With fresh ideas stimulated by the 2014 NAMM show, we wanted to begin this year by sharing our perspective on the details that need to be worked out when building any guitar from scratch, with a focus on helping you plan your "dream build." The goal is to help you understand more about the the process and all the decisions that need to be made before we build a guitar, so you can have as much control over the end result as you want and end up with an instrument that exceeds your every dream. This will be a basic overview, with future follow-ups covering each segment in more detail.
For starters, we need to know what your goals are: Do you want to replicate something you saw in a shop window years ago, are you hoping to have something like one of your musical heroes played, or are you trying to create something you can't find anywhere else? Chances are you want to go beyond the norm in some way, otherwise you'd just buy a guitar off the wall somewhere, right? You have an image in your head-- What does it look like? (color, shape, etc.) What does it sound like? (bright, dark, jangly, warm...) What does it feel like? (solid & heavy, light & resonant, thick or thin?) Once we can express and clarify these ideas, we can begin to sketch out your dream and bring it closer to reality. It may help to think of it in sections like this:
You most likely already know what body style you want-- whether it's a solid-body electric, an acoustic archtop or a semi-hollow jazz-box-- and what color you want it to be. From there we can determine what woods might be best for the top, back & sides based on the tones you want it to produce. From the warmth of mahogany to the brightness of maple, each kind of wood has a major effect on tone. The body is the main factor in the look of a guitar, and it's also responsible for the vast majority of the guitar’s overall sound.
The Neck & Head:
The neck also transmits a large part of the strings' vibration to the body, and so is responsible for producing another big portion of the sound of the instrument. All CB Hill Guitars have a one-piece neck & head. The reason for this is simple: the neck & head bear most of the stress of string-tension so they need to be as strong & stable as possible. Maple is a good wood for this crucial piece because of its inherent hardness and stability, but other woods (like mahogany) can used if desired. The fretboard can be made of several different species of wood depending on your desired tone & appearance.
This covers everything from the tuning machines to the frets to the tailpiece, and everything in between. Anything that joins things together, holds things down, or covers things up is considered hardware. The hardware that has the biggest effect on tone are the bridge, nut, tailpiece & tuners. Other hardware of note would be things like the pickguard, knobs & strap buttons: not necessarily major players in the tone department, but important for other reasons.
These days most guitars are made to be amplified, even if they're primarily used as "acoustic" guitars. Whether they're designed to be played through a guitar amp, a PA, or even straight into a recording system, electronic pickups are a very important element in the tonal considerations of designing your dream. We have years of experience with different models of pickups and wiring schemes, and are happy to advise you in selecting from the many choices available. We can even custom-wind pickups just for your guitar.
And Finally, The Strings:
The fastest way to change the sound & feel of any guitar is to change the strings. Remember, they're the things that are actually vibrating to make the guitar have sound! Everything from materials used to the method of winding has a profound effect on the sound the strings produce, so give some thought to what you want those wires to do for you.
If you put these all together you have something that looks like a guitar, and hopefully sounds like one too. It’s a lot to think about-- but when it’s done there’ll be nothing else like it in the world, and it’ll be all yours.
If you have a dream, we can build it; and once you’ve played a CB Hill guitar, you’ll never want to play anything else.