Duesenberg Guitars Factory Tour
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the premium guitar maker’s precision processes, from sawing neck blocks to final setup and shipping, as we follow the building journey of a Mike Campbell Alliance Series semi-hollowbody from Croatia to Germany.
The Mike Campbell Alliance Series signature model is inspired by Duesenberg’s Starplayer TV, which he notably played during the 2008 Super Bowl half-time show.
Founded in 1986 by Dieter Gölsdorf in Hannover, Germany, Duesenberg’s guitars, basses, and lap steels are played by a wide variety of artists including Mike Campbell, Ron Wood, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, John Mayer, Vince Gill, Robbie McIntosh, Carmen Vandenberg, Jason Isbell, and Tom Bukovac.
The Making of a Dream Guitar | Duesenberg Guitars Production Tour
In the video “The Making of a Dream Guitar,” we get to see how these stylish music-making machines are built. It’s a never-before-seen look at the company’s production process.
Gölsdorf, who had extensive experience in guitar hardware design, created Duesenberg Guitars with the goal of establishing consistently outstanding tone, roadworthy reliability, and unique design, and the company has successfully followed his vision ever since, becoming a respected maker of high-end instruments.
The Duesenberg Starplayer TV variation made for Heartbreakers and Dirty Knobs guitarist Mike Campbell is the star of the video, and we follow an example on its journey of creation, starting in the Croatian village of Varazdin, which was established in the 17th century.
We begin the tour by looking at the neck of the Starplayer, which is made from a single piece of maple for better clarity and attack. We see raw planks of maple cut to length and then trimmed into neck blanks, which are milled by a CNC machine that creates the truss rod channel and rough headstock shape. Meanwhile, rosewood fretboards are prepared, including the installation of the side dots, fretboard inlays, and binding. Once the neck is ready, a dual-action truss road is inserted, and the fretboard glued on. Then it’s back to CNC, where tuner holes are cut and the neck’s medium D profile is shaped, smoothed, and finalized. After that, the fretboard is sanded to a 12" radius and the frets put in place. Fine sanding is the final step in the neck’s production.
After the neck has been contoured and loaded with the fretboard and other appointments, the final step is fine sanding for smooth playability.
The body of this semi-hollowbody model is next, and in the video you’ll see the center block being routed, the laminated maple sides being heat-pressed into shape, and the contouring of the laminated spruce top and flame maple back. The f-hole and its binding are also part of this process. The pieces are glued together, and when the body is set the channels for the top and bottom binding are inserted and then it is allowed to dry once more.
Next, the neck is inserted into the body, for a seamless, sound-transferring fit, followed by another round of hand-sanding. Then, it’s time for painting.
These Starplayer bodies have already had their neck joints cut, and are waiting to the fitted.
Now a clear base cost of primer, which is sanded after drying, is applied. The next step is masking, to protect the binding during the painting process. We see the process for finishing a Mike Campbell Starplayer model in “The Making of a Dream Guitar,” starting with a white coat that allows Duesenberg to mask the axe’s twin stripes during later stages of painting. Next: a metallic blue color coat, artfully sprayed on. When the masking in removed after the paint is dried, revealing the binding and other appointments, the headstock gets the company’s iconic “D” logo and the final clear coats.
Fine-sanding and polishing comes next, and the high-level of skill required for this task quickly becomes evident. The next stop for this instrument is Duesenberg’s headquarters, in Hannover, where final production takes place.
The in-house CNC and Plek department in Hannover gets the instrument, and the electronics cavities are routed before the Pleking process takes place—cutting each fret to achieve comfortable, low action. The fretboard edges are rounded off by hand, and the frets polished.
Here’s another eye-catching Duesenberg model, the Paloma in Catalina Sunset Rose, with suitably wild west surroundings. Other models currently in production include the Double Cat, Caribou, Falken, Senior, Julia, Starplayer Bass, Lapsteel, and Starplayer III.
