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How to commission a custom electric guitar

Custom electric guitar buyers guide

Munson tempest retro custom shop guitar

This is the step by step guide to commissioning the design and building of your own custom electric guitar. Whether you choose a custom shop or bespoke guitar, the experience is very similar.

Custom guitar experience

Making custom electric guitars
You can almost smell the wood

We affectionately call the process of commissioning a custom guitar the custom guitar experience. Ultimately, it’s your guitar and we want to you experience the entire process of bringing your dream guitar to life. While you might not be able to actually smell the wood during the building process, you will be able to follow along via videos and progress photos. You will be involved with the the design decisions, as if you were right in the workshop.

The custom electric guitar design & build process

A custom electric guitar is an instrument that has been individually designed for you and crafted by a luthier. This is in sharp contrast to mass produced guitars that are made on a production line, by the thousand, to the same design.

Custom means the ability to specify aspects of the design specifically for you, the player. It’s not just the look, luthiers have the skill to customise the tone and the feel in order to deliver the exact playing experience required. In order to do this, your luthier will guide you through a tried and tested process of designing and building your custom guitar.

Ten steps to designing & building a custom guitar:

  1. The requirement

    Understanding the need
    Interpreting ideas into a design brief

  2. Design

    Shape and style
    Sound options
    Colour and finish
    3D Model to preview

  3. Material choice

    Body, neck & fretboard woods
    Hardware type, brand & colour

  4. Creating the sound

    Choosing the pickups
    Control and tone electronics

  5. The build

    Cutting
    Carving & shaping
    Sanding
    Inlay
    Fretting

  6. Finishing

    Applying the desired colour (stain or paint)
    Applying the final coat(s)
    Flat sanding and buffing

  7. Assembly

    Assembling the neck
    Fitting the neck
    Installing the hardware
    Installing the pickups and wiring harness

  8. Setup

    Tuning
    Setting the relief, action and intonation

  9. Noodle

    Playing to make sure it performs as well as it looks

While the sheer amount of work might seem overwhelming, your luthier will take you on a gentle journey through the process. You should enjoy the experience of commissioning a custom electric guitar, but remember that when the building ends, the next journey begins as you enjoy your new guitar.

Personalising the look, feel and sound

Look

Playing a guitar is as much about feel as it is about sound. Oh and it should look good too. The options for customising a guitar start with the shape and include wood selection colour and finish. It is the look that creates the wow factor, but the magic really happens when you play it.

The options are almost endless, so sharing your ideas with your luthier is important, as they will turn your ideas into a guitar design that will both look good and play well.

Feel

Deciding on the feel and action of your custom guitar is as important as the sound. We focus on flowing lines and smooth finishes , the most important aspects of the tactile experience that a Munson guitar delivers.

The body shape has to be comfortable when sitting, standing or rocking out. We know it’s right when the instrument becomes an extension of the body. The shape, type of wood and carving dictate the balance of the guitar and we strive to make each instrument achieve that perfect balance.  

Guitarists will have their own preferences regarding neck profile. One of the best parts of commissioning a custom guitar is that you can choose the neck profile which best suits your playing style.

Some builders apply a standard finish to their guitars, but I see each piece of wood as a unique canvas that should be worked in its own way.  While we take a brief regarding colour and type of finish, we feel the grain of the wood will inspire the final colour. We don’t have pots of pre mixed wood stain. The colour for each guitar is mixed on the fly, blended layer by layer in order to create a unique colour which enhances the natural grain of the wood.

Using a proprietary blend of natural oils, the finish on the neck is designed to give a smooth satin finish which delivers a super fast action. The finish wears in over time which can either be left to show the natural wear, or can be waxed to keep it looking pristine.

Sound

The sound of an electric guitar comes primarily from the pickups and electronic circuitry. The resonance comes from the wood and build quality. When an electric guitar plays well acoustically, then you have a good base to build on. Working with your luthier, you can design a tone that suits your playing style.

Choosing your pickups 

When it comes to choosing pickups we tend to go with custom wound as the output can be specifically tailored to deliver the sound required. The use of premium materials in our custom wound pickups produces a superior quality sound. If you want something different, work with your luthier to design custom pickups using alnico, ceramic or rare earth magnets and a choice of bobbins, base plates and covers to give you a great centrepiece for your custom guitar. 

