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  1. #1

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    There has been some recent discussion on having a custom archtop built to your unique requirements by a luthier. Those looking into acquiring a guitar via this path will have a lot to think about. Among other things:
    • How to find the right builder
    • How much to spend
    • How much risk (e.g. ending up with a mediocre guitar, build time, depreciation, et al) is there and can it be mitigated
    • Potential benefits over a factory made guitar


    Of course, there's more to it and many different perspectives. The purpose of this thread is to open up the discussion.
    Hell is full of musical amateurs - George Bernard Shaw

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  3. #2

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    As I mentioned elsewhere, Steve Grimes offers a 75% refund on a custom build if the customer is not happy with the guitar once he has received it. The customer has 21 days to return it.

    If commissioning a build, I think it's important to have an evaluation period defined in the contract with a percentage of total cost being refunded in the event of an unsatisfactory outcome. Otherwise, the risk is too high, especially if the guitar costs over $10,000. My opinion only, of course. Commisioning a Custom Archtop: How To, Cost, Risk, and Benefits
    Last edited by kkfan; 06-03-2015 at 06:59 PM.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by kkfan View Post
    As I mentioned elsewhere, Steve Grimes offers a 75% refund on a custom build if the customer is not happy with the guitar once he has received it. The customer has 21 days to return it.

    If commissioning a build, I think it's important to have an evaluation period defined in the contract with a percentage of total cost being refunded in the event of an unsatisfactory outcome. Otherwise, the risk is too high, especially if the guitar costs over $10,000. My opinion only, of course. Commisioning a Custom Archtop: How To, Cost, Risk, and Benefits

    I think thats a sensible approach, for the player.

    I gotta admit, from a players point, all the comments we make are right. From a builders point I could see some angry words being muttered.

    A builder is in almost the tricky situation the buyer is in a way.

    I guess it works both ways, although the builder gets payed, so there is an over all is a disadvantage to the buyer in that regard.

  5. #4

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    Unless you find a new builder who is looking to make a name for himself, and in exchange for your endorsement, will give you the guitar for say $3k plus the cost of the materials (that would earn the builder about $30 per hour for labor), you are going to lose money on a custom build.

    Add to that the fact that neither you nor the builder know how the guitar turns out, you the buyer are taking a huge gamble.

    I would not do it nor would I advise anyone else to do so.

    Buy used and try before you buy. That is the best way to insure that you are getting a guitar you will like and that you are not making a bad deal money wise.

    If you are wealthy and money is no consideration, be a patron of the arts and have at it!
    _____________________________________________
    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger View Post
    Buy used and try before you buy. That is the best way to insure that you are getting a guitar you will like and that you are not making a bad deal money wise.

    If you are wealthy and money is no consideration, be a patron of the arts and have at it!
    I think this is sage advice - on two fronts.

    First, there are a lot of luthiers out there turning out good guitars. Buying used gets you the guitar at a considerable discount to new so even if you have to cycle through a couple to find "the one", your guitar plus incurred friction will be less than getting new. And until you know EXACTLY what you want (or at least think you do), you don't.

    Second, if you have the scratch, getting "your perfect guitar" would appear to be easier these days than before. There are lots of guys out there doing what they love and not making it rich doing it, and the internet lets you find out about them more easily than before (unless you were a religious reader of JJG I guess).

  7. #6

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    How to find the right builder?

    Experience: Guitar making, for better or worse is a repetitive, empirical process that evolves and refines as a luthier makes more guitars using different materials and adjusting their design and construction. It also takes decades for a luthier to see how their earlier work holds up in the real world as they come back for setups, repairs or enhancements. Talent is helpful, but it is no substitute for experience. So my recommendation to reduce one's risk, choose a well established luthier with an established reputation by players and the luthier community. This of course, comes at a premium price.

    Design: You need to like the luthier's aesthetic sensibilities and design features, but do not focus on beautiful internet photography and CNC perfection. These are always attractive via the internet, but frequently do not equate to a great playing or sounding instrument. Try to look past that to the thinking behind the instrument and the quality of the materials being used.

    Materials: Luthier's wood lockers vary in their depth and quality. The longer the luthier has been building typically the better the depth and quality of the wood they have.

    Communication: A luthier's communication style is an important factor, if not the most important. Are you able to have a good dialogue with them? Are they answering and more important asking questions about your playing history, likes and dislikes, past instruments, playing goals etc.? Ask about how they like to communicate before, during and after a build. You may find some luthiers are a better fit with your style.

    Business Policy: You need to know your real budget is. During a custom build many will find that they add another 10-20% to the cost over the base price between additional custom features, cases and shipping. So keep that in mind. Ask about payment terms. Most luthiers ask for a deposit that is 10-20% of the instrument cost upfront to hold your place in their build queue and reserve or order materials. Some builders charge another 40% at the beginning of the actual build and others ask at the completion of the woodwork. The final payment is typically due at shipment (although one builder that I have worked with asks for it 48 hours after you have received it). Ask if the deposit is refundable (doubtful) or transferable (sometimes).

    How much to spend?

    The simple answer, is not more than you can afford. Figure whatever the base price of the guitar is that you will add 10-20% to the cost between, upgrades, custom features, travel cases and shipping. The archtop luthiers that I would recommend basic archtops start at $8,000 - $9,000.

    How much risk (e.g. ending up with a mediocre guitar, build time, depreciation, et al) is there and can it be mitigated?

    These are a diverse set of discrete risks that cannot totally be mitigated but can be minimized.
    Ending up with a mediocre guitar can be mitigated best by Experience, Design, Quality of Materials, Communication (both on your part and the luthier's). Get a detailed specification sheet along with your deposit receipt.

