This was posted on the old PRS forum and went the way of the dodo at some point. There have been a number of times when folks have asked me to repost it. Scott F at the Thorn Forum was good enough to dig it out from one of those sites that archives the net. I've reposted it here where it will hopefully stick around for a while. (Thanks Scott!) ----------------------------------------------------------- I think the biggest question facing someone the first time they decide to buy a custom made instrument is "What do I want?" I'd like to start this thread to help the first time custom guitar buyer figure out what it is they're looking for. The first big decision you must make: Am I building something to: * duplicate one of my favorite instruments with a few of my own ideas? * fill in a hole in my collection? * experiment with something entirely unique? There is another major design decision that will help guide your choices. You need to determine where you are on the form vs. function axis. At one extreme is a "show guitar" of which the primary intent is to be so tricked-out, made with such detail and incredible components that your friends� jaws will hit the floor when they see it. Chances are, this kind of guitar will mostly sit in its case or in a glass box on your wall most of the time. Materials and design choices are selected primarily for their visual appeal. At the other extreme is a plain jane guitar in which every element is selected for its contribution to the tone. Think about an old cherry red Les Paul Jr: slab of mahogany with 2 P90s and no frills whatsoever. If the magically correct pieces of wood were selected, this thing is going to have tone for days and play like butter! But no one is ever going to say it's the most beautiful thing they've seen. Chances are, most people are going to want to do something in between, but if you make a decision as to where you are on this axis before you begin, it will help you make a lot of the other choices. No matter which approach you decide to take, here are the parameters you'll want to consider: * Materials for neck, fretboard, top, body, headstock face, inlays, nut * Body cavities * Body style * Neck carve * Fretboard radius * Inlay design, body/neck/headstock purfling, etc. * Scale length * Neck attachment (neck through, bolt-on, etc.) * Type/shape of heel * Type of volute * Type of truss-rod (single vs. double action) * Number of frets * Type of frets (size, material) * Type of pickups * Location of pickups, height and angle from surface of guitar * Type of controls * Size/shape of control and tremolo cavities * Neck height/angle from body * Headstock angle * Control placement/orientation * Type of bridge/tailpiece * Type and location of instrument jack * Locking vs non-locking vs traditional trem bridges * Tremolo arm shape, length, type of attachment to bridge * Type of pickguard * Type of control cavity covers * Plating on metal parts * Type of knobs (e.g., speed knobs vs. knurled metal) * Type of tuners (locking? button material?) * Finish for top, neck and other parts of guitar (not only color, but type: laquer vs. poly vs. nitro) * Neck weight relative to body (most folks don�t want a neck heavy guitar) * Nature of carving on body (e.g., tummy carve, highly carved top, etc.) * Overall weight of guitar Of course, this list will vary a bit from one custom guitar designer to the next. Some may only do bolt-on necks, for example. But the point is, you should think about each and every one of these, where applicable, with respect to what you want. Duplicating your favorite instrument The implications here are pretty straightforward, particularly if you're more or less duplicating a favorite instrument. If this is the case, identify all the traits (from the list above) that you like in your current axe, and those that you want to change. For example, you may love the basic Les Paul Standard type guitar, but want one with a tremolo, fancy inlay and three P90s. In this case, you'd want to hold all the other design parameters more or less constant. Filling in a hole in your collection This is the next simplest situation to deal with. Suppose you have a Tele, a Les Paul Custom, PRS Custom 22 and a 335 and you'd really like something like a Strat, but you have some specific design ideas about scale length, finishes, pickup choices and control layouts that you just can't find on a stock guitar. Again, this should be relatively straightforward to plan out. You'd want to identify all the design parameters that your favorite "Strat" type guitar would have, relative to a traditional Strat and then back into the rest. So, in this example, suppose you wanted something with a 24" scale, a 14" radius fretboard, a H-S-H pickup configuration. As you're straying away from more traditional Strat type pickups, you will need to very carefully think through the brands and models you want. For example, in this scenario, you don't want to choose humbuckers that will really overpower the single coil pickup in the middle. You'd also want to think about the kind of switching required to make this combination of pickups really effective. Experimenting With Something Entirely Unique Well, this is perhaps the most rewarding way to go, but the riskiest too. You're stepping into uncharted waters. To some extent, I think you should still consider design elements that you know to work, particularly with regards to pickups and types of wood. For example, combining a maple top with a solid mahogany neck and body and humbuckers is usually a sure fire recipe for the "Les Paul Sound". You can mess around with a LOT of other design parameters and still get something that sounds A LOT like a Les Paul if you stick with those three basic ingredients. But with each choice that takes you further away from the traditional Les Paul (in this example), you need to evaluate the degree to which your choice makes sense. You don't want to wind up with a Frankenstein monster that isn't really good at anything. For example, if you use a maple neck and fretboard, a swamp ash body with big tone-cavities and stick a couple high-gain humbuckers on it, are you going to wind up with a great guitar? If you're just going for a certain aesthetic, maybe it doesn't matter. The subtle problem you'll want to try to avoid is weird interactions between various design choices. Another example, if you want a really lightweight guitar but want a rosewood neck, well, that thing is going to be neck heavy. Pretty much no way around it. Or selecting pickups that don't have adjustable pole pieces with a really small fretboard radius, you may wind up with D and G strings that sound kind of dead. Another example is using a bone nut and a Les Paul headstock design on a guitar with a non-locking tremolo. Well, as the strings splay out on a Les Paul headstock, they're more likely to get stuck in the bone nut, causing the guitar not to stay in tune when you use the trem. Yet another bad interaction would be selecting a very flat fretboard radius with a standard tune-o-matic bridge. The problem is that the fretboard radius needs to be matched by the saddle height, more or less, and the typical tune-o-matic bridge may be designed for a smaller radius than what you have in mind. This would defeat the intent of your design. So the point is, you shouldn't make any choices without evaluating their effect on the overall utility and sound of the instrument. A Few More Points Plan the work and then work the plan. Think through your original plan carefully and then stick to it. Don't waffle around. It's okay to make some minor changes a long the way, but if you carefully thought through all the design considerations up front, you're probably in good shape. The more you start messing with your plan, the great there chance that you'll wind up with a Frankenstein. Moreover, chance are, you're working with a talented person who you want on your side. If the builder is a pro and a good person, they're not going to mind a small change here or there, but if you start making radical changes you may be making the luthier's job difficult. Perhaps really difficult. And you don't want to do that. So, be reasonable. Summary But the most important things to think about were laid out at the beginning of this post. Make sure you know where you want to go and have thought through each of those design parameters.