I am honored and excited that you are considering having me build you a custom, one-of-a-kind Zoe guitar! I hope that the information on this page (and the rest of my website) will answer many of your questions and give you the confidence to start the initial process to place your order.
The current models I am building:
Orchestra Model (OM)
Super Jumbo 45 ( a medium bodied jumbo)
Super Jumbo ( a full sized jumbo)
Cutaways are offered with all models, except the Parlor.
Your custom acoustic guitar order will start with either a phone or in person meeting. During the initial interview, your choices will direct and determine how your hand built guitar will look, play, and sound. The process can be a little overwhelming, so if you go through the pages I have on my site under the "GUITARS" heading, you can familiarize yourself with some of the questions and information before you will need to decide.
In the process of your interview, I will cover a multitude of variables - from tonewoods and tuners and everything in between. Typically, this discussion can continue over quite a few days as our conversation details all of the different aspects of your instrument including tone, sustain, cosmetics, and detail.
As we make decisions about your build, we will discuss each phase and every single piece of the guitar and how they look and sound together. In every build so far, my clients have said the process was not only fun, but extremely educating. Most people have no idea of the complexity involved in creating a hand-built instrument from scratch. My job is to maintain a process and flow that does not overwhelm you. Leave the complexities to me!
The exciting part is that there are so many choices that will ultimately make your new guitar unique. When you're finished, you can be assured that there will never be another one exactly like it anywhere! Ultimately, we want to create an instrument that not only sounds amazing, but will be a family heirloom passed-down through the generations.
The pricing of a custom, handmade acoustic guitar includes many, many factors, including the tonewoods, tuners, inlays, binding, rosette, and so many more! A basic build can start around $5,000 - 6,000, case included. The price will continue to increase depending on all of your choices to create your very personal, exclusive custom guitar.
Custom Build Journal # 19 - The Sound of a New Zoe! As most of you know, I (Sally Weimer) was the one who took all of the photos and video documenting the building process of Zoe Zobrist's custom guitar. I hope you have enjoyed going on the journey with us to see how a hand-crafted guitar is created. This last video of the series shows Shawn playing the completed guitar . . . He had no idea I would publish this, but I thought it effectively showed how beautiful the guitar sounds, even with an impromptu, iphone recording. It also shows Zoe meeting her new guitar for the first time at The Cheesecake Factory in Marina Del Rey! (She had flown in from Texas and we were able to meet up with her!) Hope you will continue to check out Zoe's music. She is working on a new album and is excited to record with her new guitar.
The last few steps include creating the nut and saddle out of bone and then, after many weeks, the strings finally go on! It never gets old hearing the voice of a guitar for the very first time. Final adjustments to intonation, action and pickup installation and this guitar is ready for delivery!
One of the game changers for getting a guitar to play as well as it possibly can is this Erlewine jig. Being able to flatten, crown, and polish the frets as if the strings were still on the neck gives the ability to set-up the guitar to very fine specs.
Almost there! The anticipation is almost tangible at this point because the journey is near completion. A couple of months of work are about to be heard for the first time ….. so exciting! Creating the nut and getting some strings on is one more step towards finalizing the action and intonation.
Theres nothing quite like the feeling you get when you start drilling holes in a perfectly good guitar! This is the beginning of the end for a guitar that was started 4 weeks ago. Prepping the bridge and installing electronics gets us one step closer to stringing her up!
The finishing process is never a quick or easy one. So many steps need attention from sealing and pore filling, to staining and clear coating. Then leveling, wet sanding and buffing. This process can easily take 2-3 weeks depending on the clear coat material being used. Some products can take way longer. (This video does not show some of the steps mentioned above)
The bridge is one of those guitar parts that has so many variables that need to be addressed when being created. The placement is at the top of the list. There are many stories of one major guitar maker that has notoriously placed the bridge in the wrong location for years, especially in, but not limited to, the 70’s. No names here! If the placement is off a small amount, adjustments can be made in other areas as most luthiers have many tricks up their sleeves. If it is off more, intonation will never be correct. Not a hard rule, but if the bridge’s placement is off more than 1/2 the width of the saddle, more drastic measures have to be taken.
While many luthiers have chosen to use a CNC to carve their necks, there are a select few that still choose to shape by hand. Personally, I feel the need to touch the shape of the neck and how it will feel in hand as I progress, making adjustments, if necessary. Each one is, by process, created to personally fit the new owner and their hands.