    Build time needs to be discussed upfront and what the reasonable variance is around build start and instrument delivery. It is not unusual to see +/- 25% on an estimate of an individual builder. Ask if your deposit is refundable (doubtful) or transferrable (more likely). Additionally, do not buy internationally. You have very little recourse should you need it.

    Depreciation is large on custom instruments. Unless you buy a Monteleone or Benedetto you will likely be exposed to a fairly large amount of depreciation. Musicians by nature are always trolling for bargains and have expectations of buying used luthier instruments like they do factory instruments (just look at the conversations in this forum!). They will try to buy it for $0.40-$0.60 on the dollar. In reality, a luthier built guitar in excellent shape is worth more. They are not commodities and are in limited supply but compete against lower priced commodity guitars. If you are willing to wait, you can get what they're worth. If you try to sell it quickly, you will take a beating. You can also minimize your depreciation risk buy not ordering a guitar with very unique features that might not be appreciated by others as well.

    Potential benefits over a factory made guitar?

    First off, there are both excellent and mediocre factory and luthier built guitars.


    In my view however, a guitar conceived, and completely made by an experienced artisan will more often than not have an edge over a factory made guitar. Wood as many have said, is a highly variable material. Guitar top, back, side and bracing dimensions need to be adjusted by someone skilled in the art based upon the damping, density and stiffness of the wood and the goals of the instrument. A factory in the business of precise replication builds guitars to dimension and cannot adjust for these variables. This is part of the reason for the wide variability found in factory instruments. I have also found the set ups to be infinitely better than you'll get from a factory or store. Lastly, customized features to your playing preferences just make a player feel more at home. I have been amazed of these features have improved the playability of a guitar.

    Hope that helps...
    __________________________________________________ ____________________________________
    Bob


  8. #7

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    Of course, there have been many very long threads about custom-ordering a guitar from a Chinese builder such as Yunzhi. Folks who have done that seem to be very happy with their guitars, especially after replacing the pickups and maybe the pots/knobs. At a much lower financial risk than $8-10K, too. But maybe that's a different kettle of fish...

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by jasaco View Post
    Of course, there have been many very long threads about custom-ordering a guitar from a Chinese builder such as Yunzhi. Folks who have done that seem to be very happy with their guitars, especially after replacing the pickups and maybe the pots/knobs. At a much lower financial risk than $8-10K, too. But maybe that's a different kettle of fish...
    Yes, there have been such discussions. In fact, this thread was created by the OP to address custom builds from well-known luthiers as a result of the Yunzhi thread being veered off-topic by talk of pros/cons of expensive custom builds.

    So, as I understand it, this thread is about custom builds by reputed luthiers whose work would typically have a minimum price tag of $4,000-$5,000.

  10. #9
    Buying guitars from Yunzhi has worked out well for me. However, these are still factory guitars with a flexible set of features as opposed to a guitar constructed with the skill and insight typically expected from a luthier building custom instruments. Overall Yunzhi's are more or less in the same class as Eastman guitars. Neither of these would be in the class of a well made custom instrument.

    Of course, my direct experience is with flat top custom guitars versus very good factory models. Still, it seems to me that given the construction methods, there would be an even larger benefit with a custom archtop over a factory model.
    Hell is full of musical amateurs - George Bernard Shaw

  11. #10

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    Its definitely a tough subject.

    I bought the Eccleshall Cello guitar and its amazingly good. If someone hadn't commissioned it, then it would never have been made and now hung on my friends wall, still bringing him and I a lot of pleasure visually and sonically. Oddly he doesn't like to play it as much as I did because of the flat radius but you wouldn't prize it out of his hands for some time, I assume. Besides its coming back to me when it does (fingers crossed).

    But would I have had Eccleshall build me an archtop, considering he makes flat tops and electric solid bodies, hell no.

    On the other hand, if there weren't people that did commission such things, then I wouldn't be writing this and had probably the most unforgettable guitar experience thus far.

    (Ok playing an original 7 string D'aquisto was pretty good).
    Last edited by ArchtopHeaven; 06-04-2015 at 08:15 AM.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by jasaco View Post
    Of course, there have been many very long threads about custom-ordering a guitar from a Chinese builder such as Yunzhi. Folks who have done that seem to be very happy with their guitars, especially after replacing the pickups and maybe the pots/knobs. At a much lower financial risk than $8-10K, too. But maybe that's a different kettle of fish...
    It sounds like going that route may be the thing for you.
    __________________________________________________ ____________________________________
    Bob


  13. #12
    ok, here are some risks.

    Twice I have put down money, once $1500, once $2000 on custom instruments that never got made due to financial/business issues with the luthier. It was a struggle to get the money back and I had to involve an attorney in one case.

    The 3rd time I tried this, i commissioned an instrument without money down but when it was finished I was told that all sales were final. This was not the understanding when I first ordered the instrument.

    My thoughts on this are that unless you are a fabulous player like benson, martino, bernstein, etc., you probably don't even know enough to know what your dream guitar is. I remember thinking for years for example, that a 25.5" archtop didn't work for me. Now I routinely go back and forth between my heritage eagle (25.5") and a 175 (24.75)

    I think there's some amount of ego involved with ordering a custom archtop. You're essentially saying that your needs are special and you are deserving of something completely different than the 25,000 archtops currently on the market.

    In fact, 99% of the greatest guitar sounds in history have been made with off the shelf instruments or at the very least, instruments that are already out there that were commissioned by someone else.

    Then there is the issue of the financial hit you will take when you decide that that instrument you completely customized just doesn't sound good. Either you picked the wrong combination of materials/features or (because wood is organic) the thing just didn't sound like what you had in your head.

