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NotYou made a comment last week that got me to thinking. It went somewhere along the lines of having made his last custom build and going forward the output would purely been his own designed stuff.

I apologize if I mangled that, but that is the concept that started question marks bouncing around my head.

How many of you would do that if you could? Are custom requests worthwile? Fun? A major pain to be avoided at all costs? Are they rare or more common than selling your own designs?

My experience is extremely limited, but my one build to a customer's spec was definitely more a pain than making my own stuff up......even though he was a good friend. The waiting on someone else's decisions, ideas and changes all along the way was certainly something to contend with.

Maybe it's just a character flaw I have.........how do you guys deal with custom orders?

SR

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Full custom guitars are a Major pain to be avoided at all costs.

They rarely are worth the time/effort involved. And I mean all the effort. Sourcing the wood, parts, and materials is just part of it. The countless emails are another. The actual design can be very costly as well. On a new design it is easy to make little mistakes that normally you would have weeded out with a production line.

Things that always get you, Neck Angle. Can't really figure it out until the parts are in your hand.

Wiring runs. You have to make sure you can either get a clear path the to the control cavity or pre-route them before putting the top on.

Balance. On custom shapes the balance point can be off enough to make the guitar uncomfortable to play and then you have a great trash fire.

CAD Designs only go so far in solving these issues. Feel is hard to describe to a computer and making a custom guitar feel right sometimes takes more than one pass.

Even where I use the S9 as a base platform it can still be aggravating if you do not set ground rules.

Here are some things that come to mind when I start talking about custom guitars.

Try to retain some creative freedom so you don't hate what you are working on.

Think out the design as much as possible

Get the parts in your hand before starting.

Do a prototype before starting. It doesn't have to be a perfect working guitar but it should tell you the neck angle, balance, and alignment of everything.

Plan on having to start over on something. It never works out perfect the first time.

Talk to the customer the whole time so they are not surprised by what is going on.

I am not a fan of customs. Sometimes you have to do them. I try to only do things I can add to my lineup these days. So I am using a 6 string bass request to design a bass that I like and can use as a platform.

I can tell you right now that the 6 string bass I am building is killing me. I am going to have to build my 3rd body blank for it this week and still not sure it will be right.

Tools! I had to order some different sized Forstner bits for drilling Bass Tuners, also going to need wider radius blocks, and the countless jigs I had to make bigger to work on Bass guitars.

Edited by RestorationAD
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RAD nailed it. All of those issues are why I decided to stop offering customs. My work always sells, but I would take custom orders because I needed money at the time or just felt like I should because it seems like that's what guitar builders just should do.

But, they always end up being much more trouble than they're worth. When I make my own designs, I have a clear picture in my head of the entire thing and I can change it at will (I change my designs A LOT as I go), but with customs I have to take a particular person into consideration for every tiny detail. Not only does that take a lot more time, but the whole process becomes a chore. The joy of building is swapped out for stress and this job really starts feeling like just another crappy job.

There are always problems too. My completion date estimates are always way off and that never goes over well. If I get injured, have to move the studio, come into financial problems, have serious personal problems (I will admit, breakups set me back more than a reasonable amount), or anything else, it causes the build to be late. That's not even including the normal, smaller issues that arise with building. It all adds up and always ends with a pissed off customer. I even had a guy report me to the BBB and threaten to sue because he suddenly felt the guitar was taking too long, even though it was still on schedule. Getting a quote for four months is fine, but actually waiting four months can send some people over the edge.

The main reason is I can't stand dealing with the people any more. Most people have horrible taste. They see that I make rustic looking guitars and they think I'd just love to build their train wreck of an instrument they conjured up in their head. I love all of my own designs I've built, but I think every custom I've built is hidious. I honestly hate the fact that my name is on them. I even keep wanting to update my site, not only to add new work, but to remove the customs.

Many customers also want their dream guitar built for a price that's far too low. Sometimes the guitar they want isn't even physically possible and it always takes a series of emails and phone calls to convince them, in the least offensive way possible, that it can't be done until the laws of physics and geometry change and they need to stop trying. I've had quite a few people, mostly early on, who would run me around designing a guitar for weeks on end - a process that includes countless emails, phone calls, sketches, mockups, and hours - to make sure they knew what they were getting before paying, then they just stop responding or run into money problems and cancel. That's many, many hours over weeks wasted for no money.