Continuing with the neck, the truss rod is laid into its final resting place using a flexible glue. This allows continual future adjustment without the possibility of vibration. The headstock is then shaped, logo installed, and binding channel is routed and glued into place. The fretboard is then glued onto the neck. I’ve seen a number of ways and approaches on when this step should take place, but my opinion is to set the fretboard in place before shaping the neck. Yes, I have my reasons!
There are a variety of methods and materials that can be used for building necks. Luthiers all have their preference and order of producing this critical part of the guitar, and they will endlessly debate that their technique is the best.
The scarf joint that creates the 15 degree angle of the headstock, if done correctly, can add incredible strength to an area of the guitar that is prone to breaking if dropped. Most of my necks are made with Mahogany, Sapele, or Maple. These woods are stable and have the ability to remain straight, if cared for properly.
The next critical part of the neck is the type and quality of the joint used to join the neck to the body, such as dovetails and mortis and tenons. Also, how they are attached- glued or bolt-on. Over the years, I’ve chosen to use a non-glued, bolt-on dovetail.
If successful, the neck will remain straight, allow for the capability of extremely low action, and have the ability to sustain. All necessary ingredients that go into a high-end, custom guitar.
The two components of the outer decorative border on the edge of a guitar are the binding and purfling. These two together add flare in the overall design aspect and also serve as a way to cover up the back and top braces that protrude out of the sides of the guitar.
The material choices for these two cosmetic pieces range from wood, to different types of plastic, and a variety of shell materials, including mother of pearl and abalone. The choice of colors for these can help tie-together a custom guitar’s overall color scheme and design.
Zoe Zobrist chose curly maple for the binding and gold mother of pearl for the purfling.
This segment is focused solely on the fretboard. Fretboards can be made out of many types of woods but the classic is still some type of Ebony. Ebony has incredible qualities and holds-up amazingly well over many, many years of playing.
After being shaped, the fret slots have to be precisely cut, as their position is critical to the guitars ability to be in tune up and down the neck. The fretboard is then tapered, fret markers inlaid, radius sanded and a light finish is applied.
The radius on a fretboard has a direct influence on the playability of the instrument. Typically, the more the fretboard is rounded, the easier it is to play chords. The flatter the fretboard, the easier to play individual notes or leads. The best scenario is a compound radius. Since most people play chords on the lower frets, and play leads on the upper frets, a more round radius slowly fades into a flatter radius going up the neck. This gives the best of both worlds.
Besides some of the elaborate inlays and decor found on some builds, a good deal of time is taken to create a full-potential soundboard. In my opinion, this can only be achieved with a lot of time, sensitivity, patience, and experience.
The top has to be constructed and braced to withstand around 180 pounds of string tension, and more for open tunings. At the same time, braces have to be shaped and minimized (voicing a top) to reduce mass to allow the top to vibrate freely while withstanding the tension of the strings. Just to add variables, each species of wood, like Sitka Spruce, Englemann Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Redwood, etc, all have different amount of strength and mass and have to be voiced differently. There are a variety of methods used by luthiers, each with their own justification for madness. The idea is to reduce the bracing as much as possible while still retaining enough construction strength to not explode from the forces being applied.
One of the variables that helps is using, on every build, old-growth tops and bracing. I’ve seen way too many “hi-end” guitars using cheap soundboards. Look at the growth rings. These rings should be tight and almost impossible to count, in the best case. When you have new-growth tops, the soundboard needs to be over-braced which lends itself to thin, or trebly, sounding guitars. Visitors in my shop are always amazed when they hold a piece of old-growth Sitka in their hands. They can’t believe how light and strong a thin piece of wood can be.
In preparation of attaching the back to the sides, the back is cross-braced and a spline added. The braces are then shaped with a chisel. Though not as important as the top, the back still adds flavor to the overall tone. Material from the braces are removed to allow for maximum strength while keeping the body as light and as least-dense as possible. If successful, variables such as tap-tone and sustain are maximized.
Next, the sides are notched, or slotted, allowing for the profile of the braces to lay flush on the sides when glued.
Lastly, since the back has a radiused curve, the sides need to be sanded with that radius in mind, creating a slightly angled surface for the back to be glued to. My dreadnoughts all have a 20 foot radius. Curved backs have greater potential for superior acoustical values.
Finally, the back is ready to be attached to the sides. After trying many different types of clamping systems over the years, I found that the best results use the ancient technique of long flexible rods creating downward pressure.