    Because you see, there is very little way for a custom instrument's tone to be completely predictable unless it's modeled after something that came before it. You could specify a 2.5" 16 plywood body, ebony fingerboard, mahogany neck and an all maple body and it could end up being the darkest sounding and most feedback prone archtop you've ever played. Oh wait, that would be the Ibanez PM-120. It turns out that even though Pat designed it for a certain sound, had prototypes and played it along the way, it didn't sound anything like he wanted. I bought one and had to stuff it with cotton because it fed back so much. It was so dark sounding that I was convinced it was the pickups and I spent money replacing them with brighter pickups to no avail. It was still dark. This was a custom instrument for Pat Metheny and he hated it, actually preferring his korean made guitar. This is an example of how the construction details of the guitar would indicate a certain sound but the results were unpredictably different. What if that had been a $6k custom build?!? At least Pat didn't have to pay for his, lol.

    I think there's also a lot of hype and fad-ness going on here too. I have played several instruments by some popular luthiers that are raved about on this forum and I felt that not only did they not live up to the hype but did not compare favorably to gibson, guild, ibanez, etc.

    So basically, a custom instrument or an off the shelf instrument is a crap shoot. Build differences, wood differences, construction etc., can all vary to give you an instrument that doesn't meet your expections regardless of wood, pickups, laminate vs carved, etc.

    There are so many fabulous instruments already out there that you can play before you buy that unless you just have to have your own namesake model, why commission something?!?
    Last edited by jzucker; 06-04-2015 at 06:49 AM.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post

    There are so many fabulous instruments already out there that you can play before you buy that unless you just have to have your own namesake model, why commission something?!?
    Whilst I agree with most of what you say, two things could be debated.

    1) I dont believe you have to be in the top 1% of players to have a guitar made for you. Even then Benson plays nearly stock Ibanez and Gibson for the most part.

    2) I'm glad there are luthiers who make guitars to order but not because it benefits me or someone else but because they are needed to keep pushing the Archtop forwards, to keep reinventing the wheel, to keep the tradition alive (if not for anything else).
    There is nothing wrong with artisans doing art (if we could call it that) and as an artist (well musician but you get the point), I'm all for supporting other artists doing what they do to the highest level. I dont think we as people of the arts should see it differently.

    So I think the Guitar world will be significantly worse off, if we didn't have people commissioning builds that then allow fine makers to experiment themselves. Its a creative cycle that needs funding, so I'm glad it happens but yes Jack, for the most part ordering the perfect guitar to your specs form a builder is not cut and dry, is very risky and often doesn't produce the desired effect and is very financially levied on the buyer, without protection.

    In a funny way buying a custom guitar is like being in the criminal underworld lol You have have no protection if things go wrong, in terms of how disappointed you will be with the product and your chances of getting your money back.

    Your honour that pound of cocaine was not 90% pure, it was 65, I demand a refund lol

    As we says 'You pays your money, you takes your choice'
    Last edited by ArchtopHeaven; 06-04-2015 at 08:41 AM.

  15. #14

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    i think one would do well if they buy from Benedetto or Buscarino. i think smaller builders may be fine but may represent more buyer risk.

  16. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by ArchtopHeaven View Post
    Whilst I agree with most of what you say, two things could be debated.
    2) I'm glad there are luthiers who make guitars to order but not because it benefits me or someone else but because they are needed to keep pushing the Archtop forwards, to keep reinventing the wheel, to keep the tradition alive (if not for anything else).
    99% of archtop makers are making benedetto or gibson style archtops. Only about 1% are pushing the envelope. The sad fact is that people really don't want something different. They say they know what they like but they really like what they know. Witness the hesitance towards alternative materials. The carbon fiber acoustic I owned was the best sounding guitar I've owned in years.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post
    99% of archtop makers are making benedetto or gibson style archtops. Only about 1% are pushing the envelope. The sad fact is that people really don't want something different. They say they know what they like but they really like what they know. Witness the hesitance towards alternative materials. The carbon fiber acoustic I owned was the best sounding guitar I've owned in years.

    Yeh you're right, I know, I was just trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. On a side note I cant decide whether Benedetto making that book and dvd set, has been a good thing for archtops or bad.

    now everyone is making a benedetto style guitar that doesn't interest me in the slightest, nor do I like the tone that much. Its definitely made things more generic.

  18. #17

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    Oy... so many words about this topic. But like so much in guitar, and in music, this is an area where things are personal.

    I've had a gamut of experiences, too:

    • I paid a $2K deposit with a few month expectation on delivery to a luthier I had known personally, visited each other's homes, and dined with, only to wait over two years while he built more expensive guitars for semi-famous people on his never-disclosed "waiting list." I threatened legal action and badgered his "handlers," and finally got a refund.
    • I waited two years for a very custom original design that turned out good, but not quite what either of us had in mind. It's now an occasional guitar that has actually aged well, and suits a certain mood. No regrets.
    • I had a guitar made that met my specs at the time, but which I've outgrown in terms of what I prefer. That's just the fault of changing opinions and experiences. It's a very good guitar, but it doesn't get played much.
    • I had a flamenco made that lacks a bit in overall refinement, but has Spanish-built mojo, sounds great and remains the best nylon string I've owned. A keeper.
    • I had a beautiful archtop made that was fabulous acoustically but average amplified, and wasn't quite what I needed in terms of feel. I sold it to help fund another acquisition. I wonder how it's aged? I believe the current owner likes it very much. This was a great guitar that just didn't match me perfectly.
    • My latest is a guitar I didn't spec at all, but saw on the luthier's website, and which has some celebrity association. It just might be the best yet. Still in the honeymoon phase, but there's no denying it's a very excellent instrument that will not hamper my musical expression in any way. Very pleased with this one.


