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Posts Tagged ‘boutique guitar’

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Imagine, if you will, that guitar to the left, in a glossy, goldtop finish. That will be the guitar that Adam Hernandez of Saint Guitars will be building for me. It was by no means an easy decision to make. As a tester for Saint Guitars, and ostensibly a rep for Saint Guitars (I’ve been careful about keeping that separate from this site – though news about it will be out within the next few weeks), I love every single guitar I’ve gotten my hands on. I dig Adam’s approach to guitar-building, and of course, I simply love his designs.

But despite the relationship, I was a little wary of actually purchasing one. Why? There are lots of factors, which I’m going to share here. But first, the juicy back story…

As some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of G & L Guitars, especially the Comanche line. Yngwie Malmsteen calls the Strat a perfect guitar, but I believe the Comanche improves on it even further, especially with its Z-coil pickups that still offer that gorgeous single-coil feel, but with much more output.

For the last few months, I had been saving my pennies to purchase a Comanche from my local G & L dealer. I’ve been skrimping and scraping every extra buck I could because I just had to have one. It’s an incredible guitar that just speaks to my soul. And about a month ago, I had enough to get my beloved guitar. Then Adam contacted me via e-mail a few days before I was all set to buy the guitar and said he wanted to construct a guitar for me based upon this “dream” goldtop I had described to him a month before that when he asked me what I think would be my dream guitar.

Now you might think I just up and dropped all my plans to get a Comanche. I didn’t. I’ve been very drawn to the Comanche for a long time, but as I’ve shared, I also love Saint guitars. In fact, though I received the e-mail early in the morning, I sat on it for the whole day, and didn’t reply until late that night. In short, I was seriously conflicted, and for several good reasons, which is why I’m sharing this experience. And perhaps by sharing this experience, I can shed some light on helping you make your own choice in whether or not to go with a custom-made boutique guitar.

Most people who come to GuitarGear.org have a serious and virtually incurable case of GAS. Several have custom guitars – a few even have a few Saint guitars to their name. So there is no doubt that what you ultimately get is high-quality, and tailored to your specific tonal requirements. But the conflict in my mind was something entirely different than cost, quality, build, tone, etc.. I know what Saint Guitars sound like, and they’re some of the most gorgeous-sound guitars I’ve ever played; cost would be an issue, but if I made the decision, I’d make it happen; rather, it was dealing with the “known” versus the “unknown.”

So, to boutique or not to boutique? That is the question I posed as the title of this article. If it wasn’t cost or quality or tone that was the issue, what do I mean by the “known” versus the “unknown.” I’m going to bullet-point the known issues first:

  • First off, the Comanche was a known quantity to me. I have played several over the last couple of years, and while each is slightly different – after all you’re dealing with wood which is by no means uniform from instrument to instrument – they’ve all generally fallen within the same range of playability and tone.
  • And because I’ve spent a lot of time playing that model of guitar, I knew how I’d fit it into my stable and what it could do for my tone, and how I’d use it in my compositions and performances.
  • The Z-coil pickup is what I believe to be Leo Fender’s finest achievement. Even though Leo was known for creating the Strat, what a lot of people don’t know is that he didn’t play guitar – at all. He didn’t even tune them until late in life! He was all about the pickup, and he built the Strat around his pickup invention. So there’s a bit of history behind the Comanche.

So what about the “unknowns?”

  • Being that a custom-made is a unique creation, I don’t have a precedent from which to follow. There aren’t any previous guitars made with the EXACT specs my guitar would have. In other words, I don’t have any similar models from which to reference.
  • I suppose there are reasonable facsimiles, and since I’ve had the fortune to test Saint guitars, I know how well they’re made, but the guitar I have in mind isn’t made of walnut, which is Adam’s choice of wood. It’s a solid mahogany body with a maple neck – similar to a Charvelle I played a few days ago – very nice playing guitar.
  • Also, with a custom guitar, what I found was that I really had to think and on top of that do research on tone woods and pickups and hardware. That’s something that I wouldn’t have to do with a Comanche. I’ve just had to play a bunch to find the one that I like. That kind of leads back to the first point that there are no previous guitars with my exact specs from which to reference.

But despite all that, I’m still going to have Adam build me my guitar. The uniqueness certainly plays into it, but I’ve been playing long enough now that I have a good idea of how a guitar sounds with a particular type of tone wood, so tone is not quite as unknown as I might have originally thought. But I think the thing that probably was the scariest thing for me was having to specify the different pieces. In other words, all the effort I’d have to put into getting the guitar created. And even though it’s a bit of a moving target, here are the specs I so far:

Finish: Glossy Goldtop

Body: Double-cut Mahogany
Neck: Maple
Fretboard: Ebony
Headstock: Maple

Hardware: Gotoh wraparound bridge, Gotoh 510 tuners (locking)

Pickups (still kind of deciding): Either Seymour Duncan ’59 in neck, Alnico Pro II bridge or 2 ’59’s or 2 Alnico Pro II’s. Both coil-tapped.

Let me know what you think!

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