What's your background?
I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old, wanting to be like my hero Ace Frehley. I can barely remember not playing guitar. I started playing in metal and punk bands in the mid-80s in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, I got my first guitar related job at a custom guitar company called Hill Guitars when I was around 19. I learned all aspects of guitar building at that job, which lasted a number of years. After moving to California in the late 90s, I was lucky to go on the road working with a ton of famous artists as a guitar tech. That's a tough job, but it really teaches you what big-time guitarists expect out of their gear. I worked for MusicMan after getting off the road, and still do side work for Fender, Charvel, Jackson and Gretsch. I started my own repair and custom shop in 2002 in Los Angeles, which I still own to this day. Seeing literally, thousands of guitars was a tremendous and irreplaceable experience that really shaped what I wanted out of my own line of guitars.
Why did you get into guitar making?
I always loved the guitar itself as much as I loved playing guitar. I tore them apart as a kid and always wanted to make them better, which all I really did is trash them! But I learned a lot that way. I always wanted my own custom guitar when I saw my favourite players in the 80s playing their tricked out Charvels and Jacksons. It sparked so much interest in the actual guitar as much as wanting to play them. So, after many years of building and repairing guitars, I wanted to make my own guitars that combined all my favourite things from different guitars that I loved but couldn't find in any one instrument.
What was the first guitar you ever played?
It was my friend's old Hagstrom electric guitar, with a bunch of crazy switches. I thought it was so cool! It made me want to get one of my own and start taking lessons. This was probably around 1979. I ended up getting a Teisco style guitar from my parents, and it all started from there.
What would you say has been the most influential guitar design?
In my opinion, a Fender Strat. The shape is the most well known, most influential and most borrowed shape ever. Everyone recognises that unmistakable shape, even people that don't know anything about guitars. Not only the shape, but the trem became standard design up to present day. There are many others that are so influential also in different ways, but in my opinion, it's the Strat.
What's the biggest challenge of being a guitar builder?
There's a lot of challenges. From the money it takes to start a business of building instruments, to generating interest from players to try them out, to making your guitars different from everything else out there. And once you can accomplish some of that, you have to keep it going. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep pushing forward. Creating new designs, designing custom hardware, employees, shop costs, etc.....all factor into the many challenges to being a builder. It's the greatest job in the world, but it is a job, and it comes with all the responsibilities as any other job and much more. But in the end, getting to do what love you makes all the effort and challenges worth it.
What do you want players and collectors to experience when they play one of your instruments?
There are three elements that I believe any great guitar should have. It has to play great, sound great, and look cool. So I obviously want players to feel all those elements as well. Even if one of those elements is missing, it's not going to work for a player. So I always strive to have all of those elements in a Luxxtone. I want them to play fast and sound huge!
What's your favourite neck and body wood combo?
Alder, ash, and mahogany bodies are all great in their own respective ways, and each serves an audible purpose. I do prefer maple necks over anything else. Strong, clear and resonant. That goes for really any maple, like birdseye or flame or quartersawn. I've really been digging roasted maple the last few years also.
What's your favourite guitar riff?
I honestly don't have a favourite guitar riff; there's just way too many bitchin' riffs to choose just one! But being a kid of the 70s and 80s, the riffs from that era are what play in my head all day.
Who's your favourite guitar player?
I have so many favourite players; it's too hard to name just one! But the player who just made my head explode when I first heard him was Eddie Van Halen. I didn't even know what I was hearing when I heard "Eruption". I didn't know a guitar could even sound like that; it was insane! But every era had great players—obviously Hendrix, Jeff Back and riff masters like Jimmy Page. I grew up with the 80s era players like George Lynch, Warren DiMartini, Jake E. Lee and all those guys. Just ridiculous players! But I also appreciate killer rhythm guitar players, like Scott Ian of Anthrax and Malcolm Young.
What bands do you listen to when you're working?
It all depends on the day I'm having. We listen to pretty much everything in the shop, from 40s music, to old soul to all the rock stuff. It's always changing.