Everyone has those people in their lives whose influence has forever changed their destiny.
The first time this happened to me was in December of 1983.On a cold blistery winter day in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania I first saw a young Edward Van Halen clad in shredded jeans and a tiger striped sport coat playing guitar in the video for the song “Jump”. It was at that point that I declared Eddie Van Halen the coolest guy alive. This event would lead me to pick up a guitar and would eventually lead to a lifelong love and obsession with the electric guitar.
The second time this would happen to me was the summer of 1997.
In 1990 I had moved from my small Pittsburgh coal mining town to Hollywood California to follow my dreams of playing music and “making it big”. I enrolled in the Musicians Institute to study Professional Guitar and was living my dream studying guitar by day and living the Hollywood lifestyle at night. I gave myself a 5 year plan to make it in the music business. Five years had come and gone and I started to realize that the rock star life was probably not to be for me. So I did what every musician dreads. I cut my hair and I got a real job. It was shortly after that that I got to meet the great Mike Lipe.
My career as a guitar builder began by first overhauling and setting up my own guitars. Then I began to do setup work on my friends’ guitars and pretty soon I was working on lots of guitars.
Most of the repair work that I did was basic setup work and fret jobs but often times there were problems that were inherent to the guitar itself that had to be corrected. Sometimes there were problems with the entire design of certain guitars. I won’t name any names but there are some guitars on the market made by major manufacturers that were designed to look cool but they have absolutely no chance of staying in tune unless a professional luthier corrected the design mistakes. These guitars usually cost about $400 but look very similar to a $2000 guitar. However they are made with cheap wood and hardware and ultimately have little value. This is a sad plight upon the guitar community but manufacturers exist to move product and make profit not to create great guitars. I know this because I spent several years of my life working on these guitars and fixing these problems.
Every problem that I’ve encountered on a guitar stems from one of the 4 phases of guitar manufacturing. These phases are fundamental to the development of the final product that reaches your hands and they are the same for every guitar that has ever been created. A poorly made guitar has been compromised in one or more (sometimes all) of these Phases.
I built my first guitar in 1990 while I was attending The Musicians Institute in Hollywood California. It was a rebuild of a Charvel Model 1 guitar that accidentally “fell” down a flight of stairs during a marathon study session for the Musicians Institute first phase ear training course. The Charvel was originally fitted with a cheap Kahler copy tremolo and after the fall the body was cracked and it wouldn’t stay in tune so my creative juices got flowing and I decided to do a makeover.
I ordered an unfinished ash body from a place called Veneman’s Music Emporium which I don’t think even exists anymore and a few weeks later I was in business. I fitted it with a brand new Floyd Rose Bridge and an EMG 81 and I was off to the races.
It wasn’t the greatest guitar in the world by any means and it would go through several rebuilds as the years went on. But this guitar had something that no other guitar I played had and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. It was more responsive to my touch and I could feel the resonance more than any other guitar.
I have come to realize that every element in the “Tone Chain” is crucial to the final product that comes out of the speakers. One crucial element is the guitars pickups. There are hundreds of possibilities on the market but a serious contender to be considered is EMG pickups.
I can trace my first experience with EMG pickups back to the streets of Hollywood California in the early 90’s. I had enrolled in the Musicians Institute to pursue my career in music and had begun to really see the diversity of players in the world as well as the diversity of music gear that they used.
At this point in my life I was using a late 80’s Crate Half Stack with a homemade guitar that I called “The Log”. It was a total piece of crap that was as ugly to play as it was to look at. It was made of a second hand piece of ash and fitted with a maple ESP neck and loaded with a Jackson J90C pickup. The sound was fair but by no means iconic. The Crate was loud but lacked any kind of soul and Jackson pickup lacked any kind of punch or clarity. I began looking for something to punch up my sound and a few players that I knew suggested I try an EMG pickup.