How do you pick which builder to go with?

Presc

Member
Messages
1,318
I'm considering commissioning a Tele-type within a few months. In the case of a guitar based on the common shapes (Strat, Tele, 335, LP), there are a number of builders who can make what you want. However, there are challenges to picking the builder.

With small builder guitars, it is hard to find an example in person. Most of the names out there have excellent reviews across the board (both for the quality of guitar and their customer service), and often times there are few people who have played guitars from both maker A and maker B. You get a lot of satisfied owners, but few comparative reviews. Price is certainly a consideration, but for a given guitar type, it seems that many builders are clustered around similar price points, which makes sense.

I'm not asking who I should pick; rather, I am asking how you chose the builder to make your guitar (in a situation where multiple options were available, not some proprietary/unique design). In a certain sense it seems like you can't go wrong with many of the top names, but it also makes the choice difficult!
 

Route234

Member
Messages
8,943
One thing I try to do is watch this place and the emporium. Not saying its 100% fair to the builder, but what I watch for is guys selling guitars shortly after they buy them and how much they lose on the resale. If a guys stuff is selling reasonably close to what he sells them for then its low risk. If you see guys losing their shirts on resale its troubling. I also think when you see a pattern of guys unloading the gear from a particular builder that you have to consider that too.

Its a very difficult thing to do as you are finding out. Most reviews are positive and this place does not allow overtly negative takes on builders so that will keep stuff out of the discussion too.
 

mwhy

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,691
You've already identified several of the main points: type of guitar desired (including specs, etc.); potential reviews; and price.

I'd argue the price point with you a bit, though: for the common guitars you listed, small builder prices can be from $1500-6000 or more (up to $12k on some 335-types). That's still quite a range, IMO.

FWIW, I've owned a custom classical guitar, 4 custom jazz guitars, and a new one on the way.

You may have more luck if you rephrased your question a bit, such as, "I want a custom tele-style in the $2000 range -- what should I be looking for?" etc.
 

lumco

Most of the roads I travel are muddy
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
981
I am no expert by any means in selecting a builder, however when I embarked on this journey 2yrs ago I talked to most of them. In my case it was a Tele, I figured out real quick that as soon as the builder began telling me what I needed and what I really wanted, I moved on. I appreciated the advice but for some reason the consumer or in our case the user, it rubbed me the wrong way. I felt very confident in what I wanted and when I found the builder who would do what I wanted my check was on the way. I have been more than happy with it and ordered a second one on the same day I recieved it.
 

Presc

Member
Messages
1,318
You've already identified several of the main points: type of guitar desired (including specs, etc.); potential reviews; and price.

I'd argue the price point with you a bit, though: for the common guitars you listed, small builder prices can be from $1500-6000 or more (up to $12k on some 335-types). That's still quite a range, IMO.

FWIW, I've owned a custom classical guitar, 4 custom jazz guitars, and a new one on the way.

You may have more luck if you rephrased your question a bit, such as, "I want a custom tele-style in the $2000 range -- what should I be looking for?" etc.
Absolutely, and there definitely is a range. In the case of the basic Fender styles, there are a number clustered around that $2000 number you mentioned, give or take a few hundred bucks. Of course you can spend much more than that if you wish, but even knocking the $5000+ variants out of the equation, there are still numerous potential builders.

Ultimately, I'm less concerned with getting a specific recommendation at this point (among other things, to avoid arguing over builder A versus builder B). I'm more curious about the criteria people have used to make their choices. In other words: say you have four builders, all well reviewed etc, who can make you the same guitar at the same price. How would you go about picking one?

Appreciate the feedback so far :beer
 

Krayon

Senior Member
Messages
462
personally i prefer to work as "local" as I can..
I like a hand-on experience when talking about a custom build. seeing and feeling the woods beforehand is very cool and priceless when it comes to a custom neck carve/

Plus, if or when something does happen to go wrong, its very important to me to have a face to talk to. and if need be, a face to get in.
 

eliot1025

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,505
In other words: say you have four builders, all well reviewed etc, who can make you the same guitar at the same price. How would you go about picking one?

Appreciate the feedback so far :beer
My experience is that they are not the same guitar. They're similar. They're likely to have differences is at least some of the following - neck shapes, nut material, hardware brands, radii, fret wire brand and sizes, neck cut, pickups, pickup wire, heel shape, nut width, type of finish (nitro, lacquer) to name a few features.

I have a bunch of specific things I want in a guitar and most builders don't offer ALL the specs I want. So, first I find out if they can make what I want. Then, can I afford it. Then, how long is the wait. If I can't afford it, what can be compromised at what price.

