If you missed part 1 of this interview with Virgil Guitars' Virgil Mandanici, you can read it here.
On a limited budget, where would you advise new guitar builders to spend the money?
Look at yourself and the “MacGyver” in you. What I mean by this is simply getting “creative” with your process and the limited budget. I built the Dueling Dragons that costs almost $4000 in materials and limited equipment I needed to make everything happen. Look at the entire process and what tools are the most important that are MUSTS for builds... I have had other builders offer to buy some of the jigs I have made through the years. That blows me away.
Why would anyone going down the road to make something as complicated as a guitar NOT make their own tools and jigs? I bought a saw at Harbor Freight (Just your basic “saw”). It was made from spring steel and costs $6. I made a putty knife out of some scrap Florida Rosewood and it had plenty of steel left to make wood scrapers that costs $60 to $120. Think. Don’t rush and the “inventor” in you will come out. Most of my money went to Stew Mac for things you can’t make so easy, like a crowning file, radius beams (or blocks) fret tang clippers, etc.
If you push yourself to get creative because of lack of funds, one can do just about anything. Since I was on a tight budget, I started making smaller things that ALL of my friends could afford, including boxes, pens, etc. All made out of wood that generated THOUSANDS (not hundreds!) of dollars to get the goods. Most of the monies from the sales of my guitars went to phenomenal woodworking equipment and lutherie tools, so I could get to the point of making guitars easily. This was my goal during the first couple of years of building. Today, I have everything I need to make the dream guitar easier and more efficiently.
What’s the key to getting the best possible tone from a guitar you’re building?
Here is where I don’t give the answer that people want to hear. I followed the “lemmings” for years in regards to “tonewoods” (We don’t use that word around here!). Before people freak out and run away from me though, is that I always let the customer decide on the woods they want on the guitar they are ordering! One of the most phenomenal guitars I ever heard was made out of MDF! (That’s like a particle board we use for template-making).
I had a fellow builder make a tele-copy out of concrete that sounded just as nice as one make out of swamp ash! That gave me reason to start questioning fellow builders and guitarists – we have all been hearing that for so long, we start saying that! Then there are the people who say ebony is a better fingerboard wood than rosewood. I always ask them the question: “Hear this song? you like the solo? What is the guy playing, a rosewood or ebony fingerboard?” Truth is they can’t answer the question, neither could I! Same goes for the nut of a guitar. Hear this guitar? Is it a graphite, bone or mastodon nut? What kind of bridge are you hearing? We really don't know! I am not saying that these are not factors in building an electric guitar, they actually are, but it’s the combination of all of these elements that gives you the final tone.
I believe though also, that they are incredibly subtle, so subtle, that the human ear cannot detect. I am also not talking about single-coil vs. humbucker or perhaps woods used on an acoustic guitar. I am talking about woods, bridges, nuts and pickups. These are the main elements that make your overall tone (Before it gets to your amp!).
We feel compelled to talk about these things in regards to guitars and in reality, we need to enjoy the music that we can get out of them. We try to make videos of most of our guitars, so our potential customers can hear them in action. Truth is, nobody can say what a guitar will actually sound like until you plug it in. We use the highest quality woods and parts known to man and the guitars can stand up to any guitar I have played before, but I love when the customer tells me that instead!
Editor's note: We think Virgil's story is truly inspirational. We thoroughly recommend you check out the videos on his website to get an even better idea of how he builds these incredible guitars.
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