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  1. #1

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    Hi,

    I recently had to select a luthier to build me an archtop. I thought that it might be of use to someone else beginning such a search to have a starting point. I was trying to find highly experienced US based luthiers who had built hundreds of archtops (these guys can only build 10-25 instruments per/year). If you add less experienced builders the list gets massive. There are many new luthiers in the last decade.

    This is by no means a complete list of US Archtop Luthiers (no Canadian or European and there are some fine ones), but it represents based on my research a list well established luthiers who have websites (some experienced ones do not like Roger Borys) and information regarding their bio, number of years of experience or number of instruments was available. I also have not listed a number of experienced luthiers that focus on flattops and build a few archtops (there are a number of them).

    I have listed them alphabetically, where they are located and a short descriptor of what I was able to find out about their experience. I am certain that I must have missed a number of them and there are also many newer, less experienced luthiers out there (some of whom are the next great ones!) that I also did not include.

    While there are sites with lists out there, you have to find out about their background and where they are located (cyber-space) in some cases. I just thought that someone i similar shoes could use this legwork. We truly live in the golden age of archtop building today to have so many experienced archtop luthiers

    :-)

    Bob

    Company: Andersen Stringed Instruments
    Luthier: Steve Anderson
    Location: Seattle, WA
    Experience: >30 years experience, flattops, mandolins, archtops for last 15 years
    Web Site: http://www.andersenguitars.com/site/

    Company: American Archtop
    Luthier: Dale Unger
    Location: Nazareth, PA
    Experience: >30 years experience, flattops since late 1977, Early 1990's apprentice for Bob Benedetto, archtops for last 15 years
    Web Site: http://www.americanarchtop.com

    Company: Benedetto Guitars
    Luthier: Bob Benedetto
    Location: Savannah, GA
    Experience: >40 years experience with archtops, Company and not single luthier since 2006
    Web Site: http://www.benedettoguitars.com/

    Company: Buscarino Guitars
    Luthier: John Buscarino
    Location: Franklin, NC
    Experience: >30 years experience with archtops, Apprenticed with Augutine LoPrinzi and Bob Benedetto
    Web Site: https://buscarino.com

    Company: M. Campellone Guitars
    Luthier: Mark Campellone
    Location: Greenville, RI
    Experience: >40 years experience as builder, >30 years building archtops

    Company: Comins Handcrafted Artisan Guitars
    Luthier: Bill Comins
    Location: Willow Grove, PA
    Experience: Music degree, Apprenticed with Bob Benedetto, >15 years building archtops
    Web Site: http://www.cominsguitars.com/comins-handcrafted/home

    Company: Lacey Guitars
    Luthier: Mark Lacey
    Location: Nashville, TN
    Experience: studied furniture design, instrument repair,>20 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.laceyguitars.com/

    Company: James L. Mapson Guitars
    Luthier: James Mapson
    Location: Santa Ana, CA
    Experience: Engineering, self taught, >15 years making archtops, consultant to Eastman

    Company: Marchione Guitars
    Luthier: Stephen Marchione
    Location: Houston, TX
    Experience: >15 years making archtops, studied classical and violin making as well
    Web Site: http://www.marchione.com/

    Company: Megas Guitars
    Luthier: Ted Megas
    Location: Portland, OR
    Experience: Musician, cabinet maker, >20 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.megasguitars.com/

    Company: Moll Custom Instruments
    Luthier: Bill Moll
    Location: Springfield, MO
    Experience: Instrument repair/restoration, violin bow making, >15 years making archtops

    Company: Monteleone Guitars
    Luthier: John Monteleone
    Location: Islip, NY
    Experience: Instrument repair/restoration at Mandolin Bros., >30 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.monteleone.net/

    Company: Mortoro Guitars
    Luthier: Gary Mortoro
    Location: Miami, FL
    Experience: Apprenticed with Bob Benedetto, >20 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.mortoroguitars.com/

    Company: Ribbecke Guitars
    Luthier: Tom Ribbecke
    Location: Healdsburg, CA
    Experience: BFA in Music, Repair & Restoration, >30 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.ribbecke.com

    Company: Schaefer Guitars
    Luthier: Ed Schaefer
    Location: Austin, TX
    Experience: Music Degree, instrument repair, >15 years making archtops

    Company: Triggs Guitars
    Luthier: Jim Triggs
    Location: Nashville, TN
    Experience: Mandolin luthier, Gibson, >20 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.triggsguitars.com/

    Company: Walker Guitars
    Luthier: Kim Walker
    Location: North Stonington, CT
    Experience: Banjos, Dulcimers, repairs at Gruhn, Guild, >15 years making archtops
    Web Site: http://www.walkerguitars.com/

    Company: Zimnicki Guitars
    Luthier: Gary Zimnicki
    Location: Allen Park, MI
    Experience: >275 guitars made, >30 years making stringed instruments
    Web Site: http://www.zimnicki.com/
    Last edited by iim7V7IM7; 03-17-2012 at 12:03 PM.

