So many builders on this forum and so much to learn from them all!
Some of us, however, are short a couple ingredients for a scratch-built Gibson-style guitar. Choose one or more of the following: will-power, perseverance, building space, tools, time, digital dexterity (ummh, we are guitar players, so I guess we can’t use that excuse), fear of losing a digit to a power tool, etc.
But the possibility of a custom-made instrument that we’ve had a hand in is still out there, shimmering like a vision . . . or is it a mirage?
Enter the “kit”. Fender lovers have been doing it for decades (personally, got my first strat neck from Ken Warmoth back in the mid-70s), so why not Gibson-style guitar kits? Well, for one, there’s that neck joint: glued in, mortise & tenon, angled neck set, every body-neck pair hand matched/fitted. That doesn’t translate well to mass production techniques (“Do ya think?!” – Leo Fender, circa 1952).
But take heart: there are options. When MLP forum member Jeggz announced he had ponied up for a kit from a supplier I hadn’t heard about, I checked out the website. When I discovered, after a little digging, that the company was located in my corner of the globe, I was (first) shocked, then suspicious (could something this cool be made here?), then super-excited. I sent off an email with a modest proposal and, much to my delight, got a quick and enthusiastic response back.
So I thought people around here might be interested in a report on the latest group to throw their hat in the kit ring: Precision Guitar Kits.
Phil and Kevin have this tidy little operation: they are both guitar players and they make guitars! Been doing it for a few years now. But their approach is a little different from most small start-ups. They build guitars with the assistance of a multi-million dollar company and all the advantages that come with that: in other words, they have a huge space and huge, high-tech industrial equipment at their disposal.
Kevin is chief of CNC machining at said large company, with many years’ experience. One thing led to another and he decided to try his hand at modelling and designing a file to produce a guitar with the fancy equipment he uses in his day job. To make a long story (and many years of practice and development) short, Kevin—along with Phil, the marketing half of the partnership—started carving guitar necks and solid bodies: first for some guitar companies and custom guitar builders (including some big names) and then for a test of the home-builder marketplace.
What they discovered was a very enthusiastic audience. They knew they had a high quality and unique product, based on the response of pro builders, but they were still unprepared for the attention they generated at the West Coast Gear Show this past summer. Same thing when they tested the waters on eBay.
You can glimpse some of the reasons for the excitement at their new website (precisonguitarkits.com): the pix show the expected beautiful woods, but also beautiful curves, lines and absolutely precise shaping, routs, fretwork and finish sanding (“precision” is the name, after all). What you can’t get from the website’s pix is how the neck joint on their “LP Custom” model slips—almost “clicks”—together with utter precision (there’s that word again), all due to superior CNC equipment and painstaking design and programming.
Do I sound enthusiastic? You bet. I spent an hour with Kevin and Phil, walking through the massive shop, mouth-breathing in front of the 26,000 pound Anderson CNC machine (the second unit was removed to make room for a newer/bigger/better model), gazing upon the giant wall-rack of milling heads, burrs, bits (the right angle head Kevin uses for drilling the jack hole in the rim of the body, for example, is an $8000 piece) and realized that very few people get the opportunity to start a business with this level of instant expertise and equipment.
Even still, nothing good comes quick and it’s taken time to refine not just the CNC portion of guitar craft but the hand work as well. There are custom jigs, special workstations, vacuum technology for holding and gluing, all carefully thought out and developed over a number of years. There were a number of operations I was told had to be kept secret (including their system for holding down neck blanks during machining and other fretboard jobs).
Materials include Jescar fret wire, known for superior hardness (Kevin says he can compare relative fretwire hardness by the wear on CNC tools—yes, fret ends are trimmed as part of the machining process), African mahogany sourced from local suppliers, African gaboon ebony and Indian rosewood ordered directly from other locations. Body and neck are made from the same species of mahogany (some bodies are one piece, depending on supply).
One thing to report that will be of special interest on MLP is that Precision is not making vintage Gibson knock-offs. These guitar parts are thoroughly “inspired by” LPs (Standards, Juniors, Specials) and are very close in most dimensions, but some details are intentionally changed. A couple worth mentioning: headstock angle is 11 degrees, the trussrod and its access in the headstock are modern/Epi style and the neck joint mortise/tenon pair on the LP Custom features radiused neck heel cheeks and matching radius on the body rim. (This is, of course, what a machine tool does naturally: make curves. When Les Pauls were made in the ’50s, chisels and saws made this joint and square corners were both natural and necessary.) All models have neck angle built into the neck tenon and not the neck pocket and the LP Custom’s tenon length is medium.
Kevin has programmed and produced Fender-style parts, though they’re not currently offering them while they catch up on orders from their eBay and website sales. You can guess that other models will be added, too. But to get to the “bottom line”, you have to marvel at the price these guys are putting on this unique combination of quality materials, massive high-tech, high-dollar equipment, careful, expert design and fussy hand work, all done in North American (for the record, there was not a single ball-and-chain nor any stale bread to be seen anywhere, as I had originally suspected!).
Would I buy a Precision Guitar Kit? In a heartbeat!!