The final stage of building the Starplayer TV is setup and assembly. If you know anything about Duesenberg Guitars, you know the hardware is all proprietary, with a distinctive art-deco vibe. The Duesenberg tremolo bridge works on a unique steel needle and nylon bearing design. The pickups use silver-nickel components, and the tuners conceal the sharp string edges. This process for finishing instrument—including finalizing the neck, adjusting the pickups, and much more—is handled by a single luthier, who leaves a handwritten signature inside each instrument. The last step is playing each guitar, and then they’re moved on the quality control, where they are placed in its case and packed for shipping. Next stop? The guitar’s new owner.
You can learn even more about Duesenberg guitars by going to the company’s website at https://www.duesenbergusa.com/en/ or https://linktr.ee/iduesenberg You’ll find all the models currently in production including the Alliance Series, Starplayer TV, Double Cat, Caribou, Paloma, Falken, Senior, Julia, Starplayer Bass, Lapsteels, and Starplayer III.
Narration By: Nathan Fawley
Music By: Heinz Rebellius
A Film By: Andrej Lillak
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers & The Dirty Knobs
Wolfgang Morenz of JORIS
All members of the Duesenberg team for their commitment to the Steel Strings
Making a living doing the thing you love is great—in fact, it’s something that so many players aspire to. But it changes the relationship between player and instrument when the instrument is a source of work. How do they stay excited about their work? And how do they get excited when they’re in a lull? What keeps their creativity flowing? These are big questions, but our hosts are both having their own renaissances with their guitars. And—surprise!—it’s because they’ve both come into some new key pieces of gear.
Get 10% off from StewMac when you visit stewmac.com/dippedintone
On this episode, Rhett and Zach discuss the relationship that they each have with the guitar at this point in their careers. Making a living doing the thing you love is great—in fact, it’s something that so many players aspire to. But it changes the relationship between player and instrument when the instrument is a source of work. How do they stay excited about their work? And how do they get excited when they’re in a lull? What keeps their creativity flowing? These are big questions, but our hosts are both having their own renaissances with their guitars. And—surprise!—it’s because they’ve both come into some new key pieces of gear.
Zach reports that he has been rippin’ totally sweet Metallica licks on his sick new ESP LTD Kirk Hammett Signature Series KH-602. He’s a longtime fan of the band—and has conveniently fallen back in love with Kill ’Em All and Ride the Lightning—and says he’s wanted a Hammett signature guitar for his entire guitar-playing life. When he saw this one at Nashville’s Guitars To Be Played, he fell in love with everything, from the skull and crossbones fret markers to the Floyd Rose. And you know what? The Floyd Rose isn’t hard to set up. This guitar, Zach says, is kickstarting his “love of the guitar again.”
Meanwhile, Rhett has been enjoying his new Soldano SLO-100head and matching 4x12 cabinet, even if he does keep the cab a few flights below his control room. He’s stoked about the story of Soldano, who he admires for being one of the early boutique amp builders, and has been playing this new 100-watter all week.When it’s time to dip a rig, it’s hard to find any faults. No spoilers, but it’s a nice one (and an easy gig load).And in the shill zone, Zach talks about the importance of running a brown box for owners of older amps and talks briefly about the difference between the Brown Box and a Variac.
Factory Tour: Martin
Join John Bohlinger as he heads to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, to take an inside look at one of the oldest manufacturers in the acoustic guitar business.
With roots that date back to the early 19th century, the multi-generational Martin Guitars—which also employs a host of multi-generational builders—draws on their long history to combine the traditional handmade methods of their early days with modern 21st century computerized optimization, all of which are on display throughout this thorough, detailed factory tour that makes every stop along the assembly process.
Instrument design manager Rameen Shayegan leads Bohlinger through the factory, where they see workers, each specialized in various parts of the creation process, building the company’s instruments. Their first stop starts at the very beginning of the manufacturing process, at the raw wood acclimation department and the sawmill, and we get to see firsthand where guitars begin to take shape and necks are rough cut. Next, we see how backs are made and are introduced to the clamp carrier machine, where they’re glued up and set to dry. Braces are then carved and installed onto the guitars’ tops—which we see being laser cut to precision—and backs. Once the sides are bent, a rim is applied, glued, and a guitar body is made. Then, binding is installed, necks meet the bodies, frets meet fretboards, guitars are finished, and we meet the imposing and futuristic polishing robot, which makes that finish shine.