    Bottom line is that you shouldn't do this to be "cool" like the goobers on TGP, or so you can show off your NGD to everyone on the forums. Do it because you are really drawn to the craftsmanship of a particular builder, based on his/her proven product out in the market. The design or premise of the instrument needs to speak to you. I don't think it's vain or egotistical to seek custom instruments, any more than it's vain to buy art directly from private artists rather than from the bins at IKEA.

    Talk to current owners - the builder should have a few you can contact; if not, be wary. Read up on the builder's reputation on the usual forums. It can be a very personal and satisfying experience if you deal with the right situation.
    Last edited by rpguitar; 06-04-2015 at 08:56 AM.
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  19. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by ArchtopHeaven View Post
    Yeh you're right, I know, I was just trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. On a side note I cant decide whether Benedetto making that book and dvd set, has been a good thing for archtops or bad.

    now everyone is making a benedetto style guitar that doesn't interest me in the slightest, nor do I like the tone that much. Its definitely made things more generic.
    Agreed though I don't think it's just because of the book. I once went to guitar center and they had a benedetto, a '70s L5 and a 3rd custom , boutique archtop. At $7500 the L5 was 1/3rd the price of the other 2. IMO, the L5 smoked both of them. It's all subjective.

    But I read roger's tales of woe and I think about all the guitars I own, all of which are stock, off-the-shelf instruments and every single one is a killer guitar that if that's all I had, I would be delighted as each one is the best guitar I've ever played when I'm playing it and I'm happy I never received the custom archtop(s) I originally commissioned.

  20. #19

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    I think the distinct lack of high end Luthier'y (is there such a word?) from the likes of Gibson, Heritage, Ibanez etc.. actually makes their guitars more palatable and more enjoyable across the range.

    Some people look at say Campellone and think 'Hmmm its an L5 but built probably with a little more refinement in regards of top and back carve, wood choice etc.." so the next thought is, well it must be better. If you want a guitar to sound like a Gibson L5 you have to buy an L5. Improving on the carved top or back for example (which could easily be done as I don't believe gibson tops and backs aren't tuned or have much if any re-curve at all) then you're not going to get what you want. I know some will think I'm crazy for saying Gibson tops and backs aren't tuned but I don't really believe they are. Gibson in general as Heritage make cheaper, easier to push out carved tops and backs, thats my opinion but thats not a bad thing.

    The prevailing fashion and wisdom for buying a guitar (copy) from a single luthier, will improve and be better than the model its copying in the end often leaves disappointment because the more generic less refined models (like those from Gibson, heritage, Ibanez etc) are actually what we wanted in the first place.

    Like the fashion became 'if you buy a high end luthier made guitar, the top and back will be better carved, the acoustic voice will be better and the guitar will be better than say Gibson's or heritage etc..'Then they get it home, say wow it has an incredible acoustic voice, they plug it in and the thing is awful.
    Or the opposite, you buy a cheaper Yunzhi or Eastman because it ses 'solid top' and think you are going to get a high end, acoustically superior guitar but in reality, you're getting something really generic because the detail in the carves are not there.

    I think theres a lot of false ideas, bad logical conclusions and simply misinformed ideas, that doesn't relate at all once its in your hands. I myself have gone back to laminates because I like the amplified tone. Only say 1 in 3 solid tops I have played amplified actually sounded good.

    Caveat* There are a lot of ideas here that are written out very basically and expressed in a basic way, there are of course many grey areas in between so before anyone shouts at me for saying something, please bare that in mind. I'm not trying to offend or bash a guitar or company here, just trying to create a separation between low cost luthier made guitars, mid range ones (like Gibson, Heritage) and top end ones by say Benedetto etc.. and what the results can often be, which is to say disappointing, if what you originally wanted was a Gibson or heritage or Guild etc..I'm not overly happy with the way I've layed my argument out here but I'm pushed for time, so please give me a little leeway. I think Gibson, Heritage are good luthiers, they are just not on the level of the guys up, its not the Gibson or heritage model and thats more than fair, price etc..
    Last edited by ArchtopHeaven; 06-04-2015 at 10:01 AM.

  21. #20
    i'm not convinced that tuning the tops and backs is necessarily a "good" thing. Tap tuning, tonewoods and such are marketing terms invented by people trying to sell stuff.

    The classic jazz guitar tones were achieved without tonewoods and tap-tuning.

    I know you disagree AH, but I don't think it gets much better (tone-wise) than johnny smith, wes montgomery, george benson, joe pass (joy spring)

    You can tap-tune all you want but is it any better?

    As an aside, I just got Pasquale Grasso's new cd recorded with his trenier. It sounds no better than a 175 IMO. Bernstein is one of the few guys playing a boutique archtop who's tone I like. Most of the big dollar archtops are purchased and played by the "lifestyle" sect. I haven't heard very many examples that make me want to ditch my gibsons, ibanez or even my aria.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post
    i'm not convinced that tuning the tops and backs is necessarily a "good" thing. Tap tuning, tonewoods and such are marketing terms invented by people trying to sell stuff.

    The classic jazz guitar tones were achieved without tonewoods and tap-tuning.

    I know you disagree AH, but I don't think it gets much better (tone-wise) than johnny smith, wes montgomery, george benson, joe pass (joy spring)

    You can tap-tune all you want but is it any better?