Also, I'm really tired of explaining why using certain hardware, wood, or specs will not make them sound like Hendrix. I swear, it's always Hendrix.

Sometimes they'll accept a quoted price, then start adding stuff later. Try to raise the price a hair and suddenly you're trying to rip them off. I have a guy right now who I gave a VERY low price to for a prototype build. The new model was supposed to start at about $2200 and I agreed on $1200 (it's better than paying for a prototype out of pocket). His hardware is now up to about $1000 (!) and that's after I refused to install certain things. If I let him have his way, I'd be paying more for his parts than he paid for the guitar. Everything he wants needs to be the absolute top of the line, highest priced part available.

Also, after accepting the quote and paying he insisted on many, many changes to the point that the guitar is nothing like the model it's supposed to be a prototype for (I later decided against the model, so no big deal now). He even wanted the headstock altered, the knobs placed differently, a different body carve, the neck widened, a hidious trem that needs custom made (WHY!?) and is specific down to EVERY last detail, and I could go on and on. My options were to make it to his specs, or cancel it and refund the money, which I can't afford. I get constant messages from him discussing new hardware ideas (always more expensive and no better than the last one), new requests, personal problems explaining why this guitar is going to be his source of happiness, questions, etc, etc, etc. I painted myself into that corner, but it still counts.

Basically, you can't get your dream guitar with every piece of hardware you ever wanted and a personal, subordinate guitar tech for $1200, but your customers will never believe that.

My guitars normally sell within a week or two after completion. If I can just build them and avoid the stress, time consumption, and financial burden of custom builds, all while creating instruments I genuinely WANT to make and can be proud of, I see no reason not to.

It took me that much space to describe what customs are like, but the whole non-custom process simply goes like this:

1) Build a guitar I put my own passions into and enjoy building

2) Sell it and get paid

3) Ship it wait for a happy response

If I can spend my career doing that, it'd be a dream come true and I'd be one of the very few with a job that makes them happy and gets them excited. The crazy thing is I think I really can spend my career doing that.

So, goodbye customs.

Edited by NotYou
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I agree with "NotYou" 100% but in saying that, building a full-on custom is a good experience if you have a decent customer.

I've built two and they are guitars that I am proud of. The second one was more work because of ever changing specs. When I couldn't deal with the changes anymore, I refunded the buyer's deposit, completed the guitar and he bought it when he saw the finished product.

I've refused a lot of custom guitar work but keep accepting the custom bolt on neck work. Those are relatively easy to do with little hassle.

I've had ok luck in selling completed builds and I think that I'm at the point where I want to make my own model instead of variants on a tele, strat, gibson or whatever.

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I take on full custom jobs. However I have a list of specs that the customer have to sign before ordering a guitar so that there are no discrepancies in the future.

I also refuse phone conversations about custom work. Only E-mails. Those can be answered when you have the time and you can be very clear and specific in your communication. And phone calls tend to take forever with those guys...

I make sure I earn money on the custom jobs. When calculating the price I add extra margin as there will be some things here and there that you cannot foresee like you can while building a customized standard model.

I make very clear that if the customer suddenly would like to change the specs he will need to pay for parts originally ordered, and additional parts and even some additional time. Its all in the specs/contract he has to sign before ordering

The customer has to pay 50% up front when placing the order. That way I'm covering my parts costs if he's suddenly bailing out, or disappears from the surface of the earth. And I can probably sell the guitar anyway.

Within those frames custom jobs are fun as they challenge you as a builder and pushes you to perform at another level.

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You make a lot of good points Peter. In my business we have certain customers that are very high maintenance and making their product always ends up being more expensive than the same thing for someone else, due to changes and the amount of our time they take up. Or we have custom jobs to bid on that we know are going to be a real pain to do. In both cases we price the work high enough to either make them go elsewhere or to guarantee it will be worth while to do.

I would expect that most builders that sell their work will get custom requests early on. Players see their work and ask for their dream guitar to be built.

SR

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I take on full custom jobs. However I have a list of specs that the customer have to sign before ordering a guitar so that there are no discrepancies in the future.

