Commissioning a Riff Stick.
It's a big world of choice out there. The guitar industry is populated by many brands from many corners of the globe. With so many options our cup overfloweth with the cornucopia of sick factory fresh riffers awaiting the ensuing hammering.
However, to paraphrase the 90s philosopher Dennis Leary "Sometimes that just ain't enough to keep a man like me interested. Oh no, no way, uh ahhh. No, I gotta go out and have fun, at no spared expense. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah."
Of course, Mr Leary was speaking about commissioning a custom axe.... Or was it axehole?
In any case let's think about the joys, pitfalls, and considerations should you attempt to embark on the path of shredological specificity.
It's important when considering a custom build to understand what your reasoning is for the endeavour in the first place.
Is form paramount? Or function?
What level of finish are you expecting?
Are you a fan of a particular luthier’s work?
Do you want the satisfaction, exclusivity, and personal feel of supporting a smaller builder?
Do you crave a personalised instrument from a larger established group?
These are things you should consider before making your choice.
A word to the wise. If you are expecting the kinds of standard finish/presentation you associate with large companies like Ibanez or Fender I would usually suggest you straight up contact their custom shops. This is not to say that extremely high-quality finishes are not achieved by smaller luthiers, they absolutely are. But if what you had envisioned is an ultra-specific version of an existing instrument sometimes the path of least resistance is the way ahead.
However, If what you desire is a somewhat more unique instrument there are many a talented riff stick creator out there. Get Googling, view the websites, observe the previous builds, talk with the luthier, and appreciate their process.
Dig if you will this very beautiful custom BlacKat riff stick.
Poland is a bit of a dark horse in the luthier world but particularly in the last decade the Polish builds have really been super impressive. If you are unaware of the Polish riff sticks of glory, check out creators such as Mayones guitars, who have really made a big impact with their stunning quality and style choices. Also custom specialists like Skervesen and as this example shows BlacKat. Both are making beautiful work with that bespoke handcrafted feel and look.
Looking at the BlacKat custom guide on their website I would suggest that this is a great tool for anyone attempting a custom build. Regardless of whether you are adamantly considering a build, the guide can help give you a fairly complete overview of what you need to make decisions about should you commit to taking the plunge. It categorically offers all the available choices in order.
Starting with a written introduction to dealing with certain build constraints you are systematically guided through your choices. From body shapes, lengths, and bevels. Wood choices, neck, headstock, fretboard shapes, inlays, and wood choices. On to hardware such as bridges, machine heads etc and then the all important electronics: wiring harness types and pickups.
Finally we arrive at the finish types and string choices along with an area to write notes regarding any particulars not covered. Very thorough stuff and worth a look. I personally love the BlacKat we have here. Gorgeous exotic woods, glow in the dark inlays, Schaller strap lockls, Bareknuckle pickups, ooh la la. Apart from these nice features there is something else going on here. It doesn't feel like a standard instrument it has this certain handmade perfection through imperfection going on. It has small build quirks, eccentricities, and imperfections that make it a rather uniquely special and exclusive feeling instrument.
This to me is really the best thing about these builds. You can feel to creator’s process in a tactile visceral way that is truly worth the price of admission.
If you’re looking for a builder here in Australia there are some great choices: Shub guitars make absolute god tier riff sticks in Melbourne. Also in Melbourne, Polaris basses create beautiful instruments for our low end friends as does Brock Custom basses in South Australia. Metal multiscale masters Ormsby Guitars in Western Australia, Gilet Guitars in New South Wales, Melville guitars Queensland.... The list goes on and the talent options are exciting to see. Get your google on and explore the riffscape.
I trust this has provided a little illumination as to the pleasures and pitfalls of custom guitar builds. It only scratches the surface of the process, but hopefully will help assist in your decision making should you be um'ing and ahh'ing how to proceed.
Till next time stay safe and riff hard.