A custom guitar can come in many forms, but in every case it will be made specifically for you.
The question of what makes a guitar 'custom' doesn't have a straightforward answer. The term 'custom' in relation to guitars has become associated with 'custom shop' guitars from the likes of Gibson and Fender.
Those guitars aren't truly custom, however. They tend to be limited edition versions of mass-produced guitars, either replicas of guitars played by the likes of Slash or Stevie Ray Vaughan, or re-issues of much-loved vintage classics, complete with that all-important aged finish.
A true custom guitar, however, is one which is made by a luthier for you from your specification. There will only ever be one of each of these guitars, because it is bespoke, made especially for the customer.
The degree to which the guitar is unique is dependent on you, the customer, and the luthier you choose to build it. It could be a design you sketch on paper and then have a long discussion about with the luthier, agreeing the finished spec for every last detail, from the type of wood used for the body, to the neck binding and the pickups.
Or, at the other end of the spectrum, it could be a modification of an indie builder's own design. Maybe you've seen one you like but want different pickups, or a different finish on the body. Maybe you want a left-handed version. All these modifications are things you can discuss with the luthier, and most will be more than happy to do what they can to meet your needs.
As a general rule, the smaller the company you choose, the more likely they are to be able to accommodate your needs. But don't rule out larger independent guitar builders.
Many of the luthiers we've interviewed on Guitar Hive work this way. JC Harper, for example, has built guitars for Sammy Hagar, Eric Bloom, and the Blue Oyster Cult's Buck Dharma. Here's what he said about building a custom guitar for Dharma: 'Some of my more interesting clients ideas were a 12 string neck-thru bass, a 26 fret 8 string left handed Buck Dharma model, a flying V type made to resemble horns with a snakeskin graphic, and Eric Bloom's BOC logo-shaped guitars. If they can think it up I usually can come up with something. I have done designs that a lot of builders just don't want to take on.'
Harper's comment highlights the importance of finding the right luthier for your custom build. You have to be able to work with them over a period of time. Ideally, you'll be on the same wavelength when it comes to guitar design, or if not, at least find someone who is receptive to what your looking for.
Most of the guitar builders we've spoken to love trying out new ideas and taking on challenges, you won't find many who will stroke their chin, suck air in through their teeth and shake their head.
The most important aspect of a custom guitar is that it's unique to you. It's yours. Whether that means you started with a vision and came up with a design yourself, or you worked with a luthier to modify one of their existing designs doesn't matter. What matters is that you love the end result.
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