I also refuse phone conversations about custom work. Only E-mails. Those can be answered when you have the time and you can be very clear and specific in your communication. And phone calls tend to take forever with those guys...

I make sure I earn money on the custom jobs. When calculating the price I add extra margin as there will be some things here and there that you cannot foresee like you can while building a customized standard model.

I make very clear that if the customer suddenly would like to change the specs he will need to pay for parts originally ordered, and additional parts and even some additional time. Its all in the specs/contract he has to sign before ordering

The customer has to pay 50% up front when placing the order. That way I'm covering my parts costs if he's suddenly bailing out, or disappears from the surface of the earth. And I can probably sell the guitar anyway.

Within those frames custom jobs are fun as they challenge you as a builder and pushes you to perform at another level.

+1... This is exactly the way I work, spec sheet signed off, email contact (good paper trail if customer claims something's not as requested), changes (where possible) paid for upfront and 50% deposit usually covers everything I pay out to build.

Had no problems with custom builds, except a Buckeye Burl top but the customer was actually nice about it when I explained the problems I was having.

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I don't do customs for other people, however at the very least I would have a signed terms of contract consisting of a receipted deposit (which would at least cover material costs from the outset), specifications agreed upon (including timescale) plus termination conditions - ie. completion and final payment(s), conditions for late/non-payment, delivery, conditions for contingencies such being unable to complete the custom, etc. Additional things such as a very specifically limited warranty (so that maintenance is not guilting off your goodwill forever). Both yourself and the client need to be covered for all possible outcomes.

Although probably highly debatable, adding in a sweetener such as a bonus reduction in final payment for future business consolidated prior to delivery can help bring in extra work. Certainly, this worked for a different business I ran back when I was 21 and I had to start turning potential clients down....

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I would expect that most builders that sell their work will get custom requests early on. Players see their work and ask for their dream guitar to be built.

The most common question I get is "Can you build me an exact replica of a XXXXXXX" were the XXXXXXX part is the name and model of an actual, current model of a known brand guitar maker (Gibson, Fender etc) and when asking why they would like to have a hand build replica of something that is readily available the answer is almost everytime that they think that it will be cheeper than getting the original! C'mon, I charge at least 150% of what the equivalent, high end guitar from a guitar factory cost. At least! I have now learned to ask the right questions in the beginning of the process to not waste too much time on those guys.

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I've become used to saying "no" to people on that basis. I'll help them build one themselves however!

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At times, I'd recieve a job to customize an already existing instrument... add/replace hardware was the usual request. I'm working on this stupid explorer right now, and I just wanna throw the thing out the window. I've never had such a hard time picking a black or white guitar, and this guy has had me recoat it 3 times already. Black, no, white... black with white pinstripes? no, the opposite... Can I have black pickup covers bla bla bla

So I can't imagine building one from the ground up to someone's exact specifications. At least this one is only a kit... I feel bad for NotYou.

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At times, I'd recieve a job to customize an already existing instrument... add/replace hardware was the usual request. I'm working on this stupid explorer right now, and I just wanna throw the thing out the window. I've never had such a hard time picking a black or white guitar, and this guy has had me recoat it 3 times already. Black, no, white... black with white pinstripes? no, the opposite... Can I have black pickup covers bla bla bla

So I can't imagine building one from the ground up to someone's exact specifications. At least this one is only a kit... I feel bad for NotYou.

Man, that is beyond any boundries i would have. I absoultely will not change specs after i have started. I did that once, and it caused the entire build to be ruined.

I pretty much say No to everythign now. Even on my facebook page i get a lot of inquiries for custom stuff and i just have to tell them no.

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After I wrote that I ended up taking another order that I was afraid would end up being a custom. Like I said, my plan is to just make guitars as I want them made then sell them when they're done (or in progress). A guy saw a brief description of a guitar I plan to make on my website and wants it made. I put it there well over a year ago (need to update that site badly) and the description wasn't even an entire sentence. I wanted to make it then put it up for sale, but it was a lot of money to turn down and I was in a really tight spot financially. Also, he clearly wanted it pretty badly.

