How did you get into building?
Right after college—I majored in sculpture in
college—I started with Appalachian dulcimers
in the late sixties, early seventies, and then
I converted over to guitars; I started electric
guitars probably around 1972.
When did you first discover the Telecaster?
That was actually because of a guy down in
Maryland named Dimitri Callas. He was an
awful lot like Roy Buchanan—a family man.
He was asked by the Stones if he would play
with them, and he said, “No, I have to stay
here with my family,” kind of like Roy did. He
had a bunch of old fifties Teles, and he had
me make him a couple of bodies. That was
in about 1975, and so that’s when I started
working with Teles.
What is your flagship model?
I’ve pretty much been making ‘ 52 Tele-style
guitars since the early seventies, and I make
them very much to Dimitri’s ‘ 53 Tele specs.
So I make a very traditional Telecaster, but I
have a new design now where the horn on
one side is actually lopped off, and it follows
the curves of Leo Fender’s custom Telecaster
pickguard that had that short curve to it. I sort
of made the horn match that curve—it’s very
Leo Fender-esque. And I use the paddlehead
stock on it, which also matches the Fender’s
What makes your guitars unique?
The thing I do differently is I use wood that’s
over 100 years old. I’ve been collecting
reclaimed lumber since the early seventies,
when I lived down in Maryland. I was out
every Sunday at farm auctions; I’d get great-granddad’s wood that was in the barn that no
one really bid on, and I wound up stockpiling
a lot of old wood. Today it’s a lot easier to
find old timber—there are a lot of reclaimed
lumber businesses out there now that will
just sell it to you. But there’s no reason to
use new wood, which is inferior to old wood,
when it comes to guitar building. You need to
have the resins crystallize in the wood, so it
becomes more resonant. That’s the main difference in my guitars—the age of the wood
and the resonance of the guitar.
Lately I’ve been using wood from an old
street here in the city that’s called the Bowery;
it’s one of the oldest blocks in Manhattan, the
early lower Manhattan. The buildings go back
to the 1850s, and I just recently got a whole
load of 1865 white pine from [filmmaker] Jim
Jarmusch’s building, which was what the original Telecasters were made from. This is all old-growth Adirondack pine that has some amazing grain patterns—it’s so tight and extremely
resonant. And it’s all roof rafters, which means
that the wood was up there under black tar
for 140 years, cooking all day and cooling at
night, so it’s got this alchemy thing going on.
It makes an amazing guitar.
How would you describe your building phi-
losophy? You mentioned earlier that you
kind of stick to a very traditional design.
Yeah, that’s really my whole thing. I spent
many years building guitars that were unusual
in design, and I think I have some pretty
amazing designs, too, but that just kind of
faded away—people don’t ask for those guitars anymore. They’re really looking for more
traditional guitars, and I sort of found a niche
in Fender-style guitars made from old wood.
It’s what people want me to make them, and
it’s what I seem to be most popular for.
What kind of hardware do you use?
That’s another thing I do differently from a lot
of companies: I use individual makers. Take
pickups, for instance; I use only people who
just make pickups, not companies that make
guitars as well. Right now I’ve been using a
lot of Don Mare pickups; we’ve actually been
doing some trading of guitar parts.
What do you like about the Don Mare
They’re handmade, and it’s one guy making
them, and he really concentrates on using the
best materials. And he captured something
about that original fifties tone that no one
seems to be able to have gotten. I use Lindy
Fralins also—he and Lindy are very similar in
that respect. They capture that fifties vibe.
What about the rest of the hardware on
I try to stick with Klusons for tuning machines
because they’re traditional. And there
are guys that make amazing bridges for
Telecasters—Glendale makes a great bridge
and a beautiful set of saddles that intercon-
nect. They’re amazing sounding and they
perform perfectly. Leo made a perfect guitar,
and it’s really hard to make it any better, but
nowadays people have been coming up with
individual components that really do make it a
little bit better.
Why should our readers consider buying
Well, I think they’re going to get the individuality of a true custom guitar. What they call
custom shops today aren’t really—they’re just
pulling pieces off a factory line. This is a custom shop: one guy from start to finish.