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Great work.

  4. #3

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    Great list, and sure to help someone.

    Chris

  5. #4

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    It would be remiss not to mention Bryant Trenier : Trenier Hand Crafted Jazz Guitars . OK, Bryant is young relative to the rest but his craftsmanship and tonal quality is right up there with the best. Not forgetting Erich Solomon: Solomon Guitars .

    P.S. I know what you wrote. But Monteleone? Benedetto? Mark Lacey? I don't have that kind of money. But a Trenier is well within reach as is a Solomon and also Andersen (whom you mentioned). I'm betraying my prejudices but if I were shopping for a hand-made archtop today, it will be one of these three.
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 03-17-2012 at 11:10 AM.

  6. #5

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    you can get most of that list in almost every issue of Just Jazz Guitar magazine, but nice work with the extra details!

    look at all those guys who apprenticed with Bob. see a pattern here? also, Bob still makes guitars I believe - see his one of a kind section on his website. he may have a little help from his staff.

    so, who did you select?

  7. #6

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    I realize that many or for that fact all of these luthiers may be out of reach for many players. None of them, is inexpensive albeit some are accessible for much less than others. I really didn't feel it necessary to talk about price. I was focused on experience. Prices also represent a snap shot in time and will change (go up!) for someone looking at this thread in the future. Also, some makers do not post their standard model prices. Some luthiers have stoped doing custom work and just build their standard models at this point as well. That being said, this is what I found:

    Anderson = $5,600 - $18,000
    Unger = $4,400 - $16,000
    Benedetto = $9,000 - $30,000
    Buscarino = $9,000 - $24,000
    Campellone = $4,450 - $12,500
    Comins = $8,500 - $12,500
    Grimes = $6,200 - $22,000
    Lacey = $10,000 - $20,000
    Mapson = $5,550-$18,500
    Marchione = ?
    Megas = $6,075 - $9.300
    Moll = $5,500 - $15,000
    Monteleone = ? (likely expensive)
    Mortoro = $5,300 - $18,000
    Nickerson = $5,000 - $8,000
    Ribbecke = $25,000
    Schaefer = $7,260-$10,230
    Triggs = ? (I suspect more affordable)
    Walker = ? (not taking orders currently)
    Zimnicki = ?

    All have options that will raise the price of your instrument.

    If you figure roughly a man month of time per instrument for an efficient, jigged luthier working on a few instruments in parallel plus materials goes into an instrument (forgeting the design time, equipment and materials) I do not think that it is a hugely profitable profession even at these prices. These guys are at the Zenith of their profession.

    :-)

    Bob



    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    It would be remiss not to mention Bryant Trenier : Trenier Hand Crafted Jazz Guitars . OK, Bryant is young relative to the rest but his craftsmanship and tonal quality is right up there with the best. Not forgetting Erich Solomon: Solomon Guitars .

    P.S. I know what you wrote. But Monteleone? Benedetto? Mark Lacey? I don't have that kind of money. But a Trenier is well within reach as is a Solomon and also Andersen (whom you mentioned). I'm betraying my prejudices but if I were shopping for a hand-made archtop today, it will be one of these three.

  8. #7

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    >>> I do not think that it is a hugely profitable profession even at these prices.

    Indeed.

    Also, consider what one can do with a subset of the skills required to build a guitar.

    For better or worse I can make about 4X the $$$ building other things.

    So for your list of "name" archtop makers, and the premium they get for their guitars, you are still looking at a list of people who could make 1.5X to 2.5X the money making something else.

    Chris

  9. #8

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    I commisioned a Comins Classic, 16" x 3" in vintage blonde. Not exactly like this 17" that you see on his site (my appointments are different), but this is as close I can show...

    Classic in Light Vintage Blond Shading | Comins Guitars

    In the end, his proximity with respect to me and his ability to communicate during our phone conversations was the deciding factor for me.

    :-)

    Quote Originally Posted by fumblefingers
    you can get most of that list in almost every issue of Just Jazz Guitar magazine, but nice work with the extra details!

    look at all those guys who apprenticed with Bob. see a pattern here? also, Bob still makes guitars I believe - see his one of a kind section on his website. he may have a little help from his staff.

    so, who did you select?