I have to love the neck. The guitar has to be physically comfortable - balanced and light. It's important to me that I play some of the builders' guitars first - hopefully several examples of the exact model I end up buying.

If I can't play any of the builders' instruments then there's the reputation. There's also the builders' philosophy. I learned recently that Collings tweaks each instrument a bit due to the inevitable variations inherent in woods. That impressed me. (Louis Electric does the same thing with amps even though woods are not a big factor.)

Personally, I'd never buy from a builder if I haven't played their guitars. I have that luxury because I live in a big city where lots of small builders have owners who'll let me try their guitars.
 

prsflame

Member
Messages
3,008
I was fortunate enough to play guitars from the two builders I ordered custom instruments from (Thorn and Mcnaught) With Mcnaught, I was able to play a bunch of examples at the shop I used to work for. With Thorn, I had to "try to buy" and I was able to pick up a Artisan already built. This allowed me to get aquainted with the build quality, playability, etc before going the custom route.
Another thing I look for are builders with a brick and mortar operation. Both have solid reputations, and have been in buisness for a long time. I didin't want to plunk down a big deposit to someone who would take the $$ and dissapear into the dark night. :)
Best of luck to you. There are many fine builders out there to choose from!
 

Irreverent

Member
Messages
2,904
One of the most helpful aspects of my decision-making for custom builds was a phone conversation with the builder. I tried to keep it as brief as possible out of respect for the builder's time, but I learned everything I needed to know in this way. By this method I have acquired guitars with which I am supremely happy, and also have builders in mind for future projects with whom I would love to work.

Good luck.

Peace.
 

Quarter

Member
Messages
1,595
One of the most helpful aspects of my decision-making for custom builds was a phone conversation with the builder. I tried to keep it as brief as possible out of respect for the builder's time, but I learned everything I needed to know in this way. By this method I have acquired guitars with which I am supremely happy, and also have builders in mind for future projects with whom I would love to work.

Good luck.

Peace.
I think getting to know your prospective builder a little is a very good idea and a chat on the phone can be very helpful. If your contact and comunication with a prospective builder leaves you with less than a warm fuzzy, then perhaps that is not a path you want to go down.
 

skhan007

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
9,516
its important to know who you're working with!
One of the most helpful aspects of my decision-making for custom builds was a phone conversation with the builder. I tried to keep it as brief as possible out of respect for the builder's time, but I learned everything I needed to know in this way. By this method I have acquired guitars with which I am supremely happy, and also have builders in mind for future projects with whom I would love to work.

Good luck.

Peace.
Exactly.

For my current build, I got feedback from others who know the builder's work, looked at the guitars they've built on their website, watched youtube demos of these guitars made by current owners, corresponded with the builder via email, and most importantly- talked to the builder on the phone to discuss process, specifics of my build/vision, timelines, costs, and their experience building this specific type of guitar (in my case a set-neck stratocaster). From all this information, I was comfortable with my decision.
 

Marty s Horne

Member
Messages
2,897
For me it was trial and error. I had guitars built for me and then sold them at a loss when they weren't right for me. It can get costly and frustrating but it did lead me to David Thomas McNaught. For the past 8 years I have been gigging with McNaughts and couldn't be happier. I finally found MY guitar!
 

mslugano

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,326
Talk to a few builders...lots of guys building GREAT T types and lots with great reputation on TGP. For me, I need to be able to spec out the body wood, neck shape, radius, fret size, SS frets, number of frets and certain basic control layouts. I also don't want needless over the top relic-ing but a little is OK. If they can't do this stuff, I move on.

Know what you want and don't want. Then, talk to them and go with your gut emotional contact with the builder.
 

VicAjax

Male Supermodel
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,512
i have a custom tele coming from Rick Kelly that should be finished this week, which i ordered a little more than a year ago.

i had been considering K-Line, Kirn and Creston as well, but i went with Rick for a number of reasons, despite his often absurdly long wait times:

  1. he is local, so i can get to know him, support him by patronizing his shop and periodically check in on his progress with my guitar.
  2. he builds guitars for several pros who happen to be among my musical heroes.
  3. the material he uses has a historical connection to the city, and therefore a personal connection with me.
  4. i wanted not just a well-built guitar, but a guitar that would be special to me and unique.

obviously, these are my own individual reasons and can't be applied to everyone (or anyone) else's. i nearly went with Creston for most of the same reasons above.. and would have had i not been turned on to Rick's stuff by this board.
 




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