The logical step for most players when they come into some cash is to start buying more expensive guitars. Sure, putting it into gold or some
other commodity might make more financial sense in the long run, but what’s the
fun in that when so many fine electric and acoustic guitars are beckoning you to add
them to your collection?
In most cases you really do get what you pay for, too, as instruments that jump
past the $2,000 mark are typically made from select woods that have been properly
dried, feature premium-grade pickups, bridges, and tuners, and have much more
hand work in them compared to lower-cost production guitars. But perhaps the most
important element of any high-end guitar is the builder, since that’s where the artistic
part comes into play.
People who devote themselves to making guitars are a special breed. There’s
no college diploma for this line of employment. Most of today’s builders had to
learn their craft through years of hard work repairing, modifying, and building guitars
in virtual anonymity before getting any traction or notoriety in the high-end
guitar market. As such, custom builders usually have very specific design ideas that
greatly affect how their guitars feel, play, sound, and look. You can find instruments
that have been distressed to look like they’ve been in service for 50 years and ones
that gleam like a brand new Mercedes—but either way the experience is often like
slipping on a pair of custom-made boots compared to buying them at Wal-Mart. You
know instantly when everything is right, and finding that sense of “rightness” is one
of the most intriguing parts of the boutique guitar experience.
High-end models come in so many varieties now that it’s a bit mindboggling—
from Custom Shop Fenders and Memphis-made Gibsons to the Private Stock beauties from PRS to hybrid wonders from Saul Koll and Dennis Fano to the
aged-metal artistry of James Trussart. And those are just a few of many companies
that devote their entire production to this specialized sector of the
For this roundup we selected six very different guitars that land on various
points of the custom guitar compass. We tested them through amps from
Blackstar, Bad Cat, Fender, PRS, Victoria, Orange, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie, and
Vox, and evaluated each guitar on its playability, construction, hardware, and, of
course, the elusive vibe factor. —ART THOMPSON
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