Luckily, he doesn't want anything customized. He just wanted to grab it before anybody else could and let me make it how I see fit. I'll still need to keep to the quoted time frame, but it's very doable and he even said he's not concerned about the wait at all. So, it was a bit of a compromise to my plan, but not much. I can't complain about getting paid to "compromise" that much or I'd just be an arrogant turd.

For the record, the guitar is a bit of a Gibson spoof, in a way. It's designed like an old Goldtop Les Paul, no specific year or anything, but it's going to be aged to a literally impossible (if it was a real Goldtop) degree. It's being dubbed "Oldtop". Instead of normal gold paint, I'm using metal paint that I can add various types of pantina to (mostly green and black). All the hardware will be vintage replica, but I'm going to dirty it up and age everything to match the corroded looking paint.
It's not my intention to make a blasphemous guitar, I just think it'll look badass, but I have no doubt it's going to piss some people off. Why or how a design can get people angry enough to complain and even send me angry emails is beyond me, but it's happened before. This one will definitely set off some of the don't-stray-from-tradition, new-is-scary, missin'-the-good-ole-days, vintage-nuts who already don't like me... and I can't wait. :D

This is a rough design "sketch" of it, if you're curious.

sz76t2.jpg

Edited by NotYou

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The main reason is I can't stand dealing with the people any more. Most people have horrible taste. They see that I make rustic looking guitars and they think I'd just love to build their train wreck of an instrument they conjured up in their head.

Yep, I have run into this same thing.

This is why I like going through dealers.

This way I can tell the dealer what a load of crap I think the customer's idea is, and let them earn their commission by explaining it nicely to the customer.

I am thinking of eliminating it all together though, with exceptions for repeat customers who have proved to be worth dealing with.

I have enough anxiety as it is without dealing with custom work.

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I bet you have. When you and I first got on DAG I constantly got comments from people comparing us, since we seem to be the two utilizing that "style". Honestly, my guitars just end up however they do because that's how I feel that particular one should look. I've never tried for a style, but, for better or worse, that beat up look is definitely what I became known for. As far as business goes, it's great. There is very little to compete with in that niche, so most guitars sell immediately. If not for you, I could probably charge whatever I wanted. :rolleyes:

Anyhow, I agree about using a third party. DAG is my only dealer at the moment, because I want to keep things simple (I had two at one point and it somehow confused the hell out of people) and I try to have them handle all the customers. It's always simpler for me and with custom builds it's 1000x easier. Unlike me, Cliff is good at keeping the custom process very simple for people.

I occasionally get a person who refuses to deal with anybody but me and I hate that. Even though I don't lose out on their commission, it requires me to deal with all the customer stuff and logistics, which, except for rare customers, I hate doing. Also, I would have been out of business a long time ago if not for Cliff, so I feel bad not going through them. They're the main way people find me, without question.

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Is it possible that DAG wants custom guitar shapes i.e. models before taking new builders on? What did you guys do to get him to take you on?

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Everything is up to Cliff. He acts as an agent for the builders and everybody else is there for finances, etc.. I'm pretty sure everybody involved is family, actually. I've gotten to know his wife a little and am Facebook friends with her and their son and both of them are involved.

Anyhow, he does have set criteria. He just takes on builders he sees potential in. He used to be a very successful producer (he discovered Vai and Satriani) and knows to just trust his gut. That's how he explained it to me, at least. He also likes to find builders who are trying to establish a name. That way the builder grows with DAG, which prevents a stagnant business relationship and helps long term. Right after he took me on (I had established no reputation at that point) he told me he turned down Monteleone. That guy is a f***ing legend! (I won't lie, my ego hit an all time high at that moment). But, he's already very well established and pretty old. Cliff was afraid he'd sell his guitars for a few years, then he'd retire and that'd be that. Even though he likely could have made a lot of money from him, he wasn't interested. I found that amazing.

He contacted me first. I'm pretty sure that's how he normally does it. My goal when I first began building for money was to get onto DAG sometime within the next 10 years. He contacted me when I was just a few months into it. When I saw the email in my inbox I about crapped my pants.

That's just me, though. It's not like being on DAG is guaranteed success or anything, but it was a big goal of mine and I was very inspired by those builders and the whole concept of DAG. At that point in my career I was more flattered than anything.