Of course there are many good pickup manufacturers to choose from, so there is a fantastic pallette to work with when designing the sound of the instrument.

Controls

The control circuitry is a key to sculpting the guitar’s sound and playability. Control layout and configuration can be designed to the individual needs of the player. The number of volume and tone pots, switch types and tone components are all customisable. The design of the internal circuitry will give players as many tonal options as they want for their playing style.

Resonance

Resonance comes from two main areas: the choice of wood and the quality of build. Tone woods are essential for the transfer of resonance through the instrument. Hard woods such as ash and mahogany provide the best resonance through the body, while maple and mahogany are hard woods of choice for the neck as they are stable and have the strength to support the string tension.

To enable resonance to travel through the entire guitar, the neck-body transition has to be as snug as possible. Our precision manufacturing process ensures a tight fitting joint for our bolt-on necks. That way we know the resonance can travel from the frets through the neck into the body.

Working with your luthier

One of the best parts of commissioning a custom guitar is that you get to work with a luthier. They will discuss your requirements with you and draw on their experience to design the best guitar for you. Due to the nature of the design and build process you and your luthier will spend time talking about your build throughout the process. Don’t be surprised if commissioning a guitar leads to a lasting friendship with your luthier!

The design & build journey – what to expect

It is often said that it’s not the destination, but the journey that’s important. The good news is that commissioning a custom electric guitar is the best of both worlds. The custom guitar experience is exciting and ends with you receiving a new guitar which you can enjoy for the foreseeable future.

So how does it start? It all starts with an initial conversation where we get to know each other and for us to find out what you are looking for. Then the journey begins.

Custom Electric Guitar – The Process

1. Design Brief. We take your design brief and turn it into a detailed specification that covers every aspect of your new guitar. We then cost out all the elements and send you a quotation for your acceptance.

2. Order Review. After receiving your order acceptance we create a sketch, followed by a 3D CAD model of your new guitar. Any last minute changes can be made during this step. Once the design is signed off, the specifications are locked in and the build can begin.

3. The Build Process. Our bespoke guitars are built using high-quality materials. Each instrument is built by an in-house luthier, using a blend of traditional skills and some of the latest tech available to ensure a quality finished instrument. 

4. Build Updates. You will receive regular updates during the build process so you can see the development of your guitar. You will be given the opportunity to confirm the final finish, just in case of any last minute changes. 

5. Final Inspection. Each instrument must pass our quality control to ensure it meets our high standards. A key part of our QC is that we test playability. As such, we play every guitar  to ensure it plays as well as it looks. We will also set up your guitar in your desired tuning and gauge of strings.

6. Shipping. We ship your instrument fully insured for the amount you paid. We use the best packing materials and custom boxes available. You will receive automatic tracking updates via email.

Taking delivery & the big reveal

Your custom guitar will be shipped directly to your door. It will arrive in a quality British made hard case and packed in a recycled cardboard box. Our part is over and the next part of the story is in your hands. Remember to record the unboxing for prosperity and social media!

Unboxing. 

Once the cardboard box is unpacked, you are ready to open the case to reveal your guitar. Bear in mind that while you will have been involved with every aspect of the design, you will not yet have seen the finished instrument in all its glory.

Opening the case reveals your guitar and the all important case candy. Take care not to lose any of the swing tickets or documents in your hurry to play your custom guitar. They are an important part of the provenance of your instrument. There is no need to register your instrument for warranty as we will have taken care of that for you already. 

Once you have had time to play your new guitar, please take a moment to post a review and your unboxing experience. And don’t forget to send us some photos of your and your guitar in action. If there is anything you are unhappy with please let us know immediately.

Review on Google

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In conclusion

The experience of commissioning a custom guitar starts with a conversation and results in an instrument built specifically for you to play and enjoy. You are part of the journey and are involved in the decisions along the way. Munson guitars come supplied with a certificate of authentication and a logbook which together with our digital records provide provenance to ensure the value of your instrument is protected. Most of all, enjoy the experience.

2 thoughts on “How to commission a custom electric guitar

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About the author


Carl has managed several multinational technology companies and has founded a handful of successful start-ups during his career. Coming back to his roots, and inspired by three generations of craftsmen, Carl co-founded and put his name to Munson Guitars, a British custom guitar builder that brings together a passion for working with wood, electronics and the innovations that digital technology enables.

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