To Dream the Impossible Dream

(I wrote this piece several years ago when I thought I was in the market for a custom guitar. I subsequently abandoned the quest and settled down on a handful of conventional, production guitars. In retrospect, I’m really glad I didn’t waste my money on a custom-built guitar because, evidently, my tastes change too rapidly to happy with one special guitar).

“Let Me Build the Guitar of Your Dreams”

When you can’t find a production guitar that suits your needs it’s reasonable to conclude that you need to find a luthier to custom build your “dream” guitar. And don’t the vast majority of luthiers advertise something along the lines of “Let me build your dream guitar.” In reality, as I’ve recently discovered, what they mean is “Let me build your dream guitar insofar as I’ve already dreamed it.”

The first challenge you face is wading through the hundreds upon hundreds of luthiers all clamoring to build “the guitar of your dreams.” I narrowed my choice down to several – I’ll not name names but there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of at least a few of them. Some of them build guitars from scratch and others have base models they tweak according to customer taste.

The three essential design elements I wanted were (1) a headless guitar; (2) a compound radius neck; and (3) stainless steel frets. All these things are on the market today and found on lots of production guitars in various combinations (the compound radius neck and stainless steel frets are now very common). I just needed three basic things. The remainders were just little details like wood and electronics, etc. Here’s a sample of how things went for me during my hunt.

“There’s no such thing as a stainless steel fret.”

“Maybe. I’ll get back to you next week.” (Still waiting 7 months later...)

“Sorry it took me three months to return your email.” (Yeah, I trust Mr. Communications Skills with my project).

“I regret to inform you that Luthier X passed away last year.”

“Stainless steel frets ruin your tone. Only an idiot would use them.”

“Cocobolo is poisonous.” (Not true, though some people are allergic to it)

“It’s impossible to dress those’s impossible.” (Not true)

“I don’t know how to get stainless frets.” (Even after I told him where he could get them)

“Stainless is all marketing hype...they’re no different than any other frets.”

“I found a dealer in Taiwan who sells SS frets. I ordered a sample and when it comes in I’ll let you know what I think.” (Never heard from again)

“Sorry, I don’t build guitars any more. If you ever need a baseball bat you know who to call.” (Swing and a miss)

“How did you get my email address?” (From your website?)

“Birdseye maple will’s terrible for necks.” (False)

“Headless guitars are a bad design. I won’t build one.” (Okay then)

“We only have two body styles to choose from. One is like a Strat and the other looks like a Les Paul.” (Bud or Coors, you choose)

“Why don’t you just get a Steinberger?” (Argh)

And so it went. What I gathered from my hunt was that the average person building “your dream guitar” is just like everybody else: grossly prone to misinformation, limited in skills, stuck in their ways, is allergic to new ideas, and wants to do things their own way while simultaneously telling you they want to do it your way.