  10. #9

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    very nice. some similarities to Bob's and Buscarino's guitars in the headstock and pick guard. some D'Aquisto influences elsewhere.

    its fun having guitars made just for you, aint it?


    incidentally, Bob goes higher than that with "stock" guitars like the Sinfonia (link below). his custom one-of-a-kind instruments go up from there, but i think you alluded to that.

    http://benedettoguitars.com/boutique...ig-leaf-maple/
    Last edited by fumblefingers; 03-17-2012 at 01:37 PM.

  11. #10

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    Yeah, it is very Jimmy D'Aquisto and Bob Benedetto (I think John was really influenced by Bob as well) influenced in its design. Bill has added some of his own touches, done some interesting things to the construction/bracing, and his fabrication process. I have a background in industrial design and I appreciated his headstock and tailpiece designs which are gesturally elegant, assymetrical and add a signature look to the classic archtop. The instrument that I ordered will be bound in maple with no plastic binding as well. Should look and play like a dream. His guitars have evolved (as you'd expect) over the last 15 years.

    Regarding the fun...

    It is indeed fun and educational talking with these builders. Many are very generous with their time and are truly passionate about their craft. They also seem like a tight comminity of brothers and everyone that I spoke with complemented other luthiers. It is also fun to try to customize something to your own specifications.

    What is not fun is not being able to play something prospectively and having faith in your luthier to create your desired instrument. But this is the nature of this process. You hope that the sorcer will bring the magic out of the wood. The other aspect that is not fun is the waiting. A few years back, these guys were lined up with 2-4+ year backlogs. Today, the folks I spoke with had between 7-15 month lead times.

    :-)

    Bob

    Quote Originally Posted by fumblefingers
    very nice. some similarities to Bob's and Buscarino's guitars in the headstock and pick guard. some D'Aquisto influences elsewhere.

    its fun having guitars made just for you, aint it?

  12. #11

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    I feel your pain, on having to wait 1 year to hold your guitar and play it. I've had several built for me and the waiting part is painful, torturous, exciting, fun, invigorating . . . all at the same time. For my last custom build, I drove from New Jersey to Vicksburg MI 3 times in the 8 months it took Aaron Cowles to complete it. For my very first custom build in 1994, a Heritage Golden Eagle, I drove to Kalamazoo MI to personally approve of the woods that JP Moates selected for the guitar. What an education that was.

    As Jabberwocky said earlier, Aaron Cowles should be added to that list of top luthiers you posted earlier. He has made me 2 beautiful arch tops. In 1995, Aaron made me a 17" American Classic and just last year he made the 18". They're both wonderful guitars. But the 18" is just off the charts. It's the kind of a guitar I would expect to get if God was the luthier who built it.

    If you care to, see if you could get Bill to send you photos of the progress. If you don't want to see the progress, prefering to be totally surprized with the finished results, ask him to take pictures anyway and save them in a Photo Bucket file. Then, he could forward them to you after you get the guitar. It's really something to see your guitar develope from a few slabs of wood blanks . . . . into a functional work of art.
    Last edited by Patrick2; 03-17-2012 at 02:24 PM.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    P.S. I know what you wrote. But Monteleone? Benedetto? Mark Lacey? I don't have that kind of money. But a Trenier is well within reach as is a Solomon and also Andersen (whom you mentioned). I'm betraying my prejudices but if I were shopping for a hand-made archtop today, it will be one of these three.
    I'd add Victor Baker and Stephen Holst to the list of quality luthiers making instruments that may be a bit more attainable for some of us.

    Baker is currently offering a 14" and 16" laminate jazz box in the $2800 range. Great looking and sounding guitar at a very reasonable price from a one man shop.

  14. #13

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    Hi,

    I know that there are others so why not add to the list. But why not put it in a similar format to how I did it so they know the company name, luthier name, location, something about their experience and a website link? It will be helpful to those who find this thread in the future.

    On another note, you guys might like these montages that I created of headstocks and tailpieces from the different luthiers. I used these to get a sense of the differences and similarities in design motifs. You can see nods to instruments of the past in many of these designs.




  15. #14

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    You left out a very experienced, incredibly talented luthier; Linda Manzer, she's more experienced than some of the aforementioned (no offense to anyone)

    Manzer Guitars - Manzer Guitars



    Cheers,
    Arnie..

  16. #15

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    Arnie,

    Isn't Linda a Canadian luthier? I excluded her because I was listing US based luthiers.

    Bob

    Quote Originally Posted by arnie65
    You left out a very experienced, incredibly talented luthier; Linda Manzer, she's more experienced than some of the aforementioned (no offense to anyone)

    Manzer Guitars - Manzer Guitars



    Cheers,
    Arnie..