    As an aside, I just got Pasquale Grasso's new cd recorded with his trenier. It sounds no better than a 175 IMO. Bernstein is one of the few guys playing a boutique archtop who's tone I like. Most of the big dollar archtops are purchased and played by the "lifestyle" sect. I haven't heard very many examples that make me want to ditch my gibsons, ibanez or even my aria.

    I agree, tone wise I think Johnny smith and Wes are top. Howard Roberts next with say early Pat Martino, then George Benson (although it depends on the era), barney Kessel, then Kenny burrel etc..

    We're actually much closer on opinions than we both realise, I think we just like thrashing out the thin lines either side and of course the occasional complete opposite. I dont think that Jy spring tone is bad, its good, its just not imo 'great' but I totally understand those that say it is. What I would cal it is quintessential.

    I actually find the worst offenders in tone to be people like Tal farlow, Some Joe pass, some Jim hall and Kurt R (but thats another story lol).

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spook410 View Post
    There has been some recent discussion on having a custom archtop built to your unique requirements by a luthier. Those looking into acquiring a guitar via this path will have a lot to think about. Among other things:
    • How to find the right builder
    • How much to spend
    • How much risk (e.g. ending up with a mediocre guitar, build time, depreciation, et al) is there and can it be mitigated
    • Potential benefits over a factory made guitar


    Of course, there's more to it and many different perspectives. The purpose of this thread is to open up the discussion.
    While I'm not the world's best player, I had these exact same considerations when looking for a great 'almost' custom built guitar. So when ready to take the plunge, I relied heavily on finding the right builder. Heritage has some of the most experienced luthiers around, didn't charge an arm and a leg to customize one of their already fine designs (obviously of Gibson origin), and finally, the cost-benefit was easily justified...in my mind. They listened to my design suggestions, gave me their input, and in the end, I got a fantastic guitar that satisfies in so many ways.

    I didn't get crazy with the options, but what I asked for, they delivered. Maybe the benefits over a factory made guitar are minimal, but no other instrument suits me like the one I had a hand in designing.

    And as for the comment about George Benson playing an "off the shelf model...", I respectfully disagree. Mr. Benson designed the GB10 and continued to have it tweaked to his exact specifications over the years. At least that's what he told me when we met. So basically the GB10 is his custom designed guitar that Ibanez replicates for the masses.

    So, Spook410, go on an take the plunge. Your criteria is spot on. Now the only issue is which builder will you go with. Whatever your choice, please keep us informed. Having your own custom built guitar can be an exciting, scary and satisfying journey. Hopefully yours ends up as wonderful as mine did.

  24. #23
    Gitfiddler, my point is you can walk in and get an off the shelf benson and it's identical to the one he plays although he is not getting his ceramic pickups redone with alnico to be like the early ones.

  25. #24

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    These are the threads that remind me that I really should have been a trim carpenter. Never too late I suppose.

  26. #25

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    if they tell you it will take six months, bank on nine....


    This is known as musicians time.

  27. #26
    Has anyone here checked out any of the luthier-specific guitar shows? I’m an endorsing artist for Marchione guitars, and I do concerts and clinics from time to time. I’ve been at the Guild of American Luthiers convention in Tacoma a few times, and the Healdsburg Guitar Festival in northern California. I used to do the old Long Island festival, but I’m not sure that happens anymore. They can be a great opportunity to meet a bunch of luthiers and test drive their instruments. I’m not going to quit playing Stephen’s guitars, but I’ve seen some really great instruments from Tom Ribbecke, Linda Manzer, Ralph Novak and Mike Doolin as well. It varies, some luthiers have axes for sale, while others just have displays, but it can help anyone seriously looking for an instrument to make some informed decisions.


    Another resource for those interested in a handmade guitar is CR Guitars in Rhienbeck, NY. It’s more of a boutique or a brokerage than a traditional guitar shop, but I think you can make an appointment and try out whatever is on hand. The owner Craig Snyder is as knowledgable about guitars as anyone, and can help steer you toward a luthier that would be a good fit. (And if you were alive in the 1970’s, you heard Craig on the radio with Elton John, Donna Summer, Ray Charles and more….)


    If there’s a player you’re aware of that is playing a certain luthier’s axes. they can be a good resource. Most folks, myself included will be generous with their time (within reason) to help you on your quest.




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    http://www.youtube.com/paulkogutmusic



  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitfiddler View Post
    While I'm not the world's best player, I had these exact same considerations when looking for a great 'almost' custom built guitar. So when ready to take the plunge, I relied heavily on finding the right builder. Heritage has some of the most experienced luthiers around, didn't charge an arm and a leg to customize one of their already fine designs (obviously of Gibson origin), and finally, the cost-benefit was easily justified...in my mind. They listened to my design suggestions, gave me their input, and in the end, I got a fantastic guitar that satisfies in so many ways.

    I didn't get crazy with the options, but what I asked for, they delivered. Maybe the benefits over a factory made guitar are minimal, but no other instrument suits me like the one I had a hand in designing.

    And as for the comment about George Benson playing an "off the shelf model...", I respectfully disagree. Mr. Benson designed the GB10 and continued to have it tweaked to his exact specifications over the years. At least that's what he told me when we met. So basically the GB10 is his custom designed guitar that Ibanez replicates for the masses.

    So, Spook410, go on an take the plunge. Your criteria is spot on. Now the only issue is which builder will you go with. Whatever your choice, please keep us informed. Having your own custom built guitar can be an exciting, scary and satisfying journey. Hopefully yours ends up as wonderful as mine did.
    Benson used to play an off the shelf 400, FG100, FA510nt, Guild AA as far as I know.

