, surpassing the customer’s expectations, and then getting paid. Remember this is your job—you’d better have money left over for food and rent. Now start the process all over again.

It’s a fact that 80 percent of making guitars is sanding. It’s a dirty, unhealthy, physical job, and it’s the part no one sees. They see the cool stuff—the shop, the tools, the videos, and the magazine articles. They don’t understand the marathon. Someone asked me, “How did you decide to become a guitar maker?” I replied with a half grin, “It was an error in judgment.”

It’s not easy if you’re trying to get noticed. Most builders fail, many stay poor, and to say that making guitars is a labor of love is an understatement.

So, is it worth it? Yes!

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Last Thursday, I had the honor of test-driving the world’s first antimatter guitar pickup.

I just got back from a trip to Switzerland and, boy, what a trip it was! I usually avoid writing about gear or technical stuff, but this time I can’t help it. Last Thursday, I had the honor of test-driving the world’s first antimatter guitar pickup. That’s right, folks, antimatter technology is here!

The pickup is being made by Uniglo, and it’s pretty incredible. It just blows my mind to think that inside the “lipstick” aluminum cylinder is a mini universe ... and it’s being used as a guitar pickup!

So how does it sound? Spectacular! It has a warm, organic tone, and I found myself loving every note and getting giddy like a 12-year-old who has just discovered distortion for the first time.


The pickup’s magnetic field is so strange. If you move your picking hand over it just right, you can increase the sustain— and, if you really get close and cover it up a bit, the sound almost takes on an EBow-like quality. It certainly will require learning new techniques to master all that this pickup can offer, but if you’re like me, you’ll simply think, bring it on.

Installing this bad boy does require some skill, as some pickup cavities may need a touch of routing work. The wires terminate in easy-to-attach connectors (no soldering needed). However, your guitar’s potentiometers will need to be replaced with Uniglo components. So, although it’s not a big deal, I’d recommend that you hire a professional luthier to do the installation.

What is antimatter exactly? Antimatter is the opposite of everything that is. It’s actually moving backward in time ... it’s ... okay, I still don’t really know exactly what it is, except that it makes black holes, time travel, and Star Trek episodes possible. Apparently, antimatter can destroy the earth—and possibly the entire universe—if not handled properly. So, again, hiring a professional luthier to do the installation would be a wise move.

So how did we get here? How did we actually get to the point of harnessing antimatter for products such as guitar pickups? Well, there’s this huge underground tunnel in Switzerland that forms a perfect circle—I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s called the Large Hadron Collider or CERN. Governments have spent billions of dollars on it in hopes of finding the secrets of the universe and new technologies that can be used to solve the world’s energy problem. Last year, the scientists at CERN discovered how to capture and control antimatter. They also discovered hundreds of cool uses for it and have started selling patent rights to several companies.

I’m told that antimatter cannot come into contact with matter, so how do we safely contain it? It’s easy, actually. I watched as scientists crashed two atoms together at the speed of light and—bam!—there it was, a tiny black hole contained inside an invisible magnetic field. (That’s the key, a magnetic field.) Then, technicians carefully placed another magnetic field inside the Uniglo pickup cylinder and slowly placed the cylinder over the antimatter. When the two magnetic fields come into contact with each other, they become one. The techs explained that this was like two drops of water that touch each other. Then the antimatter just follows the magnetic field up into the pickup cylinder. The cylinder is then permanently sealed and that’s it. It’s really entertaining to watch the whole operation—it’s quite ritualistic, almost like a dance. You can check out the process at uniqlo.jp/uniqlock/. I highly recommend it.

True—the pickup only has a two-year life span, but Uniglo is offering an exchange program. For a small service fee, they will recharge the pickup with antimatter. The cost of the pickup is rumored to be near the $500 mark. But, as with anything else, I’m sure in time that price will come down.

Uniglo has bought patent rights to this technology and is planning to release the UNI-QLOCK guitar pickup on April 1st, 2012, permits permitting. They are also working on other products like the Waste-to-Aqua toilet filter for good tasting H20 and a portable cat washer called Cat in the Box. The company currently sells oceanfront property in Utah, and I suggest you buy some! I’m digging mine.

