2011: The Value of the Bespoke: Custom Shop Guitars 101
 
 
 
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The Angry Angus Guitar Company. Based out of the New England Blackstone Valley, the guitars are the brainchild of Dean Campbell, a former master luthier at Fender USA who on departing from the company took all his insight and expertise to design and build something truly special. The guitars adopt the celebrated aesthetic of Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster models, but go that bit further when allowing their customers to tailor their purchase. Pickup choices for instance are virtually limitless, and generally include boutique manufactures such as Lindy Fralin, Dimarzio, and Jason Lollar amongst others. But what’s most interesting about this company is just how exclusive their products are. At present, they supply to just fourteen shops worldwide… yes, fourteen. So getting your hands on one might prove to be a challenge.

There’s more than just a handful of these custom shop, somewhat obscure manufactures out there, though. New York based Sadowsky Guitars started as the hobby of a young college graduate, Roger Sadowsky in 1979. After almost seven years of luthier training, Sadowsky started out modifying vintage Fender basses, which were at that time relatively inexpensive. He improved their sound by adding more noise reduction technology and replaced the passive electronics with an active preamp, increasing the signal to noise ratio. Once the price of vintage instruments began to take off however, Sadowsky started creating entire bass guitars, and ultimately the wealth of signature artist models available today. In fact, a look at the company’s client list reads like something of Grammy roll call, with Sting, Prince, and Paul Simon amongst those having placed orders. Even the world of metal values the bespoke, with Metallica’s Jason Newsted once placing an order for
eight of Sadowsky’s basses. The endorsements are made all the more impressive however when you consider that unlike megaproducers Fender and Gibson, Sadowsky has never handed out freebies or had artists under contract. In fact, business became so good for Sadowsky, that at one stage, he was able to turn down a request from Billy Idol to build a guitar in the shape of the Starship Enterprise. While initially building the guitars by himself for a number of years, Sadowsky now works amongst a team of just ten people in producing the instruments.

The real essence of these guitars lies beyond the AAA grade wood involved in making them, however. Sadowsky himself has been know to reject as many as seven pieces of wood out of ten when building the guitars, arguing that it is never a case of simply selecting the right wood, but rather, the right combination of woods. Colleges have spoken of their boss obsessively tapping the bodies of his instruments to determine any resonating qualities. A microscopic ding or scratch could be just enough to send something to the wood chipper. After years of experimentation, the luthier concluded that a solid-body guitar made of alder or southern swamp ash with a maple top produces the most superior tone.

But why own something so expensive? Well my answer would be obviously be why not? But the price tags are not for the faint hearted. Relatively, one could happily spend as much as four times the amount on a Sadowsky instrument over a factory standard Precision Bass – the stock classic Fender guitar whose silhouette Sadowsky has so gracefully appropriated. What’s more, dealers in Japan have been known to charge twice as much for the privilege of owning the stringed piece of sculpture. I would say this though, a custom shop or boutique guitar should not be owned for its inherent aesthetic or monetary value. No, such craftsmanship should be owned for the exact reason it was created – to be played.
 
The Value of the Bespoke: Custom Shop Guitars 101

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WRITER
JONATHAN YOUNG

PHOTOGRAPHER
ANDREW KELLY





The Value of the Bespoke: Custom Shop Guitars 101, June 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 6, Music
Within the world of consumer culture, there is a certain breed of shopper – those that value the bespoke, the distinguished, the exclusive.  Individuals constantly striving for the perfect sound, the perfect fit, the perfect experience. More often than not, such individuals are quite willing to part with large sums of cash in the pursuit of this practice. They will stop at nothing to have and to hold the best that money can buy. In the home audio or hi-fi capacity, such individuals are known as ‘audiophiles’ – hobbyists seeking the upmost in sound reproduction. They are knights errant on an eternal quest for audio perfection, striving for an irreproachable replication of that original performance. And sure, I myself have been known to go out and replace factory standard iPod ear buds with something a little more sonically seasoned, a product whose inherent superiority, I really do value. But how far can one go with this pastime for wanting only the best? Well, I’ve looked not to the end result, and the equipment we use to enjoy our music, but rather the tool that is so often used to create it in the first place, the electric guitar.
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2011
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2011 Angry Angus Stratocaster
 
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Angry Angus Headstock
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From left to right: 2011 Angry Angus Stratocaster in Pearl White, Original 1974 Fender Telecaster Custom, 2010 Angry Angus Custom Telecaster in Sonic Blue
From a pop-culture perspective, the electric guitar is undoubtedly one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Perhaps more so than any other instrument, this now ubiquitous creation has come to define both the tone and character of much of the music we listen to. So who would have thought you could spend the equivalent of a house down payment on one? Well that’s just what a friend of mine, and for that fact a lot of other (often middle-aged men) enthusiasts do. They buy guitars that are more than just that. They’re collector’s items – handcrafted, quality checked to the nth degree, and quite simply perfect. But what’s wrong with that old electric I picked up off a friend of a friend’s brother, who used to play ‘in some band’ years ago? Well, nothing really. It’s still a guitar and will undoubtedly sound like a guitar, or somewhere close to it. Aside from having enjoyed a life of being thrown around, drawn on, painted, dented and scratched. It’s served its purpose. But there are alternatives…
 
Within guitar circles, and of course outside of guitar circles, there are two names or shall we say brands that have stood the test of time as being the iconic manufactures of this famous electric instrument. Yes, Fender and Gibson, the eminent names in American guitar production that have defined, and continue to define, a good majority of the imagery behind rock and roll music. Yet aside from their universal presence across the world’s stages, there is a rather interesting array of what I like to call boutique manufactures out there that really are in a league, or should I say world, of their own.


This article can be found with more exclusive photos on p26 in Issue 6 of Vhcle Magazine.
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Jonathan Young is a recent marketing graduate from Oxford Brookes University. When he is not playing entrepreneur, Jonathan enjoys exploring the infinite depths of the In n Out secret menu and meticulously orgainzing his life into all time top five lists. He has a web presence at Look Ma, No Hands!
 
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Andrew Kelly lives and works in West Oxfordshire, UK. When he’s not making video content for corporate banks, Andrew is a music technician and live sound engineer. He enjoys the work of Stevie Wonder, any film featuring Louis Theroux, and the TV show Street Crime UK. Oh, and he likes taking photos too.