  29. #28

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    Just my 2 cents worth! There are some amazing archtop builders around today so that's a big plus. I think cost and time frame are the 2 major considerations for most us w/ out unlimited resources. I went w/ Franz Elferink and a custom Tonemaster build. An amazing value w/ the Euro/$ value at the present time.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post
    i'm not convinced that tuning the tops and backs is necessarily a "good" thing. Tap tuning, tonewoods and such are marketing terms invented by people trying to sell stuff.

    The classic jazz guitar tones were achieved without tonewoods and tap-tuning.

    I know you disagree AH, but I don't think it gets much better (tone-wise) than johnny smith, wes montgomery, george benson, joe pass (joy spring)

    You can tap-tune all you want but is it any better?

    As an aside, I just got Pasquale Grasso's new cd recorded with his trenier. It sounds no better than a 175 IMO. Bernstein is one of the few guys playing a boutique archtop who's tone I like. Most of the big dollar archtops are purchased and played by the "lifestyle" sect. I haven't heard very many examples that make me want to ditch my gibsons, ibanez or even my aria.
    Most of what you're saying about a custom build being a less rational approach to finding a guitar strikes me as true, though I'm not sure that "ego" is the right way to frame it -- Economic decisions (in the broadest, behavioral sense) are much less "rational" than many of us acknowledge; they're largely emotional and heuristic (with a little bit of optimization here and there), so don't be too surprised by people doing stuff that doesn't make sense according to an algorithm. In that light, I'm not sure how much is going to come of a thread in which people try to actually frame that algorithm, but so far it's an interesting read.

    The Bernstein example probably makes your point best -- his guitar wasn't custom built for him; he bought it used. Also, his use of BF Fenders probably contributes a lot to your liking his tone. It seems to me, a lot of the people playing boutique archtops are also using "jazz" amps (AI, Henrikson, etc.). But please don't discourage people too much from buying custom. It's bread and circuses for those of us who will never be able to swing a $10,000 guitar.


    John

  31. #30

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    I'm definitely not of the mindset that puts boutique or individual builders on a pedestal. I don't think one should commission a custom guitar because it will sound better than a factory guitar. Among my Top 10 guitars are a Martin and three Gibsons, plus a Warmoth that I put together myself. There are three custom instruments in that pile as well.

    You should order a custom instrument because the builder offers something unique - either in dimensions, materials, construction design, aesthetics, instrument type, or frankly in any area that matters to you. Don't buy one because you think it's intrinsically made of magical pixie dust.
    Permanent favorites: 2016 Gibson L-5 WesMo, 1999 Gibson L-5CESN, 1928 Gibson L-5
    Play more, buy less

  32. #31

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    I know a luthier (Flattops) who charges 25K plus for his guitars and has a 10 year waiting list. His guitars are quite good, but IMO, anything over 10K for a guitar is a bit over the top.

    But if you have money to burn and a custom made guitar is what you want...have at it!

    Anyone who thinks that spending an ungodly amount of money on a guitar is a shortcut to great sound is a fool. The only way to get great sound is countless hours of practice.
    _____________________________________________
    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post
    ok, here are some risks.

    I think there's some amount of ego involved with ordering a custom archtop. You're essentially saying that your needs are special and you are deserving of something completely different than the 25,000 archtops currently on the market.

    In fact, 99% of the greatest guitar sounds in history have been made with off the shelf instruments or at the very least, instruments that are already out there that were commissioned by someone else.....

    There are so many fabulous instruments already out there that you can play before you buy that unless you just have to have your own namesake model, why commission something?!?
    This is essentially my thoughts on the matter. I'm not out to tell people what to do with their money, go right ahead if it pleases you. But if I can't make good music on the thousands of fantastic guitars already out there(some that only cost a few hundred bucks...) then a custom guitar isn't going to help anything.

  34. #33

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    One of my dreams is to order a custom build from a luthier ....

    in the short term that would be one of the guys that sells between $4K and $12K ... but who can I trust in this field .. Campellone seems to have one of the best reps in this price range

    and maybe as a retirement gift to myself in 6 to 10 years I'd order a Benedetto La Venezia or a Parker ... I'd feel more comfortable with the Parker or Benedetto order ... but that would be 20 to 30K or more worth of US dollars

    Then again .. Parker may not be around when I retire ..... I suspect the Benedetto estate will keep his shop up and running when he parts from this vail of tears

    That said .. I'm not rolling in cash and I can't afford to get a dud custom build


    The only guitar that I've ordered from scratch was my Gibson Le Grand and I got very lucky with that ... it's beautiful and sounds great .... took about 8 months from order to delivery


    Looks like my best bet for the near future would be to just keep an eye out for a used 18 inch acoustic or order a new Heritage Super Eagle acoustic



    If I had the money to spare I'd be ordering custom builds once or twice a year and seeing what kind of treasures I could find

  35. #34

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    Some observations on the discussion so far:

    • Much (not all) of the discussion/opinion appears to be based on speculation from members who do not appear from their narratives to have not actually commissioned, received and owned multiple custom luthier built instruments explaining why it is not a good option.
    • Some of it also appears to be based on personal subjective value systems on sound/tone, economics/value proposition and other surprising rationale deciding who needs a custom guitar and who does not.
    • Some discussion poses that because most of archtop lutherie is based upon concepts/designs of both Lloyd Loar or Bob Benedetto that individual luthier refinements do not matter. Most things in lutherie are not revolutionary (e.g. Ken Parker) but evolutionary refinement of earlier designs.
    • It also feels very electric archtop focused vs. acoustic. Jazz is also played on acoustic instruments of a variety of types (gypsy, nylon, steel string, acoustic archtop...).
    • Lastly, I would point out, if you look at the classical guitar world (the least effient of guitars), you will find very few top concert guitarists who do not play a custom luthier made instrument.