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The problem with the guitar is that it can attract zombies.

Few dispute the apocalypse is nigh. It’s the method of destruction that’s being debated. Some say the end will be quick, while others say the demise of our species may last many, many years. I’ve heard folks in the latter camp claim that during this prolonged struggle, zombies will rule the planet. There’s not much we can do in a swift-exit scenario, but preparing for a zombie threat could be a smart move.

Oh, you laugh? Well, on the internet I saw an authentic draft of the pamphlet the Federal government is preparing on how to defend yourself in a zombie invasion, so I don’t really think this is a laughing matter. The government plan was well written, and although I agreed with most of it, unfortunately the authors fell a bit short. They did not mention the guitar. Instead, they focused primarily on protecting self, family, friends, lovers, and pets. But no mention of one’s cherished axe? That’s a huge oversight. I mean, really.


The problem with the guitar is that it can attract zombies. So, lacking direction from our leaders, it’s important that we take matters into our own hands and zombie-proof our instruments. Here’s what you need to know:

1) Get in tune—and stay there. Zombies are attracted to unpleasant noises, especially those that sound like a human shrieking in fear (they either think it’s the real deal or it’s just a bit of a turn-on . . . it’s hard to say for sure) or those that induce people to scream out— y’know, like Pavlov’s dog, and all. Anyway, poorly tuned guitars rank high on the list of the world’s most unpleasant noises.

There are several reasons a guitar will not play or stay in tune. First, “not playing in tune” means that even after you’ve tuned all six strings to perfect pitch with an electronic tuner, when you fret chords in certain regions of the fretboard, they don’t sound right. This is a problem of intonation.

Few people have perfect pitch, so many guitarists are unaware that their guitars are not properly intonated. Spend some time in a music store and you’ll realize how bad the problem is. Why is it that the guy who insists on playing the loudest usually sucks the most at tuning a guitar? These guys are big-time zombie attractors. Please! Get your guitar professionally set up and learn to tune it.

The setup should include bridge adjustment with a strobe tuner, as well as other intonation-improving procedures like checking the depth of each nut slot, adjusting the truss rod, and setting the correct action. These adjustments are all interrelated. A pro understands how changing one element affects the others and knows how to get the entire system working harmoniously.

Then there’s “staying in tune”—which is a very big deal for humans reluctant to join the ranks of the undead (or their next meal). Do you find your strings going out of tune after a short period of playing? If you aggressively stretch the strings where the neck meets the body, this will work better than buying fancy locking tuners. Pull up on each string and wiggle it three or four times, then tune it up to pitch. Repeat this operation until stretching the strings no longer pulls them out of tune. The G string usually needs the most attention.

Get some “key lock” lubricant from the hardware store and grease those nut slots. This substance is a black graphite powder you can dab in the nut slot under the string. You can also use this to blind zombies: Squirt the powder in their eyes and then run like hell!

2) Use tube amps. There’s credible evidence that zombies recoil at the sound of loud second-order harmonics (which humans seem to enjoy, particularly in high-gain distortion) because they make a guitar sound fat and rich, rather than jagged and edgy. Also, you can break the tubes and use them as weapons, if, God forbid, it comes to that. In a worst-case scenario, you might entice a zombie to stick her hand inside the chassis and fondle a filter cap. A shocking thought!

3) Get a wireless system. This one will be pretty controversial, but hear me out: A wireless enables you to keep jamming if you’re forced to escape to the “safe room.” Other than that, I see no reason to use one.

4) Change your strings. They don’t get dirty from dirt, they get dirty from DNA. This is bad for two reasons: First, it deadens your strings by causing intonation, sustain, and tuning problems. Second, it can undead-en you. Yup, your dead skin and blood on those strings can attract a zombie from over a mile away.

5) Practice. See, if you suck, that’s just another form of unpleasant noise. And we know who goes for that, right?

