Steve Benford has been building guitars for 20 years and now makes his living building them to order. We asked him about Benford Guitars.
Like many professional guitar builders, Steve Benford started out with a few tools, a workshop and a curiosity for making his own guitars better. ‘Early on I started by modifying guitars I owed. Things like adding mini switches, re-sculpting bodies, and some refinishing,’ explains Steve. Even when he moved on to build his first complete guitar, Steve’s tools were basic. ‘I built my first body with a jig saw and router. The jigsaw was mounted upside down in this crappy portable worktable. It was super dangerous. I managed to cut the body out without loosing any fingers. From there I didn't have any templates so everything else got freehand routed. It turned out fairly good considering what I had for tools and my limited knowledge.’
Limited knowledge was much more of a problem for builders starting out 20 years and more ago, as Steve explained. ‘At the time there was not Internet or forums. Melvyn Hiscocks book "Make Your Own Electric Guitar" was my bible.’
Now that he’s established, custom builds make up 95% of the business of Benford Guitars, so we asked Steve, in his experience, what’s most important to get right? ‘The setup is the most important aspect of guitar building in my opinion. Anyone with some decent tools, some math skills and patience can build a guitar. Its getting it to play and feel right when its done is the challenge. Before I really started building, I'd had worked on and set up a TON of guitars.’
Decent tools, of course, cost decent money. And then there are materials and parts. Where, we wondered, should a new builder spend their limited budget? ‘Having the right tools to set up the guitar is important. Nut files, fret levelling files and crowning files. Having a nice palm sander is a HUGE time saver. Sanding is the worst and least glamorous part of building. Its also SUPER important to get a good finish. A nice router is a plus. Buy the best you can afford. You will find out quickly what you need to buy for the level your at. As yours skills improve so will your tool collection,’ explained Steve.
When it comes to tone, Steve has sound advice. ‘I think one of the keys is a nice tight neck joint. Whether you build a bolt on or set neck is unimportant. If your neck joint is loose or sloppy you'll loose a ton of sustain.’
And when its done, where does Steve get the greatest pleasure? ‘Knowing the guitar is going out into the world and that someone will use it to express themselves.’
As part of a regular feature on Guitar Hive, we spoke to Chris Sundlof from Sundlof Guitars about how they got started and about the business of building guitars. Chris explained that he’s been making guitars for nearly ten years, having built his first one in 2004 and shard his top tips for getting started.
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The neck fingerboard radius is one of those seemingly complicated features that's really very easy to understand.