    Food for Thought...
    __________________________________________________ ____________________________________
    Bob


  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 View Post
    Some observations on the discussion so far:

    • Much (not all) of the discussion/opinion appears to be based on speculation from members who do not appear from their narratives to have not actually commissioned, received and owned multiple custom luthier built instruments explaining why it is not a good option.
    • Some of it also appears to be based on personal subjective value systems on sound/tone, economics/value proposition and other surprising rationale deciding who needs a custom guitar and who does not.
    • Some discussion poses that because most of archtop lutherie is based upon concepts/designs of both Lloyd Loar or Bob Benedetto that individual luthier refinements do not matter. Most things in lutherie are not revolutionary (e.g. Ken Parker) but evolutionary refinement of earlier designs.
    • It also feels very electric archtop focused vs. acoustic. Jazz is also played on acoustic instruments of a variety of types (gypsy, nylon, steel string, acoustic archtop...).
    • Lastly, I would point out, if you look at the classical guitar world (the least effient of guitars), you will find very few top concert guitarists who do not play a custom luthier made instrument.

    Food for Thought...
    I dont think one has to have had a guitar made for himself to have played ones that have been made of others, or heard ones that are reportedly amazing, yet when listened to appear not to be and of course disappointing testimonials by the buyer once complete, in order to draw some ideas about what can happen.

    The same hype happens in the mass world too. I've never played a martin that impressed me that much, accept one from the 70's. I cant stand Taylor's and think they are the most overpriced underwhelming acoustic you can buy.

    On the other hand, I think Furch are stunning guitars for the money.

    Its always going to be hit and miss with Guitars, no matter who you are or what you want.

    The only safe way to get a guitar you like to play, like the sound of and is stable, is to buy second hand and you get to play it first and the older the better (well for stability anyway). That is a logical thought that should be weighed up when choosing.

    Even some of D'angelico's guitars started to fall apart due to bad practices.

    I think that is what often separates the people who have the money so they can do it and afford to take the risk, people who are looking for something unique, or artists who get given them for free. They dont have the same motivation and they dont get the same results.

    Which one is the worst situation to be in? The struggling artist who thinks that by plonking down his last penny will get him the guitar of his dreams or because he believes in the hype for luthier made instruments (although some hype is very deserved) and that he will have a better guitar for it and be a better player because of it.
    Thats the one that really needs to watch out imo and possibly be given a cold shower, or read this thread before taking the plunge.

    Just to put it straight, I admire people who get guitars commissioned. I love it when artists support artists in the art that they make.
    Last edited by ArchtopHeaven; 06-04-2015 at 03:36 PM.

  37. #36

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    I commissioned a guitar from a european luthier in 2000, so I'll weigh in.

    The economic arguments against have been well stated here, so I won't repeat them - I can confirm them.

    Looked at objectively, the only real reasons for commissioning an instrument are either that you like the work of the luthier so much you must have one of his/ her instruments, or that you want something built that isn't otherwise available. CC pickup guitars might be a good example of the second reason.

    In my case, it was a mixture of the first reason, and just that I felt like doing it at the time and the exchange rate was very good ( not a good reason, but...). The guitar duly arrived, and was excellent in nearly all respects, but I didn't bond with the instrument and subsequently sold it - another forum member has it now. I didn't bond with it because, at that time, I didn't really know what I wanted in an arch top guitar and ordered with some features that I later realised were not a great idea, aesthetically.

    Tonally, the instrument was on a par with an L5, for want of a better benchmark. Would I do it again? - no. However, what I have done is got hold of a couple of guitars which the same luthier had already made, which I liked the look of, and could return if they didn't work for me. That has been very successful, and I still have those guitars today.

    All that said, I have a lot of sympathy with JZ's point that any reasonable player needs can be covered by off the shelf instruments; the differences ( part from resale value) are really marginal - as playing instruments. As 'works of art', though, some luthier guitars easily surpass commercial instruments, aesthetically speaking.

  38. #37
    My experience is certainly limited and represents something less than an objective metric, but out of all the flat tops I've played in my lifetime, my one custom (Kinscherff) and one boutique (Goodall) are certainly among the best instruments I've encountered. This makes me lean towards the magical pixie dust theory.

    Unfortunately, hard data on archtops is elusive. I've only played a few high end instruments and they have never been set up properly as acoustic guitars so they disappoint. As for the newer Gibson's, Heritage's, and Guild's of the world, honestly I don't get it. While different and certainly better quality, they don't seem notably better as acoustics than the Yunzhi's I'm used to. So, I can chase the vintage instruments, look for the elusive 'one' in a factory model, or rely on a boutique or custom maker sprinkling some acoustic dust.
    Hell is full of musical amateurs - George Bernard Shaw

  39. #38

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    Craig Snyder is a guitar GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    edbarrettjazzguitar.com

  40. #39

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    I've had an archtop custom made to my specification by Bill Moll and a flat-top made to very non-traditional specs by Matt Mustapick. Both experiences went without a hitch and produced exquisite instruments that I still find to be superbly responsive to my hand size and style of playing. I would highly recommend either of those luthiers. The time it took for each of them was on the long end of their initial estimates but neither promised anything precise in terms of build time which I believe was wise. Price was negotiated at the time of the contract and both required 50% up front at the time the work began. Final payment depended on my approval of the instrument in both cases.