By the time the tour winds down in the setup department, we witness the final steps of the Martin creation process, where guitar get the Plek-machine treatment, get strung up for the very first time, and electronics are installed. Quality control doesn’t stop until after every instrument spends time in four-day hold and gets a thorough reinspection before shipping off to its next destination.
Gretsch Custom Shop Tour
Tour Gretsch’s Corona, California, custom guitar building operation with company master builder Chad Henrichsen and PG’s own John Bohlinger.
“We get a lot done in a small amount of space, but this is where it all happens,” Henrichsen says. It starts with the wood—mahogany, maple, and spruce body blanks; mahogany and maple neck blanks; rosewood for fretboards—and so does our tour. It also begins, of course, with specific orders from dealers, artists, and individual players, commissioning instruments."
Henrichsen describes Gretsch's process of making hollow- and semi-hollowbody guitars first, which uses pressure and heat to form tops and sides from wood laminate. The plant also uses old-school craftsmanship—a copy carver, for example—to cut wood tops and more to shape.
One of Henrichsen’s fortes is necks, so he explains the process of creating necks for Falcons, Duo Jets, 6120s, etc., in detail, and we see the neck shaper machine in operation. The evolution from wooden block to smooth, finished neck is fascinating! And some of the machinery, jigs, and other tools are older than your Uncle Billy. After inlays comes binding—gold sparkle for a Penguin, white for a Duo Jet, for example. And, by the way, all work in the Custom Shop is done by hand.
Master builder Gonzalo Madrigal makes a cameo to explain the step-by-step process of fitting a guitar’s neck to its body. The example here is one of the super-colorful, intergalactically shaped Billy-Bo models—half Diddley and half Gibbons. Madrigal also displays the process of setting a tortoise shell binding in place—a method that takes about 45 minutes overall, and then must sit to set.
In the final assembly department, we see a 12-string Country Gentleman turning to life—tuners, bridge, electronics, tailpieces and everything else comes home to roost. The grand finale? Dig a killer 3-pickup Penguin in a black paisley finish with Super’Trons, cats-eye f-holes, and a Bigsby. It’s gorgeous! And, in a sense, the culmination of Gretsch’s 140-year history of craftsmanship.
Fender Custom Shop Tour
There's more in Corona than a slice of lime. The California city is also the home of Fender’s Custom Shop, and PG’s John Bohlinger, with our crack video team of Chris Kies and Perry Bean, descended on the shop recently for a different kind of rundown.
The tour starts with master builder Andy Hicks, who recount his CV, including a stint in the Gretsch Custom Shop, where he built the Malcolm Young 1963 Jet Firebird G6131 limited edition. At Fender, he leads a tour through the company's metal shop, which includes a press installed by Leo Fender. Saddles, pickup bobbins, shielding, bridge plates … check. You can watch a CNC machine cut Strat pickguards, and then stop in on Josefina Campos, perhaps Fender’s most famed living pickup maker, with 31 years of experience. Campos’ pickups are destined for Master Built guitars. How do you know if you've got a Campos pickup? She signs and dates each one. At Fender’s wood mill, where both the Fender USA and Custom Shop sawing gets done, you see alder, ash, and maple blanks, plus rosewood for fretboards. Learn about the "Golden Neck,” and see how Custom Shop necks get hand shaped. In Custom Shop final assembly, everything comes together. Guitar bodies have been painted and aged. Assembled neck are bolted in. The wiring and electronic installed. “All the guys in here are experts about their own work as well as everything else,” Hicks explains. That's part of Fender Custom’s quality assurance gameplan. On this day, Team Built instruments were on the menu. Master Built guitars are the province of a single builder, from start to finish. And master builder Austin MacNutt gives us a close-up look at one of his special projects, the Jerry Garcia “Alligator” Stratocaster, in a limited run of 100. And in Hicks’ own shop, he talks about the process of creating a custom guitar, from talking to the buyer about his or her desires, to plugging it in and playing it. He also displays a very special Jaguar, made from a 50,000-year-old piece of partially petrified wood, with a blonde inlay from mastodon tusk. FYI, he currently has 50 to 75 guitars at various stages of the three-month process of custom building. Hicks also talks about creating his annual prestige model. It's a secret. You've gotta wait till next year!