6) Weaponize your rig. Although any guitar can function as a blunt implement for destroying a zombie’s head or removing its brain, something with sharp edges and a more aerodynamic profile—like a B.C. Rich or perhaps a V-style axe—will make the chore that much easier and more effective. Speaking of axes, whatever you hear Mr. Simmons say about the reasoning behind his proprietary bass design, don’t believe it—it’s safety first for Gene!

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What part of the human consciousness created this instrument, this wizard’s wand, this hypnotic tool? And, more importantly, why?


Gibson says its SG Gothic Morte is “a radical reincarnation of a guitar that was born to be wild.” Ready for an exorcism? Photo courtesy of Gibson Guitars

I witnessed an exorcism last night. The exorcism was conducted by one very beat-up Gibson SG. The person whose demons were exorcised was a young woman in the front row of a Greenhornes show. The only thing missing was green projectile vomit.

But before I go into that more, I want to discuss a couple of deep questions. And I want to go beyond “Can a guitar have a soul?” I’ll start with a simple question: Is the human consciousness the result of a higher power? Well, if you’re spiritual, or believe in God, ghosts, or Ouija boards, or if you feel uneasy if a black cat runs in front of your car, or have any other number of superstitions or spiritual beliefs, you should’ve answered “yes.” If we are truly connected to something—something we just can’t comprehend or agree on—we can at least agree on some simple truths. There is joy and sadness, darkness and light, wickedness and righteousness, good and evil.

What does this have to do with the guitar? Well, I’m wondering where the guitar came from. What part of the human consciousness created this instrument, this wizard’s wand, this hypnotic tool? And, more importantly, why? Stay with me here.

Albert Einstein once wrote of “spooky action at a distance”—things we just don’t understand. And I think most of us believe in some spooky stuff we don’t understand.

Now back to the exorcism/ rock show. As I observed the crowd, I saw plenty of alcohol, some drugs, and women and men prowling for deviant-behaving partners. Through the smoke-filled room, I could see small groups huddled in black leather jackets giving their attention to the stage as the electric guitar gave it’s sermon. This was no church. This was no Mormon youth convention.

I thought about a book I’ve just read, The Lennon Prophecies. It’s a well-written book that makes the case that John Lennon may have sold his soul to the devil to become the biggest rock star in the world. I know, what a bunch of crap, right?

But after reading The Lennon Prophecies, I’m kind of freaked out. In the author’s view, Lennon commits the ultimate act of blasphemy against the Church (one of the requirements from the story of Faust)—he turns a generation away from it:
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. —John Lennon March 4, 1964.
Some believe you can’t choose to go down to the crossroads—you don’t choose to sell your soul. Something chooses you and you allow it. The book contends that Lennon understood this and started seeking help from Christian leaders before his death—a death he predicted.

I began to think about the guitar and its role in all this. Is it a creation of man or is it a creation of something else? Is it magic? A product of the dark side? Or just another innovative manifestation of the human consciousness? Which takes us back to that nagging question: What is human consciousness? I’m not the only one who feels there might be something spooky going on here.

One of my favorite poems was found inscribed into a 17th-century lute:
Was alive in the forest. I was cut by the cruel axe. In life, I was silent. In death,
I sweetly sing.

A few hundred years later, the Gypsies of Andaluc’a used the 6-string as a tool to seduce their women into trance, eventually creating the flamenco dance. In the early 20thcentury, the guitar became the soundtrack to the darkness of poverty, suffering, and heartbreak in a dark form of the blues epitomized by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf ’s lyric, “I asked for water, she brought me gasoline.” And, of course, later in that century, in Britain’s ghostliest city of Liverpool, the modern rock band was conceived.

In the Bible, God cursed the ground so that men would have to work hard. It seems to me this thing called the guitar might be cursed as well—work it hard and enjoy the fame, fortune, wine, and women. But beware, the devil’s curse comes with a price. I have no proof of any of this. That’s the thing about this kind of stuff— there’s never any proof, just a gut feeling. There is never any proof of religion, just faith. Practice hard, my friends.

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