    I have other guitars that were not made for me, and I play those guitars as much or more than the custom guitars, but the custom guitars provide a special pleasure that cannot come from the others. I doubt that either custom guitar will ever be worth more than I paid for it because neither is traditional. You could make a profit if you got, say, a good price on an L-5. I suppose the same would be true if you got a "standard" Benedetto made for you 20 years ago, but what's the point of that? The reason I got them built for me was so I could have the features I just couldn't find in off the rack instruments. Getting a custom built guitar should really be for yourself, not for re-sale.

    I say do it, if you have the time and cash, and really know what you want. Find a reputable builder whom you can trust.

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker View Post
    99% of archtop makers are making benedetto or gibson style archtops. Only about 1% are pushing the envelope.
    I'd say Ken Parker belongs to that 1%.


  42. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 View Post
    Some observations on the discussion so far:

    • Much (not all) of the discussion/opinion appears to be based on speculation from members who do not appear from their narratives to have not actually commissioned, received and owned multiple custom luthier built instruments explaining why it is not a good option.


    i knew jimmy d'aquisto personally, played many of his instruments and have played many custom, boutique instruments. If the criteria for an opinion is to have paid for and received their guitars, yes, technically you can disqualify me on a technicality. I guess I could do the same for folks who do not actually play jazz?

    • Some of it also appears to be based on personal subjective value systems on sound/tone, economics/value proposition and other surprising rationale deciding who needs a custom guitar and who does not.

    Strawman argument. NOBODY said that.


    • It also feels very electric archtop focused vs. acoustic. Jazz is also played on acoustic instruments of a variety of types (gypsy, nylon, steel string, acoustic archtop...).

    I would guess that 90% of custom/boutique archtops are made with pickups so electric guitar is a somewhat important consideration.

    • Lastly, I would point out, if you look at the classical guitar world (the least effient of guitars), you will find very few top concert guitarists who do not play a custom luthier made instrument.

    Food for Thought...
    What's that have to do with archtop making and buying? Classical guitars have evolved over centuries, electric guitar is not even 100 years old.

    Look, some folks are getting defensive. There's no need. You don't need to justify to me or anyone why you want a custom archtop. If you want one, that's fabulous and I agree that it furthers the art. This thread was about the benefits and the risks. I wanted to point out the other side, that's all. I'll unsubscribe and bow out.

  43. #42

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    In the High Price range $10K archtops I've played, I was most impressed w/ John Buscarino and Bill Comins guitars for tone and fit and finish! Would I pay that much, no way. But in fairness an new equivalent Gibson archtop is about the same price. And while they are excellent, you are not able to custom spec your Gibson at that price.

  44. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by kkfan View Post
    I'd say Ken Parker belongs to that 1%.


    priced for them (I mean us) too.

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger View Post
    I know a luthier (Flattops) who charges 25K plus for his guitars and has a 10 year waiting list. His guitars are quite good, but IMO, anything over 10K for a guitar is a bit over the top.

    But if you have money to burn and a custom made guitar is what you want...have at it!

    Anyone who thinks that spending an ungodly amount of money on a guitar is a shortcut to great sound is a fool. The only way to get great sound is countless hours of practice.
    I only partially agree with this. Are you saying that a truly great guitar cannot sound better when simply strumming across an open E chord? My experience tells me otherwise.

    That said, not all guitars are created equal, not even two identical models from the same builder.

    my point is, a great guitar is a great guitar, independent of the poor sap who picks it up.

  46. #45

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    A great guitar will not sound nearly so great in the hands of an okay player as an okay guitar will in the hands of a great player...
    _____________________________________________
    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass

  47. #46

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    I am confused. Are you saying that they charge too much for the product offered or that you cannot afford the product offered?
    __________________________________________________ ____________________________________
    Bob


  48. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by fumblefingers View Post
    I only partially agree with this. Are you saying that a truly great guitar cannot sound better when simply strumming across an open E chord? My experience tells me otherwise.

    That said, not all guitars are created equal, not even two identical models from the same builder.

    my point is, a great guitar is a great guitar, independent of the poor sap who picks it up.
    and a great guitar is a great guitar, regardless of whether it was a $25k custom or an off the shelf instrument. Great wood rears it's beautiful head in unpredictable ways.

  49. #48

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger View Post
    A great guitar will not sound nearly so great in the hands of an okay player as an okay guitar will in the hands of a great player...
    This is as true as true gets, but it's passé here on the interwebs, where gear is discussed enthusiastically among players of all stripes. A great player wants a great instrument rather than an okay one, right? Even the mediocre player with a little money and aspiration wants something nicer than an "okay" guitar.

    Homely guys with a bit of money sometimes have hot wives, too. All's fair... Most of us want nice stuff in life. Skill and tools are not ordained from above to always be commensurate.
    Permanent favorites: 2016 Gibson L-5 WesMo, 1999 Gibson L-5CESN, 1928 Gibson L-5
    Play more, buy less

  50. #49
    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar View Post
    This is as true as true gets, but it's passé here on the interwebs, where gear is discussed enthusiastically among players of all stripes. A great player wants a great instrument rather than an okay one, right? Even the mediocre player with a little money and aspiration wants something nicer than an "okay" guitar.

    Homely guys with a bit of money sometimes have hot wives, too. All's fair... Most of us want nice stuff in life. Skill and tools are not ordained from above to always be commensurate.
    if you want a great guitar as a status symbol like a trophy wife, go for it but if you want a better sound, you'd be better off putting the time into practicing.

    having said that, there's nothing wrong with wanting a great guitar. I'm just unconvinced that spending $10k on a boutique instrument gets you a better sound than a 175 or L5.

    I'd like to hear some audio proof of this.
    Last edited by jzucker; 06-05-2015 at 07:38 AM.

  51. #50

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    Isn't an L5 a $10K instrument these days?