There are many aspects to consider when designing a custom guitar. Every detail of the instrument can be specified by the client, so this level of freedom can actually be overwhelming. Obvious factors include the body shape, finish, and pickup choice. But other details are what can make a guitar a truly personalized instrument and tool. The scale length, wood selection, the dimensions of the neck, the number of frets, the size of the frets, the location of the bridge relative to the back of the body, the location and design of the electronics, these are some of the many fine details that are specified during the process. I have offered thoughts on some of the these aspects on this page.
Many players do not realize that scale length plays an important role in the tone of the guitar, as well as the feel of the strings. The two dominant scale length choices, the Fender 25.5" and the Gibson 24.75", are only .75" different in overall length, but the effect is noticeable and important. The shorter scale length leaves the string with less tension and more flexibility. This means that the string will feel easier to play, but also that it takes less effect to bend the pitch of the fretted note. For players that like to bend, this is a good effect. The longer scale length will have a tighter feel, and help keep the string in tune when fretted. The longer scale length will also offer a more fundamental frequency dominant tone, while the shorter scale will allow more of the harmonic frequencies to sing, coloring the tone.
Extended range guitars will frequently use a multi-scale design to extend the length of the bass strings, helping the thick strings increase tension.
This custom build shows how a variety of woods can be utilized. The neck-thru is maple and mahogany, the body wings are mahogany, the fretboard is ebony, and the facing is figured redwood. The tone is deep and clear, with very fast response and dynamic sensitivity.
The two most important areas of wood selection on a guitar are the body and neck woods. Necks are typically either mahogany or maple, though other hardwoods like walnut, bubinga, and purpleheart can also be used. Using mahogany will give the guitar a deeper, warmer tone, while using maple will offer a brighter, snappier response. Likewise maple or ebony for the fingerboard will enhance the the clarity, while rosewood will give more warmth.
Guitar bodies are frequently either alder or mahogany, though many other woods are used. Alder gives a good punchy response, while mahogany gives a more balanced, warm tone. Harder woods, like maple and hard ash, can be used to create a brighter sounding guitar. There are many options when choosing a facing for a guitar. Typically, it is desirable to select a wood with enough density to help with the sustain of the instrument. Putting a very soft wood directly under the bridge can sap the tone in a negative way. Figured maples are the most popular facings by far, as they offer tremendous beauty and a nice responsive density.
A figured myrtle wood top is layered with flamed maple and black pinstriping over a black limba body. The maple neck has an ebony fretboard.
A stunning maple burl top on a mahogany body is kept it's natural color with an oil finish. The maple neck is topped with a cocobolo fretboard.
Camphor burl is a beautiful facing that is rarely used on guitars. The body is alder, while the maple neck is topped with a birdseye maple fretboard.
There are three widely used types of finishes on electric guitars. The most minimal is some variation of tung oil. The lack of a thick coating offers less protection from abuse and wear, but offers the advantage of allowing the woods to resonate to their fullest potential. Urethane is the most widely used, and offers great protection and beauty. Nitrocellulose still has a place as the original finish used on vintage instruments, and offers moderate protection with good resonance.
An example of a hand-rubbed tung oil finish. In this particular situation, the extremely soft spalted maple burl top has been strengthened with epoxy.
An example of urethane. An extremely figured piece of quilted maple is first stained, then coated with tinted finish.
Any shape that doesn't break the laws of wood physics is doable. There's a small surcharge for a custom shape, while more radical designs may cost more. I do have standard shapes that have been used throughout the years that do not affect the price of the guitar.