If you're around he'll know about you. I've known guys who contacted him and I thought they were perfect for DAG, but I never heard from them again. He's not just looking for great builders. If it doesn't feel right to him, he won't go for it. He also tends to take on just one builder for each "type" of guitar. For instance, he told me once he was looking his Tele guy, but there are countless Tele builders out there. The guys like me, who build more "artsy" and strictly one-off instruments, are all very different from each other. Org and I get compared a lot (at least I get that) because we both lean toward the rustic side, but our work and approach is still very different. None of our instruments resemble the other person's at all.

Keep in mind, I can't speak for Cliff. I'm just explaining my experience and what he's told me. What it actually takes to get on DAG could be different in his mind. Honestly, even with what he's explained to me, I'm still not sure. Just be unique, show your skill, and hope for the best.

Edited by NotYou

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Actually, I didn't know about DAG until you posted here that you had started selling there.

(so it's yer own damn fault :lol: )

I kinda live under a rock. This is the only forum I read or post on, and even that not so much.

It looked like a pretty cool gig, so I sent him an email.

He called me back about an hour later wondering why he hadn't heard of me.

I explained to him about the rock.

But ya, it was a pretty good (and much needed) ego boost.

Cliff is a great guy, but he operates on a scale that is a bit overwhelming to me.

I am still trying to find my stride as a builder, and that involves working around chronic depression and anxiety, as well as general scatterbrainedness.

Cliff has been very accommodating of my foibles, though. He is a people person in the best sense of that term, and understands crazy artist types pretty well.

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I am thinking of eliminating it all together though, with exceptions for repeat customers who have proved to be worth dealing with.

I have enough anxiety as it is without dealing with custom work.

+1 Here here!

So I tend to be very accommodating to repeat customers and do whatever I can to make the second guitar greater than the first.

New customers are treated a little more like the soup nazi. I think I spend a lot of effort in email weeding out potential bad customers.

My current pack of customers are easy going and let me help them decide what they want. They are my favorites. They let me be the artist and they act as the filter for my ideas. Much more rewarding than being dictated to.

On the DAG note. I would love to be on DAG. However I am probably not a fit because I am old, tired, will probably not build that many guitars anymore, and am just as likely to retire from building as I am to keep building.

I am going to start a new project next season though that will be even more controlled custom than the S9 builds I have been doing.

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I am old, tired, will probably not build that many guitars anymore, and am just as likely to retire from building as I am to keep building.

Pretty bold statement from a guy that just retooled most of his shop......

Every time I feel that way, on a much smaller scale that you guys of course, I discover that I ordered two bridges, 5 truss rods, extra tuners, and that last piece of limba was enough for three bodies.

I think this madness is going to be hard to quit.

SR

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and understands crazy artist types pretty well.

Absolutely. A lot of artist stereotypes are very true and I'm guilty of many of them. He really seems to understand that and has been very accommodating. Most people don't get artists and would have given up on people like me and my brand of shenanigans. Creative people tend to think in unusual ways in just about every aspect and he seems to understand that. If we're honest, trying to build guitars for a living is a pretty eccentric venture. You can't reasonably expect all of us to be normal, standup citizens, especially those of us who are artists. He's lucky I only light my guitars on fire sometimes.

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I am old, tired, will probably not build that many guitars anymore, and am just as likely to retire from building as I am to keep building.

Pretty bold statement from a guy that just retooled most of his shop......

Every time I feel that way, on a much smaller scale that you guys of course, I discover that I ordered two bridges, 5 truss rods, extra tuners, and that last piece of limba was enough for three bodies.

I think this madness is going to be hard to quit.

SR

Sounds whiny now that you mention it. I should stop sounding like a little girl (no offense Fly).

My buddy and I were talking and I told him if I wasn't building I would be in the house drinking beer watching TV (He didn't believe me). Guess it is better to keep building.

Now that the shop is retooled I am not sure what to do next ;)

I was build 10 - 16 guitars a year. Now I am going to be building 3 or so customs a year. That is a big difference.

I probably have enough parts for 10 - 15 guitars laying around...

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Are you saying you reducing your output from 10-16 guitars a year to only 3 customs a year? Or are you adding 3 customs to your load of 10-16/year?

I'm so confused :blink:

I could have sworn you were saying customs were to be avoided.......unless they are from your repeat customers.

SR

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