Cara Hot Rod Guitar Shop
How did you get into building and
modifying hot-rodded guitars?
My dad worked in a music store when I was
eight years old. I just started hanging out
there, and I liked the guitar atmosphere of it,
but I was also into Hot Wheels and building
model cars. I started working at the store,
and after awhile I started putting wheels
from model car kits and using them as knobs,
decals and flames on the body. Through my
whole life, both worlds of guitars and hot rods
have always coincided.
With guitars, I never really fell in line with
the ordinary stuff. I approached the guitar
like the old guys did with their cars. They
didn’t go out and look for parts, they went
out and made the parts to accomplish the
look, feel and drivability they wanted. I always
approached it that way with guitars—mostly
for a lack of money. I never had a guitar with
a tremolo growing up, but I figured out a way
to make the bridge wiggle and that was my
first modification on the actual guitar setup.
What’s your building philosophy?
First off, you’ve got to figure out what the
customer wants out of it and what they want
to achieve out of it. They might want EMG
pickups, but in your head you’ve got to know
why they want these pickups. Is it because
they read about them? A friend told them or
a famous player uses them? That might not
be the right answer. He could be this rockabilly dude who is going with his friends who
use EMG pickups, and it’s totally not what he
needs to achieve that sound.
Tell me about your pickup selection process
and how that works for your Hot Rod shop.
First off, I collect every freakin’ pickup I can
get my hands on. I’ve built a device that can
test and measure pickups—like a dynamometer for cars. Imagine a guitar sitting on a
bench with an arm that hits the strings at a
predetermined strength, with a pick on it,
and it hits it consistently every time and it has
a meter on the output of it, so that you can
measure any pickup. I also use a spectrum
analyzer to assess what tones and frequencies
are coming out of the pickup and how they
react to different room settings and setups,
which helps decipher what pickups have the
clarity, midrange, output, low frequency and
breakup point that works best for what a particular customer needs for their tone.
I rate all the pickups and then I record all this
information so I can remember what pickups
did what when a particular project calls for it. I
also have a vacuum chamber and hot wax dip,
so I can dip the pickups into the wax and then
put them in the vacuum chamber so there isn’t
any internal feedback.
Do you construct your own bodies or do
you use others as a template for customers?
It’s going back to the hot rod car scene. For
instance, you’d walk through an old junkyard
with all these mangled cars and you’d say to a
buddy, “That’d be awesome if you could fix it
up.” So I just apply that same principle to guitars. Any guitar could be a good guitar, if you
just put the time and effort into it.
We have tons of bodies up on the wall and
people can just come in and look around
and find a body style to start with, but if
they want a custom shape or body, I have
a CNC machine I can use through the CAD
program and cut it out. While people may
want a crazy shape or design, what’s more
important to them is the paint, tone and
What’s the process at your shop like?
Since I have years of experience on design
and computer graphics, after they decide on
a body style and wood choice, I do computer
mockups of their guitar with graphics, paint
schemes and fully erected on the computer
and email them the different designs. It’s
totally like Orange County Choppers, where
they see everything laid out and completed
before it even begins the actual building process. I think that’s the most important thing
that we do—they build the guitars with us.
Why should people come
to Cara’s Hot Rod Guitars?
Because it’s not one of our guitars, it’s their
guitar. They are so involved in building these
guitars, and it’s exactly the way they want
the tone, look, feel… the whole PT Barnum
package. The guitar is all about them. They’re
not buying a PRS or Les Paul that’s a differ-
ent color, they’re buying their own guitar and
I’m just making it for them. It’ll be what they
wanted or they won’t pay me for it. It’s as
simple as that.