  17. #16

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    yes, Canadian. lots of great luthiers up there.


    thanks for the headstock and tailpece post. i forgot about Walker. and I love Megas' headstock. i think that he's underappreciated a little bit.

  18. #17

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    Linda was commissioned, along with some 25 other top name luthiers, by Scott Chinery to make one of the 18" Blue Guitars for his infamous "Blue Collection" She's definitely got game! A wonderful builder.

    We are fortunate to live in a great time for arch top guitar. It wasn't so long ago that the talented names of small boutique builders were limited to John D'Angelico, Elmer Stromberg and the larger production shops were basically Orville Gibson with Lloyd Loar, of Gibson . . . Epaminondos (Epi) Stathopoulos, of Epiphone . . . Avram (Al) Dronge & George Mann, founders of Guild Guitars. Today, there are far too many to even list them all. Similar is true of fine arch top players.

    We arch top enthusiasts truly live in a wonderful time. I am grateful of that.

  19. #18

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    I find luthiers signature look is very much tied to their headstock and tailpiece. In some cases the f-hole or pickguard is also part of their look.

    Canada has many: Linda Manzer and Tony Duggan-Smith, Oskar Graf come to mind. I think a bunch of them are Larivee desciples. In the EU, Frans Elferink, Josep Melo, Daniel Slaman, Stefan Sonntag and Mike Vanden to name a few names. There are many out there today making stunning instruments.

    I personally excluded international luthiers because 1) it complicates resolving legal issues in the event of an "issue"; 2) There are tariffs associated with import from some countries into the USA and 3) I wanted to support the craft within the USA.

    Bob
    Quote Originally Posted by fumblefingers
    yes, Canadian. lots of great luthiers up there.


    thanks for the headstock and tailpece post. i forgot about Walker. and I love Megas' headstock. i think that he's underappreciated a little bit.

  20. #19

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    Patrick,

    The list that I posted of experienced US based luthiers is quite similar the the list of luthiers that Scott Chinery commisioned instruments from for his blue collectionin the late 1990s. Some are international and some are deceased (RIP). I bolded the luthiers from my list below.

    :-)

    Bob

    Bob Benedetto
    John Buscarino
    Mark Campellone
    Bill Comins
    Bill Collings
    Jimmy D’Aquisto (deceased)
    Bill Hollenbeck (deceased)
    Mark Lacey
    Linda Manzer (Canada)
    Ted Megas
    John Monteleone
    Brad Nickerson
    Bozidar Podunavac
    Tom Ribbecke
    Theo Scharpach (Netherlands)
    Jim Triggs
    Kim Walker
    John Zeidler (deceased)



    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick2
    Linda was commissioned, along with some 25 other top name luthiers, by Scott Chinery to make one of the 18" Blue Guitars for his infamous "Blue Collection" She's definitely got game! A wonderful builder.

    We are fortunate to live in a great time for arch top guitar. It wasn't so long ago that the talented names of small boutique builders were limited to John D'Angelico, Elmer Stromberg and the larger production shops were basically Orville Gibson with Lloyd Loar, of Gibson . . . Epaminondos (Epi) Stathopoulos, of Epiphone . . . Avram (Al) Dronge & George Mann, founders of Guild Guitars. Today, there are far too many to even list them all. Similar is true of fine arch top players.

    We arch top enthusiasts truly live in a wonderful time. I am grateful of that.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7
    Arnie,

    Isn't Linda a Canadian luthier? I excluded her because I was listing US based luthiers.

    Bob

    You're absolutely right, funny thing, if you ask her, she'll tell you that that most of her customers are from the U.S.
    What about Roger Borys,? he's certainly very experienced and lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.



    Cheers,
    Arnie..

  22. #21

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    Arnie.

    Absolutely, but he has tremendous experience. I believe that he is in Hoboken, NJ and was in Shelburne, VT prior to that based on what I can tell. Here is a older brochure:

    http://www.allthingsemily.com/pdfima...sBrochures.pdf

    He has no website that I can tell so he is a bit less visible than the luthiers that I listed. While I am sure that he is a master luthier, there is something off putting to me about his "invisibility" in today's internet-driven World. He either has more client's than he can handle, or he just isn't as dedicated to making instruments anymore. Perhaps I am mistaken, but it just feels a bit odd doesn't it?

    Bob

    Quote Originally Posted by arnie65
    You're absolutely right, funny thing, if you ask her, she'll tell you that that most of her customers are from the U.S.
    What about Roger Borys,? he's certainly very experienced and lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.



    Cheers,
    Arnie..

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7
    Arnie.

    Absolutely, but he has tremendous experience. I believe that he is in Hoboken, NJ and was in Shelburne, VT prior to that based on what I can tell. Here is a older brochure:

    http://www.allthingsemily.com/pdfima...sBrochures.pdf

    He has no website that I can tell so he is a bit less visible than the luthiers that I listed. While I am sure that he is a master luthier, there is something off putting to me about his "invisibility" in today's internet-driven World. He either has more client's than he can handle, or he just isn't as dedicated to making instruments anymore. Perhaps I am mistaken, but it just feels a bit odd doesn't it?

    Bob

    Roger is a Luthier that I admire quite a bit, he's from the old school of luthiers who believed; "If your name is in the headstock, you made the guitar". He works alone, and makes a limited number of instruments a year. He established himself as a top luthier in the early 80's (although he started a lot earlier) and worked with Jimmy D'Aquisto himself, so he really doesn't need the publicity, and probably doesn't have the time to keep up with a website, emails, etc.. The last time I spoke to him he had a two year wait on his guitars. Some of the luthiers in the list above don't really make their own guitars (this will anger a lot of folks), they have (trained) assistants and luthiers in training that do a lot of their work. Some of them just work on the very expensive instruments only and leave the rest to their workers.
    It's impossible to pump out 100+ guitars a year (some more) unless someone's doing the bulk of the work for you. I will not name any names, but I visited the shop of one of them, and was told he was in Europe on vacation, but his shop was as busy as ever with workers putting guitars together, and I even saw a worker carving tops! There's nothing wrong with that, not at all...but if I'm spending thousands to get an instrument from "x-guitar maker", I rather buy it from someone who actually made it!
    Not just someone who inspected it and signed the label after his workers built the instrument.



    Cheers,
    Arnie..

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by arnie65
    Roger is a Luthier that I admire quite a bit, he's from the old school of luthiers who believed; "If your name is in the headstock, you made the guitar". He works alone, and makes a limited number of instruments a year. He established himself as a top luthier in the early 80's (although he started a lot earlier) and worked with Jimmy D'Aquisto himself, so he really doesn't need the publicity, and probably doesn't have the time to keep up with a website, emails, etc.. The last time I spoke to him he had a two year wait on his guitars. Some of the luthiers in the list above don't really make their own guitars (this will anger a lot of folks), they have (trained) assistants and luthiers in training that do a lot of their work. Some of them just work on the very expensive instruments only and leave the rest to their workers.
    It's impossible to pump out 100+ guitars a year (some more) unless someone's doing the bulk of the work for you. I will not name any names, but I visited the shop of one of them, and was told he was in Europe on vacation, but his shop was as busy as ever with workers putting guitars together, and I even saw a worker carving tops! There's nothing wrong with that, not at all...but if I'm spending thousands to get an instrument from "x-guitar maker", I rather buy it from someone who actually made it!
    Not just someone who inspected it and signed the label after his workers built the instrument.



    Cheers,
    Arnie..
    Arnie . . . . I agree totally with your post and I like your style!!!

  25. #24

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    Several players in Los Angeles play Borys instruments. Each one I have seen looked and sounded excellent.

    I was told by one guy that he could put me in touch with Roger if I wanted one so I'm assuming that means he is still building guitars.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by arnie65
    Roger is a Luthier that I admire quite a bit, he's from the old school of luthiers who believed; "If your name is in the headstock, you made the guitar". He works alone, and makes a limited number of instruments a year. He established himself as a top luthier in the early 80's (although he started a lot earlier) and worked with Jimmy D'Aquisto himself, so he really doesn't need the publicity, and probably doesn't have the time to keep up with a website, emails, etc.. The last time I spoke to him he had a two year wait on his guitars. Some of the luthiers in the list above don't really make their own guitars (this will anger a lot of folks), they have (trained) assistants and luthiers in training that do a lot of their work. Some of them just work on the very expensive instruments only and leave the rest to their workers.
    It's impossible to pump out 100+ guitars a year (some more) unless someone's doing the bulk of the work for you. I will not name any names, but I visited the shop of one of them, and was told he was in Europe on vacation, but his shop was as busy as ever with workers putting guitars together, and I even saw a worker carving tops! There's nothing wrong with that, not at all...but if I'm spending thousands to get an instrument from "x-guitar maker", I rather buy it from someone who actually made it!
    Not just someone who inspected it and signed the label after his workers built the instrument.



    Cheers,
    Arnie..
    that's certainly one way to look at it.

    of course Gibson would have gone out of business long before anyone built Charlie's Christian's guitar, if everyone took that approach. there may not have ever been an archtop guitar...